James Zogby: Palestinians are ‘being asked to hold the scalpel’ for their own amputation

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Last Thursday the UN held a video forum on “The Question of Palestine: Threats of Annexation and the Prospects for Peace”, hosted by the UN Palestinian Rights Committee. There were three panelists: Hanan Ashrawi, Member of the PLO Executive Committee and former member of the Palestinian team in the Middle East Peace Process; Yossi Beilin, former Israeli Cabinet Minister and participant in the 1993 Oslo Accord negotiations; and James Zogby, founder and President of the Arab American Institute.

While Ashrawi outlined the injustices against Palestinians, Beilin suggested that Palestinians accept the Trump plan, if only to stall the coming annexation. Zogby, who spoke last, put an “exclamation mark” under Ashrawi’s astute comments, yet had “questions” for Beilin’s pitch. Those questions were more rhetorical and indirect. Zogby’s 10-minute presentation was astounding, crystal clear, cutting through orthodox nonsense and accentuating the colonialist paradigm that all this falls under.

Zogby said:

“None of us should be surprised that we are where we are today. This has been brewing for… 50 years or more… in many ways it’s been brewing for a hundred years. What’s taking place with the Trump plan is no different than what happened at San Remo 100 years ago – when Europe arrogated to itself the decision to ignore the needs, the rights, the aspirations of the indigenous people of the Arab world, and to carve that region up to serve their own interests. President Trump is doing the same – ignoring the fact that there are real people on the ground in Palestine, whose rights and aspirations are being ignored. And [US] Ambassador [to Israel, David] Friedman is sitting down with an Israeli team to draw up a map, to decide ‘I’ll take this part, you take this part’. What’s infuriating, is that Palestinians are being chided for not participating in this process, which is akin to a patient who is being forced to undergo, against his will, an amputation, being asked to hold the scalpel while the doctor begins to cut.”

This paragraph should be framed. It literally cuts through so much “peace process” nonsense, and the analogy is just so pithy and relevant. And without being openly directed against Beilin’s suggestion of “participation”, for critics like me this is oxygen. Beilin is known for this type of “sophistication.” Recently he has opined that Israel could win time with the International Criminal Court, by joining it, rather than going against it. The Oslo process, which he has been a pioneer of, is also this type of “sophistication” – it appears to be about a “two-state solution”, but in reality it isn’t and never was – it was only about a Palestinian “autonomy”.

These suggestions from left-Zionists, about how Palestinians should manage this by accepting the Trump plan, carry an inherent colonialist arrogance, from those better-knowing colonialists who of course only want the best for their subjects. A recent example has come from none other than the chief editor of Haaretz, Aluf Benn, who opined that “[Palestinian President Mahmoud] Abbas wants annexation”:

“There is one person who can stop Israel from annexing settlements and large swathes of the West Bank, which is scheduled to happen on July 1, and that is Mahmoud Abbas….All he needs to do is call, text or email the White House to request a meeting with President Donald Trump at which he announces his willingness to resume peace talks with Israel on the basis of the “deal of the century.” …Trump will almost certainly ask Benjamin Netanyahu to freeze the annexation and enter into negotiations for a detailed final status accord, at the end of which a Palestinian state would be established.”

Wow, how didn’t we realise that before? Abbas could singlehandedly manipulate Israel and the USA into creating a Palestinian state – how simple!

Let’s get some more oxygen from Zogby. Zogby goes through the history of the Israeli settlement enterprise and how it put 650,000 settlers in the West Bank (including East Jerusalem):

“And every time [settlement building] would take place, we would be told ‘it could be reversed, it could be reversed’. And now what we were told could be reversed, are considered existing realities that cannot be taken away. The Israelis got the message: it’s ‘illegal’, it’s ‘unhelpful’, it’s ‘contrary to peace’, it’s a ‘unilateral action’, but once you build it, it’s an existing reality, so why not build it? As the old saying goes, ‘better to do it and ask forgiveness, than ask permission in the first place’.”

Zogby points out how the mechanism of impunity works, and why it’s not about Netanyahu or Trump as such:

“[T]hat’s the operation that Israel has been carrying out for years, and nothing was done about it. The US would complain, would protest, and would ultimately acquiesce. And so I don’t blame either the Netanyahu government today for the situation we’re in, nor do I blame the Trump administration for the situation (inaudible). This conflict and the situation we are at today has many parents – among them successive US administrations going back to the beginning of the [1967] occupation, and successive Israeli governments who have also laid the predicate for where we are at this point in time. Israel learned: let the US whine – they won’t do anything. So, given the lack of accountability, there was impunity.”

Zogby points out that annexation is a completely mainstream thing in Israeli politics today, and how entrenched Israeli anti-Palestinian racism is intrinsic to the political mechanisms:

“And the result of that impunity is that today, you cannot even imagine in your wildest dreams how you could create an Israeli government that would be opposed to annexation. Even the so-called opposition could not form a government, because they were chided by Netanyahu, and ultimately ran afraid of including Arabs in that government because it would be a ‘minority government’ – it would be a ‘minority government’ in the sense that it would have Arab citizens, Palestinian Arab citizens of Israel, included in the government.”

Zogby says that the ‘deal of the century’ is like “sprinkling holy water on the ill-gotten gains of US rot / Israeli impunity”. He points out that even the liberal discussion in the US is Israel-centric, and that the arguments for avoiding it carry a racist vein and are not really concerned about Palestinians as such:

“Even liberal US voices opposed to annexation fall short in this discussion. The discussion is Israel centric: If Israel annexes, it’s the danger that it will no longer be a Jewish state. As if somehow the rights of Palestinians don’t get included effectively in that conversation at all. A one state solution is feared, because you’ll have too many Arabs in that state, the ‘demographic time bomb’ as it’s called. The arguments become racist, the arguments become quite disturbing, and need, I think, to be dismissed.”

Here Zogby has just entered Zionism’s absolute no-go area, yet he elegantly shows how the two-state solution is actually not a real thing anymore, it’s just a rhetorical trick.

The “two-state absolution”

Zogby again:

“The second concern I have with the liberal response in the US is that they will oppose annexation and they’ll say “I favor a 2-state solution” [like J Street does]. I call it the ‘2-state absolution’. It’s as if I don’t do anything at all, [but] as long as I say ‘I support two states’, then I’m in a good position. But you’re not. Because you’re supporting two states when one of those states can never come into existence because of policies you refuse to condemn and/or sanction”.

This point on sanctions is Zogby’s final, and it really is the point of it all.

“Sanctions and accountability become absolutely essential to this discussion. We’re beyond dialogue, we’ve been beyond dialogue for decades now. We are now at the point where there must be a price paid,” he says.

Zogby points out how the EU has paid lip tax to Palestinian rights, having “lost faith in the ability of the United States to act as an honest broker” already four decades ago, and yet “for forty years Europe has done nothing to implement the many resolutions that they have passed.

“And so while I hear European diplomats say that they are concerned about annexation, I say ‘that’s great – but what are you going to do about it? Are you going to whine, are you going to complain, are you going to protest or issue a diplomatic note, which the Israelis will pocket – maybe pocket by throwing it away in a wastepaper basket. This is exactly what [the Israelis] want. Because those behaviors only feed impunity – there’s no price to pay. If there is not a confirmed position that there will be economic penalties to pay for annexation, then there will be no rolling back of that decision [to annex]. And so I will leave you with that, that accountability is key, and accountability requires that there will be a price to pay.”

I think that’s just perfectly clear reasoning. It’s that big elephant in the room – Israel’s impunity – and no one wants to touch it. When a morally astute movement like the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) brings this notion to the fore, it is naturally targeted by Israel’s ideological WMD: anti-Semitism. That’s because it’s working through grassroots pressure to eventually and finally make Israel accountable – it’s that S in the BDS that is part of the aim of the movement, to realise what James Zogby is speaking about – real sanctions at governmental level.

It enrages me to read Zionist pundits talking yet again about the opportunities that Palestinians are missing in not acquiescing to that next colonialist plan. Israelis are basically spoiled to their necks with privilege, and they see no reason to relinquish it. Frederick Douglass said that “Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will”. That demand is communicated by sanctions, in one way or another, and that’s what James Zogby was talking about, because “we’re beyond dialogue”.

Editor’s note: James Zogby is a friend of our website.

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People who still say they support a two-state solution actually support the continuation of what’s going on: continuing theft of Palestinian water, land, livelihoods, and lives.
Some time ago I asked the foreign affairs critic for Canada’s New Democratic Party, “What’s your Plan B? You support two states. When you are finally forced to face the fact that there ain’t gonna be a second state, what then?” He said he had no Plan B.

In short, the Zionists have painted themselves into a corner.