Talking About Palestine

The recent re-election of Benjamin Netanyahu in Israel was a resounding blow to the fantasy of a peace process in Palestine. His anti-Arab pronouncements in the last minute of the campaign were an indication of the true sentiments of the Israeli establishment and much of Israel’s Jewish population. Likewise, his easy rejection of those pronouncements after his victory was assured proved once again the meaninglessness of the so-called peace process. In other words, there really is no process working towards peace between Israel and Palestine. Indeed, the only process occurring between the two nations is one that is intended to wipe any fact of Palestine from human memory. If there is no history that mentions Palestine, then there will be no future that includes it. This is the intention of the Zionist project.

The fact of this intention is not new. Nor is the ongoing media relations attempt to pretend that the erasure of Palestine is not Zionist Israelis’ design. As Noam Chomsky and historian Ilan Pappe make quite clear in a new book of conversations and essays edited by human rights activist Frank Barat, erasing history is a weapon of the powerful. In terms of how this relates to Israel and Palestine—where the mediators in the “peace process” accept the same definitions as the Israeli government, “…the past becomes an obstacle to the so-called mediators, but the past is everything in the eyes of the occupied and oppressed people.” Similarly, when the US tells Iraq to forget about the US invasion and move on, it is an attempt by the more powerful nation to obfuscate its true role.OnPalestine_cover_2

This new book, titled simply On Palestine, includes a series of dialogues between Chomsky and Pappe with Barat gently guiding the direction the dialogues take. Because the conversations took place in 2013 and 2014, the reality of Netanyahu’s continued rule does not exist. However, this makes very little difference and actually verifies the general veracity of the point being made: that Israel’s intent has always been to push the Palestinians out of their homes, their lands and history itself. As the dialogues make clear, this truth is present in the documents of and statements of early Zionist settlers and in more recent ones. Despite the varieties of Zionism that have existed historically and exist today, the intent of most of its adherents is that objective and that objective alone.

Chomsky makes an interesting point during the discussion about the right of a state to exist. There is no such thing, he states. To demand other peoples and nations to accept any nation’s right to exist is absurd and without precedent. Yet, this is precisely what Israel has demanded. In addition, now Israel demands that others recognize its right to exist as a Jewish state. As the book points out in terms of a comparison, Iran has named itself an Islamic Republic, yet that does not mean it can demand that it be recognized as such. Returning to Israel and Palestine, the Palestinians (from Hamas to the Palestinian Authority) have acknowledged that Israel exists as a geographical fact; however this does not require them to officially recognize that. As a comparative example, Washington did not even recognize the People’s Republic of China until 1979, thirty years after the fact of its existence.

Some readers of On Palestine will want to emphasize the differences between the two men, specifically in regards to their differences regarding the academic aspect of the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) movement. However, a more useful reading in reviewer’s mind would be one that sees this and other disagreements that arise in the conversations transcribed in the text as the beginnings of an attempt at synthesis between the various approaches that have arisen in support of the Palestinian struggle. As both men point out, the Palestinian groups that compose the national liberation movement itself are anything but unified. This therefore makes it more difficult for those supporters who are not Palestinian to come up with a single approach in their work, as well.

This book is a very accessible discussion of the issues surrounding the question of Israel/Palestine. It is a lesson in the politics and history of the conflict between the two peoples that by its nature includes philosophical inquiries into questions of nationhood and nationalisms, religion and ethnicity, imperialism and the struggle against it. Through the questions from Frank Barat, Ilan Pappe and Noam Chomsky provide the interested reader with an honest and profound discourse on all of the above. While doing so, the discussion broadens and deepens the context of this issue into an exploration on the meaning of history and politics as only these two intellectuals can. The inclusion of a few essays by each man at the conclusion of the text enhances the dialogue that precedes them.

Ron Jacobs is the author of a series of crime novels called The Seventies Series.  All the Sinners, Saints, is the third novel in the series. He is also the author of  The Way the Wind Blew: a History of the Weather Underground . Jacobs’ essay on Big Bill Broonzy is featured in CounterPunch’s collection on music, art and sex, Serpents in the Garden.    He is a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion, published by AK Press. His book Daydream Sunset: Sixties Counterculture in the Seventies will be published by Counterpunch. He can be reached at:

Ron Jacobs is the author of Daydream Sunset: Sixties Counterculture in the Seventies published by CounterPunch Books. He has a new book, titled Nowhere Land: Journeys Through a Broken Nation coming out in Spring 2024.   He lives in Vermont. He can be reached at: