«Un État palestinien est devenu impossible»
17 January 2010
Sari Nusseibeh: Interview With Le Figaro, 6 Jan 2010
“A Palestinian State Has Become Impossible”
For the pacifist Palestinian Sari Nusseibeh, Israel will soon have no choice but to integrate its Arab population. Sari Nusseibeh, Dean of al-Quds University in Jerusalem and committed Palestinian intellectual, was the author in 2002 of a peace plan co-written with Ami Ayalon, former head of Shin Bet, the Israeli security service.
LE FIGARO – Doesn’t the issue of Jerusalem, which resurfaced in 2009, complicate the resumption of negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians?
SARI NUSSEIBEH – Everyone kept putting off the issue of Jerusalem. Suddenly they rediscovered that it is undoubtedly the main problem. And also that the parameters of this problem are no longer the same. While the negotiators were working in their bubble towards a peaceful solution, the city was fundamentally changing: the 1967 state of affairs no longer exists today, and sharing it has become much more difficult.
What are these changes?
Geographically, the area of Jerusalem and its suburbs has grown from 20 sq km to 50 sq km: in the eastern part of this Greater Jerusalem, the Israelis have built 13 new neighborhoods, where 250 000 Jews now live, linked together by freeways. They encircle the Arab areas of East Jerusalem and separate them from one another. The Israelis have also invented the concept of the "holy basin", which includes the Muslim Quarter of the Old City and the surrounding areas, which form the core of Arab Jerusalem. They are carrying out an active policy of expulsions, destruction and expropriation, making an eventual partition of Jerusalem much more difficult.
And yet the two-state solution is supported by the whole world?
In 1967, one of the first advocates of the two-state solution was Uri Avnery (historic figure on the Israeli pacifist left). He had no support at that time. Four decades later, his ideas have been immensely successful, as they are shared today by the entire world, even Bush. But in the meantime, the possibility of creating two states has faded away. Even if I do not rule out the possibility of a miracle, I do not personally believe anymore that the prospect is achievable.
Is that because of the Israeli policy of settlement?
The Israelis have applied the same policy to the West Bank as to Jerusalem. This extraordinary colonial ingenuity was carried out at the expense of the people. The Zionists have succeeded in terms of concrete and tarmac; in this respect, they exist. But in terms of flesh and blood, they remain outsiders. The more they succeed in laying concrete, the less they manage to create a real democracy and have it take root in the region.
What will happen to the Palestinians without a state?
We are still there, and that’s the paradox: in 1948, the Israelis wanted to create a state without Palestinians, and they almost succeeded in driving them out. In 1967, their victory reunited the refugees with those who had remained in Israel. We were scattered, they brought us back together. The Israelis are sowing their own failure by their success. The colonization of Jerusalem and the West Bank, which makes impossible a two-state solution, will force Israel to live with a sizeable Arab population and to reconsider its democratic system.
Why have the Palestinians failed?
\We failed, it is true, partly because of our inability to negotiate or to understand negotiating, and partly because of our corruption. Still worse, while playing politics, while running after a state, we allowed the living conditions of our people to deteriorate significantly. Twenty years ago, Palestinians in Gaza had no political rights, but they could travel to the West Bank, or even to Tel Aviv, to work there, go to the beach, to the restaurant. But we also failed because of the other party, which didn’t want to give us anything. Today, the Israeli dynamic goes against any concession. They no longer see the need for a compromise. The Israelis think more than ever in a Machiavellian way, believing that force is the only thing that matters, that it is the only guarantee of survival. Why would they be interested in negotiations?
Is the peace plan you drew up with Uri Avnery still possible?
I have proposed several of them! The best was undoubtedly the one I proposed in the 1980s, calling for Israel to annex outright the Palestinian Territories. Instead, they took the land, but left us without rights. So I worked with Ami Ayalon on the two-state solution. We reached agreement around six principles, which we chose from among the most painful concessions, so that everybody could see them clearly and governments would be forced to accept them. Jerusalem was one of those issues. It was then that Mahmoud Abbas signed the road map in 2003. I already thought it was a mistake.
What do you recommend today?
The latest plan I have proposed is a letter I sent six months ago to Obama and George Mitchell. I suggested they should immediately stop the negotiations, which have become useless; all the issues have been more or less settled, only the unsolvable points remain. Instead, the United States should propose its own solution to the remaining problems. Each side would put forward this plan to its own people in a referendum. The vote would take place on the same day, and the result would be conditional upon the acceptance of the other party.
What prospect is there for the Palestinians?
My next proposal will be to ask Israel to annex us, accepting us as third class citizens. The Palestinians would enjoy basic rights, movement, work, health, education, but would have no political rights. We would not be citizens, only subjects.