FR20. Februar 2015

Die palästinensische Schimäre

Die Zweistaatenlösung ist das einzige Modell, das die Politik als Lösung für den Nahostkonflikt diskutiert. Aber einige Intellektuelle aus Israel und Palästina denken längst über einen binationalen Staat nach.

Ein Beitrag unserer Kuratorin Gudrun Harrer im Online-Standard


DO12. Februar 2015

Irmgard Griss im Kreisky Forum

Am 10. Februar lud BKF-Präsident Rudolf Scholten Irmgard Griss, ehemalige Präsidentin des Obersten Gerichthofes, zu einem Kamingespräch in die Armbrustergasse ein.

Auch Josef Votzi vom Kurier war dabei und hat einen Bericht darüber verfasst.

MI11. Februar 2015


Elias Khoury’s speech on the occassion of the Public Roundtable Debate “RETHINKING THE POLITICS OF ISRAEL/PALESTINE”, organized by the Bruno Kreisky Forum for International Dialogue and the S&Group in the European Parliament in Brussels, February 5th 2015 

„The big question that is still puzzling me is why the myths in the question of Palestine were and are still able to veil the realities of the present.

I am not referring here to the original myth which was the midwife of the original sin of Israel during the war of the Nakba in 1948 that led to the ethnic cleansing of Palestine.

I will be referring to three myths that are still playing a major role in misleading the public opinion, and creating a feeling that peace and justice can never be two complementary elements in formulating the present and the near future of the Arab Mashreq known as the Middle East.

One of the major obstacles facing the discussion of the question of Palestine is that we have always to prove evident facts such as: the Palestinian people exists and was pushed by force from its land, and that Palestine was never a waste land or a desert and that Palestine is now the last country in the world that is still under a colonial military and racist occupation, where the Palestinians are becoming the Jews of the Jews.

What I am calling here evident facts becomes, with the three myths that I will be trying to discuss today, a real problem, because without the demystification of these three myths we will remain in a political and moral labyrinth, where the only outcome would be a dead end.

The Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish wrote in one of his poems about “the invader’s fear of memories and songs”, this fear is not a poetic metaphor, but is part of the daily realities of the Palestinian villages in Israel destroyed and then covered with forests. The relationship between these new forests and the buried memory will lead in the story of the Israeli writer A.B.Yehoshua entitled “Facing the Forests” to a huge fire eating the trees and uncovering the remains of a past that is still the present of the land of Palestine.

I will not be speaking about memories and the nostalgia for a lost homeland, but rather about recent history, about this past that is still the present, and about facts that are covered by the thick narrative of the victor that was able to make from the myths an integral part of the dominant discourse.

I will be speaking this morning about three myths: 1-the myth of partition, 2-the myth of the refugee problem as an outcome of the Arab Israeli war in 1948, and 3-the myth of the peace process and the two states solution in the frame of the Oslo agreements. The deconstruction of these myths will be the first step towards imagining a possible future.

1-The myth of partition

The big question raised in the face of the Palestinian struggle is why the Palestinians did not accept the UN partition plan of 1947, and when the reply is that the P.L.O. in the Palestinian congress of Algiers built its claim for statehood on the UN resolution 181, which was the legal document of partition, the reply will be but it is too late now.

It is absurd to argue the idea of being late with an ideology whose legitimacy is based upon the so called heavenly promise, and with a national discourse based upon the idea of waiting 2000 years before the “return” of the Jews to their “promised land”!

This kind of debate will lead nowhere, and instead I want to question the idea of partition itself: Was there a real project of partition? or partition was a project to cover ethnic cleansing and the annexation of what will be left of Palestine to Transjordan?

The first project of partition was suggested by the British Royal Commission led by Lord Peel which was sent to Palestine in April 1936, during the Palestinian revolt against the British colonialism and the Jewish immigration. There are 3 major points in this plan:

1-   The number of the Arab population in the suggested Jewish state was nearly equal to the number of its Jewish population: 304,900 Jews and 294,700 Palestinians, whereas the number of the population in the suggested Arab State was 485,200 Arabs and 7200 Jews. In order to solve this problem that makes of the Jewish state a bi-national state, the report suggested a “compulsory transfer” of the Arabs from the Jewish State.

2-   The commission recommended the annexation of the Arab State to Transjordan.

3-   The report mentioned that Jerusalem, Bethlehem, Ramallah and tens of Palestinian villages will stay under British mandate.

This plan will become the master plan of the other projects of partition, this will be the case with the British government project of partition of 1944, that made some changes on the Peel project, but one of the major common elements between these two projects was the fact that the so called Arab state will be annexed to Transjordan.

In these two projects of partition there was no Palestinian state. Although the UN resolution of the partition November 29 1947, mentioned two states, but it was clear that there were no two states in the horizon, and that the destiny of Palestine was already decided with the Peel report: a Jewish state and the annexation of what will be left to Jordan. This feeling turned out to be a reality after the publication of the historical facts by the New Israeli Historians about a deal between the Zionist leadership and prince Abdullah of Jordan.

2-The refugee problem and the Arab Israeli war

The refugee problem was not an outcome of the war launched by the Arab states against the new born Jewish state inMay 15 1948, but it was an outcome of an Israeli military master plan of occupation and ethnic cleansing under the name of the Dalet plan.

In his study “The Dalet Plan”, first published in the Middle East Forum 1961, the Palestinian historian Walid Khalidi proved that this plan which its implementation began in April 1948, two months and a half before the end of the British mandate and the entrance of the Arab armies, was composed of 13 military operations, 8 of them were outside the boarders of the Jewish state as according to the UN partition plan.

The outcome of the Dalet Plan was the occupation of the major coastal cities: Haifa, Jaffa and Acre, and the destruction of dozens of Palestinian villages.

The first Palestinian city to fall was Tiberius, April 16 1948, followed by Haifa, April 21 and Jaffa, May 13 and Acre, May 16. The attacks of the well organized and equipped Israeli forces were faced by unorganized resistance and local militias which were without a coherent leadership.

The horrors of the massacre of Deir Yassin, April 9 1948, will be repeated in different places and ways, and the major part of the ethnic cleansing was already achieved before the beginning of the Arab Israeli war in 1948.

I do not want to enter now in the myth of the Israeli David facing the Arab Goliath, because the facts of the military Israeli supremacy are unveiled now. But what I want to sign out here is that the ethnic cleansing of Palestine was not an outcome of a war but one of its reasons,  and that the transfer of the Palestinians, first mentioned in the Peel plan, was the major element in the project of the occupation of Palestine by a colonial movement.    

 One can speak here about the errors, the weakness, and the lack of leadership in the Palestinian ranks, but this weakness justifies nothing, yes they clarify the situation but the weakness of the oppressed can never justify the acts of the oppressors.

The Palestinian novelist Ghassan kanafani, in his novel “Return to Haifa” formulated the question of weakness and mistakes with these words: “When are you going to stop considering the weakness and mistakes of others are endorsed over to the account of your own prerogatives? …  And you, do you believe we’ll continue making mistakes? If we should stop making mistakes one day, what would be left for you then?

The myth of the peace process

Edward Said considered the Oslo Agreement as a major Palestinian mistake. For The author of “Orientalism” the Palestinian leadership did not learn from the lessons of history, and accepted to sign an agreement that did not solve the main issue which in his words is the struggle between present and interpretation. The Palestinian present is interpreted by the dominant Israeli discourse as an absence. Thus the notion of the present absents (a legal Israeli term to describe the Palestinians who were displaced inside the state of Israel), will become now extend to the Palestinians in the occupied territories who are living under a problematic autonomy, witnessing and struggling against the Israeli project of their political disappearance, and against the creation of new facts represented by the Jewish colonies that are spreading all over the occupied West Bank.

The historical development has proved that Said’s hypothesis was not baseless. But I would like to read the so called peace process beyond the notion of historical errors. My hypothesis is that the adequate word to describe it is “surrender”. The Palestinian leadership did not exchange its recognition of the state of Israel with the recognition of the right of The Palestinian people to self-determination, but with the recognition of the P.L.O.

On the other hand the P.L.O. made a huge concession when it renounced to the rights of the Palestinians in 78 percent of Palestine and accepted a new partition of the land which goes far beyond what was given to the Jewish state in the U.N. partition plan. This was surrender by all means. And like all surrenders the defeated that recognizes his defeat will defend mainly his right to exist. This is my reading of the Oslo Agreements. The Palestinians accepted the unacceptable in order to survive, or at least this is what the leadership of the PLO thought.

The total failure of these agreements showed that the Israeli establishment is unwilling and may be unable to accept the idea of the partition of the land between two sovereign states. This inability is not the outcome of the policies of the Israeli right wing governments, as most people think. Actually the failure was declared under the Ehud Barak labor government in the Camp David negotiations in 2000, which led to the second Intifada.

The dead end of the peace process finds its reasons in the refusal of the Israeli establishment to accept a Palestinian surrender, because accepting such surrender is a way, even if it is oblique, to recognize the Palestinian present, and to dismiss its interpretation as an absence.

This will lead us to the fact that the Nakba is not a historical event, that began and ended in 1948, but a process that began in 1948 and is still continuing, and there are no signs that it will stop in the coming future.

The Palestinian writer Raef Zreik suggested that any serious discussion must take us to 1948. The point of departure in rethinking the future of Palestine/Israel must be the Nakba not as a historical fact only, but also in its manifestations now.

This is a great intellectual and political task, reading the continuous Nakba in a perspective of justice, equality and peace, needs new approaches that will take us beyond the mythical, nationalistic and religious claims, towards discovering a new way that will decolonize the land and liberates its inhabitants from the illusion of building the present with the stones of a messianic and/or apocalyptic past.

Does this means a bi-national state, or two states in one confederation, or a Middle Eastern democratic and socialist confederation? I don’t know, all what I know is that there must be a new way of thinking that will pave the way for the struggle for freedom and liberation.

Unveiling the myths does not necessarily lead to a solution; it can also lead to an arrogant nationalistic discourse, as it is the case with the New Zionists Historians, who are giving legitimacy to the crime, through admitting it. This phenomenon demonstrates how the ideology of our savage capitalist era can lead to a discourse that despises the human sufferings, and become prisoner of a racist religious nationalist project, whether it is a Jewish State that wants its victims to recognize its Jewish nature thus losing all their rights, or an Islamic state, that is unable to recognize that The Arab Mashreq (The Levant) was and will continue to be a land of diversity.

I am suggesting that the best way to read Palestine is to read it as a question. Palestine is the question of the human conscious in our times.. Reading it only as a national question will make from the victims of the holocaust the victimizers of the Palestinians.

I want to end my intervention with the story related by the Israeli New Historian Ilan Pappe in his book “The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine”, about the occupation and destruction of the Palestinian village Sa’a’ in February 14 1948. The commander of the Israeli battalion Moshe Kalman responsible for the attack told the New York Times (April 14 1948) that the Jewish troops encountered no resistance from the residents as they entered the village and began attaching T.N.T. to the houses. “We ran into an Arab guard”, Kalman recounted, “he was so surprised that he didn’t ask min hada? Who is it? But eish hada?  What is it? One of our troops who knew Arabic responded humorously hada (this is in Arabic) eish (fire in Hebrew) and shot a volley into him”.

This story reveals the difference between questions and answers, instead of questioning what was and is still going on, the soldier transformed  the Arabic- Hebrew mixture in his reply to bullets that shot the question  and the killed the poor peasant who dared to ask.

Between the Arabic eish (what) and the Hebrew eish (fire) lays the tragedy of Palestine/ Israel. If we will continue to treat the issue as an answer then the eish or fire will not only burn the forest, as it is the case in the story of A.B.Yehoshua but will burn also the Israeli forest’s watcher and the mute Palestinian peasant, and the whole region.“

MO09. Februar 2015

Yanis Varoufakis at Bruno Kreisky Forum in 2012

In December 2012 Yanis Varoufakis, meanwhile Minister of Finance in Greece, had been invited by Robert Misik/Genial dagegen, to the Bruno Kreisky Forum for international Dialogue.  His main theme: the European Crises in it’s Global context.

Visit Varoufakis’ blogroll thoughts for the post-2008 world to listen to his speech.


DI20. Jänner 2015

Interview mit Zygmunt Baumann


The Charlie Hebdo Attack And What It Reveals About Society

Political assassination is as old as humanity and the chances that it will be dead before humanity dies are dim. Violence is an un-detachable companion of inter-human antagonisms and conflicts – and those in turn are part and parcel of the human condition. In various times, however, political murders tended to be aimed at different kinds of victims.

Read the Interview

MI14. Jänner 2015

Rethinking the Politics of Israel/Palestine. Partition and its Alternatives

This volume, published by Bruno Kreisky Forum for International Dialogue and the S&D Group in the European Parliament, editetd by Bashir Bashir and Azar Dakwar, brings together the voices and views of leading Palestinian, Israeli Jewish and European intellectuals, politicians and activists, who prpose alternative approaches and „out of the box“ thinking on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. More specifically, this unique volume aims to contribute to the emerging efforts of re-examining the current strategies and paradigms through proposing and exploring new perspectives, visionary discourses and alternatives to partition in the case of the Israel-Palestinian conflict. Put differntly, it seeks to enrich European public discourse with original and refreshing views and alternative paradigms to settling this lingering conflict.

We present the volume as eBook. To order the free of charge coverversion please send an email to



DO08. Jänner 2015

Charlie Hebdo

Douze personnes ont trouvé la mort dans l’attaque du siège de Charlie Hebdo, dans le centre de Paris, mercredi 7 janvier. Onze personnes ont également été blessées par les assaillants, dont quatre grièvement, parmi lesquels le journaliste Philippe Lançon et deux policiers.

Artikel von Le Monde

MO15. Dezember 2014

Americans Against Genozid In Gaza (AAGG)

Netanyahu disrupted during congress by a brave Jewish girl who exposes Israel, to be tackled by AIPAC .

Rae Abileah, a 28-year old Jewish daughter of an Israeli, is a member of Code Pink, a pacifist organization. She told Ynet that she had disrupted another speech by Netanyahu at the Jewish Federations General Assembly in New Orleans in November.


DI02. Dezember 2014

Rage in Jerusalem

by Nathan Thrall*

What the government of Israel calls its eternal, undivided capital is among the most precarious, divided cities in the world. When it conquered the eastern part of Jerusalem and the West Bank – both administered by Jordan – in 1967, Israel expanded the city’s municipal boundaries threefold. As a result, approximately 37 per cent of Jerusalem’s current residents are Palestinian. They have separate buses, schools, health facilities, commercial centres, and speak a different language. In their neighbourhoods, Israeli settlers and border police are frequently pelted with stones, while Palestinians have on several occasions recently been beaten by Jewish nationalist youths in the western half of the city. Balloons equipped with cameras hover above East Jerusalem, maintaining surveillance over the Palestinian population. Most Israelis have never visited and don’t even know the names of the Palestinian areas their government insists on calling its own. Municipal workers come to these neighbourhoods with police escorts.

Palestinian residents of Jerusalem have the right to apply for Israeli citizenship, but in order to acquire it they have to demonstrate a moderate acquaintance with Hebrew, renounce their Jordanian or other citizenship and swear loyalty to Israel. More than 95 per cent have refused to do this, on the grounds that it would signal acquiescence in and legitimation of Israel’s occupation. Since the city was first occupied 47 years ago, more than 14,000 Palestinians have had their residency revoked. As permanent residents, Palestinians in Jerusalem are entitled to vote in municipal (but not Israeli national) elections, yet more than 99 per cent boycott them. With no electoral incentive to satisfy the needs of Palestinians, the city’s politicians neglect them.

All Jerusalemites pay taxes, but the proportion of the municipal budget allocated to the roughly 300,000 Palestinian residents of a city with a population of 815,000 doesn’t exceed 10 per cent. Service provision is grossly unequal. In the East, there are five benefit offices compared to the West’s 18; four health centres for mothers and babies compared to the West’s 25; and 11 mail carriers compared to the West’s 133. Roads are mostly in disrepair and often too narrow to accommodate garbage trucks, forcing Palestinians to burn rubbish outside their homes. A shortage of sewage pipes means that Palestinian residents have to use septic tanks which often overflow. Students are stuffed into overcrowded schools or converted apartments; 2200 additional classrooms are needed. More than three-quarters of the city’s Palestinians live below the poverty line.

Since 1967 no new Palestinian neighbourhoods have been established in the city, while Jewish settlements surrounding existing Palestinian areas have mushroomed. Restrictive zoning prevents Palestinians from building legally. Israel has designated 52 per cent of land in East Jerusalem as unavailable for development and 35 per cent for Jewish settlements, leaving the Palestinian population with only 13 per cent, most of which is already built on. Those with growing families are forced to choose between building illegally and leaving the city. Roughly a third of them decide to build, meaning that 93,000 residents are under constant threat of their homes being demolished.

The government has no shortage of bureaucratic explanations for this unequal treatment, but it doesn’t always try to hide the ethno-religious basis of its discrimination. After the recent terrorist attacks by both Jews and Palestinians in Jerusalem and the West Bank, the government demolished the homes only of the Palestinian perpetrators. Palestinians who live in houses abandoned during the 1948 war have been evicted to make room for Jewish former owners and their descendants, but the reverse has yet to occur.

Jerusalem was once the cultural, political and commercial capital for Palestinians, connected to Bethlehem in the south and Ramallah in the north. But the construction of the separation wall cut Jerusalemites off from the West Bank and from one another. The route of the wall was chosen to encompass as many East Jerusalem and West Bank Jewish settlements as possible while excluding the largest possible number of Palestinians. In the Jerusalem area, only 3 per cent of the wall follows the pre-1967 border. The wall divides the Palestinians in Jerusalem into two groups: three-quarters have found themselves on the Israeli side; a quarter are on the West Bank side, and are now forced to wait in long lines at checkpoints to get to schools and other services. Some smaller Palestinian villages are completely encircled by the wall.

Because areas on the West Bank side of the barrier are still within Jerusalem’s municipal boundaries, the Ramallah-based Palestinian Authority is forbidden to enter them. But the Israeli police, in common with the providers of other basic municipal services, largely refuse to go to these places. Despite this, residents are still obliged to pay municipal taxes, in order to qualify for healthcare and benefits. These neighbourhoods have become a no man’s land where criminals can escape from both Israel and the PA.

In Palestinian areas on the Israeli side of the wall, too, crime has become pervasive. Israeli security forces tend to enter these areas only when there’s a security threat to Israeli Jews. The Israeli security presence in East Jerusalem is made up mostly of paramilitary units, which are there essentially to quash dissent and prevent attacks on settlers rather than to protect Palestinians. Non-co-operation with Israeli forces, because of rejection of their authority or out of fear of being seen as collaborating, has allowed gangs to proliferate. They are involved in robberies, drug smuggling, gun-running and extortion, which affects large numbers of Palestinian businesses. Rising crime and insecurity have helped make East Jerusalem a ghost town at night.

Unrest and ethnic tension have been increasing for some time now, but only since July have people been referring to the growing protests and violence as an intifada. At the end of June, the Israeli army discovered the bodies of three teenage students at West Bank yeshivas who had been murdered earlier that month. The next day, hundreds of Jews demonstrated in West Jerusalem, chanting ‘Death to the Arabs,’ ‘Mohammad is Dead’ and similar slogans. Several dozen protesters attacked Palestinian workers and passers-by. Before sunrise the next morning, three Jewish nationalists abducted a randomly selected 16-year-old Palestinian called Mohammed Abu Khdeir, from the upper-middle-class neighbourhood of Shuafat, beat him and burned him alive.

In the days following his murder, riots broke out in Palestinian areas of Jerusalem. A new light railway that passes through Shuafat on its way to the nearby settlement of Pisgat Ze’ev has been repeatedly stoned and the service suspended. Demonstrations spread when the war in Gaza broke out a week after Abu Khdeir’s murder. Since then, protests have taken place in East Jerusalem nearly ever day.

Two of the focal points are Silwan, south-east of the Old City walls, where Jewish settlers with state-funded private security guards have taken over numerous buildings, and the Haram al-Sharif, known to Jews as Har HaBayit (the Temple Mount), where Israel has been restricting Palestinian access and allowing more visits by a small but vocal Jewish minority which boasts a minister and deputy ministers in the present government and which ignores ultra-orthodox prohibitions by advocating prayer and even the construction of a third Jewish temple on the site.

Jerusalem’s mayor, Nir Barkat, said recently that the number of incidents involving stone-throwing and Molotov cocktails had risen from two hundred per month in the period preceding the Gaza war to five thousand per month since. More than a thousand Palestinians in Jerusalem, most of them minors, have been detained since July – four times the total arrested in East Jerusalem for security-related offences between 2000 and 2008, a period that includes the Second Intifada.

To counter the unrest, the Israeli government has seconded a thousand special forces officers to the Jerusalem police; deployed four extra border police units; conducted large-scale raids and increased the presence of paramilitary forces in East Jerusalem; established checkpoints and barricades around Palestinian areas; called on Israelis who have firearms licences to join a volunteer security force; ordered the houses of Palestinian attackers to be demolished and their relatives arrested; dispersed crowds by hosing them with a foul-smelling liquid known as the ‘skunk’; erected concrete barricades at stations; formed a police task force to address the violence; threatened to fine parents of teenage demonstrators; proposed prison sentences of up to twenty years for throwing rocks; and handed out fines in Palestinian neighbourhoods for such minor offences as jaywalking and spitting out the shells of sunflower seeds.

So far, none of these measures has had much effect. Growing numbers of Palestinians, particularly in East Jerusalem, have been injured and in several cases killed by Israeli forces. In November, another Palestinian teenager in East Jerusalem was abducted and beaten, but left alive. Several Palestinians in the West Bank have been deliberately run over by Israelis in recent months. Attacks on Israelis have increased sharply. A leading supporter of Jewish prayer in the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount was shot. Two axe, knife and gun-wielding Palestinians from East Jerusalem killed a police officer, a worshipper and three ultra-orthodox rabbis at a West Jerusalem synagogue on 18 November. There have been gruesome attacks on Israeli soldiers and civilians by Palestinians using guns and knives and vehicles. More Israelis have died in such incidents in recent weeks than in 2012 and 2013 combined.

The prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, and the foreign minister, Avigdor Lieberman, as well as Israeli government spokesmen, have claimed that the Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, is inciting this violence, but this assertion is aimed at thwarting Abbas’s diplomatic initiatives rather than providing a sober assessment of the causes of the unrest. As Israel’s senior security officials have stated, recent attacks have actually been the work of ‘lone wolves’ – spontaneous acts of violence, not committed by followers of a particular political faction. They stem precisely from the absence of Palestinian political leadership, unified or otherwise.


Palestinians in general feel disconnected from their political leaders, but the sense of abandonment is particularly acute in Jerusalem, where the PA is strictly forbidden from acting and to which Ramallah, like most of the Arab world, devotes many lofty words but very few deeds. When he assented to the five-year interim arrangements for Palestinian self-governance in the Oslo Accords, Yasser Arafat agreed to exclude Jerusalem from the areas that would be governed pro tempore by the PA. Local leaders, notably the late Faisal Husseini, refused to agree to this, which is one reason Yitzhak Rabin, who resolutely opposed dividing Jerusalem when he was prime minister and said he would rather abandon peace than give up a united capital, chose to bypass Husseini and instead pursued secret negotiations in Oslo with Arafat’s emissaries.

Palestinians in Jerusalem have been bereft of political leaders since Husseini’s death in 2001. All four of Jerusalem’s representatives in the Palestinian parliament – all of them members of Hamas, elected in 2006 – have been deported. Shin Bet, Israel’s internal security agency, monitors ‘political subversion’, which includes lawful opposition to the Israeli occupation. Since all Palestinian political parties oppose the occupation, they and their activities have, in effect, been criminalised. Even innocuous Palestinian institutions such as the Jerusalem Chamber of Commerce have been shut down. Years of Israeli suppression of Palestinian political activity have ensured that when violence erupts in Jerusalem, there is no legitimate leadership to quell it; and spontaneous, unorganised protests and attacks are far more difficult for the security forces to thwart and contain.

The notion that Abbas has incited them to protest is laughable to Palestinians in Jerusalem. When permitted entry to the city, his representatives and associates have been verbally and physically attacked by Palestinian residents. A former religious affairs minister and his bodyguards were hospitalised after an assault while they were in the Haram al-Sharif, and a PA governor was shouted out of the mourning tent of the family of Abu Khdeir. The PA is accused of standing idly by as a withering Palestinian Jerusalem has been encircled, divided and constricted.

Abbas is adamantly opposed to leading an intifada, peaceful or otherwise, and he will almost certainly resign if a new one begins. Understanding his deep-seated abhorrence of violence, Hamas agreed to a joint campaign of peaceful protest with Abbas’s Fatah movement in the West Bank, but Abbas and the security forces under his command have continued to act against such demonstrations. Even now, with Hamas’s rise in popularity after the Gaza war and Palestinian frustration in Jerusalem and cities within Israel, Abbas has refused even the non-violent means of pressuring Israel that have been available to him for several years, such as supporting the boycott of goods not just from the settlements but from the state that creates and supports them, and curtailing security co-operation with Israel. Thanks in part to collaboration between Israeli and Palestinian security forces, Palestinian dissent is more conspicuous in areas outside the PA’s control: hunger strikes in Israeli prisons, boycotts and divestment in the diaspora, and protests and violence in Palestinian communities in Israel and Jerusalem. When the PLO’s political strategy is to submit resolutions to the UN Security Council which it knows in advance will be vetoed, it is little wonder that Palestinians in Jerusalem are acting on their own.

The current upsurge in protests and violence has been called the silent intifada, the individual intifada, the children’s intifada, the firecracker intifada, the car intifada, the run-over intifada, the Jerusalem intifada and the third intifada. But what it most closely resembles isn’t the First (1987-93) or the Second (2000-05) Intifada but the surge in unco-ordinated, leaderless violence that preceded the largely non-lethal protests in the early part of the First Intifada. Then, as now, such violence was blamed wrongly on the PLO leadership. Then, as now, that leadership appeared defeated and in decline. The PLO had been ousted from Lebanon, Israeli settlements were expanding, and Palestinians didn’t see how their leaders could achieve the national movement’s goals. As in 2006, local nationalist leaders in the West Bank came to power in 1976 in elections whose results Israel sought to undo. These legitimate leaders were toppled and deported, and more compliant, unelected figures were put in their place. Then, as now, with no organised leadership in the West Bank and Gaza offering a clear strategy of national liberation, sporadic assaults on Israelis, not attributable to any political faction, were on the increase.

The crucial difference between the mid-1980s and today is that Palestinian civil society is now much weaker, and so, too, is the likelihood of coherent political organisation of the kind that emerged soon after the First Intifada began. The groups that then channelled political activity have been supplanted, either by the institutions of a technocratic PA whose existence is premised on close co-operation with Israel, or by NGOs whose foreign funders make assistance conditional on the pursuit of apolitical development projects or vague peace-building strategies that explicitly rule out non-violent confrontation with Israel and any initiative likely to drive up the costs of military occupation. Palestinian society is afflicted with dependency, and it is dependent on forces that wish to preserve the status quo.


Israelis don’t like to admit it, but both intifadas brought significant progress to the Palestinians in their quest for liberation. After a short-term increase in the scope and severity of the occupation, Palestinians were given greater autonomy, not just from Israel but also, in the First Intifada, from Jordan, which renounced all claims to the West Bank in 1988. No less important, after both uprisings Israel, the US and the international community moved closer to Palestinian positions.

Israel, however, took steps to immunise itself against some of the weaknesses exposed by these uprisings. After the First Intifada, it established the PA, to which it outsourced much of its responsibility for crowd control and counter-terrorism, thereby limiting the exposure of its soldiers. The PA was financed mainly by Europe and the US, which also made Israel less vulnerable to economic pressure, such as the non-payment of taxes or the mass resignation of public employees. It allowed fewer Palestinian workers into Israel, protecting the economy from the effects of strikes. During and after the Second Intifada, Israel took measures to protect its population on both sides of the pre-1967 borders, erecting the separation barrier, removing settlers and soldiers from Gaza, and further restricting the movements of residents of Gaza and the West Bank.

With all the despairing talk today of the impossibility of a two-state solution and the inevitability of protracted civil war in a single state, it is easy to forget how different the conflict looked two intifadas ago. Before the First Intifada, no one of any importance spoke of Palestinian statehood, rather than autonomy. Today statehood is publicly accepted, even if only rhetorically, not just by the US and the UN but by a long-serving Israeli prime minister from the hawkish Likud. Before the First Intifada, Israel and the US refused to engage with the PLO. Dividing Jerusalem was unthinkable, as was the idea of partition along the pre-1967 borders, with equal swaps. Today these are the positions of most of the international community and growing numbers in Israel. Many Israelis, however, see no reason for their country to take substantial risks and pay a large cost to change an imperfect but long-lasting and manageable status quo. It would be a great tragedy if nothing less than a third uprising, at a terrible price, could convince them otherwise.

21 November 2014

Nathan Thrall is a senior analyst with the Middle East and North Africa Programme of the International Crisis Group. He lives in Jerusalem.

DI25. November 2014

Antrittsvorlesung des Vranitzky Chair

Rede von Botschafterin und BKF Vorstandsmitglied Dr. Eva Nowotny am 24.11.2014 an der Univ. Wien

Magnifizenz, sehr geehrter Herr Bundeskanzler, sehr geehrter Professor Gries, meine sehr geehrten Damen und Herren,

Ich freue mich, dass ich auch Gelegenheit habe, bei diesem feierlichen Anlaß ein paar Gedanken mit Ihnen zu teilen und bedanke mich sehr herzlich für die Einladung. Ich fühle mich dem Vranitzky Chair auf mehrfache Weise besonders verbunden – einerseits als Vorsitzende des Universitätsrats der Universität Wien, an der dieser Chair verankert ist, und als Vorstandsmitglied des Bruno Kreisky Forums für Internationalen Dialog, welches den Chair aktiv unterstützt. Andererseits und vor allem aber, weil ich das Glück und das Privileg hatte, von 1986 bis 1992 im Büro von Bundeskanzler Vranitzky mitarbeiten zu dürfen. In der Erinnerung an diese Jahre schließt sich für mich auch der Kreis zu der heutigen Veranstaltung und zum Thema der Vorlesung von Professor Gries. Drei außenpolitische Entwicklungen von besonderer Bedeutung hatten diese Jahre geprägt: zum einen der Weg Österreichs, gemeinsam mit Schweden und Finnland in die Europäische Union, zweitens der Zusammenbruch des kommunistischen Herrschaftssystems in Zentral- und Osteuropa, der Fall des Eisernen Vorhangs, die Auflösung des Warschauer Pakts und schließlich der Zerfall der Sowjetunion und ihre Transformation in die Gemeinschaft Unabhängiger Staaten, und drittens, besonders relevant für das Thema des heutigen Abends, der Beginn des blutigen Zerfalls Jugoslawiens.

Politische Gegner haben oft und gerne polemisiert, wir hätten damals die Realität nicht erkannt, bzw die Situation falsch eingeschätzt, und krampfhaft versucht, Jugoslawien als gemeinsamen Staat aufrecht zu erhalten – ein Vorwurf, der nicht berechtigt ist, der aber trotzdem immer wieder und gerne auch heute noch in den Medien kolportiert wird. Es war einerseits ein Ergebnis der geographischen Nähe, weit mehr aber noch ein Ergebnis der zahlreichen und intensiven Kontakte, die Österreich auf allen politischen Ebenen, von der Bundesregierung bis zu lokalen Bürgermeistern hatte, dass uns früher als vielen anderen bewusst war, was sich in unserem Nachbarstaat unheilvoll zusammen gebraut hatte. Ebenso war uns bewusst, dass angesichts der politischen Spannungen, aber auch des historischen Ballasts, den alle Balkanstaaten mit sich tragen, eine Explosion der Gewalt und eine blutige Auseinandersetzung zu befürchten war. Es war gerade Bundeskanzler Vranitzky, der seit den späten 80er Jahre jede Gelegenheit bei seinen internationalen Kontakten dazu benützte, auf diese drohende Gefahr aufmerksam zu machen. Wie wir wissen, war im Vorfeld des Krieges das europäische, aber auch das internationale Interesse an dieser Krise sehr gering.

Winston Churchill hat angeblich (und ich betone angeblich, weil es gerade von Winston Churchill sehr viele kolportierte Zitate gibt) einmal in einer Parlamentsrede gesagt: „The problem with the Balkans is that they have always produced more history than they can consume.“ Nun ist das etwas, das man über viele Staaten sagen kann, Österreich durchaus miteingeschlossen. Aber jedem, der sich mit der Geschichte dieser Region und gerade auch mit dem gewaltvollen Zerfall des alten Jugoslawiens beschäftigt, ist klar, dass die Geschichte hier eine ganz besonders belastende Rolle gespielt hat. Es sind hier Mythen im Spiel, die weit in die Vergangenheit zurück reichen, Berufungen auf vergangene Größe, Rache für nie vergessene Niederlagen und so weiter, die von einer Generation an die nächste tradiert werden und so immer weiter leben.

Es ist zu wünschen, dass es gelingt, durch das Angebot und in der Folge die Realsierung einer Mitgliedschaft in der Europäischen Union diesen Ballast abzubauen und vor allem der jugendlichen Bevölkerung dieser Staaten andere Orientierungen, andere Perspektiven und andere Denkmuster anzubieten. Die Tatsache, dass die Europäische Union allen Staaten des sogenannten Westlichen Balkans die Beitrittsperspektive eröffnet hat, bestätigt, dass man sich dieser Verantwortung bewußt ist und auch die Bedeutung der EU Mitgliedschaft für Sicherheit, Stabilität, wirtschaftliche Entwicklung und Modernisierung der gesamten Region erkennt. Ebenso wäre es mehr als wünschenswert, wenn sich aus diesem Vranitzky Chair als Forschungsprojekt andere Formen der kollektiven historischen Erinnerung für die gesamte Region entwickeln ließen. Wir wissen sehr gut, wie schwierig das ist, und ich erinnere nur an die jahrzehntelange Arbeit der sogenannten Wandruszka Kommission für das gemeinsame österreichisch-italienische Geschichtsbuch. Ich wünsche dazu Herrn Professor Gries den besten Erfolg.


* Franz Vranitzky Chair for European Studies, transdisziplinäre Professur am Institut für Zeitgeschichte und am Institut für Publizistik- und Kommunikationswissenschaft der Universität Wien in Zusammenarbeit mit der Sigmund Freud Privat Universität Wien