The Nakba and the Two-State Solution

On the surface and viewed from the perspective of dominating powers, their designated minions, and entrenched cohorts, it may appear that the Nakba is diminishing.  Several facts corroborate that view:  the passage of time, the very dispossession and dislocation of millions, the tendency of official Palestinian “leadership” to accept whatever scraps they are given, the seemingly insurmountable military superiority of Israel and its main backer, the United States, to name a few.

Discursively also, talk of the Nakba has been curtailed, especially among official Palestinian Authority officials and Arab governments.  It has been increasingly replaced by details and technicalities that avoid dealing with the crux of the Palestinian predicament.

Details and technicalities are evident in “negotiations” and “discussions” over the Two State Solution, settlements (stop, don’t stop, temporary freezes, natural growth,…), Jerusalem, municipal control of various services, collection and distribution of taxes, policing and security forces, road blocks, fences, airspace, percentages, companies, and so many other minutia.  They serve to obscure the original and much larger issue at stake, namely, liberating Palestine.

By focusing exclusively on the Two State Solution and its accompanying and derivative details, it becomes possible (for some) to lose sight of the origin of the ongoing Palestinian predicament:  namely, the Nakba.

The details are a method of exercising power over Palestinians. (1)  They are evident, not only in the obvious control mechanisms that I just listed, but are also apparent in the very “negotiations” that took and take place between Israel / US and the Palestinians.  From Madrid, to Oslo, to Taba, to Camp David, to the Road Map, to the current indirect Proximity Talks – one side has maps and details and conditions and rules, while the other side pleads, accepts, capitulates, and frequently, adopts the very language used by his oppressor.

An illustration of the above is Mahmoud ‘Abbas’ frequent references to “peace and security,” “growth,” and “stopping the settlements,” forgetting that the real issues are right of return, liberating the land, and an end to racist and usurping ideologies and governments.  Another example is ‘Abbas’ recent reference to the land of historical Palestine as the land of the tanakh.  In other words, he acceded to Netanyahu’s racist demand that Palestinians recognize Israel as “Jewish homeland” by buying into the Zionist myth that Jews were the original inhabitants of the land.

Yet another instance of Palestinian leadership adopting the language and reasoning of their oppressor was evident in the speech delivered by ‘Abbas at the opening of the third round of Fateh’s Revolutionary (not) Council.  ‘Abbas insisted on the Two-State Solution.  He even warned that “the idea of the so-called One State Solution has started leaking (tatasarrab) among people, because hope on the [real] ground is diminishing bit by bit…  The question to the Israeli side is: do you want two states on the 1967 borders?  We are ready.  But if you don’t want, then you are responsible for what happens after that.” (Al-Jazeera (Arabic), 4/24/2010, “Abbas clings to the Two State Solution and Hamas Rejects.”)  He continued his advice to Israel by saying that “the choice of peace needs brave Israeli leadership.”

Few were surprised by his obvious concern for the Israel’s well-being, least of all Israel and the United States.  It is equally probable that there are countless Palestinians, Arabs, and believers in a just solution who are not surprised that he seems to have forgotten that liberating Palestine also needs brave leadership.

Instead, ‘Abbas addressed his rivals in Gaza, calling on them to accept the Egyptian proposal for Palestinian reconciliation and praising Hamas’ efforts at stopping the launching or rockets directed at Israel.  He also urged Palestinians to abide by “peaceful popular resistance,” assuming that it is possible for anything peaceful to co-exist with a stage of siege, daily attacks, continued usurpation, racism, and so forth.

In truth, this is a new term with an old meaning: a submission that is rationalized by “realism.”

Facts exist but cannot speak.  There is a whole system and class of people, “experts,” “leaders,” institutions and organizations that mediate what they will mean.  They will assign words to the meanings / facts.  And somewhere else, in the dominated part of the world, a different people who are oppressed and/or excluded from this system of control, stand perplexed and outraged that a diametrically opposite word was assigned and repeated, hijacking their facts, their meanings, their reality.

The facts are a product of social, historical, oppositional, economic, and political circumstance.  Those who live them know the right word for the real meaning.  But others assigned as “leaders” over them, dutifully transpose and impose the altered terminology.  The new word becomes the new normal, the “realistic,” the quick deal that we can consume immediately, forever destroying the original source.

This is precisely what the Two State Solution and its details entail.

And yet, all these things aside, the Nakba continues unabated, growing in significance and in numbers.  Most conspicuous is the demographic growth in the number of Palestinians who are descendants of the Nakba, whether they are refugees, settled, or unsettled.  To those we must add more numerical growth due to the continued displacement and dispossession of Palestinians in present-day Israel as a direct result of Israeli military orders, exclusionary laws, banishment, forced exile, dispossession, house demolitions, and so forth.

Conceptually also, the Nakba strengthens.  This is evident in emergent groups, discourses of counterhegemony, resistance movements, and the growing International Boycott Divestment and Solidarity (IBDS) movement.  There is a palpable change in the international perception of Israel that emerged during and after its assault on Gaza. (2)  This has forced Israel to launch a diplomatic propaganda campaign, “Brand Israel,” to repair the damage to its image.

The fact that the hundreds of thousands of refugees in Gaza were direct products of the Nakba of Israeli establishment over their ancestral homes is significant.  The fact that Israel was unable to accomplish any of its political goals in Gaza, despite the wanton destruction, also has important repercussions.  Thus, the Nakba, directly or indirectly, continues to be a catalyst for a continuing re-evaluation of Israel’s position as a dominating power.  Militarily, the last several wars that Israel has launched against Lebanon and Gaza have made obvious its weaknesses.  Furthermore, it is amply demonstrable in the world today that military superiority is no solution to determined and organized resistance and insurgency.

Thus, there is hope in recognizing the persistence of the Nakba.  It stands as an event in human history that exists beyond the reach of dominating systems – even though the latter may have caused it.  This makes change possible and limits the power of a hegemonic or dominating system.  The Nakba is a historical reality that refuses to go away, providing the fuel for emergent movements and resistance.

Nevertheless, dominant powers continue their efforts to marginalize the Nakba as a central unresolved crisis.

Just in time for the commemoration of the Nakba, U.S. mediator George Mitchell is meeting with Israeli and Palestinian officials (after Palestinian officials sought and got approval from Arab officials), in order to start the process that will lead to so-called indirect proximity talks that were announced by U.S. Secretary of State Hilary Clinton.  The Washington Post reported that Mitchell is trying to break the stalemate “in recent months,” (3) perhaps forgetting that, from the perspective of most Palestinians, there has not been progress, in fact there has been retrogression, on the “solution” to the conflict since Madrid and Oslo happened almost two decades ago.

According to the article, “For the Palestinians, the two paramount issues are territorial borders — precisely how much of the West Bank Israel will surrender and the future of Jerusalem.”  Yet again there is confirmation that externally designated Palestinian “leaders” are making a complete mockery of the Nakba, not even referencing that the crux of the problem is the dispossession of millions of people and the usurpation and colonization of Palestinian land.

When one listens to the words of a Mahmoud ‘Abbas or a Salim Fayyad, it becomes obvious that it makes no difference who among the “leaders” of the Palestinian Authority (PA) talks.  The content is the same, for they are simply delivery mechanisms and not the creators of the message.  (The same applies to most other Arab leaders.)  Having reached the inevitable terminus of the Peace Process and the Road Map and their interminable negotiations, they are now clutching the straw of the Indirect Proximity Talks.  ‘Abbas, desperate to sustain a role for himself, was busy throwing the hot potato to equally ineffectual Arab leaders.  The latter, if they do anything at all, they pass on the hot potato to the United Nations or some future conference of the Arab League.  In other words, they try to freeze the hot potato to death.

Such “leaders” do not acknowledge that there is no justification for the assumption that a Two State solution is a teleological goal.  It has failings that must be examined in light of new forms of reasoning, new events, and new practices. (4)  For while, the “vision” of the Two State is “legitimate” in “the international consensus,” legitimacy is in the eye of the beholder.  “Whose consensus?” is a legitimate question.  What about the point of view of the people who most affected by this consensus?

One need only to look at borders, roads, contiguity, sovereignty dimensions, economic sufficiency, and so forth to realize that the Two State Solution is hardly “realistic.”  While the Palestinian Authority is entrenched in political quietism, self-censorship, and obeisance, they nonetheless must confront the effects of that path.

This particular “pragmatic” approach, being a product of its dominating system, cannot envision and does not admit that it cannot have power over everything.

The weakness of this “realistic” approach is that it cannot anticipate or deal with change.  It cannot account for peoples’  abilities to imagine an alternative future society.  It cannot admit that some can perceive and analyze the nature of power and oppression in their present societies, thereby making it possible to counteract the details and to resist internalization of dominating ideologies. (5)
Dominating systems do not and cannot combat resistance or insurgency or rebellion effectively every time.

The PA and the dominating system of which it is a functionary must ultimately face the truth that concepts and facets of what is considered “authoritative” and “traditional” is frequently ambiguous and contestable.  Authority is valuable only insofar as it offers choices for society.  Choices that must be viable for its future welfare.  Otherwise, other “traditions” and “authorities” will emerge.  This is precisely the fate that is facing the Two State solution.

Putting aside any moral and ethical arguments against the Two State solution, all the facts on the ground are obliterating a potential second state.  Even within this putative proto-state, Israel is obliterating this possibility.  A recent example was reported by Amira Hass on 4/22/2010 in Ha’aretz.  Israel began implementing a new military order, No.1650, regarding the Prevention of Infiltration (Amendment No. 2).  It defines “a Palestinian with a Gaza Strip address as a punishable infiltrator if he is found in the West Bank.”  This is the latest in a series of steps to sever Gaza from Palestinian society.  It is also part and parcel of Zionist laws enacted at Israel’s founding, such as the Law of Return and the Law of Present Absentees, and so forth, whose aims are to control space and to fragment and dispossess Palestinian society.

The economy of the proto-state under the Palestinian Authority’s Two-State path is also illustrative of the non-realism and non-viability of the purported goal.  It may serve as an indicator of what is entailed in the future if this “vision” of a Two State is pursued any longer.

The latest economic figures released by the Arab League Economic Report on the Palestinian Occupied Territories in 2009 clearly show the deterioration.  Here are a few examples.  Between 1999-2008, Palestinian real inflation-adjusted GNP fell off a cliff by 35% to $1,108.  A significant factor in that is the multitude of Israeli restrictions, land confiscations (the West Bank lost 15% of its agricultural capacity due to the apartheid wall), destruction of trees and farmland, and so forth that have led to a sharp decline in olive oil production. Real per capita income fell by almost 21% to $1,284.  The services sector grew to a record 76.8% of GDP with all that this entails in terms of declining productive capacity of the overall economy.  This is also reflected in the fact that the trade deficit grew by 14%  to $3.032 billion.  Unemployment is now officially recorded at 16% in the West Bank and 49% in Gaza.

Also contributing to the dependency (and ensuring political obedience), external revenue, including remittances and global financial aid grew sharply to reach $2bn, much of it spent internally on PA commitments to civil servants and security personnel.

A UN Seminar on Assistance to the Palestinian People, held in Vienna by the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People on 3/24/2010, corroborated and added to the statistics provided by the Arab League report. (6)  Mahmoud El-Jafari, Dean and Professor of Economics at Al-Quds University noted that there are twin budget and trade deficits.  The ratio of imports to exports stands at 60%.  He added that absolute poverty rates stood at 57.3 %, according to 2007 figures (i.e. pre-Gaza assault – whose damage is estimated at 25% of GDP).  In Gaza, 76.9 % are under the national poverty line.

The comments made by Mahmoud Elkhafif, Coordinator of Assistance to the Palestinian People Unit at the UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), revealed that post-Oslo, there has been an “integration” of the Palestinian and Israeli economies.  These have been hugely advantageous to Israel at the expense of the Palestinians.  Israel takes advantage of Palestinian land, water and labor as it simultaneously isolates Palestinians from their historical economic partners in the Arab countries. Moreover, the Paris Protocol framework for economic relations has produced a semi-customs union in which the PA could not have its own currency, monetary, or trade policy.  Israel determines value added tax, collects it and, depending on how cooperative the PA is perceived, pays it to the PA.  But even in good times, he said, the payment was just 60% of the figure owed.

Elkhafif concluded with the disturbing indicator of the extent of exploitation: that in the 1980s, Israeli income had been 7.5 times that of Palestinians and was now about 17 times higher.

Any reasonable assessment of this situation would see the proof in the pudding, so to speak.  Why ‘Abbas and his cohorts cling to the Two State solution can only be attributed to factors that do not and will not benefit Palestinian society or national aspirations.

The other side of the coin is Israel.

The last several wars that Israel has launched against Lebanon and the Palestinians have revealed a serious decline in its capacity to accomplish its military and political goals. Despite the wanton destruction wreaked by its vastly more superior military, the image / myth of its invincibility has been irrevocably shattered.

This topic has been dealt with extensively elsewhere, so I will not dwell on it here.  Instead, I would like to offer a few examples to consider in re-assessing Israel as well as the “realistic” position of why Arabs and Palestinians must capitulate to its demands.

It is well-known that Israel needs the assistance of the United States, to shield it from approbation in international venues such as the UN, and to help it financially, militarily, economically, in research and development, and so forth.
Israel is also failing in the key category of providing guaranteed results to empire.  Prominent among those failures is its inability to impose peace on its terms, nor to wage war from which it is confident to emerge as victor.  This is not to dismiss its indisputable military superiority, but it does indicate that it is no longer enough or even capable of achieving its political goals.

It is therefore time to re-assess the “realistic” approach.  For many years now, the dominant view of Israel in much of the Arab world has reflected an internalization of the myth of Israeli superiority, not morally or ethically, but militarily and economically. Conveniently, it was parroted and propagated by successive different Arab governments in order to rationalize and justify the shirking of their historic responsibility to help Palestinians in achieving self-determination and independence based on the liberation of all usurped land.

But ultimately, the historically insurmountable reality that is the Nakba stands.  It is distressing that the Palestinians as a people, need to remind their so-called leaders as well as most other Arab leaders, of their lived reality which has struggled for decades to ensure that their fundamental and inalienable rights are not forgotten or whittled away by the pseudo pragmatic reality of a Two State solution.  Once again, for those who may have forgotten, these are:  the right to their land and a national home, the right of return, the right to determine their own destiny, and the right to compensation for dispossession and the horrors and crimes of occupation.

Dina Jadallah is an Arab-American writer and artist.  She studied political science at Georgetown and the University of Chicago.  She is the author of numerous articles dealing with political developments in the Arab world.  Her work was published at Arab Studies Quarterly, Palestine Chronicle, Counterpunch, Ramallah Online, and Global Research, among others.  She can be reached at d.jadallah@gmail.com.

Ref: Counterpunch

Notes.

(1)  These details may remind some readers of Michel Foucault’s theory of power.  His theory of (pouvoir et savior) analyzes how systems of control work by confinement from the inside.  Their functioning depends first on the continuity of the institutions that confine and second, on the proliferation of justifying technical ideologies for the institutions.  These technical ideologies may be discourses, such as is evident in talk and conduct related to the roadmap, the peace process, security, development through privatization, and so forth.  But that power needs detail in order to work.  For example, in the case of the confinement of Palestinians in the Occupied Territories, these would consist of the proliferation of road blocks, military orders, fences, curfews, long lists of what will be allowed to pass through the siege on Gaza, and so forth.  Foucault has no role for classes, economics, insurgency and rebellion in societies, however.  And this is the reason for the circularity and the trap – there is no escape within his conception of this type of power.

(2)  This is apparent in various international polls.  See for instance this large European Union poll: http://www.eutimes.net/.

(3)  See http://www.washingtonpost.com/.

(4)  Several have written about this topic.  Notable among them is Ali Abunimah’s One Country:  A Bold Proposal to End the Israeli-Palestinian Impasse (2006).

(5)  My statements are based on Chomsky’s insightful critique of Foucault.  It offers a way out of the trap of a dominating system.  He argued that a sociopolitical battle can be waged with two objectives:  1) persons and groups can imagine an alternative future society that is based on a more just conception of human nature; and 2) that persons and groups have the ability to perceive and analyze the nature of power and oppression in their present societies.  Both of these together may lead to resistance and counterhegemony, thus providing a way to escape the trap.

(6)  See http://unispal.un.org/UNISPAL.NSF/.

NEW WORLD ORDER: US loses global credibility (while Israel get´s more zionistic)

Israel’s open and deliberate refusal to do as the US demands over settlements in East Jerusalem reflects Netanyahu’s fundamental opposition to a two-state solution

Uncomfortable at the spectacle of the Obama administration in an open confrontation with the Israeli government, Connecticut Senator Joe Lieberman – who represents the interests of Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s Likud Party on Capitol Hill as faithfully as he does those of the health insurance industry – called for a halt. “Let’s cut the family fighting, the family feud,” he said. “It’s unnecessary; it’s destructive of our shared national interest. It’s time to lower voices, to get over the family feud between the US and Israel. It just doesn’t serve anybody’s interests but our enemies’.”

The idea that the US and Israel are “family” with identical national interests is a convenient fiction that Lieberman and his fellow Israel partisans have worked relentlessly to promote – and enforce – in Washington over the past two decades. If the bonds are indeed familial, however, the recent showdown between Washington and the Netanyahu government may be counted as one of those feuds in which truths are uttered in the heat of the moment that call into question the fundamental terms of the relationship. Such truths are never easily swept under the rug once the dispute is settled. The immediate rupture, that is, precludes a simple return to the status quo ante; instead, a renegotiation of the terms of the relationship somehow ends up on the agenda.

Sure, the Obama administration and the Netanyahu government are now working feverishly to find a formula that will allow them to move on from a contretemps that began when the Israelis ambushed Vice-President Joe Biden, announcing plans to build 1,600 new housing units for settlers in occupied East Jerusalem. He was, of course, in Israel to promote the Obama administration’s failing efforts to rehabilitate negotiations toward a two-state peace agreement, a goal regularly spurned by Israel’s continued construction on land occupied in 1967.

Once again, as when Obama demanded a complete settlement freeze from the Netanyahu government in 2009, the Israelis will fend off any demand that they completely reverse their latest construction plans. Instead, they will shamelessly offer to continue their settlement activity on a “don’t-ask-don’t-tell” basis, professing rhetorical support for a two-state solution to placate the Americans, even as they systematically erode its prospects on the ground.

There is, as former Secretary of State James Baker has noted, no shortage of chutzpah in this Israeli government. “United States taxpayers are giving Israel roughly $3bn each year, which amounts to something like $1,000 for every Israeli citizen, at a time when our own economy is in bad shape and a lot of Americans would appreciate that kind of helping hand from their own government,” Baker said in a recent interview. “Given that fact, it is not unreasonable to ask the Israeli leadership to respect US policy on settlements” (1).

Sooner or later, the present imbroglio is likely to be fudged over, but make no mistake, it opened Washington up to a renewed discussion of the conventional wisdom of unconditional support for Israel. It also brought into the public arena the way US administrations over the past two decades have enabled that country’s ever-expanding occupation regime and whether such a policy is compatible with US national interests in the Middle East.

Back in 2006, the foreign policy thinkers John Mearshimer and Stephen Walt provoked a firestorm of ridicule and ad hominem abuse for suggesting in their book, The Israel Lobby and US Foreign Policy (2), that the goals pursued by the two sides were, in fact, far from identical and often at odds – and that partisans motivated by Israel’s interests lobbied aggressively to skew US foreign policy in their favour. Israel partisans also heaped derision on the suggestion by the Iraq Study Group commissioned by President George W Bush that the US would not be able to achieve its goals in the Middle East without first settling the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Petraeus weighs in

Response to the reiteration of the idea that Israel’s behaviour might be jeopardising US interests has been strikingly muted by comparison. That’s because it came from General David Petraeus, commander of US Central Command (Centcom), which oversees America’s two wars of the moment. He is the most celebrated US military officer of his generation, and a favourite of those most ferocious of Israel partisans, the neocons.

Petraeus told Senators: “The enduring hostilities between Israel and some of its neighbours present distinct challenges to our ability to advance our interests in [Centcom’s] AOR [Area of Responsibility].” He added, “The conflict foments anti-American sentiment, due to a perception of US favouritism for Israel. Arab anger over the Palestinian question limits the strength and depth of US partnerships with governments and peoples in the AOR and weakens the legitimacy of moderate regimes in the Arab world. Meanwhile, al-Qaida and other militant groups exploit that anger to mobilise support. The conflict also gives Iran influence in the Arab world through its clients, Lebanese Hizballah and Hamas.” He also stressed that “progress toward resolving the political disputes in the Levant, particularly the Arab-Israeli conflict, is a major concern for Centcom.”

Normally, any linkage between the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and a wave of anti-Americanism in the Muslim world is pooh-poohed by neocons and other Israel partisans. Typically, they will derisively suggest that those who argue for the linkage made by Petraeus are naïve in their belief that al-Qaida would give up its jihad if only Israel and the Palestinians made peace. That, by the way, is a straw-man argument of the first order: the US has done plenty on its own to antagonise the Muslim world, and ending the Israeli-Palestinian conflict would not in itself resolve that antagonism. The point is simply that a fair solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is a necessary, if not sufficient, condition for repairing relations between the US and the citizenry of many Muslim countries.

Abe Foxman, head of the Anti-Defamation League, who has made a profession of trying to negate the difference between anti-Semitism and criticism of (or hostility to) Israel, gamely ventured that “Gen Petraeus has simply erred in linking the challenges faced by the US and coalition forces in the region to a solution of the Israeli-Arab conflict, and blaming extremist activities on the absence of peace and the perceived US favouritism for Israel”. His conclusion: “This linkage is dangerous and counterproductive” (3).

You can hear the pain in Foxman’s admission that “it is that much more of a concern to hear this coming from such a great American patriot and hero”. That Petraeus chose to make his concerns public at the height of a public showdown between Israel and the US, and to do so on Capitol Hill, where legislators seemed uncertain how to respond, signalled the seriousness of the uniformed military in pressing the issue.
The most powerful lobby

Longtime Washington military and intelligence affairs analyst Mark Perry caught the special significance of this at Foreign Policy’s website: “There are important and powerful lobbies in America: the NRA, the American Medical Association, the lawyers – and the Israeli lobby. But no lobby is as important, or as powerful, as the US military” (4). He noted as well that, in a January Centcom briefing of Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Admiral Michael Mullen, Petraeus had evidently suggested the Palestinian territories – over which Israel continues to exercise sovereign military control – be included under Centcom’s area of responsibility, a prospect that would make Israel’s leadership apoplectic.

It’s not that, as far as we know, Petraeus harbours any particular animus, or affection, for the Jewish state. It’s that, in his institutional role as the commander of hundreds of thousands of US troops stationed across what Washington strategists like to call the “arc of instability”, he is concerned about aggravating hostility towards the United States.

The idea that Washington needs to rein in Israeli expansionism and force a political solution to its conflict with the Palestinians is hardly novel for America’s unsentimental men in uniform. Former Secretary of State Colin Powell and former US Mideast envoy General Anthony Zinni, both of whom had their formative experiences of the region in the course of massive US military deployments there, were on the same page as Petraeus is today.

Lieutenant General Keith Dayton is the US officer responsible for creating and training the Palestinian Authority security force that has cracked down on West Bank militants and restrained them from attacking Israel over the past few years. He was no less blunt than Petraeus in a speech in Washington last year. He emphasised the premise on which the force was built, and withstood charges from within its own community that it was simply a gendarmerie for Israel: its soldiers believed themselves to be the nucleus of the army of a future Palestinian state. The loyalty of his men, he warned, should not be taken for granted: “There is perhaps a two-year shelf life on being told that you’re creating a state, when you’re not.”

Vice-President Biden, too, was quoted in the Israeli press as having berated Netanyahu – behind closed doors – over his plans for settlement expansion, warning that it would put at risk the lives of American personnel in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan.
Tough-love solution

In public, of course, Biden offered familiar pablum direct from Joe Lieberman’s “family” album: “From my experience, the one precondition for progress [in the Middle East] is that the rest of the world knows this – there is no space between the US and Israel when it comes to security, none. That’s the only time that progress has been made.”

In fact, the history of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict suggests that the reverse is true. The origins of the peace process the Obama administration is now trying so desperately to resuscitate do not lie in the unconditional American support for Israel that has become a third rail in national politics over the past two decades. They lie in the national interest based tough love of the administration of President George HW Bush.

Grounded in a realist reading of American national interests across the Middle East – at a moment when a military campaign to eject Saddam Hussein’s Iraqi forces from Kuwait had put hundreds of thousands of US troops on the ground there – the first Bush administration recognised the need to balance Israel’s reasonable interests with those of its Arab neighbours. That’s why, in 1991, it dragged Israel’s hawkish Likud government under Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir to the Madrid conference, and so broke Israel’s “security” taboo on direct engagement with Yasser Arafat’s Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO).

The Bush administration also made it clear that there would be immediate and painful consequences for Israel if it continued building settlements on land conquered in the war of 1967, construction which the US was then willing to term not only “unhelpful” – the preferred euphemism of Presidents Bill Clinton, George W Bush and now Barack Obama – but illegal. Under the direction of Bush family consigliere and Secretary of State Jim Baker, Washington threatened to withdraw $10bn in loan guarantees if Israeli colonisation of Palestinian territory continued. In the resulting political crisis, Israelis – mindful of their dependency on US support – voted Shamir out of office and chose Yitzhak Rabin as prime minister.

Rabin has been rightly lionised as a leader who took a courageous decision to change course in the face of bitter domestic opposition. To understand how Israel started down the path of peace, however, it’s necessary to clean the Vaseline off the lens of history and quiet the string section.

Only three years earlier, Rabin had ordered Israeli troops to use baseball bats to break the limbs of stone-throwing teenagers in hopes of stopping the Palestinian intifada. He certainly did not embrace the Oslo peace process with the PLO out of some moral epiphany. He changed course thanks to a cold-blooded assessment of Israel’s strategic position at the time.

The United States then had a growing stake in creating a regional Pax Americana that required Arab support. Given the end of the cold war, Israel’s value as an ally was diminishing, while its expansionist policies, antagonising Arab public opinion and making it more difficult for vulnerable regional governments to ally with Israel’s enabler, were increasingly a liability for Washington.

Rabin had reason to believe that US support for Israel at the expense of its neighbours would prove neither unconditional nor eternal. At the same time, the PLO had been weakened by years of Israeli military attacks and by a disastrous diplomatic blunder – it had aligned itself with Saddam Hussein in the first Gulf war. It was a fortuitous moment, he concluded, to press for a political solution with the Palestinians on favourable terms, by trading the West Bank and Gaza for peace.
Where are the consequences?

Rabin acted because the consequences of maintaining the status quo seemed increasingly unpleasant, which takes nothing away from his courage in doing so. The same could be said for South Africa’s last white president, FW de Klerk. He opted to negotiate an end to apartheid with Nelson Mandela’s ANC because the collapse of the Soviet Union had removed the most persuasive rationale the US and other western powers had for backing his white-rule regime. Similarly, it’s unlikely that the Soviet political system would have put Mikhail Gorbachev in power if the KGB hadn’t determined that far-reaching changes were necessary to prevent Moscow from being eclipsed as a superpower, thanks to western economic and technological advances.

If US pressure and the spectre of isolation and opprobrium pushed Israel onto the path of a two-state solution, the easing of that pressure and the creation of the “familial” notion of US-Israel ties have coincided with a steady movement away from completing the peace process. Even at the height of the Oslo era, coddled by Clinton, the Israelis kept on expanding the settlements that jeopardised geographic prospects for Palestinian statehood.

The Israeli opposition, led by Ariel Sharon and Netanyahu, sought to prove Rabin wrong. They were convinced that American support could be maintained without conceding Palestinian statehood – by making constant end runs around the Oval Office and appealing directly to Capitol Hill and US public opinion.

Sharon and Netanyahu were vindicated in spades when the suicide-terror strategy taken up by the second Palestinian intifada and the attacks of 9/11 led George W Bush’s administration to re-conceptualise the world on the basis of its Global War on Terror. This, in turn, led Washington’s political class to accept Israel not as just another ally in that war, but as a model for how to conduct it.

In the Bush years, the peace process and the two-state solution became a hollow catechism that could be mouthed by Israeli leaders (and their supporters in Washington), while getting on with the task of smashing the Palestinian national movement and expanding settlements. In real terms, the peace process – the series of reciprocal moves designed to build confidence for concluding final status talks and implementing a two-state solution – died when Ariel Sharon came to power in February 2001.
Grand guignol

Even his 2005 withdrawal of Jewish settlements from Gaza was never conceived in terms of a peace process; it wasn’t even negotiated or coordinated with the Palestinian Authority. Sharon, in fact, imagined his unilateral withdrawal as a substitute for a peace agreement. It was designed, as Sharon’s top aide Dov Weissglass so memorably explained, as a dose of “formaldehyde that’s necessary so that there will not be a political process with the Palestinians”.

Despite mounting Arab exasperation, the Bush administration put no pressure on Israel to bring the peace process to a conclusion, limiting itself to the Grand Guignol of the “Annapolis process”. With all external compulsion to conclude a peace agreement removed, domestic political pressure in Israel not surprisingly collapsed as well. The Palestinians were now largely locked behind the vast separation wall that winds through the West Bank and the siege lines of Gaza. Their plight is once again invisible to Israelis, only 40% of whom, when asked by pollsters, even express an interest in seeing the peace process restarted. Only around 20% believe that such a move would bring any results.

“Israel has no real intention of quitting the territories or allowing the Palestinian people to exercise their rights,” wrote Israeli political commentator Gideon Levy in Haaretz on 18 March. “Israel does not truly intend to pursue peace, because life here seems to be good even without it. The continuation of the occupation doesn’t just endanger Israel’s future, it also poses the greatest risk to world peace, serving as a pretext for Israel’s most dangerous enemies. No change will come to pass in the complacent, belligerent and condescending Israel of today.”

The Obama administration can’t be under any illusions on this score. And they are being forced to confront it by another kind of pressure. The bills are coming due for Bush’s War-on-Terror adventurism. Those responsible for maintaining the US imperium in the Muslim world are now raising warning flags that the price to be paid for continuing to indulge Israel in evading its obligation to offer a fair settlement to the Palestinians could be high – and, worse than that, unnecessary.

Israel’s leaders, and its voters, have amply demonstrated that they will not voluntarily relinquish control of the Palestinian territories as long as there are no real consequences for maintaining the status quo. Sure, you can tell them that the status quo is untenable, but the whole history of Israel from the 1920s onward has been about transforming the impossible into the inevitable by changing the facts on the ground. Building settlements on occupied territory in violation of international law after 1967 seemed untenable at the time; today, the US government says Israel will keep most of those major settlement blocs in any two-state solution. It is precisely in line with this sort of improvisational logic that Sharon calculated he could hold on to the settlements of the West Bank if he gave up the settlements of Gaza; the same logic allows Netanyahu to say the words “two states for two peoples” while always winking at his base that he has no intention of allowing it to happen.

A peace process that requires Israel and the Palestinians to reach a bilateral consensus on the distribution of land and power under the prodding of US matchmakers is a non-starter – and therefore unlikely to lead to a goal which is of increasing urgency in America’s national interest. Arguably, it’s increasingly important even for the Israelis, since the status quo has already eroded prospects for a two-state solution to the point where both sides may be consigned to an even longer and more bitter conflict.

Hence the necessity of correcting Vice-President Biden: progress in the Middle East will not come until the US changes Israel’s cost-benefit analysis for maintaining the status quo. The only Israeli leader capable of accepting the parameters of a two-state peace with the Palestinians, which are already widely known, is one who can convincingly demonstrate to his electorate that the alternatives are worse. Right now, without real pressure, without real cost, with nothing but words, there is simply no downside to the status quo for Israel. Until there is, things are unlikely to change, no matter the peril to US troops throughout the Middle East.

Ref: Le Monde

Share the Land – A Single State, With Justice and Liberty for All

Prior to the establishment of Israel, Palestine had been multi-religious and multi-cultural. Christians, Muslims and Jews, Armenians, Greek Orthodox, to name a few, all had a place there; and all lived in relative harmony. Other nations fought wars and waged epic struggles to attain the kind of coexistence that was already a reality in Palestine.But while the world strives toward the noble truths that we are all created equal, Israel legislates the notion of a Chosen People with exclusive rights and privilege for Jews. Where countries have worked to integrate their citizens to create the richness of diversity, Israel is working in reverse, employing racist policies to “Judaize” the land whereby property and resources are confiscated from Christians and Muslims for the exclusive use of Jews. Where there is consensus that certain human rights are inalienable, Palestinians have lived subject to the whims of soldiers at checkpoints; of airplanes and helicopters raining death onto them with impunity; of curfews and restrictions and denials; and of violent armed settlers who fancy themselves disciples of God.

Living under Israeli occupation, in refugee camps or in exile, we Palestinians have endured having everything callously taken from us – our homes, our heritage, our history, our families, livelihoods, freedom, farms, olive groves, water, security, and freedom. In the 1990s, we supported the Oslo Accords two-state solution even though it would have returned to us only 22% of our historic homeland. But Israel repeatedly squandered our generosity, confiscating more Palestinian land to increase illegal Jewish-only colonies and Jewish-only roads. What remains to us now is less than 14% of Historic Palestine, all of it as isolated Bantustans, shrinking ghettos, walls, fences, checkpoints with surly soldiers,and the perpetual encroachment of expanding illegal Israeli colonies.

While the Palestine Authority has led us into a shrinking land mass, less water, more restrictions, ominous walls and merciless slaughter, notable individuals and popular movements have mobilized for Palestine as once happened for South Africa. Moral authorities like former President Jimmy Carter, Nobel Laureates Desmond Tutu and Mairead Maguire, and former UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Mary Robinson have condemned Israeli Apartheid. Organizations supporting the Divestment and Boycott Campaign against Israel include religious institutions such as the Presbyterian Church, The World Council of Churches, United Church of Christ, Evangelical Lutheran Church, the Anglican Church, the Federation of European Jews for a Just Peace, among many others. It includes civil and professional organizations such as the National Lawyers Guild, the Irish Municipal, Public and Civil Trade Union in Ireland, as well as labor unions in Canada, Britain, and other nations. An academic boycott of Israel has spread throughout the UK and other parts of Europe and taken root in US universities across the country. The International Solidarity Movement has seen thousands of individuals come to the Occupied Territories to protect Palestinians from the violence of settlers during the olive harvest; to protect children on their daring daily journeys to school; and to bear witness to the inhumanity of military occupation. The Free Gaza movement has transported by boat hundreds of people willing to risk their lives to bring greatly needed supplies to the besieged people of Gaza. This Christmas, internationals will march to the Egypt/Gaza border to break this siege. These are but a few examples of growing popular support for the Palestinian struggle.

When compared with the accomplishments of these grassroots movements, the futility of “negotiations” becomes painfully apparent. It is clear that we cannot look to our leaders (elected or imposed) to achieve justice. Just as only the masses could bring South Africa’s Apartheid to its knees, it will be the masses who will also bring Israel’s Apartheid crashing. The continued expansion of international action demanding the implementation of Palestinian basic human rights is inevitable.

The notion of religious-ethnocentric entitlement and exclusivity for one people at the expense of another has been rejected the world over. Palestinians reject it and we assert that we are human beings worthy of the same human rights accorded to the rest of humanity; that we are worthy of our homes and farms, our heritage, our churches and mosques, and our history; and that we should not be expected to negotiate with our oppressors for such basic dignities. The two-state solution was and remains an instrument to circumvent the basic human rights of Palestinians in order to accommodate Israel’s desire to be Jewish. Polls show that Palestinians refuse to be the enemies of our Jewish brothers and sisters anywhere, just as we refuse to be oppressed by them.

It is time for our shared land to be the inclusive and diverse country it had been. It is time for leaders to follow the people’s determined movement toward a single democratic state, with liberty and justice for all, regardless of religion.

Ref: Counterpunch

Susan Abulhawa is the author of Mornings in Jenin (Bloomsbury, 2010); and Ramzy Baroud is an author and editor of PalestineChronicle.com. His work has been published in many newspapers and journals worldwide. His latest book is The Second Palestinian Intifada: A Chronicle of a People’s Struggle (Pluto Press, London). His newbook is, “My Father Was a Freedom Fighter: Gaza’s Untold Story” (Pluto Press, London).

BOYCOTT ISRAEL – Stopping the Apartheid State

Israeli newspapers this summer are filled with angry articles about the push for an international boycott of Israel. Films have been withdrawn from Israeli film festivals, Leonard Cohen is under fire around the world for his decision to perform in Tel Aviv, and Oxfam has severed ties with a celebrity spokesperson, a British actress who also endorses cosmetics produced in the occupied territories. Clearly, the campaign to use the kind of tactics that helped put an end to the practice of apartheid in South Africa is gaining many followers around the world. Not surprisingly, many Israelis — even peaceniks — aren’t signing on. A global boycott inevitably elicits charges – however specious – of anti-Semitism. It also brings up questions of a double standard (why not boycott China for its egregious violations of human rights?) and the seemingly contradictory position of approving a boycott of one’s own nation.

It is indeed not a simple matter for me as an Israeli citizen to call on foreign governments, regional authorities, international social movements, faith-based organizations, unions and citizens to suspend cooperation with Israel. But today, as I watch my two boys playing in the yard, I am convinced that it is the only way that Israel can be saved from itself.

I say this because Israel has reached a historic crossroads, and times of crisis call for dramatic measures. I say this as a Jew who has chosen to raise his children in Israel, who has been a member of the Israeli peace camp for almost 30 years and who is deeply anxious about the country’s future.

The most accurate way to describe Israel today is as an apartheid state. For more than 42 years, Israel has controlled the land between the Jordan Valley and the Mediterranean Sea. Within this region about 6 million Jews and close to 5 million Palestinians reside. Out of this population, 3.5 million Palestinians and almost half a million Jews live in the areas Israel occupied in 1967, and yet while these two groups live in the same area, they are subjected to totally different legal systems. The Palestinians are stateless and lack many of the most basic human rights. By sharp contrast, all Jews — whether they live in the occupied territories or in Israel — are citizens of the state of Israel.

The question that keeps me up at night, both as a parent and as a citizen, is how to ensure that my two children as well as the children of my Palestinian neighbors do not grow up in an apartheid regime.

There are only two moral ways of achieving this goal.

The first is the one-state solution: offering citizenship to all Palestinians and thus establishing a bi-national democracy within the entire area controlled by Israel. Given the demographics, this would amount to the demise of Israel as a Jewish state; for most Israeli Jews, it is anathema.

The second means of ending our apartheid is through the two-state solution, which entails Israel’s withdrawal to the pre-1967 borders (with possible one-for-one land swaps), the division of Jerusalem, and a recognition of the Palestinian right of return with the stipulation that only a limited number of the 4.5 million Palestinian refugees would be allowed to return to Israel, while the rest can return to the new Palestinian state.

Geographically, the one-state solution appears much more feasible because Jews and Palestinians are already totally enmeshed; indeed, “on the ground,” the one-state solution (in an apartheid manifestation) is a reality.

Ideologically, the two-state solution is more realistic because fewer than 1 per cent of Jews and only a minority of Palestinians support binationalism.
For now, despite the concrete difficulties, it makes more sense to alter the geographic realities than the ideological ones. If at some future date the two peoples decide to share a state, they can do so, but currently this is not something they want.

So if the two-state solution is the way to stop the apartheid state, then how does one achieve this goal?

I am convinced that outside pressure is the only answer. Over the last three decades, Jewish settlers in the occupied territories have dramatically increased their numbers. The myth of the united Jerusalem has led to the creation of an apartheid city where Palestinians aren’t citizens and lack basic services. The Israeli peace camp has gradually dwindled so that today it is almost nonexistent, and Israeli politics are moving more and more to the extreme right.

It is therefore clear to me that the only way to counter the apartheid trend in Israel is through massive international pressure. The words and condemnations from the Obama administration and the European Union have yielded no results, not even a settlement freeze, let alone a decision to withdraw from the occupied territories.

I consequently have decided to support the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement that was launched by Palestinian activists in July 2005 and has since garnered widespread support around the globe. The objective is to ensure that Israel respects its obligations under international law and that Palestinians are granted the right to self-determination.

In Bilbao, Spain, in 2008, a coalition of organizations from all over the world formulated the 10-point Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions campaign meant to pressure Israel in a “gradual, sustainable manner that is sensitive to context and capacity.” For example, the effort begins with sanctions on and divestment from Israeli firms operating in the occupied territories, followed by actions against those that help sustain and reinforce the occupation in a visible manner. Along similar lines, artists who come to Israel in order to draw attention to the occupation are welcome, while those who just want to perform are not.

Nothing else has worked. Putting massive international pressure on Israel is the only way to guarantee that the next generation of Israelis and Palestinians — my two boys included — does not grow up in an apartheid regime.

Ref: counterpunch

Neve Gordon is chair of the department of politics and government at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev and author of Israel’s Occupation (University of California Press, 2008). He can be contacted through his website, http://www.israelsoccupation.info.