Sunday, February 15, 2009

What kind of Palestinian state?

Published in The Palestine Chronicle

A culmination of events in recent years, and more importantly the past two months, has thrown the entire structure of the peace process upside down.

Ironically, the two main protagonists in the region (Israel and Iran) assisted each other at the only common goal they share ... destroying the peace process. Iran, adhering to its strict theocratic obsession to liberate Islam's holy Jerusalem, has used its might to thwart any attempt by the Israelis and Americans to impose a puppet state in the Palestinian territories.

Israel, for its part, has also worked tirelessly at ending the process because, as I've noted here, it still follows its own warped extreme ideology (Zionism) that calls for a greater Jewish state in historic Palestine.

Only what these two bitter enemies fail to realise is that they cannot destroy a peace settlement. Extremism in all of its forms, be it fascism, communism or religious zealotry, will never last as a governing system. The more controls you put in place, the more people will try to break free. Neither Israel nor Iran offers a logical, natural solution/conclusion to the never-ending Middle Eastern cycle. Consider the following:

Israel wants to cleanse all of historic Palestine of its native Arabs (whose numbers are heading towards a majority), and pray that its surrounding 200 million Arabs won't mind.

Iran's ambition to destroy Israel is driven by its theological dreams of liberating Al-Aqsa, Islam's third holiest mosque, from the Crusades and establish a Shi'ite Islamic empire. It would then, of course, turn its attention to the 'blasphemous' Saudi family that occupies Mecca.

Do either of these conclusions appear reasonable or logical? No.

Enters the US and Europe waving the banner of compromise and a peaceful solution. The concept of compromise does sound realistic and logical, and will eventually come to pass. However, Israeli attempts to thwart such a peaceful compromise has reached the halls of Washington where its legions in AIPAC et al do all it can to ensure the US steers far and wide from a compromising solution.

Clinton came up with a draft peaceful 'compromise' that the Israelis have largely avoided. Bush retitled it "road map", then threw it in the back filing cabinet.

Obama ascends to power and suddenly there's a resurgence of hope. Will he draw out the "road map"?

Indeed, many analysts and leading publications have swung behind the peace campaign, particularly in light of the Gaza War, virtually pleading with Obama to engage in "tough love" with Israel and force a compromise that will end this long bloody conflict.

One such article was in the Economist. Much discussion has centred on what kind of compromise to follow. The two-state solution has indeed been the popular call for the past two decades, although some analysts have recently called this plan dead. I, for example, believe in a one-state solution.

Whilst I applaud the Economist for joining the "tough love" bandwagon, there remains one problem that is persistent in the West's handling of this saga. The West often draws up solutions that stem from the primary interest of ensuring Israel's security. It rarely takes into consideration the strong Palestinian sentiment of injustice, the same sentiment that has driven its resistance for the past 60 years. Whilst the West has done the bidding on Israel's part, the Palestinians have been forced to take backseat as its destiny gets shuttled back and forth between world capitals in a diplomat's suitcase.

Failure to listen to the calls of injustice by the Palestinian people means no peace will ever succeed. Peace must be made on equal terms, with the sentiments of both sides equally listened to and represented. This is why the two-state solution cannot work under the current framework, because it simply doesn't include the Palestinians' demand for full equality.

The two-state solution during the Clinton era didn't survive for obvious reasons. On the one hand, Israeli hardliners adhering to Zionism didn't want to concede any bit of territory or sovereignty to the Palestinians. On the other hand, many Palestinians felt that their concerns hadn't been adequately met. Whilst Arafat shook hands with Rabin on the White House lawn, new radical groups such as Hamas were emerging in impoverished Palestinian streets. The West has often ignored and avoided recognising popular Palestinian sentiments by providing smokescreens, previously through Arafat and Oslo, and today with Abbas. Ignoring the reality has proven detrimental, as we continue to see today. Democratic countries should be the most aware that ignoring public sentiments will ultimately bring political failure.

Nevertheless, the two-state solution from the Clinton era continues to be revived today as the main peace policy directive for the Obama administration.

My example from the Economist demonstrates this failed vision of peace:

Mr Obama faces three early tests. The first, and perhaps the easiest, is to spell out his vision of a Palestinian state. Its outlines are well known and have been more or less agreed by sensible Palestinians and Israelis, including those in power, for the past decade. Israel would return to the armistice line that existed before the 1967 war, with minor adjustments and territorial swaps of equal size and quality, and would probably keep the three biggest Jewish settlement blocks that bulge out from the 1967 line. Jerusalem would be tortuously but fastidiously divided, allowing each side to have its capital there, with international oversight of the holy places. Palestinians would be granted a symbolic right for their refugees to return on the understanding that only a small and carefully calculated proportion of them would actually do so. Palestine would be sovereign but demilitarised, with an international force, perhaps led by NATO, securing its borders, both along the Jordan valley and maybe between Gaza and Egypt. A road-and-rail link, internationally monitored, might well connect the 50km (30 miles) or so between Gaza and the West Bank.

My two problems with this proposal are:

1/ A "symbolic" right for their refugees to return. In reality, only a handful out of the 2-3 million will ever cross into 1/4 of what remains of historic Palestine and will be forced to live in camps, villages and towns not of their own.

The right of return is crucial for Palestinians and Arabs. As Israel's "security" is considered nonnegotiable by Israelis, correcting this injustice against expelled Palestinian refugees who have been dwelling in inhumane camps for three generations remains the heart of the Palestinian cause. The failure of the West to understand and listen to such strong sentiments has automatically rendered any peace-making effort futile.

2/ Palestine would be demilitarised and a NATO force would secure its borders.

The key error that started this conflict was that the destiny of one people was chosen by another. The West imposed its own vision upon the natives, without ever consulting the Palestinian people. The mass migration of European Jews into British Palestine was done without the consultation of the native Palestinian people. The partition of Palestine that awarded the majority of arable and economically fruitful land to a minority of immigrants was done without the consultation of the Palestinian people, who have dwelt on this land for thousands of years. And there the conflict began.

The main quibble Arabs have with the West is that nothing in our region was determined by us. Our states, our borders, our dictators, our monarchs were all carved out and hand picked by Western leaders. This is the root cause of our problem, the grand divide between Islam and the West, and the drive for extremist ideologies. To turn around and dictate how a future Palestine is to function (demilitarised) is repeating the same mistakes of the past. And the same mistakes will reap the same consequences.

To solve this conflict, the West must listen to the Palestinian people. Listen to their sentiments, to their deep feeling of injustice, and their resentment of it. Hamas is not merely an Islamist movement, but representative of 60 years of Palestinian resistance to everything unjust that has been imposed on them. Yasser Arafat - secular and left-wing - was that symbol 30-40 years ago, Hamas is the symbol today. Whether there'll be a need for a resistance symbol tomorrow depends on the West's willingness to listen.

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