Amos Oz: 'I have always maintained the solution is partition'

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The Independent Online

"My first political act was when I was a seven-year-old kid in Jerusalem, throwing stones at British army vehicles and shouting 'British go home'," says Amos Oz.

"I was an Intifada kid before the Palestinians even invented the word."

But now Mr Oz, Israel's pre-eminent novelist, is a peacemaker, lending his weight to the new Geneva peace plan proposed by Israeli opposition politicians and intellectuals and Palestinian former ministers.

"One thing you find in Jewish culture is that novelists, writers and poets, are somehow expected to show the way," adds Mr Oz. His stand has brought him into collision with Israel's Prime Minister, Ariel Sharon.

The plan envisages the Palestinian side agreeing to give up the right of return for refugees who fled or were forced out in 1948, and the Israeli side withdrawing from almost all of the occupied territories.

A new Palestinian state would gain sovereignty over the Temple Mount, or Haram al-Sharif.

But there is little chance of the proposals being put into action. Mr Sharon is said to have described them as "the greatest historical mistake since Oslo" before declaring: "This agreement promises only false hope. By what right are left-wing people proposing moves that Israel can never do, nor will ever do?" Mr Oz laughs. "He is, we all know, a heavy set fellow," he says of Israel's Premier. "But my colleagues and I will consent to carry him on our shoulders."

The new plan has been weakened by former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak, who was involved in the peace talks. He described it as "delusional" and said it "clearly harms the State of Israel".

It has been savagely attacked by the Israeli government and even the Palestinian President Yasser Arafat. The plan's main Israeli backer, Yossi Beilin, an opposition politician, failed to get a seat in parliament at the last election.

That does not matter, says Mr Oz. "It's not about Beilin winning a seat or not. "Week after week the public opinion polls show that about 70 per cent of the electorate, both in Israel and Palestine, accepts the two-state solution and supports a ceasefire.

"All we want to do is create a clear perception in public opinion that the real battle is not between Israelis and Palestinians but between people who are willing to accept a pragmatic compromise and people, on both sides, who are not willing to accept that.

"I am 64 years old, that means in European terms I am about 200," he continues.

"I am older than my country, than my state. And in all those years I have never before, even just in conversations with Palestinians, reached a deal on the right of return, on Jerusalem, on the settlements.

"In the end it's very simple," added Mr Oz. "This is a country the size of Wales, populated by 5.5m Jews and 4.5m Arabs. The Jews are not going anywhere and neither are the Arabs. And it's not going to turn into one happy family because it's not happy.

"I have always maintained the solution is partition and it will have to be along roughly demographic lines.

"Maybe they will move the line, but the land will still have to be shared 60 per cent for the Israelis, 40 per cent for the Palestinians - or maybe it will be 50-50 in 10 years' time." Sooner or later, Mr Oz believes, Israel will have to make such a deal.

"I don't care if it's this plan or something similar, this is not an ego thing. But if Sharon uses our preamble, my colleagues and I will not sue him for plagiarism."

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