An AIJAC online discussion with Dr Einat Wilf

April 27, 2020 by J-Wire Newsdesk
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Rather than a classical unity government between two ideologically opposed parties, Israel’s National Emergency Government “reflects a broad consensus that has emerged in Israeli society in the last decade or two,” at least when it comes to the conflict with the Palestinians.

Dr Einat Wilf

Former Labor Party Knesset member, Dr Einat Wilf, shared this and many other insights in a wide-ranging online discussion hosted by the Australia/Israel & Jewish Affairs Council last week.

The former advisor to Prime Minister Shimon Peres, who has established a reputation for clear and incisive analyses in her scholarly and popular lecturing and writing, was interviewed by

AIJAC’s Director of International and of Community Affairs Jeremy Jones AM, followed by questions from journalists, academics and AIJAC supporters.

Dr Wilf, a leading commentator of Israeli affairs and co-author of the just-released book ‘The War of Return’ spoke authoritatively on Israeli politics, The Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the problems with international support for the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA).

After three elections in a year, Israel finally formed a National Emergency Government between the two largest parties in the Knesset, Binyamin Netanyahu’s Likud and Benny Gantz’s Blue and White, with  “the pandemic and its economic consequences” being “the extra element that pushed the sides to say ‘okay, we’re not going to go into a fourth election,’” Wilf said.

Asked about the Labor Party’s dismal performance in recent elections after earlier dominating Israeli politics, Wilf said “You could argue easily that for the last several elections, Blue and White was the Labor Party… it represented the same sociology, the same demography, and it represented many of the same centrist views.” Wilf says “the party that is named ‘The Labor Party’ has just become a very marginal party that deals with social issues” as, after the Palestinians rejected Statehood and launched the Intifada in 2000, the Land-for-Peace formula championed by Labor lost all credibility.

Dr. Wilf is an exemplar  of this shifting consensus, having once been a member of the Peace Camp herself. Her book, ‘The War of Return,’ co-written with Israeli journalist Adi Schwartz, deals with the crux of the conflict and the shattering of Labor’s hopes for the Israeli-Palestinian peace. “When Ehud Barak went in 2000 to Camp David…and he put on the table a proposal for a Palestinian State, an independent…Palestinian State in the West Bank and Gaza, with a capital in East Jerusalem, including in the Old City… this was everything we grew up and were told that the Palestinians wanted and that the day that the Palestinians will get it is the day we will have peace. And what happened is that they walked away from that. They walked away from a similar and even more far-reaching proposal in 2008 by Ehud Olmert.”

 She said that this was a “massive wakeup call” for the Israeli left. “People like Adi and myself began to ask, so what’s going on? You could have had a state! Why are you not grabbing it?… And the fact that they walked away, and not just walked away, it was followed by this murderous campaign of exploding families, children, in stores, in buses, in cafes. The message was basically nope, what the Palestinians want is not a State.”

“From the Palestinian perspective, the conflict was never about how to divide the land between the Jewish people and the Arabs of the land, the Palestinians. From their perspective, and that has never changed, the Jews were foreign usurpers of a land to which they had no historical connection, and therefore the only just outcome… is no Israel, no Jewish sovereignty”, she said.

At the heart of the Palestinian desire to abolish Israel and establish a Palestinian State “from the river to the sea” is the refugee issue and the oft-cited “right of return,” which lends its name to the book. “Why is it that from a war that happened in the 40s we have millions of people who claim to be refugees from that war, by now into the 5th generation?” Wilf asked as this is not the case with any other refugee population.

Wilf asserted that this is the core issue of the conflict, rather than a bargaining chip or secondary issue to settlements and borders. “It reflects, from their perspective, the fact that the War of 1948 is not over.” The Right of Return “is neither a right, nor a return… The vast majority of Palestinians who claim to return have never lived in the land… It was made up to make it very clear that the war is not over, and this demand is equivalent to saying ‘no Israel, no sovereignty for the Jewish people. Only when that is erased, only when the Palestinians return and the Jews become a minority in an Arab land, this is the proper situation, and then we can call the war over.’”

The primary organization perpetuating this ideology is the special Palestinian refugee agency UNRWA. “It was established as a temporary agency thinking that the refugees would be resettled in the Arab countries as happened with all other refugees from other wars.” However, the Arab countries did not want the war to end, and so refused to resettle the refugees and kept the issue alive. “UNRWA is basically the infrastructure, the organization, the agency that helps the West indulge the maximalist Palestinian vision and keep the conflict alive.” UNRWA “is effectively a Palestinian organization. Almost all its employees, 30,000, are Palestinian… It is effectively the Palestinian social system for the ‘Palestine from the river to the sea.’”

 Wilf submitted that UNRWA must be abolished if peace is to be possible, and the necessary services it provides should be decoupled from the agency’s toxic politics and handed to bodies including the Jordanian government, the Palestinian Authority and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHRC), the organization tasked with dealing with all other refugees.

UNRWA still tells Palestinians living under the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank that they are refugees. “So which Palestine exactly are you a refugee from? The Palestinian knows the answer: Palestine from the river to the sea. The question, of course, is why Australia, why New Zealand are funding that, ”  she concluded

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