Palestinian Concerns and the September Bid
This presentation was delivered at the Babel Festival in Switzerland.
Part of the responsibilities of the enlightened intellectual is to look critically at how history (socio-political and cultural) is narrated and by whom. Thus while Israel celebrates the Palestinian Nakba as its Day of Independence, Palestinians remember it as the day when their homeland was plundered, their society shattered and a large percentage of them became refugees. Palestinians - displaced, scattered, oppressed, occupied, and struggling for self-determination and against repression of their national and cultural identity – not only a stateless people, but also without basic human and social rights. Palestinians who live in Palestine are either treated as a third class citizens without national rights (Palestinians in Israel), or else under a settler-colonial occupation with an enforced Apartheid regime (Palestinians in the West Bank), or are forced to endure a suffocating siege (Palestinians in Gaza Strip).
This is what needs to be narrated, and not that which diminishes Palestine to the fifth of its original size (i.e.. to the West Bank and Gaza Strip), which was occupied by Israel in 1967 and has been (West Bank) subjected since then to colonial settlements, land confiscation, the construction of a segregation wall, military checkpoints, imprisonment without trial (nearly a quarter of Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip has been imprisoned by Israel since 1967), and to daily violence by Zionist settlers. More than half a million settlers (518,974 at the end of 2010) live now in 144 colonies that exist now in the West Bank (Jewish settlers form a fifth of the Palestinians living in the West Bank), and the number of colonial settlers continues to grow as well as their daily aggression against Palestinians. Palestinians are told they can have their own “state” but only on what remains of their land after Israel has appropriated as much as it can of that land through colonization and annexation (leaving out the populated Palestinian centers as Israel seeks maximum colonization of land with the minimum of its people (i.e., the Palestinians) to ensure Israel as a pure Jewish state).
Given the continued attempts to misrepresent and deface the Palestinian historic narrative (some of which has crept in Palestinian official discourse, in addition to the language of international organizations, and international mass media) it is necessary to underscore the following:
1. Equating Palestine with the West Bank and Gaza Strip is a gross distortion of history and geography. Palestine is the area that came under British Mandate following the First World War. That it has been fragmented to three pieces; what has become to been known as Israel, and what has been named the West Bank (including East Jerusalem) and what is called the Gaza Strip. The last two (which form 22% of historic Palestine) are very frequently referred to as the occupied Palestinian territories thus erasing from geography the greater part of Palestine.
2. Palestinian history is also, in much of the international press and media, starts in 1967 (when Israel occupied the West Bank and Gaza Strip). Palestinian history begins long before the Nakba of 1948 (when 78% of Palestine was declared by Zionist military forces as Israel). In fact Palestinians spent most of the first half of the 20th century fighting for self-determination against British military occupation and Zionist colonization of their land.
3. No solution to the Palestinian-Israel conflict can stand without the acknowledgment of the right of return for Palestinians who are in diasporas (shatat) (estimated to be about five millions) to their original homeland (i.e., to Palestine, and not solely to ant state erected on parts of West Bank and Gaza Strip). Israel has to acknowledge the historic injustice it inflicted on the Palestinians through ethnic cleansing, and to accept to amend that injustice if genuine reconciliation is to be accomplished. This is not likely to happen in the short term, but can be envisaged if the direction of changes in the region and internationally continues.
4. It is difficult to envisage a truly independent Palestinian “state” on parts of West Bank and Gaza Strip– as things stand, given the existing balance of military, economic and geographic forces. There is a real danger that if a Palestinian “state” is erected in the current state of affairs, that demands from right-wing Israeli forces (which dominates the Israeli political field) for the transfer of Palestinians who are Israeli citizens to this new Palestinian state. There are over 1.2 million Palestinians in Israel forming not less than 18% of its total population in Israel. This is likely because there is more or less an Israeli political consensus that Israel is and should be a pure Jewish state, and that this feature should be given priority over its formal democratic commitments. This means that Palestinians in Israel (as Arab Moslems, Christians, and other dominations and who have become a minority in their homeland) are seen as an impediment to the securing of Israel as a pure Jewish state. Any acceptance, by Palestinians and internationally, of Israel as a Jewish state would delegitimize the citizenship of Palestinians in Israel, and facilitate their transfer.
The above suggests the following:
First, the Nakba (the Palestinian calamity) will remain one of the major focal points of the Palestinian hi narrative. Attempts to suppress, or gloss over it, count as a denial of historic injustice dwelt to the Palestinian, and can only perpetuate the conflict. The right of return is central component of the right to self-determination.
Second, the establishment of a sovereign, independent and viable Palestinian state with Jerusalem as its capital free of Israeli colonies, settlers and Israeli military, economic and security control has proved to be deceptive. But even if it materializes it can only be a step towards redressing the historic injustice imposed on the Palestinians, but not a sufficient step if it conditioned on the denial of the right of all the Palestinian self-determination (including the right to return to their homeland).
Third, the move to enhance the Palestinian presence in the UN through "statehood" over the territory of the West Bank and Gaza Strip was promoted by the breakdown of bilateral Israel-Palestinian negotiations as Israel continued its settlement building and refused to accept the establishment of a Palestinian state on the Palestinian territories it occupied in 1967. The move has been the subject of intense discussion among Palestinians as some feared that acquiring state status (as full a member or as an observer) will not change the situation on the ground as Israel will continue with what it has been doing before, but more importantly, the move could jeopardize the right of return for Palestinian refugees, and could weaken the standing of the PLO as the umbrella organization representing Palestinian communities, thus facilitating the fragmentation of Palestinian representation where the state represents the people within the UN and the PLO represents the people outside the UN. The move has brought Israel and American (and from some European centers) financial and political pressure on the Palestinian Authority that could lead, if implemented to its collapse before an alternative Palestinian strategy is prepared.
Hence the demand from many Palestinian quarters have demanded that Palestinian leadership must take steps to ensure that recognition of a Palestinian state within the 1967 borders can in no way compromises the right of refugees to return to Mandate Palestine, or the standing of the PLO or the fragmentation of the Palestinian representation. In other words the move in United Nations can only make sense if it is part of a comprehensive strategy in the fight of Palestinians for freedom and self-determination that includes reconciliation between Hamas and Fatah, the organization of popular resistance on a wide scale, rebuilding of the PLO and defining the exact role of the Palestinian Authority. It may also necessary to make it understood that the establishment of a Palestinian state does not end the Palestinian quest, for an inclusive democratic state in historic Palestine.
Israel’s and United States’ irritation with the move is not based on the fear that a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza will pose a threat to Israel (or to anybody else for that matter as it will nor posses or will be allowed to posses any threatening capabilities), but because Israel considers the West Bank as a disputed territory, and not as an occupied Palestinian territory. In addition Israel fears that the internalization of the dispute over the future of the West Bank is likely to make Israel more accountable to international law as it will be considered occupying the land of another United Nations’ member state. The move could also loosen the grip of the United States as the sole broker in the management of the conflict.
It is likely that Israel with tacit support from the United States will respond to the Palestinian move by continuing its colonization project under the raised slogan that the Palestinian leadership is not interested in negotiations and peace. It is ironic that the Palestinian state will be the 194th member state in the United Nations, and resolution numbered 194 was passed by the same body in December 1948 affirming the right of Palestinian refugees to return to their original homeland. Here is a sense in saying that failure to support Palestinian statehood can only facilitate transforming the struggle from one over sovereignty (statehood) to one for equal rights (in one democratic state).
Fourth, Palestinians would be prepared to make the historic compromise of sharing – on democratic and equal basis - Palestine with Israeli Jews (and not with Jews everywhere), if Israel acknowledges the right of return for Palestinians, and if the political forces in Israel relinquish their colonialist and racist policies and mentality.
Fifth, Palestinians need to re-unify their national movement and to work out a consensus on a strategy that weaves together the aspiration of the three major components of the Palestinian people:
1. Palestinians in Israel in their struggle for equal rights with Jewish Israeli citizens, and to be acknowledged as a national minority with rights;
2. Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza in their struggle to end the settler-colonial and military occupation, security repression, apartheid system and siege. Hence the need internationally to support the global movement for the campaign of Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) against Israel to force it to comply with international law and Palestinian rights;
3. Palestinians in the diasporas (shatat) in their struggle for the implementation of their to return to their homeland, and to acquire civic rights in the countries of refuge, and for the lifting of security control over refugee camps. The three components will be united in the struggle for self- determination.
The popular democratic revolutions in the Arab world are paving the way for a new Middle East that is significantly different from the disappearing one: a Middle East that is more prepared to reject United States and European domination, and double standards. The new emerging Arab states are likely, once the turmoil subsides, to be more assertive of their political and economic independence, more democratically attentive to public opinion, and more supportive of the right of Palestinian for self-determination. A new balance of power is emerging those points to a decline of the supremacy of USA, the intensification of the regional and international isolation of Israel, and a decline in the tolerance of its habitual violations of international law, United Nations’ resolutions, and basic human rights. One can only hope that the ongoing democratization of the Arab world will promote changes inside Israel that moves it in the opposite direction from racism, militarism, and colonialist vision towards the acknowledgment of the historic injustice that was inflicted on the Palestinian people and the necessity to redress it. The recent popular demonstrations in Israel calling for “social justice”(against the neo-liberal economic policies) provide a positive sign, but they are still very far from turning into demonstrations in support of Palestinians’ right to self-determination, justice and to dignity.