Tonge Wrong (Again) – Guest Post by Ben Goldstein

Baroness Jenny Tonge, who infamously declared in 2006 that “the pro-Israeli lobby has got its grips on the western world, its financial grips”, took part in a recent debate about the two-state solution at the Cambridge Union. In her speech, she argues in favour of a “one-state solution” and, in so doing, makes a series of erroneous claims.

She first argues that “successive Israeli governments have never wanted a two-state solution – they want the whole of the land”. It hardly seems possible that a former MP who consistently makes speeches about the Middle East could be so ignorant of Israeli history. How would Tonge describe Rabin’s attempts to create peace based on two states in the 1990s, or Olmert’s in 2007? How would, in fact, she describe the current Israeli government, which contains Tzipi Livni (whose entire election campaign was based on the urgent need for a two-state solution) and Yair Lapid (who said “there’s no other game in town but the two-state solution”)? While the extremes of the hard right and elements of the settler movement might maintain the fiction of a Jewish state from Jordan to the sea, the vast majority of the Israeli political establishment (and, indeed, the Israeli public) favour a two-state solution.

When confronted with the reality of the 2001 Taba negotiations (where both sides agreed in principle on two states based on 1967 borders) by an intervention from an opposing speaker, Tonge replied: “They didn’t succeed”. Unfortunately for her, this is not the point. To substantiate her claim that Israeli governments have “never wanted a two-state solution”, it is insufficient to point out that negotiations up until now have failed. She would further have to demonstrate that each failure was committed by Israel deliberately – a burden that, given, for instance, Barak’s offer of 91 per cent of the West Bank and all of Gaza to Arafat in 2000, she unsurprisingly does not fulfil.

Tonge next uses what she claims is a Ben-Gurion quote: “If I were an Arab leader I would never make terms with Israel. We have taken their country.” This quote is unrecorded, and is found in a book by Nahum Goldmann. The book was published in 1978; Ben-Gurion died in 1973 and could therefore not dispute the allegation. The alleged quotation certainly does not fit with the vast majority of Ben-Gurion’s other writings, which calls on Israel to treat Arabs as equals; he wrote, for instance, that if ‘the Arab citizen will feel at home in our state…then Arab distrust will accordingly subside and a bridge to a Semitic, Jewish-Arab alliance will be built’ (Ba-Ma’Araha Vol. IV, Part 2, pp. 260, 265, quoted in Fabricating Israeli History, Efraim Karsh, p.67).

Even if Tonge’s attribution of that quote to Ben-Gurion holds (which seems unlikely), it is unclear exactly what Tonge seeks to draw from it. On one reading, she may be claiming that the Arab states (à la Iran or Hamas) ought not to make terms with Israel. If so, it is rather puzzling how she envisages cooperation between hardline Israel-hating Arabs and Jews actually happening in her single bi-national state. Alternatively, she may be using the quote to illustrate that “even the Zionists admit that they stole Palestinian land”. Leaving aside the obvious simplicity of the colonial narrative of the creation of Israel (which ignores the existence of a native Jewish population, the Balfour Declaration, the Peel Commission and the UN vote of 1947), it is again unclear how this helps Tonge argue for a one-state solution. Regardless of the rights and wrongs of 1948, the question is whether a one-state solution is feasible now and Tonge gives us literally no reason to suggest that it is.

Thirdly, Tonge says that “non-Jewish residents of Israel are distinctly second-class citizens. There are forty differences in the rights they have compared with the rights Jews have.” The details of these alleged “differences” are never elucidated. While it is clearly true that Arab Israelis face societal discrimination much like minority ethnic groups in other countries around the world, it is simply not true that they have different rights to Jewish Israelis. The Israeli Declaration of Independence states that Israel will offer “complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants irrespective of religion, race or sex; it will guarantee freedom of religion, conscience, language, education and culture”. That is why Arabic is an official language, and why there are Arab judges on Israel’s supreme court, Arab members of Parliament, Arab civil servants, Arab ambassadors, Arab army officers and Arab winners of The Voice Israel. Tonge’s assertion betrays a fundamental misunderstanding of the reality of the position of Israeli Arabs within the state – wholly equal under the eyes of the law, even while facing some structural inequality.

Finally, towards the end of her speech, Tonge describes a one-state utopia, with Jews and Palestinian Arabs ‘living together peacefully’. There are two problems here. The first is that it is wildly fanciful. The idea that groups with two distinct national/religious identities will hold hands and sing Kumbaya, when Hamas’ charter calls for the killing of all Jews and the majority of Israelis view a Jewish majority as fundamental to their security, is wholly untenable. Secondly, the one-state solution removes the right of self-determination from both the Jewish people and the Palestinian people. Majorities of both desire a homeland for themselves – a Jewish homeland, with an Arab minority, in Israel and a Palestinian homeland, perhaps with a Jewish minority, in Palestine. In a one-state “utopia”, one of these groups will ultimately have that right frustrated.

Tonge’s words at the Cambridge Union – which, incidentally, voted overwhelmingly against her position – should thus persuade nobody: the one-state solution is no solution at all.

Ben Goldstein is a student at Lincoln College, Oxford, and is currently an intern at the Britain Israel Communications and Research Centre.

The Price of Kings: Shimon Peres – screening 30th January

Received by email:

The Price of Kings: Shimon Peres

Film Screening & Discussion

Next Wednesday 30th January, at Kings College London, OneVoice will host an event to examine the legacy of President Shimon Peres, and the wider question of leadership in the region.

The Price of Kings: Shimon Peres

“I’ve never heard leaders speak like this before” – Total Politics
“Chills the blood” – The FT, “Uncompromising” – Huffington Post, “Outstanding” – The National
“Epic in scope, themes and revelations” – Rankin

Together with Kings College War Studies Society, the event will examine the legacy of President Shimon Peres and the wider question of leadership in the region with a Q&A after the screening.

Paul Charney (Chair, Zionist Federation)
Dr Ghada Karmi (Palestinian activist and academic)
John Lyndon (Executive Director, OneVoice Europe)
Richard Symons (Co-Director, The Price of Kings)

Venue: Room K4U.12, Kings Building, Strand Campus, Kings College London
Time: 7:00pm, Wednesday 30th January
Admission : FREE

We do hope you’ll be able to join us at Kings College for this event, and the subsequent screening next month of the second film examining the life and political legacy of Yasser Arafat.

OneVoice is an international mainstream grassroots movement that aims to amplify the voice of Israeli and Palestinian moderates, empowering them to seize back the agenda for conflict resolution and demand that their leaders achieve a two-state solution.

Israel – Palestine debate at Birmingham University, 24 November 2011

“How can we create a new conversation about Israel & Palestine?”

Received by email, this may be of interest to those of our readers who identify as Jewish, Muslim or Christian.

St Ethelburga’s is recruiting a group of Jews, Christians and Muslims to undergo an innovative process of co-operative inquiry exploring the Israel Palestine issue.  The group will spend a weekend away together in October, followed by an 8 day study and encounter tour of the Holy Land in November.  Followed by futher meetings to reflect on learning.

The programme will adopt the co-operative inquiry approach, which is a reflective action research model in which participants set an agenda and inquire together into a key research question.  The question in this programme will be focused on how to create productive dialogue around the highly divisive and polarising issue of the Middle East.

Our intention is to select a very diverse group of individuals, reflecting as wide as possible a range of perspectives, who have a strong connection to the issue as well as an interest dialogue processes.  We will fund air fares and hotels for successful applicants.

This is a very special opportunity to undergo an intensive learning experience with a diverse group.

Application forms and background information can be found at

Applications need to be with us by 30 August and selection and interviews will be in the second week in September.

Please forward this email on to anyone you think would be interested.

Please do not reply to this email.  For more information contact

Warm wishes,

Justine Huxley
Interfaith Projects Co-ordinator
St Ethelburga’s Centre for Reconciliation & Peace

Combatants for Peace – July 2010 UK Tour

This is a guest post by Kubbeh.

Israeli and Palestinian peace activists from Combatants for Peace are coming to the UK for a four-date tour later this month (21-30 July) in conjunction with Encounters. The bi-national group was set up by former Israel Defence Force soldiers and Palestinian militants who decided to put down their weapons and, instead, chose to work towards a peaceful future. (Engage can confirm that CfP are genuine peaceniks – and will be travelling to England by plane and not on a ship loaded with iron bars, knives etc.)

This tour will be a breath of fresh air for anyone who wants to see a peaceful resolution to the Israeli-Arab conflict. By cooperating across borders, Combatants for Peace are working towards an alternative paradigm to boycotts, demonisation, hatespeech and other strategies which serve to perpetuate conflict. The Israelis and Palestinians will be sharing their personal stories and non-violent creative methods for resolving conflict.

Combatants for Peace UK tour dates are as follows:

  • Saturday 24 July – Warrington Peace Foundation (10am and 7.30pm)
  • Tuesday 27 July – Centre for Peace & Reconciliation Studies, Coventry University (7.30pm)
  • Wednesday 28 July – Frontline Club, London (7pm)
  • Thursday 29 July – Amnesty International UK, London (10am and 7pm)

Full details here.

Bassam Aramim Scholarship Fund

The group is also raising funds for Bassam Aramim, Combatants for Peace co-founder, to study for a Peace Studies MA at Bradford University in order to strengthen his ability to struggle for peace and find solutions to the conflict in his backyard. For more information and to donate click here.

OneVoice channels fury

Got this by email from OneVoice:

“If you are furious about the situation in Israel and Palestine, you are not alone. Most people across the globe feel helpless seeing so much hatred, so many deaths and so much extremism.

As the situation continues to unravel, we at OneVoice are saying: enough.

The tragic events that unfolded in the waters off Gaza two weeks ago have brought into sharp focus just how dangerously unsustainable the status quo in the region is.  We call on every citizen to redouble his or her efforts to seize back the agenda for a comprehensive two-state solution – guaranteeing an end to the conflict, end to the occupation, and ensuring security and peace for the people of Israel and Palestine.

Amid these circumstances, it is almost impossible to think about the future. But now is precisely when we need to do everything in our power to ensure that such actions never happen again.

Imagine for a moment the year 2018.  What if in 2018 there was a final status agreement between Israel and Palestine?

Now imagine what life in 2018 will look like for you and your loved ones if there is continued violence, bloodshed and occupation.  Imagine if the events that we witnessed last week were to be compounded by eight more years of blockade, qassam attacks, violence, occupation, insecurity and mistrust.

Both of these futures are in fact very real.  Separated only by the willingness of people and their leaders to be courageous and take the actions necessary to achieving a two-state solution.

OneVoice Israel and OneVoice Palestine youth leaders are capturing thousands of visions for 2018 – asking people not only to visualize their future, but to create it!

OneVoice is channeling the frustrations of the millions of people who feel helpless and paralysed into concrete and constructive actions to ensure this tragedy does not repeat itself. Many Israelis, Palestinians, and concerned international observers do not agree about what took place off the shores of Gaza. Nor do they agree about what took place in 1948, 1967, or pretty much any date that marks a landmark event in this conflict’s constant downward spiral. But the vast majority of Israelis and Palestinians can agree about what 2018 should look like.

We are asking three questions:

WHAT will it take to end the conflict?

– This month, Adi Grady speaks about her efforts in convincing Israelis to support their government in negotiations.

WHAT does the region look like?

– In this issue, Dalia Labadi gives her account of a special Town Hall Meeting in Jenin with Palestinian Policemen

WHAT is your role in getting there?

Mohammed Asideh gives his personal story about growing up in Nablus, why he joined OneVoice Palestine, and what he’s doing to help build a Palestinian state.

What is your 2018?

OneVoice is an international grassroots movement that amplifies the voice of mainstream Israelis and Palestinians, empowering them to propel their elected representatives toward a two-state solution. The movement works to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict by advocating for a negotiated two-state solution that ends the occupation, ensures security and peace for Israel and Palestine, and solves all final-status issues in accordance with international law. The 1967 borders form the basis for the establishment of an independent, viable Palestinian state with permanent borders and any modifications to be agreed on by both parties. The movement recognises that violence by either side will never be a means to end the conflict.”

One Voice – resisting polarisation

OneVoice‘s priority is to resist the polarising forces of conflict, encourage Israelis and Palestinians, in parallel, out of their fixed narratives, and build a mandate for elected politicians to negotiate a settlement which establishes a Palestinian state.

Read about OneVoice Glasgow’s visit to the Israeli town of Sderot terrorised by bombs from Gaza, and the Palestinian town of Salfeet, harassed by growing Israeli settlements. Also read a Q&A session with OneVoice’s youth leaders. Dalia Labadi:

“At OneVoice, everything you’re doing is for a better future, geared toward ending the conflict and the occupation. This is a noble feeling, when you’re doing something for the people that you’re part of. Being part of the movement made me more attached to the society, because you’re caring about your people’s future. Like Lee said, the other thing I’m proud of is hearing the other side’s narrative. This is something that you can’t be introduced to through the media or watching television. OneVoice could bridge the narratives.”

Peace and reconciliation or victory over the other?

Benjamin Pogrund

Benjamin Pogrund

Benjamin Pogrund advocates peace – a two state solution – on Comment is Free.

The idea of two states – Israel and Palestine – living side by side in peace is endorsed by most of the world. The one-state solution that some support is a non-starter. Yet the chance of a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestine conflict is diminishing. It is imperilled by unceasing growth in the number of Jewish settlers on the West Bank, known officially in Israel by the biblical names of Judea and Samaria. In 1972, 1,500 Jews lived there; now, it is more than 289,000. The more settlers and the bigger their settlements, the less possibility of creating an independent and viable Palestinian state. The Gaza Strip is out of the equation at this stage because of failure by Fatah and Hamas to agree on a joint government.

Israel has repeatedly promised to halt expansion on the West Bank. It has done so through its leaders and by going along with the road map of 2003, the Wye Plantation agreement before that, the Annapolis accord and so on. Despite this, last year the number of settlers increased by 4.9%, and the year before by 5.5%.

The ongoing process will be challenged on 18 May when the prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, will be in Washington DC for his first meeting with US president Barack Obama. The extent to which Obama insists that Israel keep its promises – and more importantly, how far he will go for fulfilment – will determine the future of the Middle East.

Obama has already declared his aim: the two-state solution. Secretary of state Hillary Clinton agrees. It’s also the policy of the Palestinian Authority. The European Union wants it. So does Russia. The Arab League has offered acceptance, with qualifications, through its Saudi peace initiative.

Former president George W Bush also wanted two states. Israel told him it would curb settlement growth. It did not. Every now and again secretary of state Condoleeza Rice visited Israel and gave a press conference to announce that she was telling the government to curb settlements. She was ignored.

The three years up to January this year tell the story. Ehud Olmert was prime minister. He began as a rightwinger, believing in Israel’s continued settlement of the West Bank, which it has occupied since the 1967 war. But he changed: during his last two years in office he increasingly supported a Palestinian state; by his last cabinet meeting he was saying passionately that Israel had to end its occupation. He warned that Israel was doomed if it stayed: its Jewish majority was threatened by Arab numbers and an apartheid situation would arise if it remained.

However, his government’s actions consistently contradicted his words. Statistics provided by the Peace Now movement, using census and UN details show that 5,111 new “housing units” (meaning anything from one to 20 apartments) were built from January 2006 to January 2009, and tenders were issued for more than 1,500 housing units.

The same pattern occurred in the “illegal outposts” set up without formal government permission. Israel has promised to evacuate them. But not one was evacuated during the three years; instead, the outposts acquired 560 new structures – mainly caravans but also permanent buildings. At the start of Olmert’s tenure, 475 roadblocks and checkpoints existed in the West Bank. Their purpose was and is security. With less tension and suicide bombings ended, the number was supposed to be reduced. Instead, according to the UN, by January this year there were more than 600.

East Jerusalem also features. It is intended to be divided and be a shared capital for Israel and Palestine. But the 250,000 Palestinians who live there have vast difficulty in getting permits to build houses and when they build illegally they are targets for demolition orders. At the same time, housing for Jews is fostered: during the three years, tenders were issued for 2,437 new housing units. These will add to the existing Jewish residential areas in East Jerusalem, which occupy 35% of the area and house 190,000 people. As far as is known, Olmert – who resigned as prime minister to face corruption charges – has never explained the discrepancy between his words and official deeds.

The fact is that the settlers do pretty much as they want. Many are driven by religious messianic belief that God gave Judea and Samaria to Jews and it is their right and duty to keep it so forevermore. Although the settlers are a tiny minority of the Israeli population they have become the tail that wags the dog. Successive governments have backed away from reining them in out of fear of violent resistance.

The settlers and their supporters – who include those who believe in possession of the West Bank for security purposes – permeate the government. That has enabled the illegal siphoning off of millions upon millions of shekels from departmental budgets to provide houses, build roads and lay on electricity and water to settlements and outposts – and to guarantee permanent protection by the army.

A government lawyer, Talia Sasson, appointed to investigate the illegal outposts, reported four years ago that the state was undermining its own rule of law. She has been ignored. None of it could be possible without the army’s active connivance. No Israeli can do anything on the West Bank unless the army agrees and helps. That is also a cause for government apprehension: the officer corps has changed in character and the proportion who are religious has increased to about one-fifth. They live in settlements, or have family or friends there. Will they accept orders to evacuate, if necessary by force?

The settlers and others who support them are deliberately creating facts on the ground to undermine the chance of a Palestinian state; and even if one comes into being to ensure that it is so divided and weak as not to present any security threat. The intention is also to establish a ring of Jewish settlements around Jerusalem to cut off the city from the West Bank so that it cannot serve as a Palestinian capital. Meanwhile, the new rightwing government’s policy on dealing with Palestinians is still being prepared and its statements are confused. Netanyahu, for example, says he wants to resume peace negotiations without conditions with Palestinians; in the next breath he says Palestinians must first accept Israel as a Jewish state.

Washington is sending strong signals: on Tuesday, Joe Biden and John Kerry told the pro-Israel Aipac lobby annual conference that Israel must freeze all West Bank building and make further concessions to the Palestinian Authority. It’s also reported that two weeks ago Obama proposed a new deal on Palestinian refugees to Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah.

But will Obama wield a stick if Israel does not embrace a two-state solution and work with Palestinians to get swift agreement on the core issues of ending the occupation, borders, Jerusalem, the Holy Basin and refugees? How big a stick is available as he contends with the economic catastrophe, domestic problems and Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran and Pakistan? How can he drive an Israeli government to do what it doesn’t want to do?

Benjamin Pogrund advocates peace – a two state solution – on Comment is Free.

Norman Geras on Antony Lerman’s latest Cif piece


Reconciliation and understanding, not boycotts and exclusions