Some leading writers explore next steps on the road from the “Peace Process”
The ending of negotiations for two separate states has not, as many hoped, cleared a path for the only just alternative: either for such an alternative to be on the agenda as a political strategy, or for the raising of demands that are consistent with it, such as the right to vote, abolition of the borders, freedom of movement and one law for all.
But it has raised the stakes. Israel is clearly moving in for the kill, inexorably driving out the Palestinian population in readiness to annex Area C and East Jerusalem, amounting to some 62% of the West Bank.
Israel’s two-state left wingers respond by lamenting the potential loss of Israel’s ethnic founding principle: Peace Now director Yariv Oppenheimer says that annexation “may bury the chance to separate from the Palestinians”.
The demand for equal and democratic co-ownership of the whole country is the one response to colonisation and land-grab that would rebound on Israel. Fear of this was the main reason why annexation was not formalised decades ago.
But some Palestinians feel that any demand for civil rights in one country will seem to be condoning Israel’s de facto annexation of their lands and to be giving up on aspirations for liberty from the colonial occupiers. In a must-read analysis in Al Shabaka, Noura Erekat refers to this as “the tension between a rights-based approach and a political program clearly aimed at achieving … national liberation”. Thus the Freedom Riders action which demanded an end to the apartheid segregation of settler roads and buses, could be read as a move to soften and reform the occupation, not to end it.
Ironically, the apparently militant stance of rejecting civil rights demands is based on the compromise acceptance of the 1948 Partition; the insistence that Gaza and the West Bank are somehow more Palestinian than the rest of Palestine points to accepting Israel as long at it withdraws beyond the Green Line. By contrast, assertion of voting rights in the whole country would indicate re-possessing the original land of Palestine for all its people.
Certainly, small concessions to equality can be used to perpetuate a systemic oppression. But the winning of serious civil rights (such as equal citizenship and with it, equal right of entry into the country) would knock some very big holes in Zionism’s foundations.
If this hesitancy to attack aspects of the occupation was carried to its logical conclusion, then struggles to slow down the apartheid wall, or the fight against military governance and administrative detention, could also be seen as piecemeal improvements that are challenging not Israel’s right to rule but the manner in which it is ruling.
It may be useful to recall a major difference between the two-state process and one-state campaigning. Two states is negotiated by national leaders, and once the deal is sealed, that’s it: all previous UN law and policy on Palestine would be signed away. End of story.
Fighting for One State, on the other hand can be a continuing process, building on victories and advances to go further. At any stage, new struggle can be initiated: no-one will have packed it up and signed it off. The international standards and laws that underpin the fight would not be just the specific resolutions on Palestine, but would be all the human rights standards enshrined in numerous UN conventions, which would remain on the table as yardsticks.
Two other issues also favour rights-based demands
First, they mostly (with the exception of the right to vote in Knesset elections) address immediate issues that are already being fought over: legal disparities, freedom of movement, military rule, legalised theft and violence, enforced segregation, cultural, educational and religious rights and freedoms.
Second, civil rights and democratic demands offer a better chance than national demands to join up in struggle with wider circles of Israel’s alienated mainstream, to challenge their underlying belief in Israel’s ethnic self-definition and to exploit differences to undermine the establishment’s morale. Many of them believe themselves to be in favour of equality: spelling out what that should mean might remove some layers of blinkers.
And civil rights demands, which tell the world that the occupied territories are taxed and ruled but cannot vote, are good fuel for the BDS struggle, too. As Noura Erekat observes, “Despite these internal Palestinian tensions, a rights-based approach remains a salient reference for international solidarity activists”.
To those who say that this forecloses on the discussion of One State or Two, which has yet to be re-addressed by any Palestinian representative forum, almost all the demands and issues challenge Israel’s impunity here and now. So any victories for these demands will weaken the Occupation’s freedom to foreclose further on the Two State option.
And these demands can also be framed as immediate measures pending a long-term political solution: i.e. as long as the Occupation continues and until something permanent is agreed, can we please have a life? As Noura Erekat concludes, “the most effective strategy does seem to be to struggle for rights while working on a political program and engendering a representative leadership”.
“Dissolve the PA”
Jeff Halper, meanwhile, argues that it’s really urgent to break the logjam of the Oslo process, by whatever means, as the solidarity movement, too, is “trapped in the dead-end personified by the two-state solution, [by] reference to a ‘peace process’ and the attendant ‘negotiations.’ There is no way forward in the current paradigm.”
He is the founder of the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions, and a giant of the solidarity movement. He has for some time argued the urgency of a rights-based strategy, leaving the end-goal aside for now - as long as it’s not the Two State process.
While annexation would certainly be a game-changer, so, he argues, would be the winding-up of the Palestine Authority. He makes a passionate plea for a strategic turn that would undermine and collapse the “matrix of control” that Israel has built around the Occupation. “First, we must endeavor to hasten the collapse of the present situation and subsequently, when new paradigms of genuine justice emerge from the chaos, be primed to push forward an entirely different solution” .
Bringing about this collapse should be done “in order to exploit its fundamental unsustainabilty. The elimination of the Palestinian Authority is one way to precipitate that collapse. It would likely require Israel to physically reoccupy the Palestinian cities and probably Gaza as well (as if they have ever been de-occupied), bringing the reality of raw occupation back to the center of attention. … Israel would be put in an indefensible position, thus paving the way for new post-collapse possibilities – this time with an effective and representative Palestinian agency in place and a global movement primed to follow its lead. … Whatever the cause of the collapse – and we must play an active role in bringing it about – it is incumbent upon us to be ready, mobilized and organized if we are to seize that historic moment, which might be coming sooner than we expect. Effective and broadly representative Palestinian agency will be critical.”
Apart from dissolving itself, it’s worth remembering that there are some other useful things the PA could be doing. If it had the nerve.
1. It could petition all the states that supported its UN recognition bid, asking for their material aid to enforce UN resolutions and international law on Palestine, with national trade sanctions, withdrawal of diplomatic and cultural ties and joint projects with Israel;
2. It could petition the EU to do likewise, citing the increasingly hostile reports that the EU diplomats in Jerusalem have been sending back concerning ethnic cleansing in East Jerusalem and the continual destruction of EU funded projects in the West Bank and Gaza, and urging the end of all trade relations with Israel;
3. Instead of endlessly issuing empty threats to give up on the two state process, they could, (as John V Whitbeck* suggested in an Open Letter to Abbas published by Al Jazeera ) announce and organise a referendum among all Palestinians, asking whether they prefer to see a state on the remaining fragments of Palestine not yet annexed or “seek the full rights of citizenship in a single democratic state in all of historical Palestine, free of any discrimination based on race, religion or origin and with equal rights for all.”
If they did that and a “decent Palestinian state” was still not on offer, he suggests, then “the Palestinian leadership and people, having acted reasonably and responsibly, would be standing firmly on the moral high ground, ready to shift their goal to the only other decent alternative with the maximum conceivable support of the rest of mankind.” And hallelujah to that!
There is, unfortunately, no authoritative Palestinian body, nor even any major party or campaign, that promotes this “only decent alternative”. Since the PLO was transformed by Oslo from a government in exile (i.e. a liberation organisation) into a Palestinian Authority (i.e. a management institution), there is not even an elected or mandated representative forum in which such ideas can be argued out.
Much of Noura Erekat’s policy brief is devoted to “looking for a leadership with a strategy”. Clearly it is imperative to enfranchise the worldwide Palestinian community, but having done that, what parties and what strategy will they be able to vote for, and would the present failing and disfunctional leaderships give way to the will of the majority? While several organisations tick some of these boxes, none yet fills the void by offering both a credible liberation programme and a comprehensive geographical reach that involves Palestinians worldwide.
Yet the creation of such a party does not need to wait for all the technicalities of election to be in place. It can make a start right now.
** Read also ” We are now in limbo between recognition that one state is what has happened on the ground, and its continued denial in the name of the Two States solution. This denial stands in the way of the paramount question which should be not “one state or two?” but “what sort of single state?”
* John V. Whitbeck is an international lawyer who has advised the Palestinian negotiating team in negotiations with Israel.
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