There is a great deal of excitement regarding the Palestinian statehood bid currently at the United Nations. Although there have been expectedly negative reactions regarding the attempt in many conservative circles, nearly every medium of communication is filled with overwhelming support for the proposal. Nearly every analysis I have read about its prospects chastises those who oppose the measure and passionately endorse it on the basis of the bloody horrors of the Palestine-Israel conflict. Recently, at the Caribbean Philosophical Association conference at Rutgers University, a Fanon scholar discussed it in terms of the continuing racism and exploitation of capitalist states on a dehumanized people.
This passion for freedom and its applications to the Palestinian people is certainly important, however many people in the Palestine solidarity movement have fallen into the same trap that has failed to liberate Palestine for the past sixty-three years.
The inevitable question through all of this has been consistently, how have so many intelligent people been so completely fooled? Why is everyone falling for this?
The central arguments for why this resolution should pass have been repeated frequently. They usually rely on three lynchpins: (1) that full United Nations membership would place the Palestinian people in a better legal position to challenge the Israeli occupation, (2) that the peace process has reached yet another dead end which has left the Palestinians no other choice, and (3) that the recent moves at the United Nations represent Palestinians finally taking efforts into their own hands.
These are all admirably passionate arguments, but they must be contextualized with the facts of the situation.
The opinion that the Palestinian people would be in a better legal position to challenge Israel on any grounds is frankly nonsense. Palestine has never been in a bad legal position to challenge Israel. In fact, many Israeli actions in the past sixty-three years have been widely proclaimed as illegal by many governments and international bodies. Israeli influence may stymy hardline rhetoric against it in United Nations reports, but it is still overwhelmingly found at fault for a variety of its military advances during the conflict.
Sympathizers with the statehood bid would argue that UN-recognition would give Palestinians access to the international courtroom, but the fact is that Palestinians already have access to the legal instruments necessary to challenge Israel. This has never been the problem.
The problem has been that the fraternal relationship between Washington, D.C. And Tel Aviv has actively shielded Israel from the international legal consequences of its actions. The United States government has repeatedly used threats, protective measures, massive foreign assistance, and its Security Council veto power (just over forty times) to protect an increasingly reviled Israel.
There is absolutely no reason to believe that this would be different after a successful vote. In fact, it is likely that the recognition of a Palestinian state would intensify these efforts as it would bolster the argument that Israeli security is under attack.
The second justification, the idea of the peace process having reached a dead end, is only partially true. The idea of the peace process having reached a dead end implies that it has simply hit a snag. The reality is that the peace process is completely dead and has been dead for quite some time.
When discussing the Palestinians’ UN initiative, Israeli Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu stated “as long as it is less than a state, I’m ready to talk about it.” His words run parallel to other statements by leaders before him, such as former Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin told the Israeli Knesset in 1995 that “we [the Israeli government] would like for this [the Palestinian Authority] to be less than a state.”
This attitude has always been a core part of the Israeli government’s negotiations with Palestinian groups. Rather than attempting to discuss negotiations and compromises, the peace process has been contextualized by a staggering asymmetry that frames Israeli interests and to a much lesser extent those of Arab elites as paramount rather than considering the Palestinian people themselves.
And in the passions of witnessing this initiative introduced into the United Nations, many observers have forgotten how this asymmetry has been reflected in every step of Mahmoud Abbas’ approach.
Allow us to consider two scenarios from the Israeli perspective:
1) The resolution on Palestine is vetoed at the United Nations. Israel and its ally the United States, in retaliation for the move and supported by those vehemently offended by the very notion of it, begin stripping the Palestinian territories of what little aid they are receiving (causing a situation similar to Palestinian police officers recently running into severe financial troubles). Further illegal Israeli actions also take place which violate the integrity of a Palestinian state. The latter is already observable in the recent announcement of a planned settlement intended to separate East Jerusalem from Palestinian land entirely.
2) The resolution on Palestine goes through at the United Nations. Israel, although slightly humbled by the effort, still manages to stage a massive victory. It immediately points out that the Palestinian Authority only represents the West Bank, and that the confines of the new Palestinian state do not include the Gaza Strip. This ultimately excuses further military entanglements there and perhaps another occupation in order to discourage advances by revolutionary Egypt. This would be greatly assisted by a likely American demand that the Palestinian Authority throw out its agreements with Hamas, and with it Gaza, or face intense sanctions for associating with an organization officially recognized as a terrorist group.
It also benefits from a greatly weakened argument for the “right of return,” a powerful new argument for Arab citizens facing discrimination in Israel that they should simply return to their Palestinian state in the West Bank, the establishment of the same Bantustan state being proposed for decades as a result of an entirely justifiable refusal to abandon its settlements, and more than likely a forced injection into the official resolution of a stipulation that Palestine recognizes Israel as a Jewish state before the Palestinian Authority is admitted into the United Nations.
Essentially, whatever happens at the United Nations, Israeli interests will be enshrined and protected despite the possible monetary nightmare of having to finance another occupation of the Gaza Strip.
However, Israel is not the only lamentable actor in play. The Palestinian Authority itself, headed by Mahmoud Abbas, clearly seeks its own gains from the effort despite the potentially disastrous results it may have for the Palestinian community.
Allow us to consider these same scenarios from the Palestinian perspective:
1) The resolution on Palestine is vetoed at the United Nations. Mahmoud Abbas and the Palestinian Authority have successfully won an important public relations victory in the Palestinian community, especially in the West Bank since Hamas’ response to Abbas’ efforts has been predictably polemic. The Palestinian Authority is importantly shielded from a potentially disastrous situation in the occupied territories as Palestinians, empowered by the wider Arab Intifada, take steps to launch the inevitable Third Intifada. Rather than directing their anger at the Palestinian Authority itself, protestors begin taking action against other forces in the conflict as a result of their overwhelming approval of the statehood bid.
2) The resolution on Palestine goes through at the United Nations. Mahmoud Abbas has successfully made a massive powerplay by replacing the Palestine Liberation Organization at the United Nations, which represents twelve million Palestinians in the occupied territories and their diasporas, with the Palestinian Authority, an organization that represents two million Palestinians in the West Bank. Abbas himself is granted much more influence internationally as the elected president of a UN-recognized state rather than simply the administrative head of a local authoritative body.
The Palestinian Authority wins an even more massive propaganda victory by being the first actor in the past sixty-three years to gain equal representation at the United Nations for the Palestinian people, perhaps even delaying the Third Intifada. Mahmoud Abbas manages to maximize his control over the West Bank, which becomes Palestine, while minimizing the chances of him being overthrown in a possible revolution.
The obvious conclusion to be drawn is that in any situation, the Israeli government officials that support the occupation and the corrupt Arab elite both make large gains while the Palestinian people themselves face yet another loss in the history of the conflict.
Finally, the idea that the statehood bid is the true manifestation of the Palestinian people finally taking efforts into their own hands after decades of being betrayed by Israel itself, its partners in Western countries, and their most recent initiatives in the Middle Eastern Quartet is based on a falsehood.
The falsehood is not in the sense of betrayal. Palestinian national identity itself was forged in exactly the social, economic, and political oppression that has continued throughout the conflict. The history of the Palestinian question is riddled with lamentable tales of marginalization from more than simply Western sources. The plight of refugees in Arab countries, the massive corruption that occurred in the wake of Yasser Arafat’s rise as a commando and political leader, the actions of fighters launching rockets into an Israel which provokes a predictably asymmetrical reaction by the Israeli Defense Force, and the relegation of the entire issue to the dinner table by Arab elites and political machinations by local autocrats clearly evidence this.
Overwhelmingly, Palestinians are either discussed by many on the right as a breeding ground for Islamist terrorism or as a puzzle piece in greater struggles against imperialism by many on the left. The question of Palestine has become an example and footnote rather than a series of unique and equally pressing crises, and the only possible way for the Third Intifada to be successful is for individual Palestinians to carefully seize control of the uprising in order to move significantly and pragmatically against the forces allied against them.
It is an inevitability that violence will occur as a result of the Third Intifada, particularly from the likely cooperation of the Palestinian Authority to suppress it in a similar fashion to Arafat’s actions aimed at crushing the Second Intifada. However, the immense bloodshed witnessed in the conflict until this point make the most pragmatic option to organize logically and avoid violence as a method of social change despite the temptation.
Additionally, a practical Third Intifada would acknowledge some difficult realities.
The statehood bid has illuminated an unfortunate reality of the peace process: the two-state solution has become an artifact of the past. Increasingly, we will reach a point that the only advocates for it are ethnocentric Israeli officials who wish to avoid the reality of a secular bi-national state, and their counterparts in the Arab community who wish to avoid a scenario where their autocracy is broken by granting Palestinians equal rights in an Israel where Arabs are suddenly the majority.
It is no secret that the Obama Administration will, in all likelihood, veto the statehood bid and may end up triggering the Third Intifada as a result. It is also probable that the Third Intifada will not result in the ultimate goal of the Palestinian solidarity movement, equal rights for Palestinians in whatever state both officially and unofficially. The only way that the Third Intifada will result in meaningful social change for the Palestinian people is for it to be a non-violent effort aimed liberating Palestine through the full implementation of human rights in the region, and unfortunately the current trend of the conflict points to a situation where this will not be the case.
However, it would be foolish to lament a failure of an effort that would have played into the hands of multiple parties that wish to extend their exploitation of the Palestinian people. And it would be equally foolish to act surprised that a violent Third Intifada would have any permanent bearing on a conflict that is marked by Israeli and Arab reactions to terrorism and warfare.
The end of the statehood bid will represent not the death of the two-state solution, which happened the moment that settlements began to be built in the occupied territories, but rather the evolution of it to something else entirely. It could very likely be the final affirmation of the true end to the conflict, which is annexation of the Palestinian occupied territories within Israel with full equal rights being extended to every Palestinian citizen that lives within them. This reality is becoming more and more likely, especially as Palestinians themselves begin to intelligently place equal rights at the core of their legal arguments.
And although the end of that will be uncertain, it certainly won’t include the Israeli occupation, the autocracy of Mahmoud Abbas, and the relegation of serious discussions regarding Palestine to ivory towers and dinner parties rather than enlightened political action through a final Intifada. The true end to this dreadful conflict will come through a non-violent Fourth Intifada, which will not be truly concluded for generations. There are observers to the conflict that have argued that every successful liberation movement has been contextualized by its violent wings, pointing out that the plight of individual Palestinians was only ever acknowledged at the United Nations after Palestinian terrorism truly began. This is true and a very real part of the conflict, but it does not change the fact that violence stifles political discourse and has only served to justify asymmetrical Israeli responses until this point.
Ultimately, these arguments are based on a different end-goal than the true end of the conflict, which is not when Palestinians receive equal rights but when they receive equal standing and the divide that has formed between Israel and Palestine is extinguished. If we aim for such a reality, the Fourth Intifada will not be complete for generations as the world attempts to implement reconciliation between parties that have been brutally damaged by decades of bloodshed.
However, we must dismiss any possibility of this being simple. The difficulty of this plan, rather than the ease of a statehood bid that is exploitive in every scenario, illuminates the beauty of the peaceful society that may be birthed as a result of it. The only thing it demands is that we in the Palestinian solidarity movement reject our illusions about the conflict.
Views expressed in articles are the author’s and do not represent Comment Middle East
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