One might be tempted to view Norman Finkelstein’s attack on the growing ‘Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement as containing all the elements of a “Realpolitik” that the majority of Palestinians and their supporters lack. Nevertheless, while we should not forget that this is a man who has defended the rights of Palestinians for more than thirty years, the conclusion has to be that, “realist” or not, Norman is a soft zionist.
Of course, that appendage may just be greeted with a contemptous smirk by a man who, after all, has managed to show humour when being bombarded with diatribe of a more vitriolic nature in his confrontations with countless extremely hard zionists. Soft zionist he may be but in order to understand, his stance we should still look beyond not only that, but also his obvious sense of humour, and in doing that we soon arrive at the mainstay of all his arguments. “The law is the law, ……”, we have heard him say on numerous occassions and very soon we are reminded how Dershowitz et al. were made to look the immoral fools that they are. Therefore, is it not at least consistent when he says; “Israel is a state. That’s the law.”
Unfortunately, while Norman is most certainly neither immoral, nor a fool, he has got this seriously wrong and he is not consistent. Furthermore, his “You have to go along with what the public is ready to accept”, “can I defend this in public?” and “are you reaching a mainstream public?” to support his seriously flawed premiss might be pragmatic catchphrases that he believes could to some extent facilitate the Palestinians getting a “reasonable” deal, but that is all they are, catchphrases, and with Israel having flouted and continuing to flout international law at every turn since 1948, they are not even pragmatic.
Ideed, it is here that we might take issue with both the historian and the activist Norman Finkelstein. The historian appears to not only disregard the law for the sake of his “realism” but also to compromsie himself morally regarding the Nakba, while the activist knows that the settlements are unjust and illegal but fails to mention that they are part of that ongoing illegal ethnic cleansing that started in 1948. Of course, we might wonder if “pragmatic” Israel would, under any circumstances, consider dismantling the settlements! Certainly, for the zionist state moral and legal factors have never been important and, if advocates of the Palestinian case and cause follow a Norman Finkelstein who expicitely says that “equal rights means the end of Israel”, at best lip service is going to be paid to any pressing moral and legal demands which the Palestinians might have.
Of course, and here is the real contradiction, he is ostensibly putting forward the Palestinian’s legal case, but at the same time sacrificing that legal case when it comes to UN General Assembly resolution 194 . Moreover, his statement that many countries have minorities who are badly treated and that the Palestinian population in Israel itself shouldn’t be a concern of any ultimate settlement, or at best a minor concern, fails to grasp the fact that that population is also the product of an illegal ethnic cleansing. Indeed, not only that but he would deny them equal rights as those equal rights might pose a threat to Israel’s existence. His realism is informed by a “what the public is ready to accept ” and not, as he contends. The “public” is ready to accept Israel’s existence, de jure Israei as a state exists, according to Norman within the pre-67 borders, and it is left for the Palestinians to accept this.
This reasoning is tremendously flawed because in fact tthe legal boundaries of Israel and Palestine remain today exactly as they were delimited in Resolution 181. Norman might be a very good forensic historian but, on this occassion at least, he seems, at best, to be very liberal in his interpretation of the law. We can only be pleased that he wasn’t so sloppy in his discussions with Dershowitz and in his condemnation of the occupation and Israeli aggression against not only the Palestinians, but also the Lebanese. Nevertheless, the struggle should be based on international law. and that law also includes UNGA resolution 194. Furthermore, even if the implications of that being applied might mean Israel’s disappearance from the map, that is, for the time being at least, irrelevant and all the more so when we consider Norman’s deference to the realities on the ground. Realities which, of course, make it very difficult to envisage where a future Palestinian state is going to be and what kind of state it can possibly be.
In conclusion, It might be that, should Israel start to comply with the law, the Palestinians might accept a soft zionist solution. However, that will be for them to decide and, until Israel shows an inclination to obey the law there can be no “compromise” on Palestinians rights. Those rights are all the Palestinians have and the zionist state cannot be allowed to believe that crime pays. Norman Finkelstein has fought many battles for Palestinian rights, and has personally suffered because of them, however, like his mentor Naom Chomsky, he is a soft zionist. However, to be fair to him, he appears to genuinely believe that his own particular soft zionist stance can also benefit the Palestinians and secure the best deal that they will ulitmately get. However, ultimately his is a political stance, for zionism is a political movement, and we should reject it outright for it is in fact, by bringing as much as possible to the table, and that includes both the rights of those Palestinians who live within the 1967 border and resolution 194, that any sort of worthwhile deal can be achieved by the Palestinians. After all, they will be negotiating with hard zionists not soft ones. It is, perhaps, time to bring a “state for all its people” onto the agenda.
Who knows? The “pragmatist” Norman might make fun of his own “maoist” past but, while we should abhor the crimes of Mao and the Chinese Communist Party, we can admire the tenacity of a political movement that almost disappeared in the 20s, only to survive and ultimately seize power in 1949. Yes it might even be that the Palestinians can indeed get something better than the soft zionist solution that Dr Finkelstein advocates and for that to happen they most definitely do not want to allow that solution to predetemine their stance on the way to any final settlement.