Add to the farce, the reality of a Zionist onslaught in attempting to redefine antisemitism where Judaism and Zionism are falsely linked together so that criticism of the Israeli government is antisemitic as it is a criticism of a central tenet of being Jewish irrespective of the fact that the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance stating that it was not to be used to vet antisemitism. The declaration also comes at a time when the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement (BDS) is actually having an impact. Legislation to make BDS a thought-crime and to try to force people and businesses to purchase Israeli goods and invest in Israel is making its way through various US states, that a bill is in the works for the US government; while the Europe Union declared BDS legitimately protected freedom of speech while opposing the political movement itself.
The Oslo Accords and the Two-State Solution
The signing of the Oslo Accords in the middle of a grass-roots based Intifada not only ended the grass-roots struggle of the Palestinian people known as the First Intifada (1987-1993) against Israeli subjugation. It also helpfully (for both the Israelis and Yasser Arafat and the leadership of Fatah) shifted the basis of the struggle away from a grass-roots uprising which the Palestinian leadership could not control to an attempted negotiated solution based around unequal parties in terms of military power and actual control on the ground mediated by a country who stood by pretending that it was not biased (1). Continual attempts to undermine the process by the Israeli government (both Labour and Likud) and military were never held to account; continual human rights violations, settlement expansion continued under all Israeli governments since the Oslo Accords undermining not only the space where the future Palestinian state could actually exist, but the economic viability of this state. Ariel Sharon and the Israeli government’s decision to pull out Israeli settlers and the formal military presence from Gaza in 2005 was neither to provide actual freedom for the Palestinians (as a blockade of military and certain goods blockade existed) nor to improve the economy on the Gaza strip; but rather a way of controlling the Gaza strip – in effect, making it an open air prison — without the inconvenience of potential Israeli victims in any further attack by the Israeli military.
International condemnation was rarely heard, in point of fact, over and over again the parties to the conflict were described as equals in a world where rocks were used against modern military technology, where the vast majority of financial and military assistance went to the already powerful as opposed to the weak and Israeli settlements expanded. The vast inequality in power and support to the two parties was never challenged. The attempt to create a Palestinian Authority with limited powers and already subjugated to Israeli control rather than continue the struggle on the ground had already weakened the Palestinians; the tactic of continuing to uphold the Oslo Accord through negotiations when essentially powerless led to a further weakening of the legitimacy of the Palestinian Authority.
Given the various Israeli governments’ behaviour, the Palestine Authority could never deliver on its promises that the period following the Oslo Accords was “transitional towards a two-state solution.” How could they deliver when it is quite evident that the Israeli government would never let this come about?
Contrary to what has been believed, the Oslo Accords and the two-state solution were not universally accepted by Palestinians. Edward Said (among others) argued that the agreement actually undermined many of the gains won by the Intifada and that that Palestinian self-determination could only be won through freedom, sovereignty and equality. As such, the Oslo Agreements were Palestinian surrender rather than a victory; this argument is important having a clear analysis as to the problems with the Accords ab initio:
“So first of all let us call the agreement by its real name: an instrument of Palestinian surrender, a Palestinian Versailles. What makes it worse is that for at least the past fifteen years the PLO could have negotiated a better arrangement than this modified Allon Plan, one not requiring so many unilateral concessions to Israel. For reasons best known to the leadership it refused all previous overtures. To take one example of which I have personal knowledge: in the late Seventies, Secretary of State Cyrus Vance asked me to persuade Arafat to accept Resolution 242 with a reservation (accepted by the US) to be added by the PLO which would insist on the national rights of the Palestinian people as well as Palestinian self-determination. Vance said that the US would immediately recognise the PLO and inaugurate negotiations between it and Israel. Arafat categorically turned the offer down, as he did similar offers. Then the Gulf War occurred, and because of the disastrous positions it took then, the PLO lost even more ground. The gains of the intifada were squandered, and today advocates of the new document say: ‘We had no alternative.’ The correct way of phrasing that is: ‘We had no alternative because we either lost or threw away a lot of others, leaving us only this one.’
In order to advance towards Palestinian self-determination – which has a meaning only if freedom, sovereignly and equality, rather than perpetual subservience to Israel, are its goal – we need an honest acknowledgment of where we are, now that the interim agreement is about to be negotiated. What is particularly mystifying is how so many Palestinian leaders and their intellectuals can persist in speaking of the agreement as a ‘victory’. Nabil Shaath has called it one of ‘complete parity’ between Israelis and Palestinians. The fact is that Israel has conceded nothing, as former Secretary Of State James Baker said in a TV interview, except, blandly, the existence of ‘the PLO as the representative of the Palestinian people’. Or as the Israeli ‘dove’ Amos Oz reportedly put it in the course of a BBC interview, ‘this is the second biggest victory in the history of Zionism.’
By contrast Arafat’s recognition of Israel’s right to exist carries with it a whole series of renunciations: of the PLO Charter; of violence and terrorism; of all relevant UN resolutions, except 242 and 338, which do not have one word in them about the Palestinians, their rights or aspirations. By implication, the PLO set aside numerous other UN resolutions (which, with Israel and the US, it is now apparently undertaking to modify or rescind) that, since 1948, have given Palestinians refugee rights, including either compensation or repatriation. The Palestinians had won numerous international resolutions – passed by, among others, the EC, the non-aligned movement, the Islamic Conference and the Arab League, as well as the UN – which disallowed or censured Israeli settlements, annexations and crimes against the people under occupation .” (2)
While Said argued that the accords were doomed to failure from the beginning and a weakening of the Palestinian struggle for justice others (like the Israeli historian, Avi Shlaim) have argued that it was the actions of successive Likud governments against the exchange of land for peace that scuppered the accords. Another Israeli historian, Ilan Pappe, instead argued in 2013 that from their beginnings, the Oslo Accords were doomed to failure. Rather, the answer was the creation of a singular democratic state brought about by Palestinians and progressive Israelis working together:
“There are no political parties of any significance in Israel that offer to change this reality. There is no real Western plan to stop the solidification of this one state on the ground, let alone offer a viable alternative to it in seriousness. Factors such as the fragmentation on the Palestinian side, the disintegration of the Arab nation states around Israel and a continued unconditional American support to Israel, all act as a buffer that cushions the Israeli Jewish public from any potential threats to their new enlarged, racist, but economically viable state.
The moral validity of this new geo-political enlarged state of Israel has been eroded significantly since the successful Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign by Palestinian civil society began few years ago. Israel’s own actions have contributed to the state’s further de-legitimisation in the eyes of the civil societies around the world.
The past struggle in the West against South Africa’s apartheid regime shows that intentional rejection of a regime’s legitimacy is a bottom up process, and this may still happen to the new, enlarged state of Israel. The role of Palestine’s friends world-wide has therefore not changed and this is to continue with the same commitment and vigour to pressure their governments to sanction this new regime for its criminal policies.
The strategy for the people inside has also not changed much. The sooner they realise that they cannot struggle any more for an independent Palestine inside the ‘Palestinian space’, the better. They could instead concentrate on uniting the Palestinian front and strategising a struggle plan, together with progressive Israelis, for a regime change in this new one state that was established in 2001. There is an urgent need for a new strategy to reformulate the relationship between Jews and Palestinians in the land of Israel and Palestine.
The only reasonable regime for this seems to be one democratic state for all. If this is not going to happen, the storm on Israel’s borders will gather with even bigger force than hitherto. Everywhere in the Arab world, people and movements are seeking ways of changing regimes and oppressive political realities – surely this will also reach the new enlarged Israel; if not today, then tomorrow. The Israelis may occupy the best deck on the Titanic, but the ship is nonetheless sinking (http://www.informationclearinghouse.info/article36229.htm).”
So imagine my amazement that people were arguing that Trump had destroyed the two-state solution. How could he kill something that was either stillborn at birth or had already been killed by the actions of successive Israeli governments? So, either people were not watching the deliberate and constant encroachments of Israeli settlements in East Jerusalem and the West Bank, the attacks against the Gaza Strip after the so-called unilateral disengagement, the unrest and dismay of the Palestinians, the denial of basic democracy to the Palestinians in Gaza who recognising the failures of the PA voted for Hamas, and the violence with which various Israeli governments and military (along with armed settler movements) responded to Palestinian discontent. Let’s also take into account various US government reactions to Israel’s attacks on Gaza (2008- 9 – “Operation Cast Lead” and 2012 – “Operation Pillar of Defense”) raising Israel’s right to self-defense and to the Israeli military attack on the Gaza Flotilla in 2010 about which then Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, actually said:
“We do not believe the flotilla is a necessary or useful effort to try to assist the people of Gaza,” Clinton told reporters at a news conference with the visiting foreign minister of the Philippines. “We think that it’s not helpful for there to be flotillas that try to provoke action by entering into Israeli waters and creating a situation in which the Israelis have the right to defend themselves .”
The idea that younger Palestinians were more sympathetic to the idea of a unitary state was viewed with worry rather than support was, for me, probably the strangest reaction; as though somehow having a non-viable and non-existent state was really a way forward. Forcing Palestinians to cling to a fantasy is not solidarity; they need to be able to choose their future and not have it predetermined by an Accord written before most of them were born and which has been repeatedly demonstrated to be non-viable as the Israeli government will never let it happen. When we use the term solidarity and self-determination, it means that it is up to the Palestinians what solution they accept and fight for; it is not your beliefs that should determine what the solution should be.
How can we stand in solidarity with Palestinians?
With the two-state solution essentially dead in the water, how can we stand in solidarity with the Palestinian people? To quote Gideon Levy (an Israeli journalist and human rights advocate):
“Most people know the truth but refuse to admit it. They know that the number of settlers has reached a critical mass. They know that no party in Israel will ever evacuate them. And without all of them being evacuated – and this, too, is something they know – there is no viable Palestinian state.
They know that settler Israel never intended to implement the two-state solution. The fact is that all Israeli governments – all of them – continued the settlement enterprise.
Two-state supporters are worried about the situation, even fearful. They are acting like the relatives of a moribund patient who is already brain dead, and whose organs are needed for transplants, but they refuse, hoping that somehow, a miracle will happen and the living dead will be resurrected. There are rabbis who promise them it’s possible. From Kerry to Avineri, this is exactly how proponents of two states are acting – hoping for a miracle and therefore preventing the life-saving transplants. “
Don’t be surprised by another intifada in response to Trump’s declaration; stand in solidarity with the Palestinians. Already there are 4 dead and dozens wounded on the Gaza border; expect this to continue and to spread further. Dreams die hard, even dreams that you know from day to day life are only dreams. The Palestinian responseto Trump’s unilateral declaration should not be surprising. East Jerusalem was designated to be the capital of the future Palestinian state. The Arab League’sinsistence that East Jerusalem will be the capital of a recognised Palestinian state speaks more to desperation than anything else as does their call for finding a neutral mediator as the US has demonstrated that it is not neutral (this had been conclusively demonstrated way before Trump’s unilateral declaration). The violation of International Law about the seizure of land won in a war seems to be the point that many opponents to Trump’s declaration raise; the question is beyond that as we know international law is not respected by successive Israeli governments, military and settlers. It is in many senses a demonstration that International Law and International Humanitarian Law does not apply to the US or to Israel (but anyone watching history unfold already knew that).
Support for Israel’s actions is weakening internationally and a poll conducted last year has demonstrated support for a single democratic state among Americans especially those identifying as Democratic Party supporters. Support for the use of Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) and a series of successes (e.g., Veolia selling all its operations in Israel despite continual Israeli government and Zionist pressure is telling (this is what is behind the attempt to get BDS declared illegal in many American states and by the US government).
But we need to recognise the dangers, with the destruction of the two-state solution and the realisation that a single state is the only solution, we need to make certain that this single state is a democratic state where all citizens have equal civil rights as the other possibility is an apartheid state where the Palestinians live in Bantustans surrounded by Israeli settlers. That is a serious danger and should not be underestimated; this, in many senses, is what the Palestinians in the West Bank and East Jerusalem have been living under and that situation cannot be allowed to continue. Again to quote Gideon Levy:
“This road [the single state] leads to one of two destinations: an apartheid state or a democratic state. There is no third option. The growing talk of annexation and the hasty anti-democratic legislation attests that Israel is now laying the ideological and legal foundations for implementing the first option, an apartheid state. The battle against it must focus on promoting the second option – the democratic state. Those who continue to prattle about two states are sabotaging this effort. “
So again, how can those that stand in solidarity with Palestinians help them fight for their self-determination?
First, remember, it is their self-determination and by definition, it has to be their choice not what is expedient for world leaders and people of other countries. So, if you go to a demonstration or rally in solidarity with Palestinians, remember, it is their cause, it is their lives and it is their choices that are important, not your choices or beliefs. They have been waging this struggle for quite a long time; your job is to stand in solidarity.
Second, support BDS as this is a non-violent means to pressure Israel and to force it to change its actions and comply with international law. It is a Palestinian-led movement; we can help the Palestinians by weakening Israel’s economy and forcing them to negotiations. This is something that we can do irrespective of the actions of our governments. It is already costing Israel money and projected costs are serious. It is a tool that was used to great effect against Apartheid South Africa.
If you are not inclined to support BDS, at least, try to stop attempts to make it illegal. Write to your Senators and Representatives and fight against legislation passed by various states. It is a freedom of speech issue and, quite honestly, governments cannot force you to buy Israeli goods or invest in Israel. How will they enforce it? Will they monitor your purchases or your Pension stock portfolios? Or will they require a declaration of support for BDS to criminalise your actions? In Britain, the government was forced to back down on boycott restrictions on the investment in Israel by pension funds; a similar fight should be undertaken elsewhere.
The declaration that the Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas, the Pope of Egyptian Copts, Pope Tawadros II, and Christian Palestinians will not meet with Vice President Mike Pence is useful. It is Christian Evangelical Zionists that supported the move by Trump; not giving Pence any legitimacy is important. The US has never been a neutral mediator in Middle East Peace talks; the refusal to meet with Pence is important even if symbolic.
The word is Solidarity, comrades … that is always the word, but it is a word that we must understand to use!
- Roland Rance, “Reactionaries line up to quell Palestine revolt”, Socialist Outlook no 49, 18 September 1993, Page 12.