“From the River to the Sea”: Omer Bartov on Contested Slogan & Why Two-State Solution Is Not Viable

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AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report.

We return to Omer Bartov, professor of Holocaust and genocide studies at Brown University. The Israeli American scholar has been described by the U.S. Holocaust Museum as one of the world’s leading specialists on genocide. He spoke to us on Wednesday, one day after the House voted to censure Rashida Tlaib, the only Palestinian American member of Congress, for her criticism of Israel.

AMY GOODMAN: Professor Bartov, you are a professor at Brown University in Providence. You’re in Cambridge right now. And I wanted to ask you about the dissent on college campuses and how they’re being dealt with. In Cambridge, at Harvard, you know about the students who were protesting on behalf of Palestinian rights. A truck carries around their faces, and above their faces, it says, “antisemite.” And on television, you’ll see pieces on antisemitism, which is very real in the world, for example, the burning of the Austrian cemetery in Vienna and many other situations. But they will be blended together — this is on the mainstream networks — with images of people protesting, holding a Palestinian flag. Can you talk about what’s happening on college campuses and people fearing that their concern for justice is being translated as antisemitism and cause for them to be blacklisted?

OMER BARTOV: So, look, this is a very complex issue, I agree. I think part of it is, frankly, ignorance about the reality on the ground in Israel-Palestine. And that has to do, obviously, not with your show, but with much of how the mainstream media in the United States is presenting things. But also, young people, students can find other sources of information to better know what is happening on the ground. So, generally, I think there’s a little bit of an issue of information.

Antisemitism is real, as you say, and has been growing, and is a not just lamentable, but frightening phenomenon. And obviously, I have no sympathy with it. But there is, and there has been for a long time, a tendency to label any criticism of the state of Israel, any criticism of the policies of any particular government, let alone criticism of Israel as a state as such, as antisemitism. And that is a policy of the right wing in Israel, and that’s a policy of the right wing in this country, and it has nothing to do with the truth. One can be a Zionist or a non-Zionist or an anti-Zionist, and not be antisemitic. One can be, again, Zionist, but against particular Israeli policies. I very strongly support the existence of the state of Israel, and I’m highly critical of its policies, and some people would call me a self-hating Jew. But that is nonsense. That has to do with criticism of policies that not only function as oppression of Palestinians over a very long period of time, 56 years of occupation of Palestinians, a refusal by the Israeli government to ever talk about what happened in 1948, so this kind of shutting up the entire conversation, and at the same time a belief that Jews, like other nations, have a right of self-determination. So we have to separate the two.

I think that at the moment, in the demonstrations, there is a sort of heightening of passions, and in part it is because of the policies of the Israeli government. I do feel that when people march in support of Palestinian lives — and I’m very much in favor of that — one does also have to remember what happened on October 7. On October 7th, over a thousand Jewish civilians, Israeli Jewish civilians — there were actually some Arabs there, too, some Bedouin, who live there, too — were butchered in the most heinous manner. And this was live-streamed. This has been deeply wounding to Israeli society. Almost every person in Israel knows people who were killed there or kidnapped, including myself. Members of my own family were either killed or are now in Gaza. And one has to recall that there are 240 people now held as hostages. And so, I think that when when protests the policies of Israel, for the sake of — and this has to do also with what Representative Tlaib said, which I completely agreed with. I thought it was a very moving speech. But I think it’s important to also stress that other side.

There has been a dehumanization of both sides. Occupation dehumanizes people. It dehumanizes the occupier, and it dehumanizes the occupied. And the way to deal with this is to talk about the political future: How do we move forward? A ceasefire would be wonderful, and I’m very much in support of it, but it won’t put an end to the violence. The end to the violence will come only as a result of a peaceful resolution of this 100-year-old conflict which has caused so much blood. That is, I think, what we should try to push the American administration to do, to change its policies, to put pressure on the Israeli government to finally relent and to begin again negotiations with the Palestinians.

AMY GOODMAN: And let me ask you about the term “from the river to the sea,” which the Israeli government takes, and those who charge others with antisemitism say, it means the annihilation of the Jewish population of Israel. I’m looking at the Likud party platform of March 1977, “The Right of the Jewish People to the Land of Israel (Eretz Israel),” which is the land of Israel. And it says, “The right of the Jewish people to the land of Israel is eternal and indisputable and is linked with the right to security and peace; therefore, Judea and Samaria will not be handed to any foreign administration; between the Sea and the Jordan there will only be Israeli sovereignty.” That’s between the sea and the Jordan River, between the river and the sea. Can you talk about that term?

OMER BARTOV: Yes. You know, the originators of the Likud party, the Revisionist part of Zionism, under the great leader Jabotinsky, had a song that they used to sing. And the song was, “The Jordan has two banks / this one belongs to us, and the other one, too.” That is, they were not only talking actually about so-called historical Palestine, which is Mandatory Palestine of the interwar period; they were actually talking also about parts of the Jordan, of what is now the Kingdom of Jordan, as belonging to the future Jewish state.

So, when we talk about “from the Jordan to the sea,” we are talking about the territory that is now controlled by Israel. In that territory, there are now 7 million Jews and 7 million Palestinians — 2 million Palestinians who are Israeli citizens, 3 million Palestinians who are in the West Bank, and two to two-and-a-half million Palestinians — most of the population of Gaza are refugees in Gaza. So it’s 7 million versus 7 million.

To talk about a Palestinian state or a Jewish state between the Jordan and the sea, the question, of course, arises: So, what happened to the — what will happen to the other half? That is really the question. If one talks about a Palestinian state that refuses to recognize the Jewish right of self-determination — that is, of the right of Jews to have a state of their own — the question is: What will happen to the Jews there? Would they go back to Europe, as some people say, whatever that actually means? And if you have a state the way the Israeli right, the Likud party, and now the much more radical, really Jewish supremacist elements in Netanyahu’s government, Smotrich and Ben-Gvir, these people who sort of trace their roots back to Rabbi Kahane, who are really Nazis — if you think — if you ask yourself, “What do they mean?” they want to create a Jewish state that does not have Palestinians in it, nor Arabs in it. And the policy has been consistently to make life as unbearable for the Palestinians there, so that either they will finally move out, which they have no intention of doing, or to use an emergency situation, such as exists right now, under the cover of which they could be ethnically cleansed. And that’s a major worry now among Palestinians who are Israeli citizens, who are worried about a second Nakba, a second expulsion of Palestinians after 1948, something that has been mentioned by a number of Israeli politicians, and, of course, a major worry in the West Bank and in Gaza.

So, what we need to think of is not the term “from the Jordan to the sea,” which is the territory that Israel now controls, but how does that territory get to be shared by these two groups in ways that do not include oppression, lack of any rights, lack of equality, and certainly does not include violence and expulsion.

AMY GOODMAN: And finally, Professor Omer Bartov, the issue of a two-state solution or a one-state solution, if you could take that on in a nutshell?

OMER BARTOV: Yeah. So, you know, I used to be a strong supporter of the two-state solution. And I gradually realized that this was a sort of fig leaf of the Israeli left, while the country kept settling the West Bank and making it impossible to create an independent Palestinian state there. And we kept saying, “Well, but at the end, there will be a two-state solution.” So, the traditional two-state solution, to my mind, is no longer viable. ’

So what is viable? And I think — and I belong to a group of people who have been talking about it for quite a while — that the only solution is a confederation, which would mean that there would be two states. There would be a Jewish state and a Palestinian state. They both would have full sovereignty. And they would be along more or less the borders of 1967, the Green Line, so-called, but they will make a distinction between residency and citizenship, so that people, say, Jews who live in a Palestinian state, could remain Israeli citizens, who have rights of residency in a Palestinian state, but have to then adhere to all the laws, rules and regulations of that Palestinian state. And Palestinians who live, say, in Nablus and would like to live in Haifa, like a French man from Paris who would like to live in Berlin, could move to Haifa, and they could have rights of residency, but they’d have to conform to all the rules and regulations of the Israeli state, but they would vote for — to a Palestinian parliament. And Jerusalem would be the joint capital of both. And above that, there would be institutions that will take care of the mutual affairs of these two states, which are very tightly woven together now by the infrastructure, electricity, water and so forth. It’s really impossible to cut them apart. That is — right now, of course, sounds like a pipe dream. But I think that in the long run, that is probably the only viable solution.

And I’ll add one last thing to that, which is very important both to Jews and Palestinians, which is that both states would have the right of return. The Jews could say, as they say now, that Jews who want to become Israeli citizens, wherever they live, can come. And Palestinians in the Palestinian state could say all Palestinian refugees who would like to come back to Palestine could come and become Palestinian citizens, and, under certain rules, could also move to the Israeli part of so-called Mandatory Palestine as residents.

AMY GOODMAN: And why not simply a one-state solution?

OMER BARTOV: I think a one-state solution is something that neither one side nor the other wants, because the Palestinians, quite rightly, want the right of self-determination, want to have their own state, as do the Jews. And both sides are afraid that the other side would be more powerful. Obviously, right now, under current conditions, the state of Israel is much more powerful militarily, economically than the Palestinian part of the land. And so, in that sense, a one-state solution would actually perpetuate Jewish supremacy in the whole country.

AMY GOODMAN: Omer Bartov is professor of Holocaust and genocide studies at Brown University. The Israeli American scholar is one of the world’s leading specialists on the subject of genocide. He recently signed an open letter warning of Israel committing a potential genocide in Gaza.

Coming up, three Palestinian groups have petitioned the International Criminal Court to investigate Israel for committing genocide and apartheid. Back in 30 seconds.

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