Can We Imagine Peace for Palestine?
EDITORIAL, 25 Feb 2019
While waiting without positive expectations for the Trump ‘deal of the century’ the Palestinian ordeal unfolds day by day. Many Israelis would like us to believe that the Palestinian struggle to achieve self-determination has been defeated, and that it is time to admit that Israel is the victor and Palestine the loser. Recent events paint a different picture. Every Friday since the end of March 2018 the Great March of Return has confronted Israel at the Gaza fence. Israel has responded with lethal force killing more than 250 Palestinians and injuring over 18,000, using grossly excessive force to deal with almost completely nonviolent demonstrations. The world allows these weekly atrocities to go without any concerted adverse reaction and the UN is awkwardly silent.
It would seem that there is a feeling in international circles that nothing much can be done to bring about a peaceful and just solution at this stage. Such a conclusion partially explains the various recent moves in the Arab world toward an acceptance of Israel as a legitimate state, which has included diplomatic normalization. Beyond these developments, Israel has joined with Saudi Arabia and the United States in a war mongering escalation of an unwarranted confrontation with Iran. In addition, Israel and Egypt are collaborating on security issues at the border and in the Sinai, as well as in developing off shore oil and gas projects.
All and all, this is a moment for stocktaking with respect to this conflict that has gone on for more than a century, and assessing what would be the best way forward.
A fundamental point is how peace might be made in a manner that realizes the fundamental right of the Palestinian people to achieve self-determination in a territorial space that was for centuries their own homeland. The prevailing assumption had been that a solution would be achieved by geopolitically framed negotiations between Israel and governmental representatives of the Palestinian people. The framing was entrusted to the United States, which itself insinuated a fatal flaw into the diplomatic process if the goal was to achieve a peaceful compromise that was fair to both sides. How could this happen if the stronger party had the unconditional backing of the geopolitical intermediary and the weaker party was not even clearly the legitimate representative of the Palestinian people?
Additionally, this already flawed framework was further abused by subordinating the so-called peace process to Zionist expansionist goals, expressed by annexing Jerusalem, denying refugee rights of return, and expanding unlawful settlements in occupied Palestine. Such a geopolitical framework, associated with the Oslo Framework of Principles, as adopted in 1993, has by now been widely discredited but not before Israel had used the past 25 years to achieve their expansionist goals, making the establishment of an independent Palestinian state a political impossibility, and putting the Palestinians in a far weaker position than when the Oslo approach was adopted.
Against this background, the perverse failure of the top down approach to a sustainable outcome has led to a public attitude of defeatism when it comes to achieving a peaceful compromise. The residual top down option is the coercive imposition of ‘peace’ by declaring an Israeli victory and a Palestinian defeat. In other words, if diplomacy fails, the winner/loser calculus of war is all that is left over.
Such thinking, although prevalent in elite circles, overlooks the historical agency of people, both those resisting injustice and those mobilized throughout the world in solidarity. These are the bottom-up kinds of political dynamics that changed the history of the last century. It was national mass movements that challenged successfully, although at heavy human costs, the unjust structures of colonialism and South African apartheid, and eventually prevailed despite military inferiority and geopolitical resistance. In other words, people had the superior historical agency despite their inferior capabilities on the battlefield and diplomatically. This populist potency is a reality with a potential to subvert the established order and for this reason is treated as irrelevant by mainstream thinking and policy planners.
It is precisely on the basis of this deconstruction of power and change that hope for a brighter Palestinian future lies. The strength of the Palestinian national movement is on the level of people as fortified by the moral consensus that Israeli apartheid colonialism is wrong, indeed a crime against humanity according to international criminal law [see Article 7 of the Rome Statute governing the International Criminal Court and the International Apartheid Convention of 1973 on the Suppression and Punishment of the Crime of Apartheid] It is this bottom up process of struggle, spearheaded by Palestinian resistance and given leverage by global solidarity initiatives such as the BDS [Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions] Campaign as it gains momentum and heightens pressure. Historical outcomes are never certain, but the flow of history has been against this Israeli/Zionist combination of colonial appropriation of Palestine and the apartheid structures relied upon to maintain the subjugation of the Palestinian people.
Against this background, some general propositions can be put forward.
The Two-State Solution Is Dead
For several years, at least since the de facto abandonment of the Oslo diplomacy in 2014, the two-state solution has not been seen as a viable political option. Yet it continues to be affirmed by many governments and at the UN. This is not because there is any belief that it might finally happen, but because every other outcome seemed either impossible or too horrible to contemplate. In other words, many leading political figures and opinion leaders held onto the two-state approach as an alternative to zero. This reflect an impoverishment of the political and moral imagination, only capable of conceiving a solution to conflict as deriving from top down approaches; bottom up approaches are not even considered.
It seems better to admit the defeat of two-state diplomacy and take account of the existing situation confronting Palestinians and Israelis so as to consider alternatives. To come to this point, it might be helpful to explain why the two-state solution has become so irrelevant. Above all, it seems evident that the Likud leadership of Israel never wanted an independent Palestinian state established. Netanyahu pledged during the 2014 presidential campaign in Israel that a Palestinian state would never come into existence as long as he was Israel’s leader.
Perhaps, more fundamental, the settler movement has passed a point of no return. There are more than 600,000 Israeli settlers living in more than 130 settlements spread all over the West Bank and East Jerusalem. Settler leaders believe that the settlements have so changed the map of Israel to exclude any possibility of an independent Palestine, and their leaders now envisage the settler population growing to 2,000,000 to drive this point home.
True, the Palestinian Authority has long seemed ready to accept even a territorially abridged state, ceding sovereignty over the settlement blocs near the border, but insisting on its capital being in Jerusalem. A broad spectrum of Israeli political leaders agrees that the future of Jerusalem is non-negotiable, and that the city will remain forever unified under sole Israeli sovereignty and administration. Under these conditions it can be safely concluded that it is no longer plausible to consider seriously the two-state path to peace between the two peoples.
The Arab Accommodation Is Tenuous
Israel feels little pressure to seek a political compromise given present conditions. With Trump in the White House and Arab governments scrambling toward normalization and accommodation, Israeli leaders and public opinion seem ill-disposed to make concessions for the sake of peace. As such keeping the two-state non-solution alive as a Zombie solution is a way to proceed with Israel’s continuing efforts to expand the settlements while implementing its coercive version of a one-state solution.
There are strong reasons to feel that this Israeli confidence that the Palestinian demand for rights can be indefinitely ignored is premature and is likely tol be undermined by events in the near future. For one thing, the Arab moves toward normalization are unstable as is the entire region. If there is a renewal of Arab uprisings, in the spirit of 2011, it is quite possible that support for Palestinian self-determination would surge to the top of the regional political agenda, stronger form than ever before. The Arab people, as distinct from the governments, continue to feel deep bonds of solidarity with their Palestinian brothers and sisters.
Beyond this, should Trump presidency be defeated in 2020, there is likely to be an Israeli reevaluation of their interests. Such a prospect is heightened by signs that Jewish unconditional support for Israel is dramatically weakening, including in the United States. Furthermore, the global solidarity movement supportive of the Palestinian national movement is spreading and growing. It is becoming more militant, engaging moderate global public opinion, and has the symbolic benefit of strong backing in South Africa, which sees the fight for Palestinian rights as analogous to their own anti-apartheid campaign.
Two conclusions emerge from this analysis: first, a continued reliance on the two-state diplomacy within a framework that relies on the United States as an intermediary or peace broker is now irrelevant and discredited. It is at this point only a distraction. Secondly, despite Israel’s recent gains in acceptance within the Middle East and its one-sided support in Washington, the Palestinian national movement persists, and under certain conditions, will mount a threat to Israel’s future.
In light of these conclusions, what is best to be done? It would seem that only a democratic and secular single state could uphold self-determination for both peoples, holding out a promise of sustainable peace. It would need to be carefully envisioned and promoted with international safeguards along the path toward realization. It does not seem a practical possibility at present, but putting it forward as the only outcome that can be regarded as just avoids despair and holds out hopes for a humane peace when the time is right. Such an outcome would require a major modification of Israeli goals.
In such a binational situation, the newly created single state could offer homelands to Jews and Palestinians, while finding a name for the new state that is congenial to both peoples. Maybe this will never happen, but it the most sustainable vision of a peaceful future that responds to decades of diplomatic failure, massive Palestinian suffering and abuse, and recognizes the moral authority and political potency of national resistance and global solidarity, a legislative victory by that unacknowledged Parliament of Humanity.
Richard Falk is a member of the TRANSCEND Network, an international relations scholar, professor emeritus of international law at Princeton University, author, co-author or editor of 40 books, and a speaker and activist on world affairs. In 2008, the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) appointed Falk to a six-year term as a United Nations Special Rapporteur on “the situation of human rights in the Palestinian territories occupied since 1967.” Since 2002 he has lived in Santa Barbara, California, and taught at the local campus of the University of California in Global and International Studies, and since 2005 chaired the Board of the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation. His most recent book is Achieving Human Rights (2009).
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This article originally appeared on Transcend Media Service (TMS) on 25 Feb 2019.
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