As the diplomatic trick with smoke and mirrors at the UN, intended to create the illusion of a Palestinian state, clears away, it reveals the same picture as before, with a few small changes to the frame.
♦ Yes, a large number of countries supported Palestine’s bid. But though the Ramallah team say that a statehood upgrade would be used to pursue legal issues against Israel, the PA diplomats don’t appear to have pressed these countries to join in the global movement (BDS) of sanctions against Israel for its continued flouting of international law and UN resolutions.
♦ Abbas enjoyed his moment of glory, a brief antidote to the indignities of last year’s Palestine Papers revelations. But he is now said to be “dejected” by the Hamas prisoner swap that has stolen his thunder: not exactly priorities you’d expect of a national hero.
♦ The UN application, re-asserting as it did the 1967 border, should now make it impossible for him to settle for any territory less than that, though he has left doors open by playing fast and loose with the definition, so it could be that it merely means these borders would be the basis for negotiation
♦ Even without having to cast its veto in the Security Council, the US is now openly discredited as ringmaster in the “peace process” circus. But that process is now so obsolete that this scarcely matters. Europe has picked up the whip, with Colombia recruited as go-between, with Clinton’s permission.
♦ With several Arab countries offering to replace any western funding lost by Ramallah, the purse strings of Israel’s friends that hold its Palestine Authority subcontractors will count for less. If the PA is cut loose, the Israeli establishment is openly divided over its continued usefulness.
There is still the General Assembly vote to come. Some reckon this will help Palestine’s position in international law — but this would be useful if it leads to a stepping up of the ongoing BDS campaign, which already has no shortage of legal backing.
Even so, the old charades and the manoeuvring games go on: Netanyahu offers to slow down some building projects on the West Bank (while new ones are announced for East Jerusalem), the IDF is urging an expansion of the PA’s domestic-security fiefdom into Area B, and Abbas openly begs Israel to give him back some prisoners too, so as to level up his standing against Hamas.
Abbas threatens once again to resign and/or wind up the PA, while Netanyahu’s right flank organises an escalation of settler pogroms and proposes annexation of Jewish settlement areas or possibly of the whole of the West Bank. Either of these will bury the Oslo agreement even deeper.
So, pretty much business as usual. But the fact that the euphoric stampede towards a statehood declaration has in practice left a two state deal even harder to envisage now, must tell us that after this peak of hope and activity there is nowhere for two states to go but down, and out.
The problem with the two states mission is not only that the goal is impossible, unsatisfactory and unjust, but that some of the initiatives it spawns, such as UN manoeuvres and diplomatic offensives, simply lead around in a circle and do nothing to alleviate the pain, weaken Israel, or build grassroots power.
If authoritative Palestinians (civil society organisations or political parties new or old) were to look seriously at the steps needed to launch a struggle for equal rights in one country, they could promote demands and actions that unite and mobilise, that create bonds across the borders, and that could brush aside the petty power-play between Hamas and Fatah.
One State actions don’t need to stand and wait on the big players, or watch for smoke signals from secret meetings. They can be started now by building popular support from the ground up. Here the initiative is in the hands of Palestinians, who can turn the emphasis from national rights to civil rights, using the common language and attitudes of “Social justice” and democratic struggle.
Israel’s mass social justice protest left Palestinian issues out in the cold (though on its fringes the message was: Social Justice only for some is no justice at all). But this can change: in the most recent mass turnout the main stage hosted a Palestinian speaker: a small gesture still, but it’s a start.
The reason people gave for drawing that line was that the Palestinian issue was “combat-related”, i.e. they saw a dividing line between a struggle seen as national and one seen as social.
Yet issues of democratic rights and freedoms in a space ruled by one supreme authority are becoming ever more pressing: rights such as freedom of movement, the right to family re-union, the right of people to elect their lawmakers and hold to account those who tax them, and equality under the law are all social and civil issues, not national ones.
The deliberately complicated matrix of zones and areas, borders, boundaries and checkpoints, the multiplicity of permits and even car number plates, are all designed to create and maintain this dividing line.
Demands and struggles aimed to break down and undermine this national, “combat-related” division could create joint work on a bigger scale than the important but minority coexistence struggle groups (such as the Sheikh Jarrah marches, Zochrot and the Negev Coexistence Project). It could resonate with some parts of Israel’s new movement, and also pick up the energies coming from the Arab Spring, Occupy Wall Street and worldwide social protests.
The issue of rights has similar front lines on both sides of the border, in many legal issues and in fights against ethnic cleansing, evictions and demolitions. On both sides of the old Green Line, Bedouin communities are being rounded up and moved on, and city neighbourhoods in Jaffa as well as East Jerusalem are being taken over.
While on one level the national vision is a uniting one (especially against Israel’s attempts to obliterate the cultural and historic existence of Palestine), a struggle for equal rights would work better against the fragmentation of Palestinian aims and priorities even within the area of Palestine, which in turn could connect with the exile communities as it centrally embraces the rights of return, of freedom of movement and of family reunion.
When the Palestine Authority folds, or if Israel annexes all or parts of the West Bank as its right wing parties demand, it will reveal a de facto single state under one supreme authority from the River to the Sea: an apartheid double-standard, 2-tier state of unequal rights, dual justice, segregated housing, separate permits and documents, and starkly contrasting travel conditions – where millions are controlled, ruled and taxed, with no right to vote.
A civil rights campaign would reveal to the whole world the apartheid reality, boost BDS and divide Zionism’s support. Mainstream Israelis might come to see that joining forces with mainstream Palestinians is a whole lot saner than global isolation, permanent war-talk, military service, and the threat of takeover by Israel’s ultra-right orthodox extremists.
It’s now time that influential individuals and organisations come out into the open and declare that the two states “solution” is dead. A simple, rolling statement could gather support and weight. The conference in late November in Jerusalem, seeking new ways forward, could be an excellent launch-pad for such a statement.
Meanwhile, all moves to extend the scope of the civil and democratic demands will help to build a movement for a single democratic state for Israel and Palestine. And a final death certificate for the two states mirage will clear away the political roadblocks that are holding the physical ones in place.
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