for the Palestinians?
Falk, TFF Associate
January 2, 2007
Of all issues that have long been on the global
agenda, none has fared worse over the decades, than the struggle of the
Palestinians to achieve political independence and to protect their rights
under international law. It has long been time to ask why?
It is not enough to point out that Israel
has enjoyed the support of the United States in denying self-determination
to the Palestinians. Or that Palestinian leadership has missed opportunities
to liberate its peoples by often seeming to adopt poor negotiating tactics.
Or to suggest that the Palestinian cause has not received effective support
from neighboring Arab countries or the collective energies of the Islamic
world. Or to ask why the Palestinian cause, which has long been endorsed
by the United Nations, has not produced a global social movement comparable
in effectiveness to the anti-apartheid campaign that contributed strongly
to the collapse of the South African racist regime in the early 1990s
with virtually no accompanying bloodshed.
These are each important issues that bear
directly on a dimension of the conflict, but somehow do not convincingly
enable an understanding of this tragic failure of what passes as global
governance to overcome the collective agony of the Palestinian people
over a period of time approaching sixty years.
Perhaps some insight can be gained by looking
more closely at why the anti-apartheid campaign succeeded to the surprise,
bordering on amazement, of most observers at the time within and without
South Africa. Several of the most informed observers did think that apartheid
might eventually lose out in South Africa, but if it did, such an outcome
could only come about as a result of a long, costly, and exhausting armed
struggle. What was not considered even as a possibility was what actually
transpired: the totally unexpected flexibility of the ruling white leadership
combined with the tactical brilliance and exceptional moral/political
leadership on the part of Nelson Mandela. It was this combination that
produced a chain of circumstances leading rapidly to the emergence of
a constitutional multi-racial democracy in South Africa that despite many
problems has moved forward impressively as a free and developing society.
Of course, these conditions that produced
a political miracle in South Africa cannot be reproduced in the Israel-Palestine
context. There is no Mandela, the geopolitics is different, leadership
is defiicient, and recent developments seem to reinforce pessimists who
argue that no solution is forthcoming.
But just maybe, as with South Africa, informed
observers are missing some mildly encouraging developments that might
create still invisible opportunities to move finally toward a resolution
that brings peace and security to both peoples. There is some indication
for the first time ever of serious questioning within the United States
of its role in sustaining the conflict.
Some months ago two prominent American professors,
John Mearsheimer and Steven Walt, wrote a widely publicized critique of
the extent to which ‘the Jewish lobby’ in the United States
exerted influence on American foreign policy to the detriment of national
interests. And now more recently, former president, Jimmy Carter, a revered
political figure, published a book with the provocative title “Palestine:
Peace Not Apartheid” that insists that unless Israel offers the
Palestinians a just peace that results in a truly sovereign state, a system
of ‘apartheid’ will emerge in which an Israeli minority rule
and abuses a Palestinian majority in the area covered by historic Palestine.
As could have been predicted, both of these
occurrences has produced a partisan backlash orchestrated by pro-Israeli
extremist voices in the United States that has been given lots of media
attention, but without being able to stop a gathering momentum in American
society to examine finally, and possibly even challenge, the one-sided
character of Washington’s involvement.
This is not likely to influence the approach
taken by Congress or the White House in the immediate future, but it may
create a healthier atmosphere of controversy, allowing a much needed debate.
This prospect is further heightened by the
recent report of the semi-official Iraq Study Group headed by James Baker
and Lee Hamilton, which argues strongly that the United States needs a
new approach to the Israel-Palestine conflict if it is to find a way to
end the Iraq War in a manner that does not lead to a wider regional disaster
from an American perspective. There are many reasons to challenge the
approach of the Baker-Hamilton recommendations, which seem mainly aimed
at finding common ground between Republicans and Democrats, and is unlikely
to dislodge the Bush presidency from maintaining its failed Iraq policy,
likely even worsening the situation by raising the stakes.
At the same time, its call for a different
approach to Israel-Palestine is almost certain to contribute to the national
mood calling for a rethinking of how to use American influence in a more
The other mildly positive development is
a parallel movement of opinion in Israel. There has been a revival of
the Israel peace movement in the aftermath of the Lebanon War, which reinforced
a message that should have been received long ago, that there is no military
solution for Israel’s quest for security. Beyond this, the resilience
of Hezbollah demonstrated more than showing that crushing the Palestinians
is not an option. It also discredited the Sharon/Olmert unilateralist
alternative to a negotiated peace, based on Israel on its own defining
the borders of the two political communities, keeping most of its settlements
on the West Bank, constructing the security wall on Palestinian territory,
ignoring the plight of Palestinian refugees, and establishing Jerusalem
as its capital, will not lead to peace or security.
Only a negotiated outcome that acknowledges
Palestinian rights under international law and gives the Palestinians
a viable state of their own has any hope of bringing peace.
This awakening on the part of more Israelis,
coinciding with some change of attitude in the United States, might give
rise to a more balanced diplomatic approach and produce an Israeli leadership
willing to address the Palestinian challenge in a spirit that is not only
more effective, but also more empathetic, than in the past.
Calling attention to these more
hopeful tendencies should not obscure the bleak larger picture that currently
prevails. Never has the Palestinian plight seemed so grim. Never have
Israeli occupation policies led to so much torment for the Palestinians.
For the last several years, ever since the breakdown of the Camp David
II Clinton/Barak/Arafat peace negotiations and the Second Intifada, Israel
has been trying very hard to create a situation in which the Palestinians
could be ignored because they had brought on their ordeal by their own
First, Arafat was blamed for
refusing to accept the peace proposals put forward in 2000 by Israel,
and favored by the United States. Then Arafat was humiliated and place
in life-threatening circumstances by Israeli military tactics, confining
him to a damaged compound, and denying him access to his people and the
media. The Israeli leadership, with Washington’s support, then insisted
it had no ‘partner’ in the search for peace, and that it was
justified in pursuing a unilateral approach.
Soon thereafter Arafat died,
leaving the Palestinians without a unifying symbol for their struggle.
Elections in January 2006 resulted in a clear Hamas victory, affirming
a more militant approach by the Palestinians. The Israelis countered by
insisting that Israel would not recognize ‘terrorists’ or
allow Hamas to govern in the Palestinian territories despite their successful
participation in democratic elections. The Palestinians were squeezed
hard by blocking access to tax revenues and by repeated military strikes,
climaxing in an offensive in Gaza following the abduction of an Israeli
soldier in a border incident that occurred in June 2006. Palestinians
are currently facing severe health, food, and employment crises brought
on by these harsh occupation and security policies.
This Israeli policy of challenging
the legitimacy of Palestinian leadership has been surprisingly successful
despite the vulnerability of their own leadership over the course of the
last five years or so. It should be recalled that it was Ariel Sharon's
deliberately provocative visit to the Temple Mount/Haram al-Sharif on
Sepember 28, 2000 at a moment of tension in the aftermath of the Camp
David II failure and just prior to Israeli elections that supplied the
spark igniting the Second Intifada.
The election of Sharon shortly
thereafter raised few eyebrows because it was deemed a free election in
a democratic society expressing the will of the Israeli citizenry. And
yet Sharon was widely regarded as an unindicted war criminal, having been
held indirectly responsible, even by an official Israeli commission of
inquiry, for the Falange massacre of several hundred Palestinians living
in the Lebanese refugee camps of Sabra and Shatila in 1982, as well as
being the architect of both the invasion of Lebanon in that year and a
greatly expanded settlements policy in the West Bank.
Surely, Israeli representation
was as problematic as Palestinian since 2001, and yet the international
community accepted Israeli leadership without even a whimper while punishing
Palestinians harshly for their chosen leaders. This contrast reflects
the relative power, not relative legitimacy, of the two sides, and illustrates
why it is so difficult to get a balanced approach from third parties without
even taking account of the pro-Israeli bias that shapes informal and official
public opinion in the United States.
Politically, this dire situation
has been aggravated by the Israeli/American efforts to interfere in Palestinian
politics, promoting the Fatah leadership of Mamhoud Abbas at the expense
of Hamas and the democratic elections, stirring tensions among the Palestinians.
This policy, as might have been expected, has given rise to lethal civil
strife among the Palestinians, a temporary ‘victory’ for Israel
in the sense of diverting attention away from their own role, relieving
pressures, and creating a spectacle of Palestinian disunity that reinforces
the Israeli claim that there is no basis for diplomacy or for ending the
The present situation is especially
confusing because it exhibits these two contrary movements: in one direction,
some welcome tendencies to challenge hard line and one-sided approaches
heretofore relied upon by Israel and the United States; in the opposite
direction, a disturbing deterioration of the Palestinian reality as a
deliberate result of official policies pursued in Tel Aviv and Washington.
What is painfully clear
is that the Palestinians remain the world’s most flagrant demonstration
of the cruelty of geopolitics. But what is also emerging is that such
cruelty is dysfunctional, serving neither the interests of Israel
nor the United States, making it plain that there exists a better
alternative for both sides. This better alternative would rely on
mutual diplomacy and respect for Palestinian rights under international
law. It would presuppose that Israel would finally withdraw, as required
by Security Council Resolution 242 to its 1967 borders, as well as
accept the necessity of dismantling its illegal settlements and unlawful
security wall, the internationalization of the city of Jerusalem,
and an implementation in some form of a ‘right of return’
for Palestinian refugees.
This is a formidable set of
requirements, but unless substantially met, the tragedy will persist,
damaging both peoples and ominously approaching points of no return. Former
President Carter is correct, a choice between peace and apartheid is in
the offing, and will be made in the coming years for better or worse.
© TFF & the author 1997 till today. All rights reserved.
Tell a friend about this TFF
Message and your name
free TFF articles & updates