Any discussion of the situation in Israel/Palestine must begin with a terminological issue, which is the use of the term “conflict” to characterize the relationship between Israel and Palestine. That term implies a symmetry of power when the facts on the ground are vastly asymmetrical. These facts, which are the result of historic Palestinian resistance to Israeli settler-colonialism, are most brutally represented by the gross discrepancy in the number of Palestinians and Israelis killed in the course of armed engagement since 2000, the beginning of the Second Intifada.
As reported by the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), from 2000-2007 “at least 5,848 people have been killed either directly or as an indirect consequence of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. This figure includes all persons regardless of their ethnic origin, nationality, gender, age, status as civilian or combatant and regardless of the circumstances or cause… Of those killed in the conflict, 4,228 have been Palestinians, 1,024 Israelis, and 63 foreign citizens. For every person killed, approximately seven were also injured.” Moreover, “the total number of Israelis, both civilians and Israeli Defense Force combatants, killed by Palestinian armed groups and individuals, is declining.”
Increasingly, it appears there is an open-season on Palestinian lives, including children, both by the Israeli Defense Force (IDF) and settlement vigilantes.
However, “In contrast the total number of Palestinians, both civilians and combatants killed by the Israeli security forces or Israeli individuals, remains relatively high. In 2007, for example, for every one Israeli death, there were 25 Palestinian deaths compared to 2002 when the ratio was 1:2.5.” Confirming this comparison, OCHA, as reported in Forbes, calculated that from 2008-2020, “some 5,600 Palestinians died… while nearly 115,000 were injured. During the same period, around 250 Israelis have died while approximately 5,600 were injured.” Increasingly, it appears there is an open-season on Palestinian lives, including children, both by the Israeli Defense Force (IDF) and settlement vigilantes.
As much of world opinion has noted, including Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, and the Israeli human rights institution, B’Tselem, Israel is an apartheid state and has been one since the Six-Day War of 1967. These assessments, coming from both inside and outside Israel, contradict Israel’s claim to being a democracy. Along these lines, Zionism, when Theodor Herzl published its bible The Jewish State in 1896, viewed Palestine as “a land without a people for a people without a land”; and since Israel carved itself out of Palestine in 1948, that view has not substantially changed with its latest manifestation being the Jewish National Law within Israel proper, which legalizes the status quo of second-class citizenship for non-Jews.
This fact always placed scare quotes around Israel “democracy” because a state cannot be democratic when it privileges one religion above all others. The Jewish National Law joins the continuation of martial law on the West Bank, the ongoing siege of Gaza, and the ethnic cleansing taking place in East Jerusalem, adding to the repertoire of Israeli oppression. Zionism is from its outset and into the present, then, racist. Simply put, it views the Palestinians as fundamentally non-existent and if minimally existent expendable in the interests of a superior race, the Jews. Importantly, however, a significant and increasing part of the Jewish population and its institutions, oppose this racism in the name of traditional Jewish ethics and morality.
This asymmetry of power is also reflected in the fact that in key negotiations to bring about a two-state solution, now nothing but an empty phrase, if it ever was anything but that, the United States has been an ineffective because dishonest broker. It has been, that is, at least since 1967, an outspoken partisan of Israel both in words and deeds – its ongoing support in terms of billions of dollars for the Israeli military, which uses its weapons against the Palestinians: witness in particular the ongoing massacres of civilians in Gaza.
The Trump administration, far from deviating from the shadow play of US brokerage, made this play manifest. The Trump “Middle East Peace Plan” was simply a crude attempt to unsuccessfully bribe the Palestinians to accept the status quo of apartheid in Israel/Palestine. Even an article by Michael Crowley and David M. Halbfinger in TheNY Times, a fast friend of Israel, stated the Palestinians “would find themselves virtually encircled by an expanded Israel and living within convoluted borders reminiscent of a gerrymandered congressional district,” which, ironically, is an accurate description of the status quo since 1967. Subsequent to the Middle East Peace Plan in early 2020, the Trump administration facilitated the “Abraham Accords,” which implemented normalization (peace) agreements between Israel and the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Bahrain, Sudan, and Morocco. In addition to Egypt and Jordan, Israel now has peace agreements with these four Arab states.
Nothing in the Accords references the Palestinians except an agreement by Israel to “freeze” its proposed de jure annexation of the West Bank, which Israel has annexed de facto since 1967. Humeyra Pamuk and Simon Lewis reported for Reuters on October 12, 2021 that while the Biden administration was “hopeful” that the Accords would help promote a rapprochement between Palestine and Israel in terms of a two-state solution, “Palestinian officials said they felt betrayed by their Arab brethren for reaching deals with Israel without first demanding progress toward the creation of a Palestinian state.” If it has any interest in peace and justice in Palestine/Israel, the United States would do well to listen to the Palestinians rather than the echo chamber of its failed policy.
The effect of the Abraham Accords on the relations of Palestine to its “Arab brethren” needs to be put in historical context, though it has taken books to detail these shifting relationships, which range, to take some broad examples, from armed opposition to Israel expansion – namely the 1948, ’56, ’67, and ’73 wars – to signing peace treaties with Israel in the case of Egypt (1979) and Jordan (1994). Both these treaties necessarily blunted the advocacy of Egypt and Jordan for the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) agenda. The PLO is composed of several groups, with varying programs vis-à-vis Israel. Hamas, the de facto government of Gaza since 2007, is not a part of the PLO.
So, in fact there has been and is no single agenda in terms of the organizations working for the liberation of Palestine; and these organizations are in significant ways in opposition to each other. This is particularly the case since 2006 with Fatah and Hamas, which having won the Palestinian Legislative Council elections in 2006 was forced out of power in the Occupied Territories by the combined resistance of Israel, the US, and Fatah. Fatah has been and is the largest and strongest of these groups since the founding of the PLO in 1964 by Yasser Arafat, who was its leader until his death in 2004, when he was succeeded by Mahmoud Abbas.
But since the Oslo Accords of 1993-94, which resulted in Arafat conceding to Israel the formal balkanization of the West Bank, Fatah has entered a formal working relationship with Israel, which, to say the least, has blunted its once revolutionary agenda and contributed, along with charges of corruption and collaboration, to the growing unpopularity of Abbas among Palestinians, who are calling for an election, which has not taken place since 2006.
The housing of the PLO in the earliest years of its formation in 1964 was first in Jordan, until Jordan expelled it in 1971, after its armed conflict, known as Black September, with the government. The PLO then relocated to Lebanon until 1982, when it was expelled by the Israeli army to Tunis, Tunisia in 1982 before coming home to Palestine in 1994 after the Oslo Accords. The Arab countries have been instrumental in taking in refugees from Israel’s violence beginning with Israel’s ethnic cleansing of 750,000 Palestinians in the 1948 war. United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees (UNRWA) reports, “nearly one-third of the registered Palestine refugees, more than 1.5 million individuals, live in 58 recognized Palestine refugee camps in Jordan, Lebanon, the Syrian Arab Republic, the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, including East Jerusalem” and “Today, some 5 million Palestine refugees are eligible for UNRWA services.” Unsurprisingly, UNRWA reports, “socioeconomic conditions in the camps are generally poor, with high population density, cramped living conditions and inadequate basic infrastructure such as roads and sewers” so that the contributions of governments supporting UNRWA across the globe are clearly inadequate.
Among the top governments financially contributing to UNRWA, including the European Union, as of 2019 were the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, and Qatar. But following the Abraham Accords the UAE drastically reduced its contribution from $50 to $1 million. Palestine is a member of the Arab League, founded in 1945, which now has 22 members. The League opposed the 1947 UN partition plan for Palestine and in 1948 after Israel declared its independence, five of its then six members, namely Egypt, Transjordan, Syria, Iraq and Lebanon, joined the Palestinian armed resistance. But today there is no unity in the League on the Palestinian issue and certainly no effective opposition to Israeli apartheid.
From Obama to Trump to Biden, there has been no fundamental change, as the Biden administration continues the $3.8 billion yearly subsidy for Israeli militarization instituted in the Obama administration, which added $.8 billion to the deadly largesse. Will, for example, the Biden administration even shift the US embassy back to Tel Aviv from Jerusalem, which would at least be a significant symbolic gesture, if nothing more? At this point, such a move seems doubtful within a continually regressive US policy towards Israel, though the Biden administration has resumed financial support for UNRWA, which the Trump administration suspended.
As for the new “liberal” Israeli administration, Naftali Bennett, who has said publicly that he opposes a Palestinian state, is simply continuing the status quo of apartheid, which as Palestinian scholar and activist Edward Said noted in 1979, was always the status quo in Israel/Palestine. This decades-old strategy of continuing to buttress the apartheid state, for which it has the support of the majority of Israelis, includes settlement expansion, illegal under international law; a regime of repression of Palestinian resistance, including the suspension of habeas corpus for Palestinian arrests – so-called “administrative detention”; collective punishment; and the massacres in Gaza. Under the auspices of the current regime, the possibility of an independent Palestinian state is a fantasy. And continued talk of a two-state solution is rhetoric without a tie to reality. There is nothing on the visible political horizon that suggests this situation will change. But there is continuing popular Palestinian resistance to the status quo and growing international awareness, including in the United States, of Israeli apartheid.
The Israeli government, then, is firmly committed to a regime of apartheid and to denying that it is implementing such a regime.
The Israeli government, then, is firmly committed to a regime of apartheid and to denying that it is implementing such a regime. While international law clearly interdicts this situation (apartheid is a recognized crime against humanity), it has no effective enforcement mechanisms in a world dominated by powerful, former colonial nation-states that do not want that law focused on themselves or their allies. In fact, the very notion of “former” is problematic given the status of Indigenous peoples around the world, which includes the Palestinians. For example, the UN Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, which aims at the decolonization of Indigenous communities, in Article 46 (1) subordinates Indigenous rights to the hegemony of the nation-states within which these communities are situated, and in that sense contradicts or vitiates its decolonial agenda. And buttressed by the Jewish mythology that the Jews are God’s chosen people, the Israeli government denies the indigeneity of the Palestinians for its own claim on that status.
But though the facts on the ground are clear enough, major media in the US and other Western democracies are still propagating an empty discourse of “conflict” and “two state solution,” lost in a history that never existed. Corporate-controlled and typically representing the opinion of the powers-that-be, though not univocally, major media have little or no room for the representation of marginalized peoples, including, of course, the Palestinians. This coverage distorts or erases the history of Palestine and Israel and so gives the public the idea of a “conflict” between equal powers rather than what the case is: the ultimate Israeli incorporation of Palestine in an apartheid state beginning in 1967, generated by the Balfour Declaration of 1917, through which the British imposed a Jewish homeland on Palestine where the Palestinians outnumbered the Jewish population ten to one.
In terms of media coverage, it is worth noting that in Israel one major newspaper, Haaretz, gives much better coverage to the Palestinian point of view both in its reporting and in the editorial columns, for example, of Gideon Levy and Amira Hass than TheNew York Times, which has, for the most part, a distinctly pro-Israel bias both in its reporting and editorials. Of importance in making the actual situation in Israel/Palestine visible is the progressive media; the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement (BDS) and its supporters such as Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP); and the struggle within US and British universities of faculty and students to mount courses on the actual history of Palestine/Israel over and against the pushback by administrations, influenced by the Israeli lobby and certain Jewish donors, on those faculty and students, including the attempts to ban certain chapters of Students for Justice in Palestine in the US and the firing of faculty in the US and UK for their support of Palestinian rights.
Finally, I want to emphasize that the Israeli/Palestinian “conflict” is not a “complex” issue, as so many commentators would have it. Indeed, to say so is to avoid the issue, which is fundamentally very simple: the fact of the historical oppression of Palestinians by the apartheid state of Israel. As noted, apartheid is recognized in international law as a crime against humanity; and just as the international community organized boycotts against apartheid in South Africa, so it should do so in the first place by supporting the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement of Palestinian civil society.
While it may look at this point that Israel is in control of the situation, I would argue that, while momentarily in control by force of arms, it is digging a hole for itself from which it cannot emerge intact. With close to 700,000 settlers on the West Bank and a program of continued settlement expansion, a viable two-state solution is impossible because trying to remove those settlers back across the Green Line or, more properly, the 1949 Armistice Line (the internationally recognized border between Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories) would result in a civil war even if Israel were to agree to a right of return for Palestinian refugees and their families and the recognition of East Jerusalem as the capitol of a Palestinian state, all of which including the disbanding of the settlements is the bottom-line for a just two- state solution.
With a growing Palestinian population, within Gaza, the West Bank, and Israel proper, now approximating parity with the Jewish population of Israel, the maintenance of an apartheid regime will become logistically (financially and socially) impossible. What, then, is the question Israel should be asking now, if it had a sense of history beyond its myopic vision of the Chosen People? That question is how do we—Israelis and Palestinians—implement a one-state solution based in democratic representation for all the people now living within the borders of historic Palestine?