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Let's turn Israelo-Palestinian conflict into an Israel-Gaza war

Amos Oz' remarks at INSS

Amos Oz spoke on 17 March at the annual meeting of the Institute of Strategic Studies of Israel. In his speech he opposed the two-state solution as he said, "Except for Switzerland, all bi-national or multi-national states have faired badly (Belgium, Spain) or have already collapsed into a bloodbath (Lebanon, Cyprus, Yugoslavia, FSU, Iraq, Syria, Ukraine). If two states do not come into existence immediately, it is possible that in order to delay the establishment of an Arab State from the sea to the Jordan River, a dictatorship of fanatic Jews will temporarily rise to power, a religious and racist dictatorship that will suppress with an iron fist both the Arabs and its Jewish opponents. A dictatorship of this kind will not last long. No dictatorship of a minority ruling over a majority has ever lasted in the modern world. Even at the end of this road, i.e. a dictatorship of a Jewish minority over the Arab majority, what waits for us is still an Arab State between the sea and the Jordan River, and perhaps also an international embargo, or a bloodbath, or both punishments together".

Then he turned his attention to the awkward notion of "Conflict management", which to him "means a continuum of the Second Lebanese War, the Third Lebanese War, the Fourth and the Fifth, a continuum of Cast Lead, Pillar of Defense, Protective Edge and Stretched Bow and Iron Boots and Murderous Punches and maybe an intifada or two in Jerusalem and the territories until the PA collapses and Hamas, or another organization that is even more fanatic and extreme, rises to power". After rejecting his option he moved to illustrating a possible solution to the conflict, in the sight of the danger of the ISIS, which is threatening Muslim states, too. 

"Twelve years ago - he said - the Saudi peace proposal, which is the Arab Peace Initiative, you all know, was put on the table. I do not recommend that Israel rush to sign the dotted line of this proposal, but it is a proposal worthy of negotiations and bargaining." Regretting that this was not done 12 years ago, Oz went on by saying "something which is controversial, and will be controversial. Since the 1967 war (at least), we have not won any wars. Not even the Yom Kippur war. War is not a basketball game in which someone who scores more points wins the trophy, the handshake and the applause of the fans. In war, as opposed to basketball, even if we burn more tanks than the enemy, fell more planes, kill more enemies and conquer more territory, that still does not mean we win. The victor in war is the one who achieves his goals, and the loser is the one who does not."

Since winning wars has become impossible for Israel, he argues, "Many Israelis, too many Israelis, believe –or are brainwashed to believe-- that if we only take a huge stick and hit the Arabs one more strong blow, they will be afraid and leave us alone for all time and everything will be alright. For the last hundred years we have been raising a bigger and bigger stick, and it has not helped. The right and the settlers tell us incessantly that we have a right to all of Western Israel, that we have a right to the Temple Mount. But what do they mean when they say right? A right is not something I really, really, really want. A right is not something that I feel strongly about. A right is something that someone else recognizes as your right. If others do not acknowledge your right, or if only some people acknowledge what you think is your right, then what you have is not a right but a claim."

To explain the difference he said: "If I go to an ATM, I have the right to withdraw 2,000 shekels. But that doesn’t mean I have to withdraw the NIS 2,000 every time I go by an ATM. If I am standing at a marked crosswalk, I have the right to cross the road. And, if it's a green light, and perhaps there is even a policeman waving me on, I certainly have the right to cross the road. But if I see a truck racing towards me at 100 km an hour, I have the full right not to fulfill that right. Not to cross the road. I am speaking, for instance, about the Temple Mount. Why shouldn't Jews have the right to pray on the Temple Mount? But we have the right not to realize this right in this generation."

Then he made reference to Jewish tradition denying there be any duty to die to pray on Temple Mount, and he went further by slamming the politicians who have so far imperiled the relations of Israel with America. "You know, 40 years ago on the day after the 1977 rise of Likud to power, a senior editor of one of the dailies was so happy with the change of government, so euphoric, that he began his op-ed with the words, "The success of the Likud party in the elections in Israel restores America to its real dimensions.” Today I also identify an Israeli attempt to restore America to its real dimensions, to destroy the alliance between Israel and America for the benefits of an alliance between our extreme right and the extreme right in America."

"We must never forget that at least twice in our history we found ourselves in a war against almost all of the world. And those two times it ended very badly. I see a day in the not too far future (and I hope I am wrong) when airport personnel in Dublin, or Amsterdam or Madrid refuse to process El Al passengers. When consumers refuse to buy Israeli products and leave it on the shelves. When investors and tourists stay away from this ostracized country. Ladies and gentleman, this is not futurology, we are half way there. David Ben Gurion taught us that Israel cannot survive without the support of at least one superpower. Which superpower? It changes. Once it was Britain, once it was even Stalin's Russia, once Britain and France and in the last decades, America. But the alliance with America is not a natural force of nature."

Based on the fragility of the Israeli-US alliance, he stressed the importance of mutual recognition between Israel and the Palestinians: "The fact that America is an allied superpower can change, and may change, (if we try hard enough it will change even quickly). But the fact that the Palestinians are our neighbors and that we live in the heart of the Arab and Muslim world, is a constant. Even the nuclear threat of Iran is a variable, not a constant. Because even if we -- or others in our name -- bomb the nuclear facilities in Iran, we can't bomb the knowledge. Because nuclear Pakistan can become tomorrow, if not tonight, an Islamic state even more extreme than Iran and it already has nuclear weapons. Because there is no one who can prevent our rich enemies from buying ready made nuclear arms and using them against us. And mainly, because in a few years, anyone who wants to obtain weapons of mass destruction will be able to. Here, too the constant has to be the power of deterrence of Israel. And the abilities of our enemies, (nuclear and other), is a variable that is not dependent on us."

After criticizing the "dovish left", as he calls it, he went back to his own Zionist education, as well as further explaining his own anti two-state solution stance: "My Zionistic starting point has been for years as follows: We are not alone in this country; we are not alone in Jerusalem. I say the same to my Palestinian friends. You are not alone in this country. There is no choice but to divide this small house into two even smaller apartments. A two family home “and a good fence makes a good neighbor” to quote the poet Robert Frost. (*NOTE: the accurate quote is "good fences make good neighbors).

We hear here and there about the idea of a bi-national state, both from the extreme left and also from the extreme right, Moshe Arens for instance. I think the idea of a bi-national state is a sad joke. Not only because the fate of bi- national states in the world. But because of a much simpler reason: you can't expect Israelis and Palestinians after 100 years of blood, tears and calamity to jump into a double bed and begin the honeymoon. If someone had suggested in 1945 just after World War II to unite Germany and Poland into a bi-national state, they would have confined him to an asylum."

Amos Oz is a long time pacifist, indeed. He recalls: "I was one of the first, at the age of 28, that wrote a short time after the Six Day War that the occupation would corrupt us. In the same article, I wrote that the occupation would also corrupt the occupied. No, we and the Palestinians cannot become one happy family tomorrow because we are not one, we are not happy and we are not a family. We are two unhappy families. We need a fair divorce and not a honeymoon. Maybe with time there will be a common market, a federation, cooperation, but as a first phase this country is going to be a two family home because we are not going anywhere. We have nowhere to go. And the Palestinians are not going anywhere because they have nowhere to go either.

The long dispute between the Palestinians and Israel is not a Hollywood western portraying good against bad, but a Greek tragedy about justice versus justice, and often, unfortunately, injustice versus injustice."

Then he remembered that he is often called a traitor, and commented by comparing himself to a doctor: "Because of these views I often get called a traitor, but I ask you: What should a surgeon, if he is a good doctor, ask himself when he encounters a patient with multiple injuries: "What comes first? What is urgent? What might kill the patient?"

In the case of Israel, it is not religious coercion, it is not even accessible housing, or even the price of Milky. The continued fight with the Arabs is becoming a war between us and the whole world. This war endangers our existence."

And then comes the conclusion by the great artist, in which he appears to reveal, "in front of hundreds of people, the biggest military secret we have, the most censored one there is. And the secret is that we are actually weaker and we were always weaker than all our enemies together. Our enemies have been soaked for years in wild rhetoric about destroying Israel and throwing the Jews into the sea. [...] Our adventure in the Temple Mount could, God forbid, give them the needed motivation. I don’t know if we can end this conflict overnight, but I believe we could try. I believe that we could have reduced the Israel-Palestinian conflict to an Israel-Gazan conflict. I did not say to solve it, just reduce it, from an Israel- Palestinian conflict to an Israel-Gazan conflict, if we hadn’t said for years that Arafat is too much of a bloody murderer to do business with and Abu Mazen is too weak and harmless so why do business with him? We could have reduced the Israel-Palestinian conflict a long time ago to an Israeli-Gazan conflict and we can do it now too".

He also shared with the audience "a small confession: I love Israel even in the times when I can't stand it.

You know why? A story: Stanley Fischer told me that he once went to Cyprus with his wife for a restful weekend. The flights to Cyprus leave Ben Gurion at 1:30 am and land at 2:30 am. At 2:30 in the morning Stanley Fischer and his wife are standing, very tired, waiting for their suitcases. And an Israeli passenger walks up to them and asks politely: “excuse me, are you the Governor of the Bank of Israel? Tell me, where should I exchange my money—here at the airport or tomorrow in the city?” That is what I like about Israel. This would never have happened to the Chancellor of the Bank of Germany or the Governor of the Bank of England or the President of the Bank of France. That is why I love Israel even when I can't stand it. .

I love Israel because of its directness, its bluntness. I love it because it is like this:

If I have to fall in the streets, I want to fall in the streets in Israel—not in London, not in Paris, not in Berlin and not in New York. Because someone will help me up onto my feet. I know that once I stand up, there will be many that will want to see me fall again. But if I fall again, someone will help me up again.

I am concerned for our future. I am worried about the policy of the government and also ashamed of it. I am concerned because of the growing fanaticism and violence, and I am ashamed. But I am happy to be an Israeli, and happy to be a citizen in a country where there are 8 million prime ministers, 8 million prophets, 8 million messiahs. Everyone, every taxi driver with their own personal formula for instant redemption, everyone yelling all the time and no one listening. I listen, because I make a living out of it.

It is not boring here, and sometimes even very fascinating intellectually and emotionally. What I have seen in my lifetime is much less and also much more than what my parents and grandparents dreamt about. Thanks for the patience and tolerance".

16 March 2015

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