Palestine Horizons: Winning the Long Game

21 Mar

Palestinian Balance Sheet: Normative Victories, Geopolitical Disappointments

Winning the Long Game

In recent weeks the Palestinian people have scored major victories that would havedire consequences for Israel if law and morality governed political destiny. Instead, these successes are offset by adverse geopolitical developments as a result of the Biden presidency embracing some of the worst features of Trump’s hyper-partisanship with respect to Israel/Palestine. Law and morality alter reputations, bear on the legitimacy of contested policies, while geopolitics bear more directly on behavior, the difference is best understood as separating symbolic and substantive politics.

Yet, legitimacy gains should not be dismissed just because nothing that matters on the ground seems to change, and sometimes vindictively changes for the worse. In the long game of social and political change, especially in the course of the last 75 years, the winner of the Legitimacy War waged for the high legal moral ground and competition for intensity of political commitment has much more often than not eventually controlled the outcome of a struggle for national self-determination and sovereign independence, overcoming geopolitical obstructions and military superiority along the way. The anti-colonial wars, it should not be forgotten, were won by the weaker side militarily, although quite often enduring an ordeal of desecration along the way. So far, Israeli leadership, although worried by its setbacks on the battlefields of the Legitimacy War have not departed from the American game plan of devising security through a combination of military capabilities and regional activity, allying against Iran, while subverting the unity and stability of potential hostile neighboring States. 

Relevant is the great unlearnable lesson of the last century that the U.S. dominated the military dimensions of the Vietnam War and yet managed to lose the war. Why unlearnable? Because if learned, the case for a permanent wartime military budget would disappear, and the stubborn mythic belief that ‘our military keeps us safe’ would lose much of its credibility.

With Biden as president, reviving alliance-based confrontational geopolitics, the prospect is for a dangerous and costly worsening of relations among major centers of global wealth and military power, avoiding the kind of reallocation of resources urgently requires to meet the challenges of the Anthropocene. We can bemoan the dysfunctionality of global militarism, but how can we gain the political traction to challenge it? This is the question we should be asking of our politicians without distracting them from addressing the urgencies of the domestic agenda bearing on health, economic recovery, and assaults upon voting rights. 

The Palestinian struggle continues, and offers the template of a colonial war carried on in a post-colonial era, in which a huge national oppressive regime backed by geopolitical support is required to enable Israel to swim against the strong liberation tides of history. Israel has proved to be a resourceful settler colonial state that has carried to completion the Zionist Project by stages, and with the vital help of geopolitical muscle, and has only recently begun to lose control of the normative discourse that earlier had been controlled by dramatizing the saga of persecuted Jews in Europe who deserved sanctuary accompanied by the denialist dismissal of Palestinian national claims to be secure in their own homeland. The Palestinians, having no significant relationship to the history of antisemitism were made to pay some of the humanitarian costs inflicted on Jews by the Holocaust while the liberal West looked on in stony silence. This one-sided discourse was reinforced by claiming the benefits of modernity, an insistence that the replacement of dirty backward Arab stagnancy in Palestine by a dynamic modern and flourishing Jewish hegemony, which later was also valued as a Western foothold in a region coveted for its energy reserves and more recently feared because of its anti-Western extremism and Islamic resurgence. The conflict over the land and the ideological identity of the emergent state, unfolding over a century, has had many phases, and has been affected, almost always adversely, by developments within the region and by geopolitical intervention from outside.

As with other anti-colonial struggles, the fate of the Palestinians will eventually turn on whether the struggles of the victimized people can outlast the combined power of the repressive state when, as here, it is linked to the regional and global strategic interests of geopolitical actors. Can the Palestinian people secure their basic rights through their own struggles wages against a combination of internal/external forces, relying on Palestinian resistance from within, global solidarity campaigns from without? This is the nature of the Palestinian Long Game, and at present its trajectory is hidden among the mystifications and contradictions of unfolding national, regional, and global history.

Palestinian Normative Victories

Five years ago no sensible person would have anticipated that Israel’s most respected human rights NGO, B’tselem, would issues a report declaring that Israel had established a unified apartheid state that governed from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea, that is, encompassing not only Occupied Palestine but Israel itself. [This is Apartheid: A regime of Jewish Supremacy from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea, B’Tselem: The Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in Occupied Territory, 12 Jan 2021] With careful analysis the report showed that Israeli policies and practices with respect to immigration, land rights, residency, and mobility were administered in accordance within an overriding framework of Jewish supremacy, and by this logic, Palestinian (more accurately non-Jewish, including Druze and non-Arabic Christians) subjugation. Such a discriminatory and exploitative political arrangement is descriptive of apartheid, as initially established in South Africa and then generalized as an international crime in the 1973 International Convention on the Suppression and Punishment of the Crime of Apartheid. This idea of apartheid criminality was carried forward in the Rome Statute that provides the framework within which the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague carries on its activities. Article 7 of the Rome Statute, a treaty of the parties, governing the ICC enumerates the various Crimes Against Humanity over which the ICC asserts its jurisdictional authority. Apartheid is classified as such a crime in Article 7(j), although without any accompanying definition, and no investigation by the ICC of apartheid allegations involving Israeli perpetrators has ever occurred. It is notable that regarding ‘apartheid’ as a crime against humanity would reduce the burden of proof as compared to allegations of ‘genocide.’

Only weeks after the B’Tselem Report came the much anticipated decision of the Pre-Trial Chamber of the ICC on February 6, 2021. By a 2-1 vote the Chamber’s decision affirmed the authority of Fatou Bensouda, the ICC Prosecutor, to proceed with an investigation of war crimes committed in the Occupied Palestinian territories since 2014, as geographically defined by its provisional 1967 borders. To reach this outcome the decision had to make two important pronouncements: first, that Palestine, although lacking many of the attributes of statehood as define by international law, did qualify as a State for purposes of this ICC proceeding, having been accepted as a Party to the Rome Statute in 2014 after being recognized by the General Assembly on November 29, 2012 as a ‘non-member Observer State.’; and secondly, that the jurisdiction of ICC to investigate crimes committed on the territory of Palestine was authoritatively identified as the West Bank, East Jerusalem, and Gaza, that is, the territories occupied by Israel during the 1967 War. In a decision that sought to convey impressions of judicial self-restraint it was pointed out that these legal positions were limited to the facts and claims under consideration, and did not purport to prejudge the statehood or territorial claims of either Israel or Palestine in other contexts. The lengthy dissent rejected this reasoning, relying heavily on the continuing relevance of the agreements concluded in accord with Oslo diplomacy that allegedly altered the status of the occupation, and took precedence, concluding that the Prosecutor lacked the legal competence to proceed with the investigation. [As the present Prosecutor’s term expires in June 2021, and a new Prosecutor takes over, Karim Khan, the future of these legal proceeding is uncertain.] 

It should be observed that this Pre-Trial proceeding had attracted unusually widespread interest in the world both because of the identity of the parties and the intriguing character of the issues. Jurists have long been intrigued by defining statehood in relation to different legal settings and by settling jurisdictional disputes addressing issues arising in territories that lack permanently established international borders and clear lines of sovereign authority. An unprecedented number of amicus curiae briefs were submitted to the ICC, including by prominent figures on both sides of the controversy. [I submitted an amicus brief with the collaborative help of the Al Haq researcher, Pearce Clancy. ‘The Situation in Palestine,’ amicus curiae Submissions Pursuant to Rule 103, ICC-01/18, 16 March 2020] Israel was not a Party to the Rome Statute, and declined to participate in the proceedings directly, but its views were well articulated by several of the amicus briefs. [e.g. by Dennis Ross who led the Clinton Era peace negotiations between Israel and Palestine. ‘Observations on Issues Raised by Prosecution for a ruling on the Court’s territorial jurisdiction in Palestine,’ ICC-01/18, 16 March 2020].

This decision was promising from a Palestinian point of view as an exhaustive Preliminary Investigation conducted by the Prosecutor over the prior six years had already concluded that there was ample reason to believe that crimes had been committed by Israel and by Hamas in Palestine, specifically referencing three settings: (1) the massive IDF military operation of 2014 in Gaza, known as Protective Edge; (2) the disproportionate uses of force by the IDF in responding to the Right of Return protests during 2018; (3) settlement activity in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.

The Prosecutor can now go forward has been legally established, including with the identification of individual perpetrators who could be charged and held accountable.

Whether this will happen now depends on the approach adopted by Mr. Khan when heassumes the role of Prosecutor in June, which remains a mystery despite speculation.

A further Palestinian victory is the defection of highly respected and well known liberal Zionists who have, so to speak, not seen the light, but speak openly about it, and command access to mainstream media. Peter Beinert is the most relevant example in an American context, but his announced disbelief in Israeli willingness to reach accommodation with the Palestinians on any reasonable basis is one more victory in the domain of symbolic politics. 

Geopolitical Disappointments

It was reasonable for Palestine and Palestinians to hope that a more moderate Biden presidency would reverse the most damaging moves taken by Trump that seemed to undermine still further Palestinian bargaining power as well as significantly encroached on Palestinian basic rights, and did so in a manner that rejected both the authority of the UN and international law. The Biden Secretary of State, Antony Blinken, sent signals on the most significant issues that seemed to affirm and ratify rather than reverse or modify the Trump diplomacy. Blinken affirmed, what Biden had implied, with respect to shifting the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, and thus joining Trump in defying a UNGA Resolution in 2017 that declared such a move as ‘void’ and without legal effect. Blinken has also indicated support for Israel’s territorial incorporation of the Golan Heights, which again defied international law and the UN, which had stood by a firm principle, earlier endorsed with respect to Israel’s occupation of Palestinian territories after the 1967 War in iconic Security Resolution 242. This text confirmed that foreign territory could not be

acquired by force, and anticipated Israeli withdrawal to 1967 borders (as modified by negotiations about minor border adjustments agreed to between the parties).

And above all, Blinken endorsed the normalization agreements between Israel and four Islamic States (U.A.E., Bahrain, Sudan, Morocco) achieved by bullying tactics of Trump

and the pursuit of self-interest. These were mainly symbolic victories for Israel having to do with regional acceptance and legitimacy credentials as well as regional containment and pushback alignment contra Iran. In many respects they extend prior de facto developments with a minimal impact of Israeli/Palestine dynamics.

Assessing Gains and Losses

So far Israeli fury directed at the ICC outweighs Palestinian geopolitical disappointments, the latter being likely tempered by apparent lingering hopes for a marginally improved relationship between the PA the U.S. and EU countries. And there have been some proper adjustments, including the announced willingness to reopen of PLO information centers in the U.S. and resumed diplomatic contact by Washington with the Palestinian Authority, and some language suggesting a return to diplomacy between in contrast with the Trump effort to dictate the terms of an Israeli victory put forth as ‘the deal of the century.’ Yet Biden’s early efforts in less controversial policy spheres to undo as much of Trump international mischief as possible, from rejoining Paris Climate Change Agreement, the WHO and UN Human Rights Council to expressing the intention to stress global cooperation and a revived internationalism, contrast with leaving as is the worst elements of the Trumpist effort to shatter Palestinian hopes. Whether this can be explained by the strength of bipartisan U.S. support of the Israeli unconditional relationship or by regional strategic factors is a matter of conjecture. Perhaps, the most plausible explanation is Biden’s own pro-Israeli past combined with his proclaimed commitment to unify America, working with Republicans to the extent possible. His totemic slogan seems to be ‘together we can do anything,’ which so far has not

had much encouragement from the other side of the aisle.

What might make the Palestinians somewhat more hopeful is the degree to which these two developments were battleground sites for those defending Israel by all means possible. Even Jimmy Carter was demeaned as an ‘anti-Semite’ because his 2007 book merely suggested in its title that Israel needed to make peace with the Palestinians or risk becoming an apartheid state. Recall that John Kerry’s rather mundane observation that Israel had two years left within the Oslo framework to make peace with Israel to avoid an apartheid future for itself encountered such a hostile reaction that he was led to apologize for the remarks, more or less repudiating what seemed so plausible when articulated.

As recently as 2017 an academic study sponsored by the UN, which I wrote together with Virginia Tilley, confirming apartheid allegations was denounced in the Security Council as a defamatory text unfit to be associated with the UN. The critical statements were accompanied by veiled American threats to withhold funds from the UN unless our report was repudiated, and it was dutifully removed from the UN website by order of the Secretary General. Even most Zionist militants at this point prefer silence in global settings rather than mounting attacks on B’Tselem once most beloved by liberal Zionists as tangible proof that Israel was ‘the only democracy in the Middle East.’

The reaction by Israel to the ICC decision rises to apoplectic levels of intensity. The fuming response of Netanyahu was echoed across the whole spectrum of Israeli politicians. In Netanyahu’s outrageous calumny against the ICC: “When the ICC investigates Israel for fake war crimes, this is pure anti-Semitism.” He added, “We will fight this perversion of justice with all our might.” Intemperate as are these remarks, they do show that Israel cares deeply about legitimacy issues, and rightly so. International law and morality can be defied as Israel has done repeatedly over the years but it is deeply mistaken to suppose that the Israeli leadership does not care. It seems to me that Israeli leaders understand that South African racism collapsed largely because it lost the Legitimacy War. Maybe some Israeli leaders are beginning to grasp the writing on the wall. The ICC decision may turn out to be a turning point not unlike the Sharpeville Massacre of 1965. This may be so even, as is likely, not a single Israeli is ever brought to justice before the ICC.  

14 Responses to “Palestine Horizons: Winning the Long Game”

  1. Beau Oolayforos March 21, 2021 at 6:47 pm #

    Dear Professor Falk,

    Speaking of Israeli apartheid, how about the vaccine? The Jewish State is boasting about their vaccine “success” as the Palestinians wallow in new outbreaks. And yet, all it takes is a little, TRUE joke on Saturday Night Live to get the Defamation League’s feathers all in a ruffle.

    Messieurs Biden & Blinken are organization men. They’re not leaders; they follow the crowd. When Cheney, Wolfowitz, and Rumsfeld told them it was a good idea to ignore international law and morality, and go ahead & rape Iraq, they dutifully went along. It’s only a small step along the road of corruption to follow Trump & Pompeo.

    • Richard Falk March 21, 2021 at 10:22 pm #

      This Israeli embrace of ‘medical apartheid’ accentuated by ‘vaccine diplomacy’ removes
      the veil of deception from the true nature of Israel at this time.

      And I agree about Biden & Blinken because of their Cold War nostalgia for alliances and
      geopolitical confrontation.

      • Rabbi Ira Youdovin March 26, 2021 at 11:16 am #


        A funny thing happened as I was slogging through your long post on the Palestinians’ long game. Two parties representing Israel’s two million Palestinian citizens won enough seats in Israel’s national elections to become the third largest voting bloc in the Knesset. Leaders of the major parties are courting them with offers to join the new government coalition. It’s likely that a Palestinian will head a ministry. Not bad for people who some say live under an apartheid regime.

        You’ve recently posted that you want a discussion. I’d love to discuss this with you, just as I’ve tried repeatedly to initiate reasoned discussion. But to no avail. Your perspective on Palestine-Israel is rooted in the misconception that what you call the “Zionist Project” from its very inception was intended to extend Jewish sovereignty throughout the entirety of biblical Palestine and subjugate or drive out the indigenous Palestinian population. Your assessment of every Israeli policy or action is shaped by this view, so that a step forward like this one is likely to be dismissed as a cynical ploy to engender a false sense of security in the Palestinians and project a false image of Israeli virtue to the world…while the Zionists inexorably pursue their objective.

        Unless a sweeping generalization like yours is supported by evidence it’s just another baseless conspiracy theory. My repeated invitation for you to produce evidence have been ignored. Your silence speaks volumes.

        This is more than a matter of historical accuracy. Your thesis supports an exercise in radical ethical relativism which spares the Palestinians the burden of any measure of accountability for their plight . You portray them as courageous but helpless victims of the Big Zionist Monster. In your narrative, they can do no wrong while Israel can do no good. When pressed, you admit that the Palestinians sometimes make “mistakes” (to say “transgressions” is beyond the Pale of your system). But Palestinian “mistakes” don’t figure into your narrative of on-going events. I once asked you why you didn’t modify your positions. You replied that it would violate your principles. But your version of Zionist history shouldn’t be a matter of principle. It’s an opinion that can be validated or discredited by available evidence, which you are either unwilling or unable to provide.

        To assert that Israel has always pursued a maximalist agenda entails re-writing a whole lot of provable history. Israel accepted the U.N.’s 1947 partition plan which would have given the Palestinians an independent state larger than the one currently in dispute. The Palestinians rejected it and joined with the armies of five Arab states in a bloody war to drive the Jews into the Sea.

        Immediately following the 1967 War, Israel offered to return the entire West Bank and Gaza, and work out a sharing arrangement for Jerusalem in return for normalized relations. The Palestinians joined in the Arab Leagues’s unanimous rejection.

        In 2008, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert proposed a deal in which the Palestinians would receive upwards of 92% of the West Bank. That, too, was refused.

        You’ve provided excuses to justify the Palestinians’ position. But the fact remains that the consistent theme in their actions is a determination to eliminate Israel by any means available to them. To be clear, I do not believe that this is the view held by all Palestinians, or even by their leadership. But their militant extremists rule the roost.

        The election results suggest that this is changing, at least for the two million Palestinians who have Israeli citizenship. This is not to say that they enjoy the same social and economic status as Jewish citizens. They do not. The underlying factors are complex and assuredly include some measure of racism and a sense of Jewish supremacy. But that’s not apartheid. Many of the issues can be fixed in the way they’re fixed in all democracies: by strength in elections. When a reporter asked Monsour Abbas, leader of the Ra’am Party, why he ran for the Knesset and was seeking a place for his party in whatever government coalition is formed, he replied that he was seeking equal wages, cleaner streets, better policing, and also repeal of the Nation State Law which is opposed by many Israelis. In other words, while you’re playing the Long Game by going to the ICC and writing lengthy reports that have little impact on decision makers, Abbas and an increasing number of Israeli Palestinians are playing the Short Game and getting results.

        Am I willing to discuss this with you? No, I’m eager to. So I’ll end as one former tennis player to another: the ball is in your court.


      • Richard Falk March 28, 2021 at 1:14 am #


        My tennis is not what it used to be, but I will do my best to return your challenging serve.

        I do believe in dialogue, and especially in learning from those with whom I disagree, but I have
        set some preconditions. There must be mutual respect between participants, and despite reflecting,
        I do not think it exists. As I have said, you regard my views as so one-sided as to reflect either bad
        faith on my part or such a lack of intelligence as to be incapable of perceiving the good deeds of Israel
        or the bad deeds of the Palestinians and their leaders. On this basis we can only have a shouting match,
        or more discreetly, a debate. I have avoided debates of this nature ever since I had a debate with a
        prominent apologist for South African apartheid at a Princeton event, and felt afterwards that there
        was heat but no light.

        My views for which you seek evidence are based on readings of the history of Zionist thought and practice,
        as well as my observations of Israeli tactics, developments, and expansionist ambitions. The secularist leader
        David Ben Gurion, whom I heard speak, again at Princeton, talked in terms of the realization of the Zionist ambition
        by stages, suggesting that ‘the bible will be our weapon.’ From such perspectives, two broad trends emerge: Palestinian
        rights and suffering are erased; Israeli step-by-step territorial goals are achieved. Such a pattern has to my mind been
        the dominant course of development, with contradictory moves here and there including peace proposals that we interpret differently, ever since the 19th century birth of the Zionist movement, and more clearly for the century since the colonialist
        Balfour Declaration of pledged support for a Jewish homeland, but then in the late 1930s became a battleground between
        Jews and their earlier British backers.

        As for the recent gains by the Joint List, I view as a tactical development, making the best of underlying situation of being displaced and subordinated through coercive pattern of settlement by outsiders. I recall meetings with Palestinian refugees in
        Jordanian camps, and being struck by the approach taken by the majority of the women, who in their words left the larger issues of
        peace and justice to Allah and devoted their energies to making life just a bit better under the circumstances for their families, especially their children. The male refugees, especially the older ones, were much less inclines to let go of their hopes for an emancipatory politics that would allow them to return to their homeland and even their homes, suppressing the fact that many Palestinian villages in Israel were demolished, yet displaying their home keys as if to prove their point. I see the same process happening in relation to the Monsour Abbas’ among the Palestinians, and it was prevalent among blacks I spoke with in apartheid South Africa when I visited in 1968 as an official observer of a political trial.

        I am sure you can handle my return, maybe even with a clean winner! I guess my final point is that there are no clean winners in dialogic conversation, but maybe in debates if an audience is allowed to decide.

        With greetings and respect, Richard

  2. Kata Fisher March 22, 2021 at 11:11 pm #

    Dear Professor Falk,

    I have been getting messages (past two days) in German that I am getting package – or packages (from Germany) to my phone with the links. I am not getting any of the packages.

    I have a small wrap package to give: Defamation of intelligence. It is legit. If is legit for them to do what they do – it is legit for me to do defame.

    I am never paranoid or delusional. One is either paranoid and delusional – or they are in God-Factor.

    So, I question everything. I know one thing – I can not be harmed in any way. (Just to put that out there, and assure: there be more ding-dogs for less superior forces). The fact is – they do not have good intelligence, and they never have had. That is why they find themselves in all their messes they are in.

    Who will clean it up?

    One thing that I know, I can not be targeted – I will turn very, very sour.

    As long as God lives, I am ecclesiastical treat.

    They should never doubt and forget that.

    I am not sure if you are aware of this things – but I believe this can be acted to the ICC investigations:

    Also, a journalist report.

    One thing I will make sure and clear to them – if they mess with Iran’s well-being they will mess with house of David, and it will not be any well for them.

    God is and will make sure that His Plan and purpose is ahead.

    They may start falling onto their face, and repent – cold turkey repent.


  3. Kata Fisher March 25, 2021 at 11:05 pm #

    Dear professor Falk,

    I was surprised that less superior forces were very obliging, and all of them have stopped.

    They were not malicious.
    You would not believe how many text messages they sent me from different numbers- with the same message.

    They just wanted to get my attention.
    Which is bizarre.

    Regardless, they very courteous.

    I can not be targeted – just as I said.

    Also, I am remembering this, and is not getting off my mind:


  4. Kata Fisher March 27, 2021 at 7:25 pm #

    It is just amazing how much of the abuse and wrong can be hidden behind the veils of so called democracies. Or other side of the Jerusalem. One thing I am thankful is that I have not tripped, and gotten stuck in some unending delusions. I must say that Professor Falk has had strong impact on that, on my better understanding of the world, as there were some gaps. It’s absolute blessing for me. Pouring out all blessing, all those years that I know Professor Falk – he just did that. Almost, as same Old Testament Saints that we read about. This world is so wrong. Delusions are real, real curse.

  5. Rabbi irta Youdovin April 6, 2021 at 1:17 pm #

    C’mon, Richard. By personalizing a debate over disparate views, you’re confusing disagreement with disrespect. If you want to discuss mutual respect, I can point to the numerous times you’ve censored or ignored my submissions while posting screeds from your followers in which I and other dissenters are called horrible names and accused of being paid hacks of the Israeli government. These are gone now. But it took an awfully long time. And it’s somewhat amusing to be called disrespectful by someone who goes on to draw an analogy linking me and a “prominent apologist for South African apartheid”.

    That being said, let’s move on to the real issue at hand. Your core accusation is that from its very inception, the “Zionist Project” has been committed to imposing Israeli sovereignty on the totality of biblical Israel, and either subjugating or exiling the Palestinians. It certainly isn’t a sign of disrespect for me to ask for supportive evidence. My previous requests have been ignored. But this time you responded, which gives us something to talk about.

    You say your views are based on “readings of the history of Zionist thought and practice, as well as [your] observations of Israeli tactics, developments, and expansionist ambitions.” The history of Zionist thought comprises a huge and highly diversified library. So it’s fair to ask for specific citations, which you answer by citing a speech you heard David Ben Gurion deliver at Princeton. I‘m guessing that you heard what might be called his stump speech, which I, too, heard him deliver once or twice and read it many times.

    It’s an error to understand Ben Gurion’s reference to the Bible as expressing the maximalist position held by ultra-religious extremists. Theodor Herzl, himself, after founding the World Zionist Organization proposed that it be located in Uganda. But only Palestine, because of the Jewish People’s history and religious beliefs, could inspire the excitement and commitment sufficient for building a community safe from European anti-Semitism. Borders played virtually no role in high echelon Zionist thinking until after the 1967 war. And even then, Israel’s government fought against maverick settlement efforts for a decade before being voted out of office by an electorate persuaded by an attack by Egypt and Syria on the holiest day of the Jewish year that hopes for peaceful co-existence with the Arabs was delusionary.

    Claiming that Ben Gurion’s plan to move forward in stages presages West Bank settlement activity is not supported by the historical record. His vision was fixed not to the north but to the south. He was fascinated by the Negev, where very few Palestinians lived. He retired, died and was buried on Kibbutz Sde Boker, not far from Beer Sheva. His and subsequent Israeli governments initiated many development projects aimed to “make the desert green”. And most significantly, until Israel was attacked from the West Bank during the 1967 War, it did nothing to occupy an inch of land outside the UN’s partition plan and the 1949 armistice agreement.

    But what about the 750,000 refugees from 1947-48? They are a consequence not of Israel’s expansionist ambitions but of a war initiated by the armies of five Arab states who invaded the newborn state on the first day of its existence to join the Palestinians in driving the Jews into the sea. Each side emerged from the war with its own narrative concerning the refugees. In the Israeli version, they were following instructions from their leaders to evacuate temporarily so that the Arab forces could defeat the Israelis following which they would return to their homes in a region bereft of Jews. In the Palestinian version, they were driven out. In the mid-1980’s, a school of Israeli “new historians” debunked their government’s narrative, putting most of the blame on Israel. But sometime later, Benny Morris proposed another modification: some were driven out; some followed their leaders’ instructions; and some fled to escape from a war zone.

    To be sure, in negotiations for an armistice to end the war, Israel annexed small portions of land outside the UN’s resolution to adjust a map it regarded as compromising Israeli security. Ari Shavit recalls one of these in his book, “My Promised Land”. However, with Jordan’s annexation of the West Bank in 1950, and Egypt’s control of Gaza, Arabs controlled more than 80 percent of the territory of the Mandate, while the Jewish State held a bare 17.5 percent.

    Immediately following the 1967 war, Israel offered to return the entire West Bank in exchange for normalized relations and peace. The Arab League responded just as quickly with its (in)famous three “no’s”: No peace with Israel. No recognition of Israel. No negotiations with Israel. This created a political vacuum on the West Bank and Gaza which would have been unimaginable to Zionist leaders more than a half century earlier.

    How does one reconcile allegations of early Zionist maximalist territorial ambitions with the historical record? By weaving a revisionist narrative that sees Israeli policy and action as “contradictory moves here and there including peace proposals that we interpret differently.” One needs also to note Israel’s acceptance of Clinton’s “Parameters for Peace” (2001) and Olmert’s peace plan that gave the Palestinians approximately 95% of the West Bank.

    Lest there be any misunderstanding, I don’t support the Occupation. But that’s not what we’re discussing. That focus is on your inaccurate assessment of Zionist aspirations. If maximalist aspirations have been inherent in Zionist ideology since its very inception, achieving workable Jewish-Palestinian co-existence in any form would be virtually impossible unless Israel renounces Zionism…which is what you propose. However, if the problems are transactional, peace can be achieved by changing the circumstances (on both sides) that lead to conflict. There’s the difference between reasoned and potentially constructive discussion and shouting at one another.

    There’s much more to say, but there’s always a “next time”.



    • Richard Falk April 9, 2021 at 6:23 am #

      Dear Ira:

      I lay awake last night wondering how to answer you in a manner that is both honest and yet does not
      lead to the dead ends we have experienced throughout rather lengthy correspondence that stretches over
      a period of years. In preparing to response, I tried to consider my views from your perspective and reread your most recent comment this morning. I think you are quite correct to suggest that I essentialize Zionist positions, acting as if there is no internal ideological tension and programmatic differences in a movement that has lasted well over a century, and has been remarkably successful in achieving results beyond the imaginings of
      most observers, culminating for now, with the four normalization agreements with Arab neighbors.

      You complain, with some justification, that I fail to give precise evidence for my sweeping generalizations: that Jews via Zionism imposed a domineering Jewish state, significantly dispossessing and subjugating a non-Jewish majority Arab society; and that the reality of Palestinian resistance to such developments has produced an apartheid regime of control, which is based on racial supremacy of Jews, although it differs from the South African experience in many respects. The international crime of apartheid is based on the policies and practices of racial domination, and not on similarity to the South African template.

      I have arrived at these conclusions on the basis of ‘evidence’ in the sense of persuasive material and experience, but in a manner quite different from what is counted as evidence in a court of law. My interpretation of Zionism is based on contact over many years with strong Zionists as well as their Palestinian and other critics. At Princeton I had frequent contact with Bernard Lewis and Michael Walzer (who was a colleague and almost a friend for many years) as well as the frequent Israeli academics who visited our Center for the year, including Benny Morris and Nisan Oren. I had the opportunity to hear Golda Meir speak at an off-the-record reception at her Waldorf hotel suite and small dinners with Shimon Peres on two occasions. On several visits to Israel I had contact with many Israeli and observed the occupation in unsupervised visits. I also was influenced by the expanded agenda of the dominant Zionist line of interpretation with respect two two key texts–the Balfour Declaration (from homeland to state; from non-displacement of non-Jews to their substantial displacement; from gratitude to Britain to armed anti-colonial resistance by armed Jewish groups led by leaders who later became heads of state in Israel; GA Res. 181 on partition, which Zionists point to as acceptable, yet never really were willing to accept the population ratios or territorial allocations, much less regard Jerusalem as an internationalized city outside the control of either side.. I was also influenced by Israel’s refusal to adopt the international terminology for the West Bank, insisting on the biblical language of Judea and Samaria, and in my experience in Tel Aviv Jews refused to call non-Jewish residents ‘Palestinians’ but rather ‘Arabs.’

      I grant that there have always been elements of the Zionist elites that favored a political compromise, and indeed warned Jews in Hebrew that otherwise Israel would develop apartheid features. This includes leaders as early as Ben Gurion and as recent as Olmert, and many in-between. At the same time Israel did not respond to the PLO normalization proposal of 1988, Arab Peace Initiative of 2002, or the various Hamas proposals since 2007, and evidently showed little interest in the secret political compromise put forward by the PA and depicted in Palestine Papers that gave Israel most of what it claimed to be seeking. Beyond this, the Israeli encroachments on prospects for a sovereign and independent Palestine state were deeply undercut by the steady encroachments on the West Bank via settlements, water diversions, wall on occupied territory, etc.

      I would add that the love for Trump/Kushner manner of dealing with Palestinian grievances was totally embraced by the Israeli leadership, including proposals that were so one-sided as to imply Palestinian surrender. Furthermore, especially in the last decade, Israel has refused to deal with substantive issues posed by critics, but have sought to discredit irresponsibly and with liberal use of the anti-Semitic card as a weaponized smear tactic. I have been a victim of this dynamic being falsely alleged to be ‘a conspiracy theorist’ or ‘truther’ in relation to 9/11, a supporter of terrorism including even the Boston Marathon, and the notorious and malicious distortion of the cartoon I accidentally posted and willingly removed from my blog.
      I suggest that this effort to divert attention from the message to shift attention to the messenger has increasingly characterized the Israeli response to criticism. It peaked recently when Netanyahu responded to the very cautious ICC authorization of investigation of allegations of Israeli criminality in Occupied Palestine as ‘pure anti-Semitism.’ Rather than refute the claims–ever since the Goldstone Report this has suggested a refusal to work toward an internationally acceptable outcome.

      Of course, the Palestinians and Arab neighbors made many mistakes, including the failure to put forward proposals of their own until after the 1967 War, and then not coherently or clearly. Also, Palestinian recourse to terrorist tactics was both a moral and strategic mistake. The inability to achieve unified and credible leadership has also been a Palestinian failure. While the Israelis seek more than in the past, the Palestinians seem prepared to accept less, but not until it becomes too late to be relevant.

      I may get more sleep tonight, having written along these lines, but I doubt that you will be pleased with my way of achieving an interpretation of the unfolding of the Zionist narrative through the decades.

      With respect, Richard

      • Rabbi Ira Youdovin April 9, 2021 at 12:14 pm #


        Thank you for your most helpful response which I believe, or at least hope, can be a foundation for constructive dialogue.

        Evely and I and I are currently in San Francisco celebrating my 80th birthday. We’re traveling without a laptop. I’ll get back to you early next week I want you to know That I appreciate your response. Respectfully, Ira

      • Rabbi Ira Youdovin April 16, 2021 at 6:11 pm #


        Apologies for taking so long to respond to your thoughtful comment. We were in San Francisco for a long weekend and the past week has been all webinars all the time.

        We agree on more than you perhaps think, especially in regard to the West Bank Occupation which is an apartheid regime that could ruin both the Israelis and Palestinians if left unchecked. Our core disagreement is over how to address the situation which, in turn, rests on how we understand history and apply its lessons to the present and future.

        You hold that Zionism, from its very inception, aspired to impose Jewish sovereignty on the entirety of biblical Israel. You base this conclusion on your reading of (unidentified) Zionist sources and in-person exposure to an impressive list of scholars and Israeli leaders. There’s a methodological problem here. A reliable reading of history is determined not by what leaders say in informal meetings but on what they do in real time. You may assert that “Zionists…were never really willing to accept the population ratios and territorial allocations [of UN Resolution 181].” But the indisputable fact is that Israel did accept Partition while the Arabs, including the Palestinians, did not and initiated a bloody war to drive the Jews into the sea. For the first two decades of statehood Israel made no move to occupy so much as an inch of territory outside the 1949 Armistice lines. And immediately following the 1967 War, Israel offered to give back almost all the land it had captured in battle. Again, the Arabs, including the Palestinians, rejected the offer.

        In the political vacuum created by the Arab refusal, a group of religio-nationalistic extremists followed the urgings of a semi-mystical rabbi by forming Gush Emunim (the Bloc of the Faithful) for the purpose of occupying and ultimately annexing the entire West Bank and Gaza. They were opposed by the Labor government until 1977, when voters put Likud in control. The point here is that none of the leaders of Likud and Gush Emunim had played a significant role in developing Zionist ideology and creating a vision for the nascent state. To be sure, Gush Emunim was strongly ideology. But its ideology was rejected by the ruling Labor party. And Likud focused primarily on security.

        The key takeaway here is that Israel’s current West Bank policy is not ab initio. It’s transactional…evolving through a long series of interactions with the Palestinians, as well as internal struggles. This point is critical. If Israel’s planners determined from the outset that their ultimate goal was imposing sovereignty throughout biblical Israel and either subjugating or driving out the Palestinians, your call for dismantling a Zionist Israel might be justified. But if it’s transactional, a better future for both Jews and Palestinians is achievable if both sides are willing to accept changes that meet the other sides’ minimum requirements.

        The system of ethics that flows from your analysis is an obstacle to achieving this happy result. Because Palestinians are portrayed as helpless victims of Zionist avarice, you allow them a virtually limitless range of acceptable actions, while everything apparently good thing Israel does is for a disguised evil purpose. (nb I’m exaggerating here, but not by much). Palestinians make “mistakes”, a word that has little or no ethical affect. Are suicide bombers no more than a “mistake”? Israelis are compromised by the “original sin” of their colonial birth.

        I’m not playing a word game. Both the Palestinians and Jews may be approaching an inflection point…especially the Palestinians. Voting for their National Council is scheduled for May 22. Elections for PA president and the PLO Council will follow. More than 90% of eligible voters are registered. With 37 parties running, it’s almost certain that a coalition will be necessary. Almost all the parties advocate a two-state solution, which implies their rejection of one-state solution. Salaam Fayyad and others are urging that Hamas and Fatah partner to be the core of a national unity government.

        If that outcome emerges, together with a new president who accepts the consensus, Israel would be confronted by a “different” Palestinian community, one that could form an alliance with the large section of the Jewish community that seeks peaceful co-existence with the Palestinians, perhaps in some form of confederation.

        I raise this because I sense that this is not what you want. In fact, you’ve denounced Fatah as “collaborationists”. It would mean accepting a geographically smaller state than what they were offered in 1947, 1967 and 2008, settling for less than the return of several million refugees, and abandoning their hopes of destroying the Jewish state. Some in the Palestinian community would object. Whose side would you be on?



      • Richard Falk April 16, 2021 at 11:05 pm #

        Ira: It is now, I, that need a few days to absorb your thoughtful and challenging presentation that
        culminates with a vision of peaceful coexistence and the persistence of a Jewish state. Richard


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