Following Israeli Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu’s speech before the U.S. Congress, it was clear that there will be no peace process between the Israelis and the Palestinians. And maybe that’s not such a bad thing, to know where things really stand.
In reality, the die was cast when the Likud government cast its lot with the country’s anti-democratic elements, rather than forming a coalition government with the liberal-centrist Kadima Party. The result is a policy of expanding settlements and forcibly evicting Palestinians from their homes, described by a UN investigator as ethnic cleansing. Israel’s nearly 1.6 million citizens of Arab descent are not truly citizens, as they face racial discrimination, and new laws on the books make sure they are kept down and out. Meanwhile, ultra-orthodox factions in Israel impose litmus tests for the Jewish Diaspora and progressive Jewish-American groups such as J Street. George Mitchell’s resignation as Obama’s Mideast envoy, whether it was due to unwilling partners or missteps by the White House itself, only underscored the seeming intractability of the situation.
For AIPAC, the American neocons, and the Christian evangelical Zionists waiting for the rapture to begin, Netanyahu was a big hit in Congress. But his oratorical victory was a diplomatic failure. The leader of the client state thumbing his nose at the leader of the host state, in the absence of the latter no less, provided a façade of courage and little else. In reality, Bibi backed Israel further into the corner of international isolation, with the Israeli government as a continuing source of embarrassment for liberal Jewish-Americans. And he is relegating himself to the outpost of historical irrelevancy. Dedicating new Jewish housing in Arab East Jerusalem, while dissing Obama in Washington was the easy thing to do. But extending a hand to those who disagree with you and forging a peace agreement that includes a genuine two state solution, now that’s an entirely different matter. That’s courage, which is missing.
According to Israeli defense minister, Ehud Barak, his country faces a “diplomatic tsunami that the majority of the country is unaware of.” Blaming Netanyahu, Barak said the prime minister’s indecisiveness was “pushing Israel into a corner from which the old South Africa’s deterioration began.” Last year, Barak warned that a failure to make peace with the Palestinians would create an apartheid state or a state without a Jewish majority.
And so, the Palestinians will take their case for statehood to the United Nations in September. And with no viable alternatives, a unilateral declaration of statehood is viewed as the only thing to bring Israel back to the negotiating table. Effectively ignoring the threat of a U.S. veto in the UN Security Council, the Palestinians are expected to call for a vote in the General Assembly under UNGA Resolution 377, known as the “Uniting for Peace” resolution. Resolution 377 allows the General Assembly to step in during a stalemate in the Security Council, when “there appears to be a threat to the peace, breach of the peace, or act of aggression.” The Palestinians will likely succeed, as surely they know they will be hard to ignore once they have the support of anywhere between 110 and 150 nations, and establish embassies throughout the world.
The larger question is whether all human beings have a right to self-determination and the right to determine their destiny, or whether the democratizing effect of the Arab Spring applies only to Arabs who live outside of the West Bank or Gaza. I am reminded of Malcolm X, who in 1964 appealed to 34 African nations to take the “deteriorating plight” of African-Americans to the UN on the grounds that it was “definitely becoming a threat to world peace.” He added that the “United States government is morally incapable of protecting the lives and property of 22 million Afro-Americans.” That was a different time and place, perhaps, but still the issue of basic human rights remains the same.
Today in Israel, a policy that gives aid and comfort to the status quo is being dictated by fear and a concern for security. But Israel will never find security, or true democracy, under this occupation. You can only lull yourself into a false sense of security when you keep another group of people captive in your backyard and try to rationalize it. Any violence associated with that unnatural condition is not a valid justification for the occupation, but rather is a consequence of it, as the dehumanization, deprivation and hate engendered by the occupation proceed to suck all of the air out of civil society.
As for Palestinians, who can exercise only limited democracy under an occupation, there is an opportunity to foster democracy and institution building. Nadia Hijab, American Palestinian author and human rights advocate, believes the Arab Spring has strengthened the Palestinian people’s hand, and has helped the decades-long nonviolent Palestinian movement. “Many of the Palestinian leadership have been stuck, they’ve been vested in a U.S.-led peace process that led nowhere,” Hijab recently said in a conversation with Jewish Fast for Gaza, a peace group founded by Rabbis Brant Rosen and Brian Walt. “It has now freed them to play a more authentic leadership role, and has given a very big boost to Palestinians who have been undertaking nonviolent resistance through the popular struggle against the wall, which has been going on for six years as villagers organize village by village to try and stop their land from being swallowed up, as well as they Boycott Divestment Sanctions Movement.”
Hijab – who is the director of Al-Shabaka, the Palestinian Policy Network, and senior fellow at the Institute for Palestine Studies – believes that the main concern coming from Palestinian youth and civil society is not necessarily elections in the territories, but the reconstituting of the Palestinian National Council on the lines of the old PLO so that it represents all Palestinians. “So now the rulers of the West Bank and in Gaza know that they too will be held accountable and that they need to listen to peop le’s aspirations, and one of the very first aspirations was we don’t want this division of leadership,” she said. “And then with the changes in Egypt, we began to see official statements that Egypt will no longer participate in maintaining Israel’s siege in Gaza, that they will start to open the Rafah border. It has begun to give hope to the Palestinians in Gaza that the changes will have a direct impact on their lives, freedom of movement , their ability to deal with the rest of the world, their ability to develop, to rebuild after the horrible destruction that happened after Israel’s December 2008 and January 2009 assault.”
Peace and security will come to both Israelis and Palestinians only if it is based on a commitment to universal human rights. For Palestinians, this means self-determination – whether as an independent state or with full democratic rights in Israel or wherever they find themselves. Right now, the Palestinians believe that taking the statehood issue to the UN is the way to make that happen.
David A. Love
The Black Commentator