Sometimes you find yourself chatting with someone where there is disagreement. And so your strongly held beliefs get challenged -- which is not always a bad thing.
That is what happened to me recently with my telephone conversation with Israeli-American Miko Peled, author of The General's Son: Journey of an Israeli in Palestine, now on a cross-Canada tour sponsored by Canadians for Justice and Peace in the Middle East.
As a Jew who hesitates to define himself in the debates about the Middle East, it is my feeling that a two state solution for Israelis and Palestinians seems preferable since it appears to be the most doable and realistic, even the under the current difficult political situation.
Peled says he held similar views, until he travelled back to the West Bank in 2005 or 2006.
There, he witnessed the scale of the construction of Israeli Jewish-only cities and highways, estimated in the billions and how the infrastructure is too broad and deep to dismantle in order to facilitate a separate Palestinian state sitting alongside Israel behind the 1967 borders.
"There are really here two societies [within Israel itself and the occupied Palestinian territories] that are so closely merged and intertwined that the only realistic solution and the only way to end the oppression of the Palestinians is the creation of a true democracy."
Now, Peled denies he is being simply "utopian." And he predicts that a single democratic state for Israel-Palestine of one person one vote for Israelis and Palestinians alike will happen because the status quo "is unsustainable." Israel from his description is an unequal “bi-national state,” where full democracy exists for Israeli Jews but not for Palestinians -- the latter living either within Israel itself where they are theoretically citizens but face restricted housing, employment, services, or under various forms of military and police rule in the occupied West Bank.
"Look I tell people that if I was to describe the life of a Palestinian to just somebody on the street, they wouldn't believe me. It is so horrific, but the situation is grim and it is getting worse. However aside from the moral argument, the situation is not sustainable, and I don't believe this is going to last one or two more presidential cycles in the U.S., I am talking about ten years."
He predicts that the achievement of electing Nelson Mandela and the ending of apartheid in South Africa over a three year period were made possible because of outside international pressure, and that the same thing will happen in Israel-Palestine.
Peled comes from Israel peace movement royalty. His father, Matti Peled, was a former general in the 1967 Six Day War who later became part of a Jewish-Arab party in the Israeli parliament, the Knesset, where he promoted a dialog with the Palestinian Liberation Organization.
The son Miko Peled did serve in the Israel Special Forces, which he has since regretted and now lives in southern California where, until recently, as a holder of six degree belt in Karate, he ran a martial arts school. Peled has since sold the business due to the sales of his book and is a full-time activist on the Israel-Palestinian issue.
Many of the high profile and true Israeli Jewish peace advocates that we read and hear about -- including Uri Avnery and Gideon Levy -- adhere to a two-state solution with a Palestinian state comprising almost entirely Gaza and the West Bank, not the truncated version that might be in the cards if John Kerry's instigated peace process actually reaches fruition.
However, many of the Israeli activists who participate in defending Palestinian communities within Israel like the Bedouins in the Negev desert or in the Palestinian west bank communities like Bel'in from Israeli government or military encroachment see more eye to eye with him, Peled maintains. "Almost everyone I meet is on the same page of what the solution is going to be."
Peled says that transforming an unfair sharing of the land, resources and governance within Israel-Palestine from a non-democracy to a democracy "is a lot easier than trying to chomp off a piece of land and determine who gets to live where when we are talking about a small country."
The failure of the mainstream peace movements stems from their inability to confront the Zionist ethos behind the founding of the state of Israel, he explains.
"We have a policy that has been in place since the state of Israel has been established. The policy of taking the land for Israel, getting rid of the indigenous inhabitants, the Palestinians and building for Israeli Jews only. This was the process that began when the state was established, and it goes on today. Israel has no intention of ever stopping it, and anybody who dares or claims that Israel will allow a Palestinian state to emerge within the boundaries of the land of Israel is misleading himself or the people he is talking to."
Peled agrees that once democratic rule is established in a single Israel-Palestine (and he is not clear what the name of this transformed country will be) the difficult negotiations will begin to redress the issues of inequality in areas like land, distribution of water and compensation for prisoners and Palestinians forced off their land.
"None of this is going to be easy and but this has been done before. You are not reinventing the wheel. There are plenty of countries where dictatorship regimes have been turned into democracies…and there is no reason why Israelis and Palestinians can't figure it out," says Peled.
The thorniest issue will involve the millions of exiled Palestinians and their descendents living in the Diaspora following the 1948 expulsions and the numbers that a single Israeli-Palestine state can realistically absorb. Here, Peled is confident that there are communities across Israel with sufficient room to welcome a certain proportion. But here he is vague.
"I don't think [right to return] is a sticking point. Once you have a democracy, [Israeli and Palestinian negotiators] would have to decide the criteria by which to allow people to return into that country and who has the right to come back and be a citizen and how you compensate."
South Africa's ending of apartheid has been made complicated by the millions of destitute people in the black population who have not economically benefited from the change.
But Israelis and Palestinians share a similar standard of living, personal aspirations and high education and so face less of a barrier here for the creation of a democracy, maintains Peled.
"We are not talking about eradicating hunger and poverty from the world. We are talking about taking two societies [which] are very similar, who have high education levels, are highly productive and largely middle class."
Peled does not discount religious extremism on either the Jewish and Muslim side in Israel and Palestine messing things up and leading to violence. But a clash of the two faiths is not inevitable in a country where most people “are not fanatics,” he told rabble.ca. "So who knows how it is going to turn out, but I think in the end these are choices that are going to be made by the people themselves."
I don't know if Peled changed my mind. But I think he has an important message of what may transpire if the intransigence of the Israeli government and its supporters doesn't end.
Paul Weinberg is a freelance writer and journalist based in Hamilton. His website is www.paulweinberg.ca
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