Amos Oz is dead. An author of 10 works of fiction, he was indisputably one of Israel’s greatest writers. But Oz, who was born in 1939 in Jerusalem, which was then part of historic Palestine under the British mandate, was more than a literary figure for Israel. At age 14, he left home and joined kibbutz, the Jewish communal settlement. He saw Israel’s occupation of Palestinian territories, its wars with its Arab neighbours and on the Palestinians and had been a consistent supporter of the idea of Israel as a Jewish homeland. Oz was as much as Jewish political thinker and essayist as a literary genius.
So what was his approach towards the Palestinians? To begin with, Oz was a staunch supporter of the two-state solution. In a 1996 interview, four years after the first Oslo Accord was signed, Oz said the Palestinians and the Israelis are “two people claiming the same piece of land, the same house.” In his view, they could not share it so they had to divide it. Since then he has maintained the same position. When President Donald Trump decided to move the U.S.’s embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem in November 2017, Oz supported that move. He said all countries should move their embassies to Jerusalem. But he also added that all countries should have their Palestine embassies in East Jerusalem. The Palestinians consider East Jerusalem as the capital of any future state, while the Israeli right claims over the whole city. Israel captured the western part of the city in the 1948 war with the Arab states and seized the eastern part in the 1967 war and later annexed it.
Oz was against the military occupation. He once said “it is an illusion to think that there can be a rosy military occupation. It is like a friendly rape — a contradiction in terms.” He said he stood for ending the occupation, not improving it. It is this strong anti-occupation, pro-two state solution position that gave him a dove tag. His positions were not popular with Israel’s hard-right Jewish lobby, which is pro-occupation and lives in denial when it comes to the creation of the Palestinian state. But Oz’s problem was that he failed to recognise the massive human rights violations within the Palestinian territories at the hands of the Israelis. He failed to see the apartheid system the state of Israel has built within the Palestinian territories. He found the Israeli-Palestinian problem as an international dispute, something that has to be settled between two nation states, two equal players.
That’s why he said “human rights violations within Palestine is a Palestinian problem”. That’s why he’s welcoming Trump’s decision to recognise Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. He balances his views, saying that other countries should recognise East Jerusalem as Palestine’s capital as well. But the problem is that Palestine is still not an independent state. It’s a territory under Israeli occupation. And the status of Jerusalem is at the heart of the dispute. By moving the embassy to Jerusalem, Trump already took a side, while for the Palestinians, getting East Jerusalem as the capital still remains a dream.
Even when the prospects of the two state solution was slowly drying, Oz remained a staunch supporter of it. Israel never respected the terms of the Oslo Accord after the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin in 1995. The Israeli government actively supported and funded Jewish settlements in the West Bank. The security wall Israel built has cut into the Palestinian territories. It was against this background, the one-state solution started getting more and more louder. Oz opposed it vehemently. In an interview with The Washington Post, he equated the left-wing calls for one-state solution to the right-wing calls for greater Israel. “This theory that the occupation of the West Bank is irrevocable is interesting. I hear it from the radical left and the radical right. It is as if they have conspired together to declare the two-state solution is dead,” he said. But he failed to address the difference between these two positions. The Left, seeing the deepening of the Israeli occupation, calls for a one state with a secular constitution that ensures the rights of everyone, whether Jews, Muslims, Christians, etc., whereas the Right believes in establishing Jewish supremacy in the “promised land” that subsumes the Palestinian territories.
So one criticism is that Oz’s obsession with the two-state solution comes from his obsession with the Jewish identity of the state of Israel. He didn’t want that to be diluted. Hundreds of thousands of Palestinians were forced from their homes in the 1948 war. Their right to return to their homes, villages and towns is a central part of the Palestinian question. But the Zionists always opposed that saying if all those Palestinian Arabs are allowed to return, that would change the demographics of the Jewish nation. Unfortunately Oz also subscribed to this ethno-nationalist views. In a 2013 interview with the New York Times, he said: “The right of return is a euphemism for the liquidation of Israel. Even for a dove like myself this is out of the question. Refugees must be resettled in the future state of Palestine, not Israel.”
Worse, he supported Israel’s 2006 war on Hezbollah and its attacks on the blockaded Gaza. After the 2014 Gaza war, which killed over 2,000 Palestinians, Oz said he supported limited intervention in Gaza. Asked him to describe the limited strike, he said, “destroy the tunnels wherever they come from, and try to hit strictly Hamas targets and no other targets.”
Even when Israel systematically deepened its occupation, Oz believed that a two-state solution is possible. He was not open for the state to deal with Hamas. But he asked the government to deal with the Fatah in the West Bank. “At least solve the West Bank,” he once said. But since the collapse of the Obama administration’s peace bid, there was practically no movement towards peace talks. Oz is now dead, perhaps like the two-state solution which he hoped was alive.