I am Norman Finkelstein, scholar of the Israel-Palestinian conflict and critic of Israeli policy. I have published a number of books on the subject, most recently Method and Madness: The hidden story of Israel’s assaults on Gaza, but you might know me best from my videos on YouTube. The Israeli elections are today, and I feel that no matter who wins, the Palestinians will lose. Ask me anything.
If both parties would act completely logically, what do you think would be the most reasonable resolution that would best serve both people’s interests?
If the world acted rationally, it would recognize that Earth is a tiny pebble spinning in the Universe, that most of the challenges currently confronting Humanity can only be solved on a global scale, and that, Life is short, so why squander it on petty egotistical idiocies? But, people are mostly not rational in the bigger sense (see Dostoyevky’s NOTES FROM UNDERGROUND). So, we must deal with humanity as it is, not as we wish it to be. The only possible solution is the one endorsed by the international community and international law. Everything else is pie in the sky. As Woody Guthrie put it, “You’ll get pie in the sky when you die,/That’s a lie.” (He was targeting the Salvation Army.)
Will a government led by Herzog change anything for the Palestinians (positively or negatively)?
It will probably make things worse, by relieving Israel of a lot of international pressure. Everyone will be celebrating the end of Netanyahu’s rule, just as the world celebrated the end of Bush–only to get the awful Mr. Obama.
In the past you have said that the next round between Israel and Hezbollah was inevitable in the near future. Do you still believe this? What is the likelihood of another war on the scale of the second Lebanese given the current situation in the middle east?
The Arab spring happened shortly after I made this prediction. It shuffled the deck.
Historically, what Israeli and Palestinian leaders have done the most to advance the peace process. And, on the flip side, what Israeli and Palestinian leaders have done the most to damage or sabotage it?
I do not like Palestinian leaders, but it cannot be said of any of them from Arafat to the present has blocked a settlement of the conflict based on international law, where no Israeli leader has ever accepted the terms of international law for resolving the conflict.
You have said that Hassan Nasrallah is “among the shrewdest political thinkers in the world today”. Can you elaborate?
He’s smart, he’s serious, he’s a shrewd political analyst. I do not agree with his position on Syria, but I recognize he didn’t have many options.
Do you think a completely secular government is the answer to peace considering this is considered a holy war? Allowing both parties to vote and move freely within the country without allowing either side to impose religious pressure on the other seems like a great place to start, or is that too simple?
I am not so keen on “completely secular government” if France is an example of one, of Bill Maher is an example of a “completely secular person.” I like the African-American spirituals. “Every time I feel the sprit,/ Moving in my heart,/ I do pray.”
Why don’t you actively/aggressively seek out more high-profile debates and media coverage? You’re good at it, your perspective is sorely needed, and it seems like it would do more than anything else you could be doing to further the cause/causes you’ve devoted your life to.
I can barely get in ‘leftwing” and “progressive” media. The Nation magazine has rejected everything I ever submitted over 30 years. The current managing editor of the Nation, named Roane Carey, used to be my personal editor. Now, he routinely rejects all my submissions; I’ve become a non-person. Matthew Rothschild, who was the editor of The Progressive (I’m not sure if he still is), called me a Holocaust denier during my tenure battle at Depaul. The Center for Palestine Studies at Columbia University (just an hour from where I live by subway) has never invited me to speak. I have NEVER been on national television or radio except Democracy Now! NPR had me on once about 30 years ago.
What books do you think most accurately describe the Palestinian Israeli conflict and the Israeli conflicts with Arab countries (Egypt, Syria, Lebanon)?
Benny Morris, Righteous Victims Zeev Maoz, Defending the Holy Land Robert Fisk, Pity the Nation
What do you think it would take, on Israels behalf, to start a path towards reconciliation with Palestine i.e, what do you think is the first necessary step towards brokering a peace deal? Furthermore, do you think a peace deal needs to be overseen by outside forces? Is such a thing done more for the benefit of Israel or Palestine, or both even?
The first thing is, the Palestinians in the occupied territories must themselves act, en masse. There’s a huge reservoir of international support now for the Palestinians, while Israel’s stock has plummeted. If Palestinians put forth reasonable demands (based on international law) and engaged in mass nonviolent resistance, Israel would be cornered and even Obama would have a hard time explaining why the Palestinians shouldn’t be supported.
Do you think such a thing is possible in Palestine? Is it possible relations between Palestine and Israel have reached the point of no return?
It already happened once, during the first intifada (1987-1990). It was remarkably successful. Unfortunately, the first intifada climaxed in the disastrous Oslo Accord, so many people regard it as a failure. But it wasn’t. It caused israel huge headaches.
Have the Palestinians ever tried a Gandhi-like non-violent approach?
The first intifada has vanished from historical memory, but it was a remarkably successful attempt at nonviolent mass resistance. Jeffrey Goldberg, the pundit much loved by Mr Obama, wrote a book on the first intifada (PRISONERS). He was a prison guard and a cog in the machinery of torture. He writes in the book that he didn’t witness any nonviolence during the first intifada. It gives you some idea of his reliability. Small wonder that Obama, another stupefying narcissist, finds him such a congenial interlocutor.
Are you objective or a stakeholder?
I do have a stake — in Truth and Justice.
As an advocate for Palestinian rights, what do you consider to be your greatest accomplishment?
That I didn’t move on or give up. I stuck to it, come what may.
Do you have any opinion/observations on the recent sex-slave allegations against Alan Dershowitz?
It’s caused me to doubt my atheism.
How far would they expand the illegal settlements if they can continue?
Probably to Brooklyn, New York.
Who’s the best Israeli PM in history, in your opinion?
The early Zionist leaders (Ben-Gurion et al.) were ruthless but were also truly committed to the cause and ideal of a Jewish state, The more recent crop of leaders are just run-of-the-mill shabby politicians.
What do you think is really the reason of this war , is it religion or is it politics?
It’s always hard to separate out where rational self-interest ends and ideology begins.
As you are no longer in academics, what are you doing in your daily life?
Counting the minutes until, thank goodness it’s all over. As I like to say, God in his almighty wisdom, made us mortal. (I still read, occasionally write, and I am also teaching one week each month in Turkey.)
I’d be interested to know if you think that pressure from Britain/Europe, if the political will were there — e.g. diplomatic pressure, an arms embargo etc. — could help bring about peace, or is US influence just too overwhelming?
if the Palestinians engage in mass nonviolent resistance, and the Solidarity movement does its job, sufficient pressure can be put on European governments (which are already fed up with the conflict, and with Israel in particular) such that the US might be neutralized. i recognize that they are a lot of IF’s, but possible is anyhow almost impossible to predict. It’s at any rate a realistic possibility.
The Palestinians are set to join the ICC on April 1st, a move which will enable them to file war crimes charges against Israel, of which there are many. What do you envision will be the outcome of this, in light of the U.S and Israel leaning on the ICC and making all sorts of threats against them. Could this be the beginning of international law finally being imposed on the Israeli’s?
Not much. The PA doesn’t have its heart in this. Their first concern is their paychecks (from the US).
Do you agree with Noam Chomsky’s opinion that Israel’s Actions in Palestine are “Much Worse Than Apartheid” in South Africa? Should situations like Israel and Palenstine be compared to historical atrocities or should they be condemned for their own sake?
It used to be the case that to convey the horrors of the occupation, it was necessary to make historical analogies. But at this point, the Palestinian case can stand on its own. Do we really need to invoke the Nazi holocaust or South African apartheid to illuminate the horrors of israel’s periodic massacres in Gaza?
Why doesn’t Israel want to make peace with the Palestinian people?
Why should it? It gets to have its cake (the water and arable land of the occupied Palestinian territories) and to eat it. Israel bears zero burdens of occupation, except for an occasional firecracker or Roman candle fired from Gaza,
You have repeatedly criticized supporters of the so-called ‘one state solution’ because their proposal has no basis in international law and can therefore, in your words, “not reach a broad public”. However many people sympathetic to the Palestinian cause see the two-state solution as increasingly unfeasible, due to the entrenchment and expansion of Israeli settlements in the OPT. These people then regard the one state solution as the only remaining realistic option. Do you genuinely still believe a two state solution is still viable, and that all those settlements will really be dismantled for the creation of a Palestinian state?
The Palestinians presented maps at the Annapolis negotiations in 2007, which suggest that the 2-state settlement is still possible. The problem is, new versions of the 2-state settlement will be presented (e.g., Israel’s annexation of the major settlement blocs) that will turn the Palestinian State into little more than a garbage dump.
What would you like to see happen ultimately?
I am an old-fashioned communist (with a lower-case “c”). I don’t think borders and States make sense. The world is a tiny place, the fundamental challenges confronting humankind – climate change, economic dysfunction– can only be solved on a global scale. My heartstrings still resonate to, “The Internationale shall be the Human Race.”
Do you agree with former U.S. President Jimmy Carter that Israel treats the illegally occupied Palestinian territories like an apartheid state would treat different groups in their country? Is ‘apartheid’ too strong of a word to use or is it just a dirty word that people do not want associated with Israel? Or is our former President just an anti-Semite like our current POTUS, Obama, is being labelled by ‘certain groups’?
Many respected commentators have described Israel’s policy in the occupied territories as an apartheid regime–including Haaretz, Israeli Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories (B’Tselem), former Israel ministers of education Yossi Sarid and Shulamith Aloni, distinguished Israeli journalist Danny Rubinstein, “father” of human rights in post-Apartheid South Africa, John Dugard. So, I see no point in disputing this description.
If you were to publicize three key points that inform your view of the conflict, and which are little known or poorly understood, what would they be?
The basic injustice inflicted on the Palestinians is now better known. The principal misapprehension is that both sides are responsible for the impasse in the “peace process.” In fact, Palestinians have offered concessions that go well beyond what is required of them under international law. The obstacle is israel’s refusal to withdraw. In fact, why should israel withdraw: it’s a cost-free occupation. The Europeans foot the bills in the occupied Palestinian territories, the PA does the dirty work of policing, arresting and torturing, while the US protects Israel diplomatically. Unless pressure is imposed on Israel, it will never withdraw.
If the conflict ended tomorrow, on a fair and just basis, and you suddenly had more time and free energy to devote to other matters, academic or recreational, what would you study or do?
I often ponder this question. The thing is, I don’t believe in “punditry”–i.e., learning a little about this and a little about this. I am of the opinion that the “devil is in the detail.” That means, to say anything useful on a topic requires a comprehensive knowledge of it. But, at this point in my life, I am too depleted mentally to undertake such a project.
What do you make of the buffer zone argument where Israel’s supporters claim that if Gaza and the West Bank are returned, the Palestinians will change their demands and seek to take over all of pre-67 Israel?
Palestinians recognize that once an agreement is signed, it will be nearly impossible to escape its terms. Which is why they’v been cautious about what they do sign. If this Israeli argument were true, why haven’t Palestinians just agreed to whatever Israel offers, and then use it as a “base” for future expansion? The answer is obvious. Whatever they agree to is all they’ll get.
How does Israel manage to retain its huge international support in the face of the atrocities it commits?
Israel has an excellent public relations machine, it’s convinced many Jews who are rich and powerful, that the Israeli cause is just, while many Jews are very chauvinist, so will support anything the “Jewish” state says or does. But it’s also true that Israel has lost a lot of support among public opinion in general and Jewish public opinion in particular. The challenge now is to formulate reasonable demands such that Jews who claim to be liberal (which is a large chunk of the Jewish population) will either support or be shamed into supporting.
Should Israel have ever been created?
Why not ask a Native American if the US should have ever been created?
Do you think that the current “divide” between Obama and Netanyahu is real? Or is it just some sort of fake PR thing now that more people are getting aware of Israel’s insane policy?
It’s real but unlikely to have significant consequences. Netanyahu might soon be out of office, and Obama will follow. But the US-Israel relationship, based on deep common interests in the Middle East, will continue.
You state that Netanyahu is a maniac, yet you defended both Stalin and Mao. Would you care to explain to us simpletons how you form your psychiatric evaluations?
Even I have my redlines.
Do you believe Americas devotion to Israel does more harm than good? If so, why?
It’s hard to answer such a question in generalities. US support for Israel obviously serves some people’s interests; otherwise it wouldn’t have endured so long. The relevant question, in my opinion, is whether such support serves the cause of Justice. The answer, manifestly, is No.
Why can’t we all just get along?
We can all get along, if we just put a check on our egos and our selfish propensities. I remain an optimist when it comes to people. Most folks I meet in daily life are reasonably decent. However, I no longer work in academia. Maybe if I did, I’d reach a different conclusion.
What do you think awaits for Mr. Netanyahu, do you think he will be able to re-elect or would you say he is done for in his political career?
If I had my way, what awaits Netanyahu would be an appointment at the International Criminal Court, if only for being so obnoxious. But it ain’t gonna happen.
What are your views on the state of Jews in Europe? Are they safe, and what do you think the future holds in store for them? What do you think of the normalization of ‘Jew Jokes’? Does Israel, or their actions make prospects any better or worse for them?
In the face of so much ineffable suffering in the world today, I couldn’t care less about the “state of Jews in Europe”. Would any of these “suffering” Jews want to change places with a refugee from Gaza, or Africa or Syria or Afghanistan or Iraq? Enough with this solipsistic navel-gazing!
What do you think about Sweden’s recent recognition of Palestine as a state and do you think other western countries will follow suit? What impact could this have on the conflict?
The recognitions are important steps, but to overcome the obstacles created by US rejectionism, it would still require a mass nonviolent movement in Palestine organized around reasonable demands (i.e., international law) in order to neutralize the US or shame it into silence. The closest model of what might work is the Civil Rights movement in the American south. You should watch SELMA or, better still, FREEDOM ON MY MIND, or part 3 of EYES ON THE PRIZE.
What do most of the people in Israel think of the assaults on Gaza? What are some mistakes that the Palestinians have made that exacerbated things?
Israel is probably the most polled place on Earth. They have lots of time to spare, and love to be asked about themselves. So, there’s no mystery what Israelis think. In all of Israel’s major operations, going back to Operation Defensive Shield (2002), the 2006 Lebanon War, Operation Cast Lead (2008-9), and Operation Protective Edge this past summer, more than 90 percent of Israelis supported the murderous assaults. Palestinians have the right under international to use violent force in order to achieve their self-determination, but I don’t think it’s been a prudent tactic.
What happened to your book with Mouin Rabbani?
Rabbani has been invested in other projects, so the book was never completed. Regrettably.
What is your opinion on the Reptilian Shapeshifters and how far up in government have they made it?
They’ve been remarkably successful. Of the 195 countries represented in the UN, they head up most of these States.
When do you think a workable solution to the conflict can be agreed to? And what needs to change for this to happen?
The problem is not devising a workable solution; the terms for resolving the conflict have been on the table for some four decades. The problem is getting Israel to comply with them. I don’t believe a resolution can be achieved through diplomacy (PA strategy) or armed resistance (Hamas strategy). The only viable tactic to force an Israeli withdrawal, in my opinion, is nonviolent mass resistance by the Palestinians in the occupied territories synchronized with the Solidarity movement abroad.
What do you think the best solution is for the issue of right of return for Palestinian refugees?
I prefer to let the Palestinians answer that question. Make the Palestinians a reasonable offer of a State in the WHOLE of the occupied territories, recognize the colossal injustice Israel inflicted on them in 1948, and I am confident Palestinians will be reasonable in what they demand on the right of return.
Hypothetically, If you could dictate who the palestinian leaders in the WB and/or Gaza will be, who would you choose?
I would make Musa AbuHashash, my dear friend and comrade from Al-Fawwar camp, President; Sana Kassem, a Palestinian refugee in Greece (and my web master), Minister of Science and Technology; and I would hope they’d appoint me UN ambassador, just so I could drive the Israeli delegation mad!
You are an ardent supporter of the two state solution (as am I). Do you fear that we are running out of time… that the number of settlers in the West Bank will soon make the enacting a just solution an impossibility?
I am most emphatically NOT an ardent supporter of the two-state solution. I recognize it as the only solution that enjoys sufficient international support such that it has an possibility of being realized.
For an effective 3rd intifada to occur, what needs to happen? Should the PA dissolve?
It requires independent leadership and a willingness among Palestinians to — yet again – make significant personal sacrifices.
Do you believe in any conspiracies about Israel/ Paelenstein?
People of course conspire, but that’s different from a conspiratorial view of history.
Do you believe the Palestinian Arab nation wants to live in peace with the Jewish nation of Israel, and if so, why?
I doubt it. Would you want to live at peace with those who stole your home and wrecked your life? The question is, can they more or peaceably coexist. I think the answer is yes.
Have you met Max Blumenthal and/or Ali Abunimah? What is your thought on their journalism and views on Israeli Apartheid towards Palestinians?
I’ve met both of them. We seem to disagree on some points. If a real mass movement develops in the occupied Palestinian territories, however, most of these differences will, I think, disappear. There’s always something nasty and petty about “emigre” politics (as it was called in Russia).
Do you blame Hamas for fighting back?
Absolutely NOT. They have the right to, and I am quite sure Gandhi would defend this right. The questions are:(1) Is armed resistance an effective tactic, and (2) Is armed resistance the only kind of resistance. My answer to both questions is No.
Can you please describe your reading process? You are unbelievably well-read and you are able to pull facts almost out of thin air. Do you have a photographic memory? How do you manage to retain so much information?
I used to be a very methodical reader. I read everything twice, sometimes three and four times. I made extensive notes and created a personal index of important books. It’s always been my way. When I read Marx’s CAPITAL, I copied out every paragraph and commented on it in notebooks. Now, I am lazier and have also developed severe ocular impairments. It hugely depressed me, until I accepted that many people come to live with afflictions, so I try to accept mine.
What do you think about the virginity tester Sisi and his relationship with Israel?
Sisi is the perfect leader of a “democratic” ally of the US–a mass murderer, megalomaniac and moron.
How can there possibly any truly viable long term solution to this part of The Middle East which is fair to everyone except one multicultural state with equality for all?
But you can say this about the world in general. Why specify “the Middle East”?
How much of a role do you feel the Christian population in the U.S. empower Israel’s current right-wing government and its polcies?
MJ Rosenberg had a useful column the other day. He said that the Israel Lobby is basically a JEWISH lobby. Christian loonies support Israel, but they don’t invest significant resources in this cause. They are more invested in domestic issues such as gay marriage, Mexican immigration, and abortion.
If you could go back in time to WWI, what one decision or event would you change to prevent this long-term conflict?
I would have hoped that the German working-class won State power, the Bolshevik revolution would not have been isolated, and a genuine transition to a more humane world could have commenced.
Where do you think all the hatred towards the Palestinians is coming from?
Israelis like to think of themselves as beautiful, whereas Palestinians expose a seamier reality to the world.
Why does AIPAC and Israel have such a strong control over the US government?
There are many powerful lobbies in the US. That’s why, for example, people get to walk around with guns. The Israel/Jewish Lobby exerts a lot of influence when it comes to US policy regarding the Palestinians. But its influence is much less when critical US national interests are at stake. So, Lobby or no Lobby, if iran is responsive to US demands, Obama will sign an agreement.
What’s your best solution for easing up the conflict?
Give Palestinians their basic human rights: a State of their own in the territories delineated by international law, and unrestricted access to the rest of the world. I’ve met many Palestinians in my travels. It amazes me how free they are of vindictiveness and how generous they are in their kindness.
What does the US government gain by helping Israel so often?
Israel is a stable base of US power in an otherwise turbulent region that is critical to US interests.