On 28 December 2016, US Secretary of State John Kerry delivered a comprehensive speech about the United States’ vision for a two state solution. Kerry’s address was remarkable for its candor: he insisted that settlements did not increase Israel’s security; he referred to Israel’s establishment as the Palestinian nakba; said that Israel must choose between either Jewish or democratic, but could not be both; among other remarks. The speech was also typical in its overemphasis on Palestinian violence as a root cause of the conflict as opposed to a symptom of setter-colonialism.
In this interview, Jadaliyya Co-Editor Noura Erakat joins MSNBC by phone to comment on the speech and to respond to US Congressman Brad Sherman, who explained that the demand of return for Palestinian refugees was equivalent to removing all Jews from the Middle East.
MSNBC Host: Joining me now by phone, Noura Erakat, Human Rights Attorney and Professor at George Mason University. Noura I understand that you were listening to congressman Brad Sherman, just before the break. Do you care to respond to what congressman Sherman had to say?
Noura Erakat: Congressman Sherman told viewers and unfortunately, his constituents, that the end of an apartheid regime that distinguishes between Palestinians and Jewish Israelis and actually privileges Jewish Israelis as a matter of law, and an apartheid regime is the same thing as removing Jews from the entire Middle East. That is very disingenuous, that is dangerous, that is an outright lie, and irresponsible thing to say as a member of congress. Jews are part and parcel, an intricate fabric of the middle east from Yemen, Morocco, Syria, Lebanon, Tunisia, the rest of North Africa. This is not the same thing, and even Jews to stay in what is Palestine and Israel is absolutely fine. The request is to end an apartheid regime, not to remove Jewish people, those are two different things, and the conflation of those things is very dangerous and exactly why this conflict has become intractable.
MSNBC: Well professor I want to drill down on that a little bit with you. Obviously the Palestinians see the situation very differently than the Israeli Prime Minister. Why is the idea of recognizing Israel as a Jewish state being characterized as such a roadblock here?
NE: Israel demanded that Palestinians recognize it as a juridical reality which they did in 1987 and formally in the Oslo peace process in 1993. Israel has been recognized juridicaly and has existed as a state since 1948 and has been--entered the United Nations as a member state in 1949. So this idea that the—now demanding, upping this demand, moving the needle so that Palestinians are short yet again is basically like telling France, we do not want you to just recognize that France is for the French, or that the U.S. is for Americans but like saying, hey you have to recognize that the U.S. is for white Americans only or that France is for French Americans only. Right now within Israel, twenty percent of its population is not Jewish, they are Muslim and Christian Palestinian citizens of the state, who are treated as a fifth column. What happens when the state is not recognized as a state for Israelis, but is recognized as a state for Jews only? What happens to those Palestinians who are citizens of the state that are Christian and Muslim? Are we okay with that? As a country that separated in the first amendment, separated church and state, and believes in equality and believes in the treatment of people regardless of creed, color, religion. Are we okay with them saying that Israel is only for Jewish citizens? And not for all citizens of the state? I leave that up to your listeners and to your viewers. I certainly am not. And I think when Palestinian Authority, or Palestine refuses to recognize Israel as a Jewish state, it is for similar reasons. For the values that we uphold.
MSNBC: Both Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and two republican senators today said that the real problem is Palestinians. I am talking about Lindsey Graham for instance who said that the Palestinians are in complete disarray when it comes to acting like a state. That is a direct quote. What do you say to Senator Graham?
NE: I say two things. The first thing is that they are not a state, they are a people under occupation. We, the only person that ever offered a nominal statehood to Palestinians was Ehud Barak, and those negotiations fell apart in the year 2000. There is an expectation for a people who are functioning under a military occupation and apartheid regime when the Prime Minister has to literally get the, excuse me the Palestinian President has to literally get permission to travel out of Palestine from Israel and then to turn around and expect them to act the same as a state means that we are not providing the means to the Palestinians in order to be able to function. Sovereignty is met with responsibility and Palestinians have not had that sovereignty, and yet have met nearly every demand Israelis have imposed on them. And the problem is not Palestine. And Kerry said it today in his speech: the settlements do not increase Israelis security. The settlements compromise Israelis even more, by being built on Palestinian lands that require their dispossession, their removal, their concentration. And them, their militarization, their treatment as suspects just for existing and living near there afterwards. How is Israel making itself safer? How is furthering its own cause? Obama and now Kerry are trying to save Israel from itself. Unfortunately members of congress, rather than aiding the Democratic leadership in ushering a new era, are simply protracting the conflict further and moving us faster into an apartheid reality.
MSNBC: Alright Professor Noura Erakat unfortunately have to leave it there. Thank you very much for your time today.