DETROIT — Israeli peace activist Neve Gordon spoke at Wayne State University on March 26 about prospects for peace in the Middle East, offering a fairly pessimistic perspective on the likelihood of a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
He said that while Palestinians believe that establishing their own state will create better economic conditions, “economic incentives for peace are not there for the Israeli side.”
“It has become a capital of the homeland security industry in the past seven years,” he said.
He said the lack of will on the part of Israeli leadership is a major obstacle to achieving peace.
Gordon listed several conditions that would be necessary for legitimate negotiation to take place, including the establishment of a coalition between Fatah and “young pragmatics” like Ismail Haniyeh and Mustafa Barghouthi.
The ideologues on each side, he said, cannot continue to hold power if there is to be a chance for peace.
He said, grimly, that the likelihood of a strong coalition for peace on the Israeli side is slim, with polls showing that if the election were held now, Binyamin Netanyahu would win. “And he would not push for peace.”
The struggle for the kind of tolerance and understanding that would lead to a will to create peace, he said, has gotten worse over the years as the two sides become more physically divided.
“Today (Israelis) in their 20s and even in their 30s have never even seen a Palestinian. And now they’re building this wall.”
Gordon described the indirect process by which Palestinians are often removed from their land to make room for new settlements, which he calls “expulsion through undermining the infrastructure for existence.”
“Forceful incentives,” he said, like cutting off access to water and preventing children from getting to schools, cause people to eventually move away on their own.
But while criticizing Israel and the U.S. for its support of the occupation, “We must criticize Palestinians too,” he said.
He said the Palestinians should not allow their plight to harden them to the point of allowing militants to indiscriminately kill innocents.
“The Palestinians must not allow to happen to them what happened to the Jews,” he said. “The Holocaust led Israel to do, morally, I think, horrible things.”
He said that strategically, for the Palestinians, a massive nonviolent resistence movement would be the most effective.
“That’s the voice that needs to be heard.”
But peace activism in the U.S., he said, may be largely futile, as the political system in the country allows for little change, no matter who is elected.
“If there will be a light it will come from Europe,” he said.
Despite the grim outlook, Gordon said those who believe in peace should not be entirely discouraged.
“It leads to a profound pessimism… There’s no clear solution. But that doesn’t mean we can put everything down and go home. I think we should keep on fighting for peace in the Middle East.”
Gordon teaches politics at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, Israel. His book, “Israel’s Occupation,” will appear later this year.