Recognizing Palestine—and political reality

Israel/Palestine
on 16 Comments

After British MPs moved overwhelmingly to recognise the State of Palestine, the governments of Britain and Israel affected indifference in an attempt to undermine the vote’s significance. [1] These dismissals mask a deep and growing anxiety about the direction of political traffic. ‘There is indeed reason to worry’, a senior Israeli diplomat acknowledged. ‘Not because it’s going to be translated into actual government policy, but because it’s a public opinion setter. It does create a trend’.

But trends don’t set themselves, and fortunately for Israel, rather than mobilising to publicise and build on last week’s achievement, significant tendencies within the Palestine solidarity movement are working instead to undermine and contain it.

Ahead of the vote, Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS), the presently dominant strand within the solidarity movement, issued no press release or calls to action to pressure MPs to endorse recognition. [2] In its aftermath, BDS’s leading spokesperson Omar Barghouti informed readers of the New York Times that recognition amounts to ‘yet another act of British complicity in bestowing legitimacy on Israel’s unjust order’, while Nadia Hijab downplayed its significance relative to BDS, which ‘takes no position on statehood’. Times readers were thus presented with denunciations of the vote as anti-peace and anti-Israel from one side, and, from the other, a series of dismissive or contemptuous shrugs.

For Barghouti, recognition of Palestinian statehood by the parliament of a leading European power, permanent member of the UN Security Council and staunch Israeli ally is unwelcome because it is ‘meant to resuscitate the comatose version of the “two state solution”… dictated by Israel’:

Israel’s denial of Palestinian rights and ongoing colonisation of the occupied Palestinian territory, including in East Jerusalem, after all, will turn the putative two-state solution into a Palestinian Bantustan in an ‘apartheid state’ of Israel, as Secretary of State John Kerry has warned. [3]

Prominent Palestinian American commentator Ali Abunimah similarly urges that, ‘while recognising the “State of Palestine” excites and pleases many’,

people should not… [get too] carried away with the aesthetics of ‘statehood’ in what would amount to a bantustan.

Certainly, many of the MPs who voted for recognition also endorse a resolution of the conflict on terms which violate international law and render a Palestinian state unviable: more than one ‘Aye’ voter spoke in favour of the Kerry process, which sought to achieve just this. The vote’s significance, however, was as an indication of where public opinion is at, and the extent to which it has filtered through to the political class. Strategically, its message was simple: a mass movement of Palestinians demanding a two-state settlement based on international law would win broad support in the UK, and in all likelihood across Europe too. Such a movement, that is to say, would stand a good chance of winning.

The bill adopted by MPs was compatible with Kerry’s proposal, but it was also compatible with the international consensus two-state settlement. Given the UK’s consistent voting record for two-states based on the ’67 borders and given the state of British public opinion, there is no reason to suppose that, faced with a mass mobilisation in the occupied territories augmented by an effective solidarity movement abroad, MPs would be wedded to Kerry.

But the bitter irony is, by falsely conflating the unjust settlement preferred by the US and by liberal Israeli elites with the two-state settlement as delineated by international law and endorsed by the overwhelming majority of the international community, advocates for Palestine make the former outcome more likely. If growing international frustration with Israel is not to be co-opted into supporting the Kerry proposal, popular pressure must be directed against both Kerry and the status quo, counterposing both to a two-state settlement based on international law.

One would think, then, that the challenge now for Palestinians and their supporters is to build political and diplomatic momentum for pressure on Israel, while carefully steering it against the US-led political process and towards the international consensus. The reasons that led Israel to play down the recognition vote should lead us to publicise it, congratulate the MPs who supported it, emphasise its significance, entrench it as a pillar of Labour Party foreign policy, and pressure the British government and other European governments and left-of-centre parties to follow suit, while insisting on the distinction between a genuine Palestinian state on the borders defined by international law and the rump statelet envisioned by the US and Israel.

We should, in short, be acting like a movement that aims to win: that takes its victories and seeks to extract the most out of them, rather than snatching defeat from the jaws of victory by helping the US and Israel to isolate and neutralise them:

Palestine faces a future of permanent occupation or partition. Partition can take one of two forms: the Kerry proposal, with Israel annexing the major settlement blocs at the expense of Palestinian viability, or the international consensus two-state settlement endorsed by the International Court of Justice and the United Nations General Assembly, which designates the whole of the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, and Gaza as the territory for the exercise of Palestinian self-determination.

These alternatives exhaust the realms of political possibility, and a defeat for one is a gain for the others. Except among certain academics and BDS activists, the demand for dismantling Israel has no international resonance. This could be seen from the House of Commons debate itself, where even Palestine’s staunchest supporters made a point of affirming Israel’s legitimacy as a state. By holding fast to a demand that has no prospect of winning a broad constituency, one state advocates not only consign the solidarity movement to irrelevance. By frustrating the two-state solution, they increase the likelihood of palpably worse alternatives. With their gazes riveted on a one-state utopia, they help create a bantustan.

Notes

1. Indeed, Israeli officials criticised the UK Zionist Federation and Board of Deputies for campaigning on the vote:

We don’t think their actions contributed to Israel’s interests in this case. We favoured a policy of trying to draw as little attention as possible to this vote, as the Conservatives did, in our opinion very wisely, so it wouldn’t seem like a crucial decision of the entire British parliament.

The ZF and other groups didn’t consult with us and their actions contributed to making this in to a much bigger issue than it should have been.

The lobbyists appear to have been caught between the Israeli government and their own grassroots.

2.  The UK based solidarity groups, chiefly the Palestine Solidarity Campaign, have on the other hand been excellent, organising letter-writing campaigns ahead of the vote and, along with Labour Friends of Palestine, publicising the result very effectively.

3. In fact, Kerry warned not that the two-state solution would become a bantustan arrangement, but that the absence of a two-state settlement would lead to a ‘unitary state’ that would either be apartheid or non-Jewish. Given the prevailing balance of power, it is not difficult to predict which possibility would come to pass.

About Jamie Stern-Weiner

Jamie Stern-Weiner is an independent researcher based in London. He is a founding co-editor of New Left Project, and can be followed on twitter @ipfreeme.

Other posts by .


Posted In:

16 Responses

  1. pabelmont
    October 23, 2014, 11:18 am

    I think it is time for the Palestinians (PLO?) to state that just as they are unhappy with an Israel which has obscured its national borders, so too it cannot expect the world to be happy with a Palestine which has not stated its borders.

    Accordingly, Palestine should state as its borders the borders proposed in UNGA 181 and note that all of its territory is under belligerent occupation by Israel, some occupied in the “1948” war, and some in the 1967 war. It could refer to the Eliahu Epstein letter for the proposition that Israel has, indeed, stated its borders although it had already, by mid 1948, by territorially acquisitive warfare, occupied additional Palestinian territory.

    The advantage of this plan is to get the world attuned to the benefits of declared borders, to draw the world’s attention to Israel’s (sole?) such declaration, and to set the stage for a world-opinion that rolling back one occupation is not enough — there are two occupations to roll back.

    As to Israeli “security”, Palestine could drily note that it has no plans to demand that Israel give up the nuclear weapons, if any, or other military weapons it may from time to time possess, although in any removal of Israel from occupied territories, Israel will of course have to give up any military bases located in such relinquished territory.

    • Horizontal
      October 23, 2014, 2:22 pm

      I think it is time for the Palestinians (PLO?) to state that just as they are unhappy with an Israel which has obscured its national borders, so too it cannot expect the world to be happy with a Palestine which has not stated its borders.

      I don’t know about you, but I’ve been confused by the strange gyrations of the Palestinian leadership on more than on occasion, and neither one of us is privy to exactly what is going on behind the scenes between Abbas, Hamas, Kerry, Egypt & Netanyahu.

      And then we learn elsewhere on Mondoweiss that even the Palestinian legal counsel is unaware that Israel ever declared their borders, so I’m left thinking that most of what’s happening continues to be sub rosa, with Palestinian compliance.

      I hope I’m wrong.

      • Krauss
        October 24, 2014, 11:50 am

        You’re wrong on count after count, horizontal. First, Fatah is a Western-backed outfit, funded by the US, EU and Israel. Abbas’ popular support is non-existant. You sound like a Zionist, by the way.

        And so does Stern-Weiner, who blames the BDS movement for not accepting the pre-made agreement that is the 2SS, which would, as Abuminah points out, amount to a bantustan where Israel would control everything.

        The only people pushing for a 2SS now are either people paid to do so (Abbas) or Western Zionists who understand that if the 2SS dies (officially) then “the State of Israel”, as per Ehud Olmert, “is finished”.

        By the way Stern-Weiner, I’d look a lot more seriously at people like Abuminah who is actually Palestinians than would-be “allies” like yourself who dictate to Palestinians that they should accept a corrupted agreement.

  2. ivri
    October 23, 2014, 12:18 pm

    The key point to note, which also explains this ostensible paradox that Palestinians seemed unexcited by the recognition of their statehood, is that despite all the talk to the contrary the real goal of the Palestinians is already the so-called one-state solution. Compressing another mini-state in that miniature piece of land that Israel + the West-Bank is, stopped being the goal of either Israelis or Palestinians. Arafat at the time wanted it as part of a broader vision to undo Israel in phases but that is not anymore the goal of the present West-Bank Palestinian leadership (as different from the Gaza Hamas guys who still seem to adhere to that) or they have given up on that as a realistic target (worthy of painful prices).

  3. Interested Bystander
    October 23, 2014, 12:56 pm

    This piece misrepresents what Bargouti said in the NYT. Here is the full sentence: “But, if it (recognition) is, as implied, solely meant to resuscitate the comatose version of the “two state solution” which, as dictated by Israel, omits basic Palestinian rights, then it would be yet another act of British complicity in bestowing legitimacy on Israel’s unjust order.”

    Bargouti and Hijab, and I assume Abunimah, are not jumping up and down as Stern-Weiner would have them do because they look at the hard Zionist (Caroline Glick) position and the reality of the occupation, and Netanayhu’s statement that Israel will never leave the West Bank, much less East Jerusalem, and they don’t see a “win.”

    I think the focus of discussion has changed from dividing the land to what are the rights of citizens within that land–on both sides of the wall. Stern-Weiner seems to think resolution 242 is there for the picking, if only Palestinians jumped up and down cheering for the non-binding resolution by the British Parliament. I think he’s dreaming.

    • jamiesw
      October 23, 2014, 1:43 pm

      InterestedBystander:

      The key words are “as implied”: “as implied,” the vote was actually “yet another act of British complicity in bestowing legitimacy on Israel’s unjust order.” The structure of his contribution is to first set up why the vote might theoretically be considered a good thing, and then to undercut it. So he constructs an opposition (a false one, as I’ve suggested): support for the BDS program or support for the Kerry version of two-states. If the MPs’ vote was for the former, Barghouti says, he would support it. But in actual fact MPs went out of their way to recognise the legitimacy of Israel as a state, so “as implied,” the vote is an unwelcome development.

      If one wants to be pedantic, my sentence above could read recognition probably amounts to instead of recognition amounts to, but it’s splitting hairs: it’s obvious what he means.

      • Interested Bystander
        October 23, 2014, 3:08 pm

        Jamie:

        Sure, but all that “implied” business makes a difference. The difference comes down to an interpretation of what this sense of Parliament resolution is actually about: Is it about enforcing UN 242, and backing it with sanctions against Israel if the IDF is not out of all occupied lands by X date, or is it another fig leaf for the moribund Oslo process. I think Barghouti and Hijab think it’s the latter and I read you as saying it’s the former and you feel they are ungrateful, or foolish, or both for thinking as they do.

        From Barghouti’s and Hijab’s point of view, UN 242 is of course not enough. It fails to address the law of return, an it fails to address the nature of an ethnic state that preferences Jews over all others in all manner of life within the pre-67 lines. And from the settler’s point of view, it fails to address their rights to live in Judea and Samaria.

      • jamiesw
        October 23, 2014, 3:46 pm

        InterestedBystander: I am replying here because for some reason no ‘Reply’ button shows up for me below your latest comment.

        Is it about enforcing UN 242, and backing it with sanctions against Israel if the IDF is not out of all occupied lands by X date, or is it another fig leaf for the moribund Oslo process

        This isn’t the opposition Barghouti draws. He contrasts the BDS demands on the one hand, with ‘the comatose version of the “two state solution”… dictated by Israel’ on the other. That is, he elides the scenario of a genuine two-state settlement, or collapses it into the Kerry proposal. He does so to discredit a two-state settlement. But the beneficiary of this discrediting will not be a one state fantasy, but the US and Israeli project of legitimising a Palestinian bantustan.

        You draw in my opinion the correct distinction: between a real two-state settlement based on international law, on the one hand, and the bantustan arrangement being peddled by the US on the other. As I say in the piece, I think the British vote was indeterminate on this point: it was compatible with both. That means it’s up for grabs. Of course, if our side does not attempt to capitalise on and take ownership of it, then the initiative will be squandered at best or captured by a renewed Kerry process at worst. That’s why these dismissive and/or hostile reactions are so irresponsible.

  4. HarryLaw
    October 23, 2014, 1:00 pm

    “By frustrating the two-state solution, they increase the likelihood of palpably worse alternatives. With their gazes riveted on a one-state utopia, they help create a bantustan”. A bantustan is not the worst outcome, in my opinion expulsion is far more likely in the inevitable event that when Palestinians outnumber Israelis of Jewish origin the “Jewish state” will cease to exist, in theory this would be a good thing, but we live in the real world where a two state solution must precede [if one state is ever to come about] a one state alternative, and only on the basis of consent from both states. The International consensus is clear, there is no state or agency at the UN, nor any political party anywhere in the world, including in Palestine that favors a one state solution.

  5. HarryLaw
    October 23, 2014, 1:32 pm

    If its really a majority Jewish state the Israelis want, then one is on offer now, a state based on the green line would ensure a Jewish majority within the legal borders of Israel, and for the foreseeable future. unfortunately they want it all, in which case they will probably lose it all.

  6. Keith
    October 23, 2014, 2:49 pm

    Several comments are in order. The first is to recall that when Ben-Gurion pushed for acceptance of the UN partition plan, he was denounced as a traitor by the revisionists who wanted all of Palestine without compromise. Ben-Gurion pushed ahead noting that once Israel achieved statehood they would be in a stronger position to achieve their ultimate objectives which were simply not obtainable at the time. In other words, statehood as a first step, not a final resolution. Nowadays, it would appear that, differences notwithstanding, folks like Chomsky and Finkelstein are analagous to Ben-Gurion, Barghouti and Abunimah analagous to the revisionists. It should also be noted that Chomsky used to support a bi-national state up until Arafat agreed to a two state solution, at which point Chomsky changed to conform to the express wishes of the Palestinian leadership, the bi-national solution rendered moot. Furthermore, this would tend to support Finkelstein’s position that a certain segment of the BDS leadership was being less than honest when claiming agnosticism regarding a one state versus two state solution. Quite obviously they want a one state solution and are opposed to efforts leading to a two state settlement. Personally, I feel that the current situation is unacceptable and support any and all efforts to obtain some sort of physical peace and security for the Palestinians by ending the blockage of Gaza and the occupation of the West Bank, etc. All of this bickering about the final resolution decades down the road serves no useful purpose.

  7. lysias
    October 23, 2014, 3:02 pm

    The Irish Times, the establishment Dublin newspaper, already called for Irish recognition of Palestine a week ago. The case for recognising Palestine as a state – Ireland should follow Sweden.

  8. Interested Bystander
    October 23, 2014, 4:27 pm

    Jamie:

    A “real” two state settlement vs. a one state solution used to be the debate. If you think of a “real” two state solution as the IDF out of Judea and Samaria, airports in the West Bank and Gaza, and a Seaport the size of Ashdod in Gaza, there’s a fantasy.

    The new focus of discussion, as evidenced by that NYT “debate” is not about how the land gets split: it’s about what are the rights of the Palestinian minority in Israel, what are the rights of the settlers in the West Bank, and how can we bring law and justice and equal rights under the law to Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza, and how can we provide jobs for everybody, and security for everybody.

    The solutions to these problems do not hinge on a one-state/two-state paradigm. Israel could annex Areas B and C and give everyone there citizenship, they could annex all of the West Bank and Gaza and give everyone citizenship–as Rivlin has suggested–they could formally make it two states, or some type of confederation. The overarching questions will remain jobs, security, and equal rights. The establishment of borders will solve none of these problems. Tearing down the wall and beginning the re-integration process would help.

    When Barghouti speaks of the right of Palestinians to return to Israel, and full equality, that is simply saying civil rights for citizens, and properly functioning institutions to maintain them, are more important than the borders or composition of the state.

    The two-state solution has taken a back seat to jobs, security, and equal rights for all.

  9. Rusty Pipes
    October 26, 2014, 6:33 pm

    Breaking News:

    1) Ali Abunimah, author of “Palestine: One State Complete,” still not only favors a one state solution, but generally denigrates any conformation of a two state solution.

    2) Abunimah, who covers breaking news of Fatah corruption scandals, but fails to cover PA accomplishments (such as diplomatic efforts during the Syrian crisis), pooh-poohs Abbas’ efforts to gain recognition for Palestine through the UN and internationally.

    3) Ali Abunimah and Omar Barghouti, while sharing some common opinions and goals, are not in fact, the same person.

    4) The New York Times, the American “paper of record” which has strong anti-Palestinian and pro-Zionist bias (as documented by many, including Ali Abunimah), dedicated a little space on a slow news day to presenting what it claimed was a diversity of opinions about Palestinian efforts for recognition. It chose three Jewish Zionists, two Palestinians and two others (surprisingly, the strongest opinion in favor of recognition was from a conservative British MP who had abstained from the Parliament’s vote). Of the two commenters CHOSEN BY THE NYT, one was neutral and the other ambiguous — neither was an enthusiastic supporter. If the NYT had wanted to hear from such a Palestinian leader, they could have asked Hanan Ashrawi, among many other articulate Palestinian spokespeople.

    5) In 2005, a coalition of Palestinian groups representing a broad spectrum of civil society endorsed the call to BDS — they disagreed on a variety of issues, including 1SS vs. 2SS, but they agreed on the three demands of BDS. While Barghouti, a prominent spokesperson for the BDS movement, personally supports a 1SS, he does not claim that it is the position of the BDS movement. His brief statement for the NYT did little more than clarify that a 2SS would not be acceptible to supporters of BDS if it did not meet the three demands of BDS.

    6) While you frame this as the “Kerry Plan,” Barghouti places the desire for Bantustans with the Israelis, not Kerry:

    If it is the first step toward recognizing the irrefutable right of the Palestinian people to self determination, then it would be a positive contribution to establishing a just and sustainable peace in accordance with international law.

    But, if it is, as implied, solely meant to resuscitate the comatose version of the “two state solution” which, as dictated by Israel, omits basic Palestinian rights, then it would be yet another act of British complicity in bestowing legitimacy on Israel’s unjust order.

    Israel’s denial of Palestinian rights and ongoing colonization of the occupied Palestinian territory, including in East Jerusalem, after all, will turn the putative two-state solution into a Palestinian Bantustan in an “apartheid state” of Israel, as Secretary of State John Kerry has warned.

    Israel has fiercely rejected full equality, in law and policies, for its Palestinian citizens because that would undermine, de facto and de jure, its continuation as an exclusionary Jewish state. But even the U.S. Department of State has criticized Israel for maintaining a system of “institutional, legal and societal discrimination” against its Palestinian citizens.

  10. Sibiriak
    October 27, 2014, 12:39 pm

    Partition can take one of two forms: the Kerry proposal, with Israel annexing the major settlement blocs at the expense of Palestinian viability, or the international consensus two-state settlement…

    Or anything in-between.

Leave a Reply