One Democratic State for Israel and Palestine can be built from the ground up with myriad local and grass-roots initiatives. By contrast, negotiating a two state solution and repartition of Palestine can only be done by top-level diplomacy, a matter of pressures and threats, bribes and inducements, balance of forces and realpolitik. When that diplomacy breaks down it cannot be long before the attempt is finally abandoned.
And we’ve just seen a real fracture on all fronts of the diplomatic process.
Israel had royally snubbed US chief ringmaster John Kerry with a spate of provocations, chiefly its very public trumpeting of more and more settlement building. Housing Minister Uri Ariel even tried to claim that a new batch of tenders for 1400 new settlement units had been “coordinated with and approved” by Kerry. This drew a swift denial from Washington. But still Kerry didn’t give up on his attempts to nail down a Palestinian mini-state for Israel’s benefit.
Finally Israel’s Defense Minister and darling of the settler camp, Moshe Ya’alon, was outed making some very undiplomatic insults. Calling Kerry’s mission “messianic” and “obsessive” and declaring that “Kerry has nothing to teach me” he drew blood, with the White House responding “in a rare public rebuke” as Times of Israel put it, that this was not the sort of language it expected from “a close ally”, and demanding that “Netanyahu explicitly disavow Ya’alon’s comments and affirm his commitment to the peace talks”.
This is still to come. Though there have been several damage-limitation excursions, blogger Ari Kaufman in 972 Magazine quotes an unnamed senior White House staffer saying “To my recollection, this is the first time Israel has bitten the hand that feeds it. And that’s a no-no. We won’t take that sitting down. Nuh-uh”.
No doubt they will kiss and make up, as the UN did after 1949 when its chief negotiator Count Folke Bernadotte was kidnapped and murdered by an Israeli terrorist gang, whose leader went on to head up Israel’s government and be received on their red carpets. But even when it’s all blown over, the message will remain, summed up (again in +972): “Israel’s top defense officials are spelling it out for you: ISRAEL IS NOT IN THE PEACE-MAKING BUSINESS.” And as Kaufman’s as colleague Noam Sheizaf says “the negotiations serve Israel’s interest by maintaining the status quo, since most of the international pressure on Israel tends to go away when peace talks are taking place”.
That is, until the moment when the fragile artifice finally breaks down.
Over at Ramallah, after a full meeting of the PLO, three legs of the negotiating table were not just kicked at but unambiguously sawn off, as PA leader Abbas publicly re-affirmed the refugees’ right of return to their homes, reiterated the demand for an East Jerusalem capital, and clearly stated that the Palestinians would not recognise “Israel as the Jewish state”.
He also stated that he would not agree to extend the talks beyond their scheduled end, thus strangling at birth Kerry’s hope for an interim “framework” agreement followed by years more negotiating; and the PLO decided to go back to the UN and extend Palestine’s access to UN bodies such as the International Court of Justice, a move that had been suspended for the duration of the talks as a goodwill gesture. Clearly, good will has run out.
After effectively ditching the two-state solution, the next step for the PLO would be to use its position to strengthen the popular struggle for civil and human rights.
Five things the PLO could do now
♦ They could now withdraw from the Oslo package and end their role as a “Palestine Authority”: administrators and security intermediary for Israel’s military rule in the West Bank.
♦ They should fully back the BDS call and lobby for international sanctions against Israel until it meets its obligations respects international law. Doors will surely open to them in countries that voted for their UN upgrade, and in blocs like the EU and the huge South American Mercosur bloc who are already considering cutting Israel out of some trade, financial, academic and cultural deals.
♦ They could take practical measures to enable and support the grassroots actions against the Wall, for prisoners’ freedom, for freedom of movement, and against the lawless vandalism and land-grab of the Israeli state and its aggressive settlers: couldn’t their well-equipped police be deployed to defend the lands, buildings and crops against the marauding settlers and the army’s bulldozers, and to defend the shepherds of the Jordan valley against those who steal their water? And isn’t it time they opened up their prisons and released all political activists?
♦ At the UN they should press for its Year of Palestine Solidarity to have real teeth, and to take serious measures to enforce the rulings in UN Resolutions 181, 194 and 242 that required Israel as a UN member to accord equal rights to all its citizens, to allow return of the excluded refugee population, and to end its military rule over the West Bank.
♦ Their remit since Oslo has shrunk down from the entire Palestinian people, to just those under occupation. They could start to reverse that by leading a call for an emergency food airlift to the besieged Yarmuk camp in Syria where Palestinians are dying of hunger. And they could go on to ensure that the ruling bodies are truly representative by holding global elections and including delegates from far and wide.
Abbas made a small start towards unity in struggle with his people, speaking in praise of the villagers of Qusra who surrounded and captured a raiding party from the nearby settlement of Esh Kodesh, and handed them to the Israeli authorities.
Even if the PLO is not about to switch from the goal of partition and division towards human and civil rights in one country, there’s no reason why rights should not come a lot higher up the agenda.
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