The decision to behave in Geneva like the made-in-Oslo Palestinian Authority (PA) was but an extension of the Israeli occupation was the final nail in the coffin of international solidarity with the Palestinian cause in its customary sense. Those who took this decision knew this. International solidarity was confounded by the questions stirred by the Oslo Accords, a treaty struck with the occupation power before a solution was in sight. Was the liberation struggle still in progress as the occupation was still in place? Or did the Oslo process mean that matters now rested with the ability of “the two sides” to reach a settlement? Although the solidarity movement revived somewhat with the second Intifada, the Palestinian rift and the behaviour of the PA towards the war on Gaza threw it into confusion again. Even so, as fragmented and disarrayed as they were, all grassroots and semi-grassroots organisations and movements mustered what spirit they could to stand behind the Palestinians, as divided as they are, in the wake of the Israeli assault on Gaza. The Goldstone Report was the product of this drive. But now, after 2 October in Geneva, who is going to demonstrate solidarity with the Palestinians, how would they do so, and why should they?
The Palestinian party that declared, in Geneva, that it would withdraw its support from the Goldstone Report behaved not as though the Palestinians needed as much support as they could get, but as though it were part of the international order. Grassroots solidarity embarrasses such officials. It doesn’t mesh with their self-image. They are up there with those in the White House, and who needs popular solidarity once you’re a guest of the US president? Also, that solidarity movement can be more of an enemy than a friend at times. That movement supports the people in Gaza, for example, whereas the Palestinian officials in question stand on the other side of the blockade, working to obstruct any efforts that might give an advantage to their Palestinian political adversaries. These officials bade farewell to the liberation movement some time ago. “So long, liberation movement,” they said well before liberation was even a glimmer on the horizon. That was painfully obvious to those who had eyes and ears. However, their behaviour in Geneva came as the definitive and impossible-to-miss adieu to the spirit and logic of liberation and solidarity movements.
The whole and essence of the Palestinian cause have been lost amidst the details of the political manoeuvres and the fine points of the settlement process that predominate the news. This is precisely the problem that responsible media committed to objectivity should overcome.
The international arena in the Obama era has teemed with political actions aimed more at kick-starting the peace process than at reaching a just peace. Granted, we may well see a peace conference in three months’ time, according to some Arab officials, that will bring back the “glories” of Camp David II, albeit without Arafat, who refused to give up Jerusalem, and with Netanyahu. But then we can trust in the latter to turn down the very proposals that Arafat rejected and even more, for he is a very patriotic Israeli. Nor should we expect the current administration in Washington to depart from the rules set by its predecessors for the so-called peace process. The Obama administration may be the product of the failure of the neoconservatives’ policies, down to its having to abandon the export of democracy and to acknowledge the failure of the Iraqi expedition. However, the situation of the Arab states is such that they could not exploit this administration’s weakness in foreign policy. Even if they were able, the governments of the “moderate axis” are not interested in entering a fray over Palestine; so happy are they at the arrival of an administration that has abandoned the rhetoric of spreading democracy and human rights.
Apparently some Arab officials saw this as the opportunity to “pressure” Washington into backing down on its insistence that Israel freeze settlement expansion and focus instead on reviving negotiations for a lasting solution, ostensibly on the grounds that the settlement question would be resolved in this framework at any rate. But even in Iraq, where American foreign policy is the weakest, the official Arab order could not translate this weakness, which is the product of the achievements scored by the Arab resistance, into an Arab policy that would ensure that Arab interests and causes would be high on the agendas of negotiations between the US, Iran and Turkey. So, with regards to what Arab flights of “Oriental imagination” refer to as US pressures on Israel, Washington stuck to the old routine. The business of Mitchell’s shuttle diplomacy can be summed up in three points: persuading the Arabs to undertake good will initiatives towards normalising relations with Israel; securing Arab assistance in the financing of the PA, which is funded primarily by Europe; ensuring that the Arabs are officially and solidly against those in power in Gaza.
Through such moves, the Obama administration hopes to finish where Bush and Clinton left off in the attempt to convince Israel and the Arab world to translate the proposed Palestinian state into a complete “package deal”. The “package” here is the establishment of a Palestinian state in exchange for the Arabs relinquishing the right of return for Palestinian refugees and demands that Israel withdraw from all the territories it occupied in June 1967, including East Jerusalem. For the Arabs, to conclude this deal would not only be to abandon the Palestinian cause as it is historically understood, but also the base line of the Arab peace initiative. Israel, for its part, has espoused this formula since Sharon. Since then, it has focussed its efforts on squeezing the proposed state into as small a patch of land as possible with as few rights of sovereignty as possible. Towards this end, it is taking advantage of the relinquishment on the part of the PA and the official Arab order of all instruments of conflict management apart from its format for negotiations in order to impose a “de facto peace” on the ground (where the standards and conditions of living of the people, including roadblocks and the like, become the foremost considerations), and it is exploiting the concept of the two-state solution in order to press for the Arab recognition of the Jewishness of Israel, which would implicitly entail the relinquishment of the right to return, a retroactive recognition of Zionism, and a retroactive recognition that Israel has been historically and morally right and that the Arabs have been historically and morally wrong.
In the meantime, the new US administration has struck the tune of demanding a halt to Israeli settlements. The Arabs, including the Palestinians, echoed the refrain. It would be useful here to recall that in the history of settlement construction, the seasons in which construction was most prolific were the seasons when a settlement freeze was proclaimed. Anyone familiar with Israel and the way it works knows that planning and construction is a central activity of the state, which was founded on planning and construction. It plans for more than 20 years in advance. Any freeze that exempts construction projects for which the plans had been drawn up before the freeze permits construction to continue for another 20 years.
In all events, the current Israeli government could not even bring itself to a formal freeze because this government, unlike its predecessor, relies on political forces that hold that the mere declaration of a freeze, as fraudulent as it might be, is a moral compromise. Israel, in the opinion of the ultra right, must proclaim its lawful right to expand its settlements, instead of going about this furtively. The debate in Israel has not been about a freeze (since there never was or would be one in effect) but about whether or not to declare a freeze. For the Arab media to play along with this and in turn keep the Arab public focussed on the details of the settlement freeze theme is truly regrettable and disastrous, for it obscures the fact that settlement construction is proceeding full steam ahead, especially in Jerusalem right now, and that the blockade of Gaza remains as tight as ever and is little more than a continuation of the December/January war by other means.
Returning to the heart of the matter, the implementation of which clashes with Israel’s ambitions, what about the right of return? Above all, we must stress that the right of return does not emanate from an international resolution and that the Palestinian and Arab people are committed to this right, even without a resolution to give it official sanction, though such a resolution exists. It is impossible to obtain the right of return through a settlement with Israel. It can only be realised through an Israeli defeat won in the context of the Arab-Zionist struggle. Therefore, if the Arabs give up the struggle, and even the strategy of struggle, then they are effectively relinquishing the right to return. Even if the Palestine Liberation Organisation still existed as a militant organisation, and even if the PA was an authority that operated in accordance with the logic of liberation, they could not obtain the right of return over the negotiating table with Israel for the simple reason that Israel regards this right as a negation of itself. Perhaps for this reason, many Arabs have moved away from the rhetoric of winning the right of return through a victory over Israel and to the rhetoric of the refusal to naturalise Palestinian refugees in the context of the negotiating process. Moreover, as things transpired in practice, the rejection of naturalisation more often than not came to mean “No to naturalisation in this country, though if other countries want to give them citizenship that’s their business.”
In fact, the position is a racist one which, like sectarianism and factionalism, flies in the face of affiliation to a single Arab identity. The rejection of the concept of naturalisation in countries that have made peace with Israel without including the principle of the right of return in the peace agreement, and in countries that are counting on an eventual peace agreement in order to recover the lands Israel occupied in 1967 and afterwards, will not bring the right of return. Do these countries think that the matter should be left to the Abbas-Fayyad government? Surely not, since in practical terms the PA relinquished the right of return a long time ago, and even if it hadn’t it could not impose it in the context of its relationship with Israel. Then it must be that these countries see the right of return as a matter to be taken up not between themselves and Israel, but rather between the Palestinians residing in these countries and Israel. The only logical outcome would be racist incitement against Palestinian refugees in these countries, which would conform well to the spread of sectarian, provincial and tribal mentalities in the political culture of Arab societies and their ruling regimes.
How can the creation of a Palestinian state be a package deal? Here we must clearly enter the Arab/American realm of imagination, irrespective of what the Israeli position is. In Washington’s imagination, the dictates of realism will lead the Arabs to accept a land exchange instead of Israel’s return to 1967 borders. It further believes that “creative solutions” for the holy places will solve the problem of Jerusalem without Israel having to withdraw from the Arab side of that city. As for the refugee question, this solves itself automatically through the existence of a state, which will turn the refugees into Palestinian subjects residing abroad and bearing Palestinian passports. Though, according to this pragmatic imagination, many problems will be left pending, the refugees’ legal status will have been resolved with no need for the right of return or naturalisation.
This is the challenge now. The sordidness that is unfolding in Geneva and New York has avid servants for whom the ends justify the means as never before. These servants like to think of themselves as an integral part of the international order. They are no longer on the outside, like militant revolutionaries. Nor are they on the fringes, like Arafat during the Intifadas and the post-Oslo period. And through their mere membership in the international order, they imagine, they will succeed in their quest for a state. Here we find the source of the disdain for what liberation movements generally regard as the heart of their mission, such as mobilising the world against the crimes of foreign occupation in the hope of restraining the hand of the occupier at the very least. Here, too, we find motive for abandoning the very idea of conflict with the colonialist state. They regard themselves as hypothetical peers of that state, which entitles them to use the same terms and the same pragmatic language, and to belittle calls for justice and respect for human rights, as they did so flagrantly in the vote on the Goldstone Report in Geneva.
They are financially corrupt, they coordinate with the occupation power over security, they set up a repressive governing entity with a militia to beat the very notion of “solidarity” out of people’s heads, and they take part in a cruel economic blockade against a huge portion of their fellow Palestinians. They are, indeed, acting in the very nature and spirit of an international order that lies about war crimes. There is no use even trying to get through to people like that because they will tell you that they were there and they see themselves as having matured and they see you as naïve. They belong to a generation that had a liberation movement, but they infected it with their own decay before it could lead to a state. In this they have proven unrivalled.
Azmi Bishara is a Palestinian holding an Israeli citizenship. Former Knesset member, he was compelled to leave Israel due to political persecution. He is still the leader of Balad. This article was first published in Al-Ahram Weekly 968 (15-21 October 2009); it is reproduced here for non-profit educational purposes. In Arabic: حين يمشي العار عاريا لا تحصل فضيحة (2)