Oxford Union Debate: Who Is the Bigger Obstacle to Peace in Middle East? Israel or Hamas
In 2015, Oxford Professor Avi Shlaim and others debated over the question of who represents a bigger obstacle to peace, Israel or Hamas? This debate took place at the fabled Oxford Union at Oxford University in England. The following is the full transcript of Professor Avi Shlaim’s speech.
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Ladies and gentlemen, the motion before this house is preposterous because it exonerates the victims and it places, uh, because it blames the victims and it exonerates, uh, the oppressor and the occupier. Um, by peace, I mean a two-state solution and the biggest obstacle to peace is the Israeli occupation of Palestinian lands. The Israeli occupation is the most prolonged and brutal military occupation of modern times.
[Rabbi Boteach] Point of information, China since 1950 has been occupying Tibet much longer; even if you accept an Israeli occupation so that’s factually wrong.
I accept, um, but the colonial context is all-important for this conflict and the Palestinians conduct the last anticolonial struggle in the world today. Israel prided itself on being a democracy but because of the occupation it’s no longer a democracy, it’s an ethnocracy, um, a country in which one ethnic group rules over another and there is another word to describe this situation: apartheid. The present Israeli government is one of the most right-wing, xenophobic, and overtly racist governments in Israel’s history. The ruling party is the Likud and the Likud’s Manifesto at the last election explicitly rejects the idea of an independent Palestinian State. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu stated last week what he had believed all along but dared not say, he said that only Jews have National rights in the land of Israel. This was following a cabinet decision on Sunday which will introduce a bill to the Knesset, a basic law which defines Israel as the nation state of the Jewish people and it would delist Arabic, the language of 20% of Israel’s population, as an official language and it will emphasize the Jewish character of the state at the expense of its Democratic, uh, character and Netanyahu’s Coalition part Partners most of them are much more extreme and fundamentalist than he is. So the right-wing makeup of the present government militates again against the two-state solution and all the policies of the present government are intended to prevent the emergence of an independent Palestinian State. This government is a very reluctant participant in the comatose peace process. The peace process is a charade, it’s all process and no peace but it’s worse than a charade because it gives Israel just the cover that it needs to pursue its aggressive Colonial project on the West Bank. The present government is held bent on settlement expansion and settlement expansion is theft. Land grabbing and peacemaking don’t go together, it’s one or the other, and by its actions if not by its words this government has opted for land grabbing.
This government has accelerated Jewish settlement in and around occupied Arab East Jerusalem in defiance of international law. This government continues to build the wall on the West Bank. It calls it a security barrier and it claims that its purpose is security, but a much more important purpose of the wall is land grabbing. The wall is illegal. Maybe good fences make good neighbors, but not when the fence is built in the middle of the neighbor’s garden. So, Netanyahu is like the man who pretends to be negotiating the division of a pizza while he keeps eating it.
There is no Palestinian leader, however moderate, who is prepared to make peace on these ludicrous terms. In 2005, Israel withdrew from Gaza. This was not a contribution to peace. It was a unilateral Israeli move and it was part of an attempt by Israel to redraw unilaterally the borders of Greater Israel. The first step was the withdrawal from Gaza and the second step was to expand and consolidate Israel’s control over the West Bank.
On that point of information, well why is then that Israel, they demolished 4 settlements in the West Bank when they withdrew from Gaza in 2005 as well? Explain that, please. Thank you.
Okay, because Israel withdrew from Gaza and destroyed the houses which is a strange gesture of Brotherhood, um, and a strange gesture towards peace with the Palestinians and no, you’ve had your say. Israel withdrew 8,000 settlers from Gaza and in the following year, Israel introduced 12,000 new settlers in the West Bank.
So, as far as the Gazans were concerned, the result of this magnanimous Israeli gesture was to turn Gaza, to turn the strip into an open-air prison. Since the withdrawal from Gaza, Israel has launched three military campaigns against Gaza with very heavy casualties. In the last war in Gaza over the summer, there were 2,100 casualties, 80% of them civilians and 577 of them were children. Israel also inflicted massive material damage on Gaza which is estimated at 5 billion pounds. Israel presents its military operations in Gaza as part of a war against Terror, but it is these military operations themselves that are cruel acts of State terrorism.
In the course of these three wars, Israel has committed war crimes and are documented in the Goldstone report.
Point of information, Goldstone retracted his report.
No, absolutely not, he did not. He changed his mind about one episode but his report…
…which is 575 pages and I read it from start to finish, his report documents 33 episodes and not one, not two, not three but a whole series of Israeli war crimes. During the last phase of the last Gaza War, the Israeli Army launched a really vicious attack on civilians in Rafa. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon described it as a moral outrage and a criminal act and I would regard these words as an appropriate description of Israel’s entire policy towards Gaza. Israeli generals speak about their operations in Gaza as ‘mowing the lawn.’ This is a very grim metaphor and in any case a very curious way of bringing about peace with the Palestinian.
I served in the IDF in the mid-1960s and I served loyally and proudly because in my time the IDF was true to its name, it was the Israel Defense Forces. But as a result of the occupation, the IDF was transformed into the brutal police force of a brutal colonial power. The aim, the ultimate aim of all these policies is to– is politicide, politicide to deny the Palestinians any independent existence in Palestine.
Let me turn briefly to Hamas. Hamas is not Isis. Isis is a jihadist organization, Hamas is no.
I don’t have time. Hamas is a local organization with a local agenda and under international law the Palestinians have the right to resist the occupation and Hamas is the vanguard of this some resistance. Israel brands Hamas as a terrorist organization but initially, it supported it. Subsequently, it turned against Hamas and it has been practicing ever since the imperial policy of divide and rule
To conclude, Hamas is an Islamic resistance movement ready for negotiations leading to a two-state solution. Israel is a reactionary and racist colonial power which relies on brute military force to impose its apartheid regime on the Palestinians. Israel is the main obstacle to peace and I reject this motion with some vehemence.