In July 1985, the European Nuclear Disarmament movement (END) convened in Amsterdam. One plenary session featured a discussion between Ilan Halevi and Mary Kaldor concerning peace movement support for liberation struggles in the Third World, and for the Palestine Liberation Organization in particular. The question had provoked considerable controversy at END’s meetings a year earlier, and the conference organizers responded by inviting Halevi and Kaldor to discuss frankly the issues at stake, including pacifism, political violence and the reluctance of Western peace forces to confront Israeli militarism and occupation policies.

Ilan Halevi, a Palestinian Jew, lives in Paris and represents the PLO in Europe. He was appointed to this position following the assassination of Isam Sartawi in Portugal in 1983. Mary Kaldor is the author of several books and many articles on militarism and nuclear war, and has been a prominent spokesperson for the END movement in Britain.

Ilan Halevi: We are speaking about Palestinian relations with the European peace movement and the relation of the European peace movement to the Palestinian question in general and to the PLO in particular. Such relations as exist are on the level of formal representation. It is quite clear that there is a distance between the European peace movement and the PLO, in so far as none is for the other at the very center of its concern.

From the Palestinian point of view, the question of how to deal with the European peace movement, what to expect from it, can not be disassociated from the question of what we expect from Europe. We have to distinguish between European public opinion, political forces, democratic currents and governments. None of these are completely identical with the European peace movement. Yet there are common European attitudes. These have to do with a lack of European understanding of our position and our practice.

First of all, there is the fact that the PLO is a liberation movement which has existed and developed for 20 years with and through an armed struggle. Armed struggle for the PLO has never been an end in itself. It has always been considered as a means to achieve political ends, namely the realization of Palestinian national rights. But this has been integral, at least in the first decade of the modern liberation movement of the Palestinian people, a very crucial part of the struggle. The peace movement in Europe has been, for reasons of its own, imbued with ideals of non-violence and, generally, a rejection of any philosophy based upon the use of force.

For the PLO and for many other liberation movements, this reflects a lack of understanding of what we see as very limited and mostly defensive violence exerted against huge military machines and repressive apparatuses. We see our own defensive violence put on an equal footing with violence with a capital V, put into the same conceptual category as nuclear war or general war. So there is a very deep misunderstanding around the whole question of the role of violence in liberation movements.

I don’t want to lay too much stress on this question of violence. The struggle of the Palestinian people happens on many levels and the political and diplomatic and ideological struggles in and outside Palestine are more important than the armed aspect. But it would be hypocritical and false analytically to set it aside, because certainly the existence of this armed dimension in liberation movements is one of the cornerstones of misunderstanding with the European peace movement.

The other element has to do with a misperception on our part of the character of the European peace movement. The Euro-centrism of this movement in a way is natural — it is a European peace movement, how could it be anything other than Euro-centered — but this European dimension can also be perceived from outside Europe as a very selfish, European way of confronting the question of peace and war. To make it very rough and slightly provocative, I would say that the European peace movement has been perceived in many Third World countries as a movement of Europeans who have organized in order to prevent the transformation of Europe into a nuclear battlefield. The implication of this is that so long as conventional warfare continues in Africa and in Asia and in other Third World countries, everything is all right.

The danger is the transition from conventional warfare in Africa and Asia to nuclear warfare in Europe. Everyone can comprehend the survival interest of Europeans, but at the same time you must understand that this leaves very little room for non-European peoples to identify with such a movement for itself. Not that we are unconcerned with the question of nuclear warfare. But if in order to prevent nuclear warfare from taking Europe as a battlefield, it means that the people of Africa and Asia must go on being massacred daily by conventional means, then the European peace movement is proposing very little for us.

We also feel that our struggle suffers from a lack of sympathy on the part of those who otherwise support Third World liberation movements. You find a lot of people who have no problem at all supporting either the people of Nicaragua, El Salvador, South Africa, or the people of Eritrea, Cambodia, Afghanistan, Poland, and some even support both — I think that many here support both. But somehow the Palestinians seem to fall through the crack. They don’t get the sympathy that either these or those get, and this has to do with our being nonaligned. This is not only a philosophy of nonalignment, but geography and history have put the Palestinians in a zone of conflicting spheres of influence. The Palestinian people are engaged in struggle not only against the Western-supported state of Israel but also against other Arab states.

I think that this is the crux of the matter. Europeans have a very hard time looking at this problem because of what I would call the cultural and ideological blocks in European culture. One aspect of this situation is that Europeans can hardly look at Jews as ordinary human beings, because Jews in the history of Europe have been very special people. A lot of people have despised and hated them, and a lot of people have lauded and loved them. And it is very hard today still in Europe to find people who have a rational attitude when anything that has to do with Jews arises. And when you talk about the Middle East you don’t talk only about the Palestinians. You talk about the state of Israel, which defines itself as a Jewish state. So the Jewish dimension of the Palestine question is wholly present in the European perception and it blurs the analyses and rationality which Europeans exercise when they talk about South Africa, Cambodia, or Nicaragua.

And then Palestinians are Arabs. And Europeans also have their own history of relations with Arabs and with the Arab world and with Islam which they identify inadequately with Arabism. It was significant that a man of Jean-Paul Sartre’s intellectual stature, a man who had functioned as a moral guide for several generations, was completely unable to behave rationally regarding this problem. In the introduction that Sartre wrote to his famous issue of Les Temps Modernes published exactly when the 1967 war broke out, he said that as a European he had a double feeling of guilt: as a European he was collectively guilty of the persecution of Jews in Europe, but as a European he was also collectively guilty for colonialization and domination and oppression of Arab people. In this conflict he experienced two conflicting guilts and he could do nothing but shut up.

These questions must somehow be raised if you want to understand why it is so painful to consider our relations. What we expect from the European peace movement and what we expect from European peoples in general is that they live up to their noble claims and their general principles. Not that they become one-sided in our favor, because that would not help, but that they follow the principle of balance. Balance does not mean that you are neutral between the truth and the lie, between justice and injustice, between the oppressor and the oppressed. A balance means that you are not biased, that you are ready to take into account all the facts.

Mary Kaldor: I want to start by saying a few things about the European peace movement and how I see it, to put it in a way that is different from the way it is seen in the Third World.

First, I certainly see the peace movement as a liberation movement and I think most people often say so explicitly. We are a movement for self-determination, we’re a movement for the right to make decisions, and if you ask people why they got involved in the peace movement in the first place, very often it was not fear of nuclear war. That could have happened any time during the last 30 years. The reason that people got involved in the peace movement was a sense of total frustration with our political system. And a sense that in some way, even though we have a formal democracy, we actually weren’t able to participate in that democracy, that there was some sense in which political parties and governments have become utterly unresponsive to popular demands. This was above all true of the nuclear issue and this had something to do with cold war structures. A lot of people in the peace movement have never been engaged in politics before and that is because they feel a real sense of frustration with traditional politics and they see it really as fundamentally a movement back to democracy and the right to decide.

I also think that most people in the peace movement see a fundamental connection between the arms race in the North and hunger, violence, war and underdevelopment in the Third World. They do not know what to do about that connection, but they have got the feeling that the connection is real. It may be hard to specify the nature of that connection. Some think it is mainly resources and that is why people in the peace movement like to talk about reducing military spending and putting resources into development. My own view is that the connection is much more fundamental. It is really about power structures: when we are fighting against the arms race we are really fighting against power structures that maintain exploitative political and economic systems throughout the world. Even if we don’t have a nuclear war, even if not a single nuclear missile is fired, millions of people will die in the Third World from war, hunger, homelessness, violence, as a consequence of those power structures being maintained. That is a very fundamental political connection.

Now let me turn to the criticism that the European peace movement is Eurocentric, technocentric and pacifist, and therefore we can not support armed struggle in the Third World. Now my own view is that it is not a problem of Eurocentrism. Because the struggle against the arms race is a struggle against global power structures, because the division of Europe is absolutely fundamental not just to Europe but to the whole world, because there is a mentality of colonialism that still exists in Europe, I think that we have to deal with our own situation. In the 1960s, when we were all into armed struggle in the Third World, and we were all into Third World problems, we were not greatly effective because we were not trying to change our own political structures, which were responsible for a lot of what is going on. I think it is very healthy that we now turn to our own situation.

We are technocentric. What is unhealthy is that we tend to see the problem entirely as nuclear weapons, as Europe being a battlefield. When we talk about the deadly connection, the connection between war in the Third World and nuclear weapons, we tend to see it as an entirely technical problem. The real problem is the political connection between the fact that there is a cold war in Europe, that there is a bi-polar structure, that the European governments go along with the policies of the superpowers, that they are unable to take independent positions in the Third World, that they are unable to support liberation struggles, that they are unable to do anything to change the political power structures because they are so totally integrated into the cold war.

Then there is the matter of violence. It is a mistake to characterize the European peace movement as a pacifist movement. There are obviously people in the movement who are pacifists, but in fact we have been rather explicit that we are not pacifists. It is true that we regard nonviolent resistance as the only appropriate method that we can use in Europe. I don’t think it is a problem supporting armed struggle in places like South Africa, or the PLO, although obviously there is concern about terrorism, including state terrorism. The problem is a different one as regards the PLO and other liberation movements. The problem is about state power and nationalism. People in the peace movement are very uncomfortable with nationalism, which they see as a cause of war. They are very uncomfortable with movements which are directed at acquiring state power. This is what is new about us. It is that we have been very explicit about what we are working for, not at capturing state power but in changing the relationship between states ,and society. I don’t say it is a problem that we cannot overcome together, but we should be aware that that is the problem.

What should we be doing about the Third World, given that there is this gap? The southern European peace movements, in Italy, for instance, are doing things, but British and other movements are not. And I would think there are several things that we have to do and one is very fundamentally a campaign of education about how we see ourselves, about seeing ourselves as a global movement, seeing ourselves as trying to change global political structures and I think in that sense we need to have very intensive contacts with social movements in the Third World rather in the way that we’ve tried to have with Eastern Europe. We have not had identical aims with the movements in Eastern Europe but we have had an intensive contact to try to understand each other’s situations and to try to see our struggles as shared struggles. The other thing is that we need to think of the kinds of pressures we can put on European governments, for example, the kinds of campaigns we ought to have. What do you ask us to do? And then we can start talking about that. There are lots of things that people would like to campaign around. Some of them are very general ones like the arms trade or non-proliferation. In Europe our arms industries are totally dependent on arms exports. And therefore we really have to take arms exports and opposition to arms exports into account when we are opposing the military-industrial complex, the militarization of Europe. That is something we should be taking up in a much greater way. It is a problem for us to take up too many issues. We can’t mobilize for many issues in the way that we mobilized people around something like Cruise missiles.

We started in the peace movement as a single issue movement. I think that the peace movement is much broader, more fundamental than that. My own feeling is that what we have seen coming into being in the last five years is something that is as significant as the labor movements were in the late 19th century. And that we have a kind of historical role in changing power structures rather in the way that the labor movements had a role in challenging economic structures. And that means that we have to develop a much more general philosophy.

Halevi: You ask what to do now. My first request I will have to precede with a remark. What you are saying exemplifies very well one problem: We are talking about a specific case and you are saying that in fact this case is part of a general situation. But as a movement committed to the liberation of one people, we can only exist to the extent that we believe that these people can achieve their national aim. Separately, let us say, from the resolutions of all the problems of human societies. Otherwise there wouldn’t be a Palestinian movement but an international movement. There is a Palestinian movement because there is an awareness among the Palestinian people that the Palestinian people have a specific problem and that it is a national project to solve this problem.

Now, when you talk about the reluctance of European peace movement activists vis-à-vis movements which want to acquire state power, this is one thing if you talk about parties or a movement which fights to replace the existing state structure by another state structure, a movement fighting to acquire state power. But the fight of the Palestinian people is a fight to acquire a state! It is not a fight to conquer power within a state that exists. It is a fight to have a state. The Palestinian problem is in this belated period of colonialism an almost unique case of a stateless nation. It is not the only one. But there are not many left. The particularity of the Palestine problem to which we want Europeans to give attention is precisely that the Palestinian people is not only a people that suffers from international polarization and uneven exchange and East-West tension, and North-South relations, and underdevelopment and so on. It suffered in a specific way of not having a state. So my question is, how does the European peace movement intend to grapple with this specific question?

Kaldor: I think in general we would find most people in the European peace movement very sympathetic to the PLO and the Palestinians. Not because it is a stateless nation but because of the injustices done to the Palestinians and because of the gut feeling that Zionism is wrong, the idea of an exclusivist Jewish state is wrong and an injustice. It is a problem for us here in Europe: what constitutes a nation? When can you say that a group of people can call themselves a nation? I don’t think it is a problem with the Palestinians, but here in Germany, the two Germanies. Are we going to say that the two Germanies do after all constitute a nation?

Halevi: Isn’t it for the Germans to say? Isn’t it for every people to affirm its own existence without being dependent upon some other people…?

Kaldor: What about the Falkland Islanders then? Do you think it is right that the Falkland Islanders say we regard ourselves as the British nation? Do you think it is up to them to take that position?

Halevi: The British population of the Falklands have never claimed that they constitute a nation in themselves. They claim to be part of the British nation. So it is only a question of whether British sovereignty on those islands is or not justified. In the Falklands, the question is not the Britishness of the Britishers of the islands, nor of the existence of a British nation.

Kaldor: There is a real problem for the peace movement in general with liberation movements, I am not saying in the specific case of the PLO. But there is a real problem: do you support every secessionist movement that calls itself a nation?

Halev: This is not the problem. We cannot engage in this sort of theoretical discussion on the national question because we have not even laid the basic theoretical ground defining words and terms. But in the case of the Palestinians it is quite clear that there is a people, that there is a national movement. Support us! All the theoretical discussions on nationalism, extreme limit cases and ambiguous situations is really not relevant to the discussion we are having now.

Kaldor: What I am just trying to explain is why there is ambivalence. The problem, I am saying, is not armed struggle, the problem is nationalism, I feel that is fundamental. I don’t think there is that kind of ambivalence toward the Palestinians. The problem for people in the peace movement is: how are we are going to relate in general to the liberation movements? I am talking about a general case, because for us there are a whole series of problems that we-have to take on board and think about.

The common interest seems to me to be opposing the global power structures. I think the real common interest is how to find a different way of ordering world affairs. That seems to be the fundamental common interest. The question is then, how do we make this more specific, what is it about our situation in Europe and what is it about the Palestinian situation that reflects these global structures. It is true that for the European peace movement cases like Afghanistan and Nicaragua are much clearer for us because we are in a cold war. What we should really be talking about is what are the explicitly common ways in which we are struggling against the global power structures.

Halevi: I think that common interest between the European peace movements and the struggling Palestinian people lies in the fact that the European peace movement is also under the shadow of the cold war, the same cold war that accounts for the situation of instability and continued injustice for the Palestinian people. We know it is the persistence of this international tension which is constantly being manipulated by the Israeli government in order to ensure continued Western support for their own aggression. And we also know that it is only to the extent that this international tension can be reduced or neutralized that we can hope to achieve a political settlement. So we can already see that there is a point in common in this vital need for an end to the cold war and a new sense of international relations between the great powers.

Then there is an interest also of all the small nations in a world dominated by great blocks.

Then there is the question of democracy. Of course, the democratic concepts developed in the European peace movement have developed as a critique of democracy which has existed for several hundred years. We are speaking of democracy in an area where, frankly, it does not exist. So we are fighting for the conquest of democracy. You are fighting for the transformation and the rebirth of democracy. But we have a common preoccupation with democracy and it is not a preoccupation that is shared by everyone in our area or in the world.

Then your preoccupation with human rights, with forms of liberation which do not concentrate merely on the state power, is a preoccupation we share: to put our case on the level of the struggle for human rights, which means to put it on the level where its universal context can be immediately perceived.

Someone in the audience has asked whether solving the Palestinian problem by creating a national state is the strategy of the leaders or of all Palestinian social classes. I don’t know of any political program or idea that is really equally and deeply adopted by all social classes and all the members of the social classes of any society. So the Palestinian society, as any other society, has its own internal social, political, and ideological divisions. But the project of a Palestinian state is indeed a national project, it is not a political or ideological program. It is indeed a national liberation movement built upon the alliance of interests of the major social classes and the majority of the people because the type of domination that the Palestinian people have experienced in its modern history has not been one that has shown much privilege to some classes at the expense of others, because the character of settlement and the creation of a separate economy and separate Zionist society in Palestine before the creation of the state of Israel and after it, have left practically no room for any class of Palestinian society. Landowners were expropriated, not only the agricultural proletariat and the poor peasantry. Capitalists were expropriated from their sphere of hegemony so that even they suffered from national oppression.

Kaldor: Another question is: what goals do I see the European peace movement sharing with Third World liberation struggles? One common target, I think, is militarism. And the peace movement has not been consistent on this. A recent instance was the Falklands war. It was a disaster to the British peace movement that we didn’t oppose the Falklands war very strongly, that we actually had a demonstration against nuclear weapons in Europe in the middle of the Falklands war and we didn’t turn it into a demonstration against the Falklands war, because what the Falklands war did was enormously discredit opposition to militarization in our society.

I want to end on one final question, the common interest in self-determination. When, at last, we West Europeans establish our own independence and send the Americans home, how will that help the Palestinians, within what sort of independent Middle East?

Halevi: Very briefly, just to give a few guidelines to think along, in terms of what could be done, or rather, what we expect from you in this situation. First of all, we think that, maybe this is our subjective illusion, but I think that it is founded on analysis of the material evidence of the situation, the Palestine case is not just simply one case in the Third World, it is not just simply one case of nationalism in the Third World. It is one of the few cases of statelessness and the question of the continued denial of the rights of a whole people is a question which is of crucial importance when one speaks of an international order of things. People are very much aware, for instance, of the evil constituted by the apartheid regime of South Africa. There is general support for the development of conditions in order to tumble the regime of apartheid in South Africa. There is a very widespread awareness in the Western world that the case of South Africa is not the case of Zimbabwe or Mozambique, that the case of South Africa is not only the case of countries driven by their own social structures maintained from the outside by external alliances and uneven economic exchange. The case of South Africa is a particular horror in international society.

I suggest that the case of Palestine is also a particular monstrosity in international society today and that it is in the interest of international society to become aware of the danger contained in this particular question. On the one hand everybody sees a plane hijacking and the world press is full of talk of how the Middle East is so explosive, the powder keg of the Middle East, and the danger for European security and world security. Yet at the same time there is no connection made, no awareness of the fact that the Palestine question — namely, the non-realization of the national rights of the Palestinian people — is at the very root of all the destabilizing processes in the Middle East which constitute a threat to international security.

The thing is to realize the international significance of the Palestine question, which cannot be solved in the generalities of North-South relations. Then, the other thing is to believe that Europe can play a specific role in this question. Without this there can be no European role, and if you do not believe that Europe can play a specific role, then we can not expect anything from you except sympathy, which is good but will not solve the problem of the Palestinian people. A moral role is not negligible in the way Western societies function. We have seen it in the Vietnam war. A European moral role can play a very important part in given situations and if Europe could play a moral role in favor of rights and justice for all peoples in the Middle East in this question, we would be facing a different political situation on the international arena because for the moment Europe is not playing this role. It is putting its weight in favor of a status quo favorable to Israel and demanding that some room may be managed for the Palestinians under the condition that no one else would have to give up anything.

To our European friends in general, political, democratic forces in European countries, we are saying over and over that official recognition of the PLO by their governments is a vital demand, not because we are interested in the diplomatic solemnity of recognition but because unless there is such recognition these governments will continue to be periodically tempted to enter bloody delusions such as the Camp David agreement, and such as any attempt to impose in the Middle East a peace settlement which excludes one of the main protagonists, the Palestinian people. We demand from our European friends, in general and not only in the peace movement, that they support our goal for a UN-sponsored international conference on the basis of all UN resolutions to reach a political settlement with all the parties involved. All the parties are necessary, all the states of the area are involved, Europe has its role to play, but there are four factors without which to think of peace is a complete delusion, because each one of those four has the power to block any peace process that its not involved in. These four factors are: the United States government, the government of the Soviet Union, the government of Israel, and the PLO. Any attempt to reach peace in the Middle East by excluding one of those is only a prelude to new wars. We demand from our European friends that they first understand this and then make it understood by their people and their government.

Kaldor: I really want to end with two things. What do we expect from you? That’s one thing. And, finally, do I think these very specific suggestions that you make about what the peace movement should do are something we really can take up. You said you didn’t see this as a north/south problem. True, it is not a problem of underdevelopment and ecology. But it is fundamentally about structures of militarization. Certainly for the peace movement the whole issue of the arms trade and military intervention, all these issues are lumped together as north/south issues. If armed struggle is going to oppose real violence, what we want from the PLO is opposition to Israeli and American militarism. We want from the PLO is opposition to structures of militarization. I also think that there has to be a lot more communication and understanding. In that sense we have been Eurocentric: we haven’t tried to change mentalities in Europe. I would like to see the kind of communication that we have tried to build up with Eastern Europe. We should try to build up that kind of communication with the Palestinians, a whole range of contacts so that there are these kinds of discussions going on at all levels of the peace movement.

How to cite this article:

"The PLO and the European Peace Movement," Middle East Report 143 (November/December 1986).

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