One of America’s most important dissident scholars, Norman Finkelstein has written six books touching on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. In 2007, after he had been recommended by DePaul University’s political science department and described by the university as an “outstanding teacher,” he was denied tenure thanks to an unprecedented lobbying campaign waged by Alan Dershowitz, who had long sparred with Finkelstein over Israel. Finkelstein is the child of European Jews who survived Auschwitz and Majdanek, which gave added force to his book The Holocaust Industry, critical of ways Israel has exploited the Holocaust for financial and political gain. His most recent work, This Time We Went Too Far, is an analysis of Israel’s 2008-09 war against the Palestinians in Gaza.
Professor John Mearsheimer of the University of Chicago is one of America’s foremost international relations scholars. He created a storm in 2006 when he and co-author Stephen Walt of Harvard University published the essay “The Israel Lobby,” which was later expanded into a best-selling book.
Scott McConnell: Have we come to the end of the Oslo process? Is a two‑state solution still a viable possibility?
Norman Finkelstein: The problem is the definition of terms. The Oslo process, contrary to what’s widely understood, was largely a success. It’s true now that it may be at an impasse, but as it was originally conceived, it was largely a success. The Israeli leadership was very clear about what it intended from the Oslo process.
Mainly, Rabin said—the former prime minister, Yitzhak Rabin—that if we can get the Palestinians to do the dirty work in the Occupied Territories, there’s going to be less pressure from human rights organizations. They wouldn’t cause as many problems if the Palestinians were doing the policing. And there was a military reason: namely, a large number of Israeli troops was bogged down in the Occupied Territories. That meant time taken away from military training.
The quid pro quo was, well, in 1990‑91 the PLO made what seemed to have been a tactical or strategic error by supporting Saddam Hussein, and they lost all of their funding from the Gulf States. And basically the United States and Israel threw them a life preserver, saying, “If you switch sides, you do what we want you to do, we’ll keep you alive.” That was the choice that the Palestinians made, or the Palestinian leadership made. But then a new problem arose, and that’s Hamas began to rise in power.
John Mearsheimer: The Israelis—and this was especially true of Rabin when the Oslo peace process got started—had no interest in giving the Palestinians a viable state. What they wanted was to restrict the Palestinians to a handful of Bantustans that were located inside of Greater Israel, and it could be called a Palestinian state. In a very important way, Oslo has been successful in that it has allowed the Israelis, working with the Palestinian Authority, to create a situation where the Palestinians have some autonomy in these Bantustans.
McConnell: You say this about Rabin too? He’s considered the most peace-oriented Israeli.
Finkelstein: He was the most rigid. Even Rabin’s wife, afterwards, during the Camp David negotiations, said that her husband would never have agreed to the concessions that [Prime Minister Ehud] Barak made. Now remember, Barak barely made any concessions. But she said her husband would have never agreed to that. I think she’s probably right. In Rabin’s last speech to the Knesset before he was assassinated, he said, “I don’t support a Palestinian state.” He said, “Something less than it.”
Mearsheimer: It’s also important to understand the American position since the Oslo process began has reflected very clearly the Israeli position. It was considered politically unacceptable in the United States to use the words “Palestinian state” until Bill Clinton’s last month in office.
The first time Bill Clinton uttered the words “Palestinian state” was in January of 2001. If you remember, in 1998 Hillary Clinton, who was then the first lady, said that she thought it would be very good for peace in the region if Palestinians had a state of their own. All hell broke loose. The president had to dissociate himself from his wife because it was so controversial. This was 1998, five years after the Oslo peace accords had been signed.
before i was ever born, the state of israel was created on palestinian land. and the battles have gone on since then. there has never been a time of peace in my long life.
and i really think the world community needs to step in at this point and tell israel it's going to have to learn to share the space, the resources, etc. this has gone on so long and so many have died. i don't understand how they got away with it for as long as they did but the only thing more puzzling to me is that they can't see it.
they really think they're the victimized party.
and they're not and i really think the world should just say, 'no more, we're sick of it.'
let's close with c.i.'s 'Iraq snapshot:'