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How Palestinians can transform statelessness into strength

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Trump’s Jerusalem decision hurts. But it takes time to know why.

The Palestinians have spent an age coping with reality. The reality of wilting leaders, of capricious allies and an endlessly raw deal. They’ve learned the reality of being broke and on the dole to one or another prince or “career diplomat at State.” More than a hundred years into Zionism, they’ve learned the emotional reality of being weak.

Disappointment, heaving, despairing rage, cynicism and a black outlook jockey for space behind the brows of a boneheaded people. Fool me once, shame on you; but fool the Palestinian leadership as many times as you like.

Unerringly, Palestinian leaders seem to place the hopes of an entire people on a faithless set of actors. Europe, America, and Arab “leaders” consistently violate commitments. It’s nothing personal – it’s just real-world interests leave little room for the considerations of the weak. Nor are the Palestinians particularly special. In a world of great powers, justice is more often a drab retrospective, long after the virtuoso has died. That’s been true for the Vietnamese, the people of Cambodia, Myanmar, Algeria, Bosnia, Nicaragua and everywhere else.

So are the Palestinians – the sorry itinerants of the 20th century – destined to be the losers of the 21st century?

Maybe, but maybe not. Palestinian weakness is the result of a lot of things – not least, bad luck. Herzl’s Plymouth Rock crashed into the shores of Jaffa, but someplace else could have been the object of this present-day analysis. Luck isn’t hereditary and 1948 is ancient history. But an unlearned history will cascade into the future, inevitably.

The Palestinian struggle developed in revolutionary times. The 19th and 20th centuries saw the nations of Latin America, Africa and Asia surge in a post-colonial spasm. Many of those peoples achieved independence from a corrupt, rapacious and racist Europe. Truman, Eisenhower, Kennedy and Johnson (and Acheson and Rusk) failed to understand that the revolutionary Marxism of the period was an expression of anti-colonialism. Korea, Vietnam and Palestine were all viewed through the prism of anti-Soviet chauvinism. The American war against communism was, in reality, a war against self-determination.

Ho Chi Minh won his nationalistic, revolutionary war but Yasser Arafat failed to. The Vietnamese updated their analysis and moved on – today, Vietnam is a modernizing country. Marxist tropes have given way to the realities of comparative trade advantages.

The Palestinian strategy in the 1960s was appropriate to the zeitgeist. The theory accorded well enough with the reality of the times. Appeals to the non-aligned nations, popular armed struggle, anti-Capitalism and revolutionary socialism worked elsewhere in one combination or another. Why should the formula fail the Palestinians? Except, of course, it did.

It would be foolish to argue that nationalism – a powerful, universal tribalism – has ceased to drive global currents. Most stars coalesced in the dense aftermath of the Big Bang. Fourteen billion years later, gravity still matters. The recent referendums in Catalonia, England, and Kurdistan show that nationalism still matters, now and probably for a long time to come. Yet, new stars aren’t being created every day (figuratively speaking) and the period of state-building has mainly ended.

That’s the main failure of the Palestinians – they still live in the aftermath of the Big Bang. They act as though Israel can be maneuvered through negotiations with one or another heavyweight tipping the scales in their favor, preferably after a decisive battlefield victory. Yet Israel is not a weak state and an outdated analysis will never yield in the Palestinians’ favor. As a totally controlled and co-opted underclass they simply don’t have any leverage, which is the only thing that really matters in a negotiation.

The question for the Palestinians then, is how to gain leverage. How to achieve some measure of power through – rather than in spite of – their dismal circumstances. How to transform the source of their weakness – their lack of a state, fearsome armaments, and friends with old school interests – into strength.

It seems that the first step to gaining strength, or leverage, ought to be acknowledging reality. The Palestinians don’t have a state. For all practical purposes they will never have a state. Whatever one’s feelings, that’s the reality.

Indeed, the depth of the hurt induced by Trump’s decision showcases what expert liars the Palestinians and their supporters are, only they’ve lied to themselves. They bought the falsehood – in full view of all the contrary evidence – that Jerusalem will be partitioned and that their state will be birthed by the very powers who’ve sought to abort their aspirations. Trump’s overdue, shrill paean to Israeli facts-on-the-ground is an indirect elegy for Two States. Some will regard that fact with sadness.

But the truer, damp pain springs from the knowledge that so much – effort, money, time, energy, opportunity – has been wasted. It’s a rich pain, endlessly fertilized by the loss of life.

Nonetheless there is a path forward for the Palestinians. And it’s a route that takes their only source of leverage as a point of strength. It lies in the power of their moral claim, a fact recognized by civil society through BDS. Israel is an apartheid state – that ought to be the only context for Palestinian tactics and strategy.

By restating the goals of the Palestinian national movement, away from state building and towards human rights and dignity, the PLO, Hamas, and the PA may fundamentally alter their dynamic with Israel. To date, civil society has pursued rights for the Palestinians independently of the political apparatus. The pursuit of equal rights is the only mechanism for transforming statelessness into strength. That ought to be a goal that the Palestinians can coalesce around.

Ahmed Moor

Ahmed Moor is a Palestinian-American who was born in the Gaza Strip. He is a PD Soros Fellow, co-editor of After Zionism and co-founder and CEO of Twitter: @ahmedmoor

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13 Responses

  1. Citizen on December 22, 2017, 5:07 pm

    Problem is, how do you get the average American to become aware of the real Palestinian situation since his/her POV is determined by US cable TV news infotainment shows? & How to dilute the shekel power of the Israel Lobby & its complicit main news journalism?

    • echinococcus on December 22, 2017, 11:20 pm


      How to make most Americans aware and informed is of course a huge problem –what we re supposed to do, theoretically.

      But how NOT do do it should be freakin obvious: it’s not achieved by vile, destructive attacks on If Americans Knew by tribals.

      • on December 26, 2017, 1:47 am

        echinococcus – so well said, im completely in line with this

  2. echinococcus on December 23, 2017, 10:21 am

    A lot of good stuff there. One thing, though: stop calling organs of the Zionist military occupation “Palestinian leadership”. It leads to serious equivocation and makes communication difficult.

  3. Elizabeth Block on December 23, 2017, 12:28 pm

    Yes. No good can come from bullshitting oneself, and thinking there’s going to be a Palestinian state falls into that category.

    Quite a while ago I put the question to the then leader of Canada’s Liberal Party, “What’s your Plan B?” That is, you say you support a two-state solution – but when you can no longer pretend that there’s going to be a second state, what are you going to do? He ducked the question. I asked the same thing of the NDP’s foreign affairs critic, who said he had no Plan B.

    It’s bad enough for Canada’s political leaders to indulge in this kind of b.s. It shows that they don’t take the issue seriously. But for Palestinians to do it – well, that shows that they don’t think they can actually do anything. And of course for years and years they awaited salvation from abroad. It hasn’t come in 70 years. It’s not going to come.
    I’m glad to see Palestinians starting to face reality, and to start thinking: What can we, ourselves (with allies abroad), actually do?

  4. brent on December 23, 2017, 12:47 pm

    Trump yesterday showed that challenging him on the words he spoke, as opposed to condemning him, is more likely to succeed. Because he was challenged to deliver on the promised Christmas present to the American people, he signed the tax bill before it was wise for him to do so.

    In this first meeting with Netanyahu, he clearly said, one state or two,” I’m good with either”. That put the PLO’s secular democratic state on the big table.

    Abbas has said one more effort at diplomacy, then “one state”. Many are considering that as the final status.

    The full text of the Jerusalem declaration had opportunities for Palestinians to exploit. I’d like to ask him to make a declaration on rights for Palestinians too and then get onto final status negotiations.

    Since Trump is an exploiter, Netanyahu has just been given a big cake.

    If there are workable possibilities for two states, campaigning for “Freedom Or Equality”, would bring them to the fore.

    Palestinians would gain by proving they were willing to live with Jews as neighbors by putting down stones and picking up placards.

    • Mooser on December 24, 2017, 1:49 pm

      “Palestinians would gain by proving they were willing to live with Jews as neighbors by putting down stones and picking up placards.”

      Oh, I see, it’s “live with Jews as neighbors” instead of even trying to acknowledge Zionism.

  5. Ossinev on December 23, 2017, 1:06 pm

    “The pursuit of equal rights is the only mechanism for transforming statelessness into strength. That ought to be a goal that the Palestinians can coalesce around”

    Absolutely but part of the process has to be the dissolution of the farcical Vichy Palestinian Authority. The ” PA leadership ” have been spinning out this “Authority as transition to state” charade for 22 years ever since Oslo 2 despite relentless year on year evidence that Israel (backed by its lackey America) had and have no intention of allowing anything remotely resembling a Palestinian state to come into existence. The US “recognition” of Jerusalem as Israel`s capital has in fact done the Palestinian people as opposed to the Palestinian “leadership” a huge favour by laying bare the reality of America as any form of independent broker. IMHO there is now no other card to play in the so called “peace process” other than the one state solution card.

    The message to the Palestinian people from their supporters throughout the civilised world not least via websites such as Mondoweiss must be that you the Palestinians have the greatest qualitative edge weapon in your grasp – a straightforward claim for equal rights and full citizenship backed by the simple evidence of demographics.

    As with South Africa there will further oppression , suppression and brutality but as with South Africa an end will soon be in sight.


    • Nathan on December 27, 2017, 8:32 pm

      “The pursuit of equal rights is the only mechanism for transforming statelessness into strength…” Well, actually, it is yet another illusion of the Palestinians and their western supporters who think that the propaganda war will be victorious.

      It’s obvious that the Palestinians have won the propaganda war, and it’s obvious that Israel has lost the propaganda war – and the refugee issue is surely an excellent example thereof. The message has been clear for years: The refugees must be allowed to return. Moreover, the international community also plays along with Palestinian definitions – so all the descendants are refugees, their wives become refugees through marriage and those who attain citizenship elsewhere remain refugees as well. But nothing changes in reality.

      “Equal rights” is a propaganda ploy. It works nicely in convincing people to identify with the Palestinians, but “equal rights” is not the real issue behind this conflict. The Palestinians have not been screaming for 100 years that they wish to live with the Jews in a single state with equal rights. They have been saying that the Jews are foreign invaders who had no right to come to Palestine, and they are still saying it today. It’s so obvious that “equal rights” will not bring about an end to the conflict, and indeed no one is saying so. Actually, you can’t even find a Palestinian spokesman who will say that “this would be the end of conflict” – even as a lie.

      Even as the propaganda war succeeds so well for the Palestinian side, nevertheless the world out there is asking for an end of conflict. One can sympathize with the Palestinian refugees, and one can identify with the principles of equal rights – but above all one wants to hear that the conflict has been resolved once and for all. Unfortunately, there is no intention on the part of the Palestinians and their supporters to make any promises. So, they will keep winning the propaganda war, but nothing will change in reality.

      The Palestinians must define their end-of-conflict scenario. The attempt of defining the issue as a civil rights crisis is meant to avoid the political aspect of the conflict. In a civil rights crisis, you don’t have to make any concessions – so defining the conflict as a civil rights crisis is a ploy through which the Palestinians hope to achieve some of their goals without their having to declare that their conflict with the Jews has ended (and that there are no further grievances). But it’s not going to work. The world might put pressure on Israel as a result of a good Palestinian propaganda campaign – but the world expects to hear that the conflict has been resolved. The Palestinians will never make any such promise, and the status quo will therefore remain unchanged.

  6. James Canning on December 23, 2017, 1:26 pm

    Ho Chi Minh won a civil war, not a revolutionary war. (Overthrow of South Vietnam)

  7. Mivasair on December 23, 2017, 7:18 pm

    It’s time to stop talking about a “two-state solution” or Palestinian state. It is an illusion, and a dangerous one in that it allows Israel to charge ahead with its continual dispossession and subjugation. Instead, we need to promote complete freedom and equality for all who live between the river and the sea. The more we talk about it, the more it becomes envisioned and taken seriously as an option.

    • Mooser on December 24, 2017, 1:44 pm

      “. The more we talk about it… “

      And who is going to disarm the Israelis? And see that they don’t form Chlu Chlux Chlans?

  8. HarryLaw on December 24, 2017, 6:21 am

    The heir to the Saudi crown has tried to convince the president of the Palestinian Authority to accept the peace scheme proposed by the United States, the Middle East Eye media outlet reported citing official sources close to the negotiations.

    According to officials, Mohammad bin Salman underscored that Washington was the “the only game in town,” saying that no other power could pave the way toward a peaceful resolution of the decade-long standoff between Israelis and Palestinians.
    It is possible [after a suitable period of reflection] that Abbas will receive a call from Trump asking him to get round that famous table again, its possible Abbas [Israels enforcer] will go along with it, knowing that the Saudis and other Arab leaders are so in hock to US/Israel that he will have no alternative. Of course the true resistance to Israel, Iran, Syria, Iraq and Hezbollah [not mentioned by Ahmed Moor] do not follow US orders, and have the ability to reduce Tel Aviv to rubble. The Palestinians in the coming months will have to make some important decisions. Go along with US, Israel and GCC designs and receive good funding [and no state] and become slaves, or join the true resistance.

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