The Darkening Sky over Palestine: Storm Clouds or New Dawn?

PALESTINE - ISRAEL, 1 Jun 2020

Richard Falk | Global Justice in the 21st Century – TRANSCEND Media Service

The New Arab

28 May 2020 – Looking upward, the sky above Palestine has darkened, but whether portending a storm or nightfall is uncertain.

If, de jure annexation will go forward, then the sky is likely to emit thunder and lightning. When the storm passes, nothing will seem changed. Annexation is being discussed as if a game changer yet ‘annexation’ has already taken place in the form of settlements, the separation wall, denial of building and residence permits to Palestinians living in Area C, and long-affirmed Israeli sentiments of biblical entitlement solidified by continued tradition of affirming the territory the British administered as ‘Palestine’ between the two world wars as ‘the promised land’ of the Jewish people. All that changes is retaining what has long been the palpable absurdity of a commitment a to a two-state solution that Israel never wanted in its only legitimate form of two sovereign states, equal in all respects, including security.

Retaining zombie versions of the two-state mantra allowed European governments, liberal Zionists, and the UN to claim that they had not renounced their commitment to peace based on a territorial compromise between the two peoples. ‘The land for peace’ formula never encompassed the breadth and depth of Palestinian justifiable grievances, virtually abandoning millions of refugees stranded for generation in refugee camps. Israel from the outset of the two-state consensus exhibited what can most generously be called ambivalence toward ever tolerating the establishment of even an ‘unequal’ Palestinian state, as distinct from welcoming as now, a Palestinian statelet, and being done with the complaints about the denial of the inalienable right of self-determination. Israel relentlessly created conditions on the ground by its promotion of the overtly unlawful settlement movement that even made the prospect of a statelet seem less like a micro-state such as Andorra, and more like a subjugated South African bantustan.

Increasingly over the years since 1967, it became plain for all but the willfully blind to take note of Israel’s defiant implementations of its unlawful territorial ambitions that made the prospect of a genuine Palestinian sovereignty delusional to the point of irrelevance. Any yet the Palestinian Authority and liberal Zionism in America continue to cling uncritically to the two-state goal by refusals to take proper account of the constantly accumulating facts on the ground and the significance of one-sided security demands in the Oslo negotiations. Long ago it was clear that the best that the Palestinians could hope for was a modified structure of Israeli hegemony, prefigured by the cruelties of Gaza ‘disengagement,’ which in effect would function as a minimal, quasi-sovereign state with juridical equality but existentially as subjugated as during the lengthy occupation of the West Bank. It remains uncertain whether Israel is seeking a hegemonic ceasefire in an agreement mislabeled as ‘peace’ or pursuing an end game that envisioned an Israeli one-state outcome. It was an open question whether in such a ‘solution’ Palestinians would be granted second-class citizenship similar to what has been conferred behind the green line or some sort of third-class variant designed to make sure that Israel never faces the demographic threat of no longer being a Jewish majority state.

Such Israeli ambitions proceeded behind a public relations smokescreen of sweet reasonableness that became no longer necessary when Trump added geopolitical muscle to an Israeli victory scenario, which was not quite explicitly affirmed but packaged as ‘the deal of the century.’ As preceded by U.S. giveaways to Israeli expansion as cutting of UNRWA funding for Gaza, recognizing Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and moving the American embassy, and endorsing the Israeli annexation of the occupied Syrian Golan Heights, Trump’s hyper-partisanship fooled almost no one, not even the PA. It would be an insult to the political intelligence of the Palestinian people to except anything other than a rejection o this poisoned chalice was offered to the Palestinians. Israelis fully realized that what Washington was offering was no deal, but ‘the gift of the century,’ and there was no time to waste as Trump might disappear after the 2020 elections, requiring a return to the slow dance demanded by the American bipartisan consensus that has been the quiet enabler of Israeli expansionist moves ever since Israel was established in 1948, as distinct from the raucous cheerleading emanating from the West Wing of the Trump White House.

What is the nature of this gift so neatly wrapped by Kushner’s stealthy maneuvers? It is a strong-armed attempt to confer legitimacy on decades of unlawful Israeli expansionism and apartheid governance carried on while the U.S. winked in public, and its leaders smiled to Zionist donors in private. What failed as partisan diplomacy during the Clinton/Bush/Obama presidencies has been repudiated. In its place, with only the thinnest of disguises veiling the true nature of the Trump approach, is nothing other than a coercive geopolitical initiative with only a nominal pretense of diplomatic give and take. It is not only Trump + Netanyahu/Gantz that makes this an opportune moment for Israel to crush the Palestinian struggle once and for all. Such an initiative is also helped by the regional confrontation of the Arab Gulf countries with Iran, which leads the governing Arab regimes to throw the Palestinians under the nearest bus, and doing so despite the abiding solidarity of the Arab people with the Palestinian struggle to end their prolonged and insufferable ordeal as victims of Israeli settler colonialism sustained by apartheid structures of governance. For what ends do the Arab governments defy the wishes of their own publics? To please Washington and Tel Aviv, and by doing so, joining forces with Israel to crush the Iranian regional challenge, by inducing its withdrawal from any further active role in regional policies, or more ambitiously, by producing regime change in Tehran.

Will this storm, if it materializes, alter the present play of forces? It seems doubtful. Palestinians, may be discouraged by these dark clouds hovering over their collective destiny, but their perseverance, resilience, and resistance has been demonstrated over and over again for more than a hundred years. Of course, nothing should be taken for granted. If Israel goes ahead with its annexation plans in the West Bank, the Palestinian response will be watched closely as an indicator of the intensity with which la lucha continua. It is possible that Israel will somewhat back down on annexation, at least temporarily, because outsiders, including Jordan, the EU, the UN, liberal Zionism in the diaspora do not want to legalize the facts on the ground almost as much as they do not want to challenge them in any credible manner. Legalization will make the two-state delusion even less tenable than now, and then what? A reluctant acceptance of the lost cause scenario, acknowledging that the Trump/Israel game plan has prevailed, and that the long effort to find a compromise has failed. But will legality confer legitimacy? Or quell resistance? Not for long, if at all.

Here is where the split between the top down perspective of political elites will again diverge further from the bottom up approach of transnational movement politics. The top down approach will grimace, but cave in, implicitly accepting ‘the new normal’ of annexation. The bottom up approach is likely to be enraged and energized, insisting that these moves coordinated between Washington and Jerusalem have no relevance to the status of Palestinian grievances, and merely underscore the criminalization of this move to acquire sovereign rights over occupied Palestinian territory taken by force in the 1967 War. Such a land-grabbing territorial claim was unanimously rejected even in the midst of the Cold War by UN Security Council in Resolution 242, which was repeatedly reaffirmed as the basis for peace in numerous subsequent resolutions, as well as mandating a diplomatic path to peace in Resolution 338 by a 14-0 vote.

Yet might it be nightfall, a long prelude to a new dawn. The sheer injustice of such arrogant geopolitics may be a red line, which when crossed, results in real changes in the balances of forces that will turn out to be helpful for the Palestinian struggle. It is this prospect that has led some stalwarts of the Israeli security establishment and several of the most militant Zionists to break ranks, opposing annexation, at least now for a series of tactical reasons—provoking Jordan, troubling liberal Zionists, alienating Europe, arousing the Arab street, weakening bipartisan support in the U.S., strengthening the BDS Campaign, discrediting the 2018 IHRA (International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance) definition of ‘anti-Semitism,’ ending collaborative relations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority, promoting Palestinian unity efforts, weakening the anti-Iran coalition, and generating a Third Intifada. If some of these reactions occur it will produce a new stage of struggle, which could even lead toward increasing boycotts directed at Israel, and greater mainstream advocacy of sanctions, especially in Europe, which could mean a loss of Israeli expansionist legitimacy rather than its gain, and in time lead to an Israeli search for a better alternative for its own future than annexation sustained by apartheid.

And what is a better alternative? This question can only be answered by the Palestinian people through their authentic representatives. Even so, there are certain preconditions that must be met if the lessons from the past are to have been learned by the mapmakers of the future. The most important lesson involves the recognition that Israel’s security has long presupposed an apartheid framework of Israeli Jewish domination of the Palestinian people as a whole. This means that Israeli apartheid extends beyond occupation to encompass refugees, involuntary exiles, and the non-Jewish minority in Israel. It resembles South African apartheid as resting on the subjugation of one race by another for purposes of sustaining domination in a manner violating international criminal law. This authoritative understanding is set forth in the International Convention on the Suppression and Punishment of the Crime of Apartheid (1973), and listed as a Crime Against Humanity in Article 7(j) of the Statute governing the International Criminal Court.

By ‘a new dawn’ is meant an Israeli change of view as to identity and national security in response to a changed perception of how to improve their overall situation domestically and internationally. There was no moral awakening among the Afrikaner leadership in the early 1990s that led to the previously unthinkable release of Nelson Mandela from prison as preparatory to negotiating the dismantling of the apartheid regime of control established to control the majority African population. It was a recalculation of interests on the part of the white elite governing the country, which went against the assumptions prevailing at the time that the only way for the white domination to persist was by maintaining apartheid and the only way to create peace within and without was by ending apartheid. Israel’s situation is different, reflecting the Zionist imperative to maintain permanently a Jewish demographic majority, the façade of a democratic political structure, and a hegemonic ethnic identity that is coupled with a universal and exclusive right of return. These policy priorities meant that direct control needed to be combined with periodic episodes of ethnic cleansing and a politics of fragmentation. Israel’s early challenges were formidable, maintaining such control and dispersion at a time when European colonialism was under successful attack throughout Asia and Africa, and collapsing despite superior battlefield capabilities. In this respect, Israel has so far succeeded in establishing a settler colonial state of the Jewish people, and has been able to gain diplomatic legitimacy outside its region and through admission to international institutions, including the United Nations.

On the basis of this understanding, it is obvious that ending the occupation would not bring a sustainable peace because its formula of ‘land for peace’ ignores, or at best marginalizes more than five million Palestinian refugees and exiles. Even if that large elephant in the room was to be politely ignored, or minimized, as it was during the Oslo ‘peace process’ or by the UN ‘roadmap,’ it would not be possible to actualize a lasting peace so long as the settlers and their armed settlements retained the best land in the territory that had been set aside for an independent Palestinian state. It is supremely unlikely that settlements on this scale could be dismantled or remain but demilitarized and entrust their fate to the vagaries of Palestinian security control.

Ending apartheid is the only way to end Palestinian resistance, and given the psycho-political realities of the post-colonial world, the fierceness of such resistance will occasion cycles of intensifying harshness of Israeli oppressive control. This has been the meta-narrative of the conflict since Israel established statehood despite anti-colonial historical circumstances, and the Palestine endured the Nakba, as event and process. And if apartheid is ended, transition to a peaceful future would require some formula for a shared destiny based on equality and a reckoning with the past to heal wounds. It is difficult, verging on impossibility, to envisage such a future. Yet anything else dooms both peoples to an unjust social, political, and legal order that can only be sustained or challenged by continued modalities of violent control and resolute resistance. The Palestinian and Jewish peoples deserve more humane prospects, and let us hope that the annexation debacle will force an opening of this gate to a better future that has been kept locked far too long.

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Richard Falk is a member of the TRANSCEND Network, an international relations scholar, professor emeritus of international law at Princeton University, Distinguished Research Fellow, Orfalea Center of Global Studies, UCSB, author, co-author or editor of 60 books, and a speaker and activist on world affairs. In 2008, the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) appointed Falk to two three-year terms 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 associated with the local campus of the University of California, and for several years chaired the Board of the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation. His most recent book is On Nuclear Weapons, Denuclearization, Demilitarization, and Disarmament (2019).

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