JLF 2015: The twilight zone

  • Vishakha Saxena, Hindustan Times, New Delhi
  • Updated: Jan 24, 2015 20:54 IST

The Jaipur Literature on Festival on Saturday saw a passionate discussion on the Israel-Palestine conflict and its possible resolutions - the two-state solution, the one-state solution and international, mainly US, pressure.

"I'm of the firm view that the core of the problem is the policy of settlements," said moderator Hardeep Singh Puri who was the Permanent Representative of India to the United Nations from 2009 to 2013.

Puri talked about the 2011 UN Security Council resolution "Condemning Israeli settlements Established Since 1967 as Illegal" which was supported by 14 of the 15 members but vetoed by the United States because they considered the settlements 'illegitimate' and not illegal.

The Israeli settlements, in the West Bank, East Jerusalem, the Golan Heights and the Gaza Strip, are Israeli civilian communities built on areas occupied by the country during the Six-Day War of 1967. Israel, however, has argued that it no longer occupies Gaza Strip since the implementation of its disengagement from Gaza in 2005.

Pulitzer Prize-winning historian and journalist Kai Bird, who referred to himself as 'a naive optimist' expressed hope that the 'March 17 election will shake things up' and the Israelis 'driving the dynamics of this situation will vote out this (Netanyahu) government and bring in one which is more open.'

Bird also said that Israel was a Hebrew Republic and not a Jewish state, suggesting that the solution laid in a two-state solution.

British author Adam LeBor, who believes that people on both sides want peace but are just badly led, voiced his agreement with Bird adding that 'a substantial proportion of Israeli population is not Jewish; it's, in fact, Arab.'

"Centrist Israeli politicians understand that the country is suffering from increasing isolation, (is) increasingly unpopular and they want the country to integrate especially in a world of globalised economy," he said.

Navtej Sarna, present Indian Ambassador to Israel, spoke in his personal capacity and believed that neither the UN resolutions nor the diplomatic dialogues were insufficient but the problem was too deep and needed at least one personality who was willing to divide Jerusalem.

"Until and unless you're willing to divide Jerusalem, I don't think that any of the rest of it, frankly, matters because that ultimately is the heart of the problem."

Israeli journalist Gideon Levy, said that the settlements are 'neither not legitimate nor not legal, the settlements are criminal.'

He lightened up an otherwise intense session by asking Bird for 'the prescription for the medicine that you take to be so optimistic.'

Levy, referred to as a 'heroic journalist' by some and condemned as a 'Hamas propagandist' by others, was of the opinion that the over 40-year-old occupation was one of the most brutal tyrannies of the worl' and must come to an end, one way or the other as there are no excuses that generation after generation Palestinians will live in those inhuman conditions and that there are no excuses that the United Nations will continue to support it.

He, however, disagreed with the fellow panelists saying that time had already run out for a two-state solution which was being used as a way to gain more time to deepen the occupation and build more settlements.

"This train left the station already. Without evacuating the settlements (with half a million settlers), there is no viable Palestinian state and without having a viable Palestinian state we don't have a just solution," he said.

He also said that there was a need for increased international pressure, especially from the US which could have forced Israel to implement the two-state solution in just one day.

He added that the Israeli right-wingers and patriots were the first one to realise that it's enough that if the American Air Force will declare that they stop supplying a certain screw to the Israeli Air Force, then the next day it's over.

But the speaker that audience seemed to most agree with was Palestinian American poet Fady Joudah, whose passionate address earned quite a loud round of applause.

Joudah, in favour of a one-state solution, said that the panel itself represented the problem of what it's like to be a Palestinian. He was of the opinion that while a pro-Palestinian could speak on behalf of Palestinians, a Palestinian's permission to narrate is always limited.

"My Palestinian voice, for example, is reduced to an opinion poll."

Stressing on the need for a conversation on policy, he said that most of the time such discussions end up speaking the language of power and not the language of the vanquished, thus indulging in victim-blaming.

"Palestinians are not saints but you cannot diffuse and dilute the right of the vanquished," he said before he went on to recite a verse from late Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish's Murdered and Unknown.

Referring to Palestinians as victims of the victims, Joudah said, "Let's agree, that if a Palestinian kills an Israeli then that Palestinian, at that moment is no longer a victim because he performed a sin of killing," he said adding that "if you agree to that simple morality then it means any Israeli, Jewish or not Jewish, who kills a Palestinian is no longer a victim."

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