The Palestinian Question

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Thomas Friedman is an op/ed columnist who regularly writes for the New York Times. He has been an unabashed supporter and promoter of the Israeli cause, and thus, his past writings had often been so biased in favor of Israel that they never helped us to find solutions beyond the current impasse.

In one of his latest op/ed columns, Tom proposes that Palestinians hold non-violent processions to force the Netanyahu government to come to the negotiation table. He imagines that such non-violent protests would make the big difference in the heart and minds of the Israelis.

This proposal belies the truth. Before the years of Intifadah, the Palestinian people have tried such options in the past, but to no avail. He ought to know that the Gandhian marches simply don’t work with regimes that are racists and bigots, who put no value to the lives of the ‘other’ people. This is why the Gandhian non-violent protests have failed not only inside the Indian Occupied Kashmir but also in the Occupied Territories of Palestine. When such monstrous, lethal actions are supported by a religious scripture –” the Bible, it becomes easier and kosher to kill and maim the ‘other’ people without feeling any remorse or moral bites for their savagery.

Israel is a settler, colonial enterprise, which came into existence by displacing the indigenous Palestinians. Force was used to curb the newer frontiers, and build the settlements in occupied territories. It is difficult for expansionist leaders of Israel to stop that process, which they found so useful to push their agenda. Thus, the methods suggested by Tom would not work, and it never did. As I have written before, Hamas did not appear in vacuum. It evolved out of the realization that non-violent means –” the protest marches, slogans and endless negotiations — simply did not bear the desired fruit with the Israelis. They saw the time-buying hypocritical tactics of the Israeli leaders very loud and clear. They felt that they had a moral duty to challenge the daily harassment, murder and injustice committed by the Zionist regime.

But as we know better, Hamas’s tactics of firing homemade rockets and missiles is stupid. It is short-sighted and won’t work either. The apartheid state of Israel is too strong militarily to be harmed by such childish ploys. Its racist leaders have no sympathy for the lives of ordinary Palestinians, and as such, for every slingshot from an amateur Palestinian the Israeli leaders don’t mind killing hundreds on the Palestinian side.  

That is why a new strategy is needed which can find an honorable solution to both the parties –” the indigenous Palestinians and the settler Jews and their children and grandchildren that grew up there. It is obvious that the settler Jews will not volunteer to pack their baggage and depart from the occupied territories. The Palestinians can’t force them out either. They have to share their territories with the Israelis. So, both the parties must compromise.

The best option, therefore, lies in either a single state that is democratic with equal rights guaranteed for both the Israelis and the Palestinians, or a two-state formula that is based on the pre-1967 borders where the territories of the West Bank and Gaza would comprise the state of Palestine. As much as the Government of Israel has allowed all these decades the immigration of Jews all across the globe into the occupied territories, any realistic formula must also allow the Palestinian refugees and their family members to return. If the single state option is the chosen option, the rights enjoyed by a Jew cannot be denied to a Palestinian Arab. The character of the state also has to become truly democratic where democracy is not just limited to the voting process for the Palestinian people, as is the case today with the Israeli Arabs who are discriminated and marginalized on all accounts. The holy city of Jerusalem (Al Quds), in that case, can become the capital of the new state. In a two-state formula, Jerusalem, however, has to be shared between the two peoples (if necessary, under the UN supervision), ensuring the rights of each religious community –” Jewish, Muslim and Christian –” to worship freely at its holy sites.

The status quo is unsustainable for both the parties to the conflict. The dream of a Jewish and democratic state cannot be fulfilled with permanent occupation that forces the indigenous Palestinians to either live behind the apartheid walls in mini-Bantustans or get evicted en masse.  As we have seen throughout history, any person of dignity, robbed of its basic human rights, would be compelled to oppose that apartheid system. The spirit of freedom is in our DNA. As the Israeli leader Yehud Barak once said had he been a Palestinian he would have chosen terrorism. That is the reality faced 24/7/365 by every Palestinian today!

Since 1967, the Israeli leaders have used negotiations as part of a delaying tactics to deny statehood to the Palestinian people. Armed to the teeth with all the latest weapons of mass destruction and billions of dollars of annual handouts from the USA and the western governments, these eliminationist leaders of the pariah state have been too conceited to make an honorable deal with the Palestinian leadership. Worse still, they chose to shut their eyes to the reality of the apartheid state that they created ruling millions of Palestinians who are entitled to neither a vote nor a country. Only an arrogant fool can afford to be so oblivious or unconcerned about the demographic future.

Washington is much to be blamed for this Israeli attitude. As I see it, Israeli leaders have some of the most powerful supporters within the western capitals, especially, in Washington, D.C., who have never failed to reward them for their illegal settlements and murderous activities. Look at the 29 standing ovations that Netanyahu recently received during his uncompromising speech at the Capitol Hill, in front of the members of the both the houses of Congress. I don’t recall any U.S. president ever getting that many standing ovations in Congress. There was no partisanship, no bickering in support of one of the worst white collar genocidal maniacs of our time! Netanyahu knows very well that the Capitol Hill is his ‘Amen Corner,’ which, on his government’s behalf, can challenge any initiative coming from the White House. And he is absolutely right!

This understanding has been at the heart of the failure of every U.S. mediated effort to finding a peaceful resolution of the crisis. This has allowed the Israeli leaders to ignore the pleas for a negotiated settlement of the problem in an equitable way, even when such proposals and pleas came from none other than the president of the USA.

In his May 19 speech at the U.S. State Department, President Obama said, “We believe the borders of Israel and Palestine should be based on the 1967 lines with mutually agreed swaps, so that secure and recognized borders are established for both states. The Palestinian people must have the right to govern themselves, and reach their full potential, in a sovereign and contiguous state.”[1] He said they should leave aside for now more deeply emotional questions like the status of Jerusalem and the fate of Palestinian refugees, which he suggested could be dealt with after border and security issues. To allay fear of the Israeli public, he even suggested a “non-militarized” Palestinian state. Never mind the questions: why should the future independent Palestine state be non-militarized when Israel has nuclear bombs in her possession, and have not more Palestinians died of Israeli aggression than the reverse case.

Because of all the hoopla generated by his speech, Mr. Obama saw it fit to explain the phrase ‘mutually agreed swaps,’ in his speech at the AIPAC Policy Conference 2011: “By definition, it means that the parties themselves — Israelis and Palestinians — will negotiate a border that is different than the one that existed on June 4, 1967.  That’s what mutually agreed-upon swaps means.  … It allows the parties themselves to account for the changes that have taken place over the last 44 years.  It allows the parties themselves to take account of those changes, including the new demographic realities on the ground, and the needs of both sides.”[2]

In spite of such appeasing words from Obama, look at the responses he got from the Democratic and Republican politicians. “President Obama has thrown Israel under the bus,” said Mitt Romney. Tim Pawlenty wrongly said Mr. Obama had called for Israel to return to its 1967 borders, which he called “a disaster waiting to happen.” Rick Santorum said Mr. Obama “just put Israel’s very existence in more peril.” Representative Michele Bachmann and Mike Huckabee, a former presidential candidate, said Mr. Obama had “betrayed Israel.” The worst line came from Representative Allen West of Florida, who somehow believes Mr. Obama wants to keep Jews away from the Western Wall and wants to see “the beginning of the end as we know it for the Jewish state.” Senator Harry Reid, the majority leader from the Democratic Party, said that no one outside of the talks should urge the terms of negotiation, clearly repudiating the president’s attempts to do just that. Steny Hoyer, the House minority whip, and other Democrats have made similar statements.

As a recent editorial in the New York Times said, pandering on Israel in the hopes of winning Jewish support is hardly a new phenomenon in American politics, but there is something unusually dishonest about this fusillade. “Most Republicans know full well that Mr. Obama is not calling on Israel to retreat to its 1967 borders. He said those borders, which define the West Bank and Gaza, would be the starting point for talks about land swaps.”

In his address to Congress, Netanyahu rejected the idea of sharing Jerusalem saying that Israel would never return to the “indefensible” pre-1967 boundaries. We should not be surprised. This Sunday Fareed Zakaria of CNN showed an old video clip of a forum in Cambridge, Massachusetts, where 33 years ago the young Netanyahu said, “I think the United States should oppose the creation of a Palestinian state for several reasons, the first one being that it is unjust to demand the creation of a 22nd Arab state and a second Palestinian state at the expense of the only Jewish state. There is no right to establish the second one on my doorstep, which will threaten my existence. There is no right whatsoever.”[3] It is obvious that Netanyahu has not changed a bit. He simply doesn’t want a deal. He always has a new objection, a new problem, a new delaying tactic because, at core, he has never believed that the Palestinians should have a state. 

I am, therefore, not so hopeful about the prospect of a peaceful resolution in our time. Blaming Hamas for the current impasse won’t solve the problem either. Through its approval of the pre-1967 border, in essence, Hamas has already recognized Israel within that border. That should be enough to stop this charade against it that it doesn’t recognize the state of Israel. Deplorable and insane as their tactics may be in relation to firing home made rockets, they feel like a cat which has been cornered. When a cat is corned with no way out, it knows that the only way for it to get out of that corner and run away is to attack; otherwise, it would be harmed.

The international community is tired of the stalemate and an endless negotiation process that never produces an outcome. It must demand the Western governments stop their support of the illegal expansionist agenda of the Israeli leaders by denying the rogue state all material and other forms of support. Only then Israel would be forced to compromise and a peaceful solution would emerge. On its part, if the Israeli public is serious about peace, it must dump leaders like Netanyahu who have nothing but the same old uncompromising messages. The time is running out for Israel.

This is the time for bold ideas to salvage Israeli-Palestinian peace efforts. Prime Minister Netanyahu of Israel did not seize it during his recent visit to the USA. In his address to Congress, he showed –” once again –” that he has no serious intention for the kind of compromises that are necessary to create a two-state solution and guarantee both Palestinians their long-denied state and Israel’s long-term security. President Obama has also appeared too wishy-washy, a biased pro-Israeli politician who is not unmindful of the influence of the Jewish Lobby. His administration has been too generous and too soft on Israel, while being too harsh about the choices made by the Palestinian people. He has no problem inviting a mass murderer to the White House but has all the chastisement reserved for the Palestinian leadership for its desire to close its ranks and unite for a common cause of statehood. Worse still, he doesn’t appear to have a strategy for reviving negotiations. He simply can’t be trusted as a reliable mediator of the crisis. Truly, the Palestinian people are no better off with his support and won’t be any worse off without his support.

A recently leaked WikiLeaks document revealed how weak the Palestinian leadership has been. There Saeb Erekat is heard complaining to Obama’s Middle East envoy George Mitchell: “Nineteen years of promises and you haven’t made up your minds what you want to do with us…We delivered on our road map obligations. Even Yuval Diskin (director of Israel’s internal security service) raises his hat on security. But no, they can’t even give a six-month freeze to give me a fig leaf…” All that the U.S. government was interested in, Erekat continued, “PR, quick news, and we’re cost free”, ending up with the appeal, “What good am I if I’m the joke of my wife, if I’m so weak?”[4]

I hope and believe that the Palestinian people and its leadership have learned their lessons well. After years of waiting and betrayal, they have decided the right course of action: Ask the United Nations in September to recognize their state. The measure may not get them what they want, and the United States will veto it when it gets to the Security Council. But still, it is better than the current stalemate, and seems to be the only logical thing to do for the Palestinian people. Let the world know who is on the right side of history and who is not.

Notes:

[1]. http://tinyurl.com/68vdsoo

[2]. http://tinyurl.com/3j2fkg3; http://tinyurl.com/3j2fkg3

[3]. http://tinyurl.com/3q96tpc

[4]. http://tinyurl.com/472hvc7; http://tinyurl.com/4yf6929

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