Debating Israeli's New Disengagement Plan – Part Three
Afif Safieh (Palestinian General Delegate to the United Kingdom and the Holy See)
Mordechay Cristal (Member of the Israeli Delegation to the Permanent Status Peace Talks at Camp David and Taba)
Sean Curtin (Fellow, GLOCOM and Asia Times)
Arnie Whitkin (Royal Institute of International Affairs)
June Jaccobs (Royal Institute of International Affairs)
For part one of this discussion can be found here
Arnie Whitkin: Is the right of return something which is a sine qua non for the Palestinians and what does it mean for the Israelis?
Afif Safieh: The right of return…I say the Palestinian state is the right of the Palestinian people, but it is also the moral obligation and the ethical duty of Jews and Israelis around the world. Because you [the Jewish people] more than anybody else know the price both individual and collective that we have had to pay for the birth of the Israeli state. It's our right, their [the Jewish people's] duty. It is a partial penitence for a monumental historical crime that has been committed.
The refugee issue is the immediate wake of that tragedy and catastrophe. Now Arafat, the pragmatic leader, has sent a letter to the Israelis saying we want recognition of the principle of the right of return, but we will implement it with responsibility taking into account the demographic considerations of the Israeli state.
I don't know how representative in his pragmatism he was, but there is that tract of documents in which Arafat says we will implement and exercise the right with responsibility, meaning restraint.
If I were a Jew, I would understand that if we seek reconciliation in the future an admission of the Israeli responsibility – I am deliberately avoiding the word guilt – the Jewish responsibility for the tragedy of the Palestinians. It's a sine qua non. It's an indispensable condition if ever truth and reconciliation are to occur. You have to remember, it is Israel that occupies Palestine and not Palestine that has occupied Israel. Our people, over six or seven generations have had their lives disrupted without it being sufficiently recognized in its magnitude.
June Jacobs: I just wanted to ask in principle if you feel that in fact the Jewish Diaspora and the Palestinian Diaspora, particularly in the US, could have more power and more say in this [peace process] situation, in this project?
Mordechay Cristal: Yes, I do believe [they should]. I do not like the term Diaspora, I think we should talk about Jewish communities worldwide. The distinct between they/us or Israelis/Diaspora is irrelevant in the twenty-first century, I think. Because Israel is the national home of the Jewish people, I think Jewish people should play a more active role in shaping the future of the state of Israel…
Sean Curtin: Are you optimistic about the peace process?
Mordechay Cristal: Actually, Yes. I am optimist because in the medium term, in five, six years, I believe we could reach a framework agreement for permanent status. Why? Because I talk and share with my colleagues, the Palestinians, Arabs, people of my generation in Israel. We are all willing to fight for a better future.
Sean Curtin: I hope you are right.
Mordechay Cristal: Thanks.
Norman Mark: …Opinion polls show that the majority of Israelis favour total withdrawal from the West Bank. Is there any way that majority can be transformed into political action?
Mordechay Cristal: …I mentioned changing the governmental structure of the political system in Israel…I would argue that this is the most important thing to do: to change Israeli's governmental system. But for now, the most important thing is to resolve the Israel-Palestine conflict…This is not a systemic view, a systemic view should identify the critical issues and make these interventions. How to translate the popular perceptions into political power by changing the government system in Israel? I have been personally involved in this kind of effort but no success at the moment.
June Jacobs: I am very grateful to Mr. Safieh for mentioning Nachum Goldman with the great respect I only wish the Jewish world would remember him and what he said much more often.
The above discussion took place at the Royal Institute of International Affairs in London on 7 June 2004
For other parts of this discussion see:
Debating Israeli's New Disengagement Plan – Part One
Europe Report #92, 11 June 2004
Debating Israeli's New Disengagement Plan – Part Two
Europe Report #93, 11 June 2004
The People's Voice Initiative and Israeli Settlements
J. Sean Curtin, Europe Report #88, 25 May 2004
Unilateral Disengagement and Reaction to Sharon's Proposals
Europe Report #81, 28 April 2004
Moderate Palestinian Prime Minister Visits London
Europe Report #72, 11 March 2004
Challenges facing the Arab World
J. Sean Curtin, Europe Report #90, 4 June 2004
Sharon's banana republics
Afif Safieh, The Guardian, 19 April 2004