"We need a different language"

Why is it so important what German intellectuals or politicians say?

Boehm: I think soon enough we will face moments when Germany needs to take a stance on Israeli foreign policy again. The status quo cannot be maintained. I am not talking about annexation – the West Bank has basically been annexed for a long time. I fear it will get worse and we will face the possibility of expulsions. The Israeli government won't call it that. According to the Israeli mainstream, the Palestinians were never expelled. There was no Nakba. Just as there is neither occupation nor apartheid.

Imagine the following scenario: during a future round of hostilities rockets are fired from the West Bank, seriously disrupting Israeli daily life. Ben Gurion Airport is shut down. What does Israel do? A right-wing government is likely to take the opportunity to advance their goals. The usual suspects in Germany would then explain that Israel has to defend itself and that the Palestinians have brought this suffering on themselves.

But should it come to large scale expulsions from the West Bank – or some kind of ‘Gazaisation’ of the Palestinian enclaves there – how would the German government and the Bundestag react? What would the German media say?

We have grown accustomed to international law being flouted to the detriment of the Palestinians. We need to talk about this. We need a different language to define Germany's commitment. It is about responsibility for the past, rather than guilt. In the U.S. we can already observe a change in the discourse; these days the U.S. Jewish community is refusing to support the Israeli right-wing vision.

And the Biden administration will increase this trend?

Boehm: It’s far from clear whether we will see anything meaningful with a view to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The Democratic Party under Obama was unable to achieve much with its vacuous attempt to uphold the dead two-state solution. Then came Trump. By contrast to Obama or the EU, he actually had a meaningful policy – a terrible one, to be sure. Will we see Biden returning to the old, meaningless language of “saving the two-state-solution“? That would be disastrous. The U.S. government needs to find the language for a new, meaningful policy.


[Ed.: Interview is in English, despite its German YouTube title]

If you were Biden’s national security advisor, what kind of language would that be?

Boehm: Honestly, I am thankful to be merely a philosophy professor. But the way I understand it, it is all about strategy: how do we move forward towards a new type of politics? What would be the alternative to two-state politics? We already know that the U.S. under Biden will have an interest in re-establishing respect for international law and politics: re-enter the Iran nuclear agreement and the Paris climate agreement.

By the same token, they must retreat from Trump's disastrous decisions on Israel/Palestine – recognition of the annexation of the Golan Heights, moving the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem, the ‘deal of the century’, etc. – but without returning to the old paradigm. I strongly recommend that it be guided by the right of the two peoples to self-determination, potentially expressed in the form of an Israeli-Palestinian federation.

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