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Thursday, August 4, 2011
Palestinians Will Soon Come Full Circle
Years have been wasted making concessions to their colonisers. Palestinians were right to call for a secular state at the outset
By Sam Bahour
The Palestinian national liberation movement has reached its end. As the Palestinian leadership – if there is such a legitimate body today – prepares to bring the issue of statehood to the UN this September, the weeks and months ahead will witness the last desperate attempt to get the international community to assume their responsibilities and ensure that a Palestinian state becomes a reality in the occupied territories.
The reasons for the failure of the Palestinian national liberation movement are many. First and foremost, the shellshock that the creation of Israel caused among Palestinians in 1948 has never really gone away. Half of the Palestinian population at the time were displaced from their homes.
Those that refused to flee are today citizens of Israel – a citizenship that was not requested, but rather imposed upon them – and comprise more than 1.2 million people, Muslims and Christians.
As if the forced dispossession from 78% of their homeland was not enough, the Israeli military occupied the remaining parts of Palestine in 1967. Israel had planned for that occupation long before the war. Military occupation is, by definition, regarded as a temporary state of affairs – and one would be stretching the definition to the point of fantasy to consider Israel's presence in the West Bank, Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem as still temporary after 44 years. Reality is much more accurately described as the crime of apartheid than that of military occupation.
Beginning in the early 1970s, the Palestinians became, as former Palestinian diplomat Afif Safieh put it, "unreasonably reasonable". Year after year the Palestinian leadership offered concession after concession, trying to reach an equitable resolution to their dispossession and military occupation.
This seemingly never-ending chain of concessions culminated in what is known as the 1993 Oslo peace accords. These accords were a seriously lopsided bilateral agreement between the PLO and Israel, which attempted to bring the parties to a "final status agreement" within five years.
The Oslo accords kept the system of military occupation in place and simply codified the unsustainable imbalance between an occupying power (Israel) and an occupied people (the Palestinians). The accords failed, miserably and multiple times. Not only did a final agreement never happen, but today we are further from a two-state solution than ever before. No amount of 11th-hour wordsmithing by Barack Obama or Binyamin Netanyahu around reviving negotiations by setting a starting point for discussing borders is acceptable. Past procrastination has only created irreparable damage on the ground invoking a dire need for an end game, not yet another starting point.
After struggling to revive the peace process for two decades, the Palestinians have lost faith in the process as well as in those tasked with overseeing it, namely the Quartet – United States, Russia, the EU and the UN. For the entire period of the peace process, Israel ploughed forward with more land confiscations, more settlement building, more death and more destruction.
Any honest observer would reach a clear conclusion that Israel has no intention of allowing the Palestinians to create a new reality on the ground towards a feasible, workable resolution of the crisis. Nor are the powers that be, namely the US and EU, serious about ending the conflict on the basis of international law. Diplomacy has utterly failed the Palestinians, leaving them with less land and less water, more fragmented, poorer, in disunity, and with fading hopes.
The drama unfolding as we head towards September revolves around a simple equation. Those who claim to be the Palestinian leadership have no more tricks up their sleeves to justify remaining in negotiations with their occupier. Thus, they are taking what is being portrayed as a strategic move to apply for membership of the state of Palestine in the UN.
The underlying political fact they are trying to re-establish is that the resolution to this seemingly insoluble conflict is two states, Israel and Palestine, based on UN general assembly resolution 181, which in 1947 partitioned Palestine (illegally, I might add).
This move gets an "A" for effort but is doomed to fail even if Palestine is admitted into the UN this year, next year, in five years or not at all. The realities on the ground have changed drastically since 1947. Israel, with blind US support, has succeeded in removing a two-state solution from the feasible options.
The new Palestinian leaders, those whom the Israeli negotiators have not yet met, see the larger picture and refuse to believe that Israel desires to live in peace when every indication for 64 years has shown the opposite. The emerging Palestinian leaders see Israel for what it is: a settler, colonial, apartheid movement clinging to a racialist, exclusivist ideology that neither wishes nor intends to allow another state to emerge between the Mediterranean sea and the Jordan river, let alone allowing Palestinian refugees to return to their homes and be compensated for their hardships, as was stipulated as a condition when the UN accepted Israel as a member state on 11 May 1949.
Once this foredoomed move toward Palestinian membership in the UN runs its course, a new paradigm will take root, one that Israel dreads because it implicitly views Palestinians and Israelis as equals, as co-citizens, as partners. This new shift will see Palestinians dropping their desire for independent statehood in a fraction of their historic homeland and instead will find them, within a genuinely representative political structure, articulating their desire for self-determination within their historic homeland, even if that homeland today is called Israel.
The Palestinians are about to come full circle. They were correct, painfully so, to call for a secular democratic state at the outset of this conflict. Sadly, they wasted precious time and lost too many lives trying to accept unjust modalities of a resolution.
Now, the sooner Palestinians and Israelis realise that our destiny is to live together as equals, the sooner we can begin to rehabilitate our communities and build a single society whose citizens are all equal under law and equal as human beings.
-This commentary was published in The Guardian on 04/08/2011
-Sam Bahour is a Palestinian-American freelance business consultant and, until recently, served as a trustee at Birzeit University and the Dalia Association. He currently serves as a director at the Arab Islamic Bank