Friday, April 15, 2011

Why Don't Palestinians Just Give Up?

Anyone reading Aaron David Miller's op-ed in the WaPo this morning might be forgiven for asking why Palestinians ought even to bother any more in working for the creation of a state.  Counting on the UN General Assembly to mandate the creation of a Palestinian state - which is precisely what the Zionist movement counted on in 1947, when the UNGA voted to partition Palestine into separate Jewish and Arab states - is, in his view, a "dumb idea."

Why? Because, says Miller,

  • it's only a paper resolution - ergo, worthless
  • the US will veto it anyway
  • Israel will resent being pressured, and will (among other reactions) harden its insistence that resumed negotiations between themselves and the Palestinians - mediated, of course, by the US as a "fair broker" - is the only path to peace.

And, Miller admonishes, just because negotiations don't look promising right now is no reason for Palestinians to go running to the UN.

Miller recognizes realities very selectively, seems to me, and he completely overlooks the bazillion-pound gorilla in the corner: Israel continues to deepen its colonization of east Jerusalem and West Bank, as well as humiliate and enrage (and threaten with a new war even more devastating than the Cast Lead war of 2008-2009) the million or so Palestinians that they continue to bottle up in Gaza.  It's as if he's recommending that the Palestinians simply be patient, endure, wait for all the ducks to be lined up properly, and just you see, your wishes will come true.

Except, those ducks are never going to be lined up.  Indeed, it's probably more accurate to state that they're dead ducks as far as the Palestinians are concerned. Why?

  • There's no real peace movement in Israel anymore that's able to steer the Israeli public toward "concessions" meaningful enough to afford Palestinians some measure of justice, and some dignity. (And if you've been tracking the recent Arab uprisings across the Middle East, you're aware that the thread that links them all is the demand for recognition of dignity.)   Indeed, the pro-settler faction in Israeli politics - captained in the government itself by a demonstrably anti-Arab racist, Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, and bolstered by the Ultra-Orthodox religious Right and the xenophobic Russian immigrants - more or less can dictate that there will be no movement on the negotiations front.
  • No US president in the foreseeable future will be able to take a stand that would demand truly meaningful concessions.  By virtue of the money and influence of the Israel lobby and the electoral power of Israel's (literally) amen corner in the American Christian Zionist community, the Netanyahu government has the support of the US Congress locked up.  Want more proof of that? The US Senate yesterday voted unanimously in support of a resolution urging the UN to, in effect, rescind the Goldstone report - and this despite the fact that the report's other investigators (who include a Brit and an Irishman; can't blame those nasty Arabs this time) have insisted that they stand by its findings and conclusions.

What's left, then, for the Palestinians to do?  Exactly what they're doing: go to the UN.  In fact, one might deduce from recent developments that, from their point of view (and pardon the metaphor shift), the stars are aligning quite nicely for the Palestinians in terms of calling upon the international community for its help:

  • the efforts of Prime Minister Salam Fayyad have helped create the basic administrative infrastructure of a functioning Palestinian state in the West Bank - and the international community is aware of that.
  • Israel's once most stalwart ally in the region - Turkey - has turned a cold shoulder to Israel ever since the 2008-2009 Gaza war, followed by the Israeli commando raid on the Gaz Freedom Flotilla that ended up killing eight Turkish (and one American) citizen.
  • Israel's reputation in the international community has reached it lowest point in decades, even to the point where the leader of Germany, normally Israel's most solid ally in Europe, recently upbraided Netanyahu for his foot-dragging in the peace process.
  • A recent effort by the Quartet to assert a leadership role in the "peace process" was derailed by the US, which continues to insist that only it can lead, and then fails to do just that.
  • Finally, Egypt and Jordan, the two Arab neighbors that have peace treaties with Israel, and that have reliably acquiesced in Israel's domination of the Palestinians, can no longer be counted on to do so.  Fouad Ajami once famously noted that those treaties had "no legs" - i.e., that they were the result of initiatives by their respective leaders, and not expressions of their citizens' will.  That may be catching up with the Israelis.  As Daniel Levy noted a couple of months ago, with the Arab uprisings, Israel is facing a new strategic reality.  Business as usual in re the "peace process" - Israel calling the shots, kicking the can farther down the road, and all the while strengthening its grip on the West Bank and Gaza - may no longer be an option.

Bottom line: With all due respect to Mr. Miller, for the Palestinians, there may be no better time to take their case to the United Nations.  And for the Israelis, there may be no better time (or even, no more chances) to adopt the courageous option that Levy proposed two months ago:

 It would be perhaps Israel's best and last chance for a two-state solution. While it would involve cutting Israel's losses, it would also have the potential of unleashing huge benefits -- economic, security and more, for an Israel accepted as part of the tapestry of a democratic Middle East.

Broadly speaking, this option has three components. First, an Israeli withdrawal to the pre-1967 armistice lines almost without preconditions or exceptions (minor, equitable and agreed-upon land swaps and international security guarantees could fall into the latter category ). Second, Israel should undertake an act of genuine acknowledgment of the dispossession and displacement visited on the Palestinian people, including compensating refugees where appropriate, and thus set in motion the possibility of reconciliation. Third, there needs to be a clear Israeli commitment to full equality for all of its citizens, notably including removal of the structural barriers to full civil rights for the Palestinian Arab minority.

Admittedly, this is a path less traveled and one likely to remain so, and while the alternatives to this path may well include democracy in the region, they could preclude a future for the State of Israel.

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