By Rima Merriman
“The clearest distinction between [Mahmoud] Abbas’s Fatah and their main competitor, Hamas, is that Fatah argues for negotiations as the only way to resolve the conflict, and Hamas argues for violent resistance (or “popular resistance” as they are now describing it). Every time negotiations fail, Abbas loses credibility and Hamas gains. This is particularly true when Abbas draws a line in the sand (in this case, his demand for a settlement freeze) and then is forced to proceed anyway.”
This is from an article written in the Atlantic almost a year ago. “Why Won’t Abbas Negotiate”? Zvika Kriege, senior vice president at the S. Daniel Abraham Center for Middle East Peace, asked and concluded that “Abbas is justified in being hesitant to re-enter negotiations once again unless there is a high chance of success.”
Since January 2012, much has happened in Palestine. Yet it is clear Israel has not only maintained the status quo in Palestine, keeping a deadly grip on Gaza and squeezing Palestinians in the West Bank through continued illegal settlement building, but is also openly planning to entrench it. Today, it is fashionable for commentators of every stripe and with various motives to warn solemnly of the near demise of the “two-state solution”, when the prospect, in fact, has long been dead and buried. One apartheid state is what Israel’s “facts on the ground” have long established.
And so it was startling to come across the headline “Abbas to invite Lapid, new MKs to Ramallah” on Ynet (Jan 24, 2013) , right after the Israeli elections, during which Yair Lapid, as the “centrist” candidate, had heaped racist abuse on “Arabs.” Lapid was quoted as saying “What I want is not a new Middle East, but to be rid of them [Arabs] and put a tall fence between us and them.” The important thing, he added, is “to maintain a Jewish majority in the Land of Israel.” (see Mondoweiss, Jan 22, 2013)
If the report of Abbas’s invitation to the Israeli new government is true, it is breathtaking in its futility. What could possibly be motivating Abbas to persist in wanting to negotiate with the Netanyahu government other than the usual pressure from a biased U.S. “peace” broker? In August 2010, the last time half-hearted attempts in this vein were attempted, Benjamin Netanyahu rejected, out of hand, the preconditions that were set forth by the Quartet of Middle East peace negotiators (UN, the US, EU and Russia) at the time, who did not even address the right of return of Palestinians or the removal of illegal Jewish settlements in the West Bank. Netanyahu, on the other hand, moved the goal posts and put forth Israel’s revised preconditions: “The future Palestinian state would have to be demilitarized, recognize Israel as the homeland of the Jewish people and respect Israel’s vital security interests.”
In a bid to scare Palestinian society into compliance with its oppression, Israel is currently accelerating the killing (see Ireland Palestine Solidarity, Jan 24, 2013) and arrests of unarmed Palestinian youth in the West Bank and re-arresting Palestinian prisoners who had been freed in previous prisoner-exchange deals based on the flimsiest of excuses. Several of these prisoners are now again on desperate and prolonged hunger strikes (see Egypt Independent, Jan 21, 2013). In April 2012, Palestinian prisoners held in Israeli prisons launched a mass hunger strike that ended with an Egypt-brokered release for several hunger strikers. Israel is energetically pursuing plans to build illegal settlements that the EU and US have “condemned” (see The Times of Israel, Dec 12, 2012), uproot olive trees and confiscate Palestinian lands. So what is still driving Abbas to pursue such a hopeless and unproductive path (also misnamed as “peace process”)?
Clearly Abbas is holding on to the belief that he has no other way, a belief strongly encouraged by the US and, of course, and by the fear of Israel withholding Palestinian tax funds as it has done before, most recently as punishment for the UN bid (see Russia Today, Dec 2, 2012). On January 24th, dismissing the November 138-9 UN vote to upgraded the U.N. status of Palestine, U.S. ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice reiterated the US position that it does not recognize the General Assembly vote “as bestowing Palestinian ‘statehood’ or recognition” and that only “direct negotiations will lead to this outcome.”
For Abbas, keeping up the fiction that “direct negotiations” with Israel or the other fiction that the agency of the International Criminal Court will lead to a resolution of “final status issues” is a cruel pretense that has one certain result. It’s a pretense, equal in its self-delusion to Hamas’s militia resistance in the face of a powerful Israeli military and an even more powerful Zionist lobby, as we have seen in the harsh and disproportionate attacks by Israel on Gaza that killed thousands of civilians. Both “ways” of liberating the Palestinian people are only causing a prolongation of the suffering and oppression of Palestinians and making it possible for Israel to steal more Palestinian land and resources.
In fact, there is another better way to achieve freedom and equality for Palestinians. The Palestinian-led international campaign of boycotts, divestment and sanctions (BDS) against Israel is backed by a wide coalition of the largest Palestinian organizations, trade unions, networks and NGOs, and is rapidly gaining momentum and posing a real threat to Israel, a threat that could translate into enough pressure to move Israel to do the right thing by Palestinians – i.e., comply with U.N. resolutions and international law. The BDS campaign is democratic and non-violent and is igniting the imagination of ordinary people all over the world by focusing their attention on Palestinians and Israel’s crimes against them.
Abbas can recognize and adopt BDS as an extension of the PA (and Fateh’s) general strategy of internationalizing the conflict through the successful U.N. bid, because it offers a tactic with a real chance of succeeding. Abbas can recognize and adopt BDS “normalization” guidelines in his own dialoguing with the Zionist occupier by explicitly declaring the goal of this dialoguing to be “resistance to and exposure of the Israeli occupation and all forms of discrimination and oppression against the Palestinian people.”
Netanyahu already recognizes the threat that BDS poses to Israel, which has passed an anti-boycott law that puts Israeli citizens and organizations who participate in BDS activities in danger of legal action. Israel’s PR or hasbara is in high gear, moving away from the increasingly discredited boogeyman of labeling critics of Israel as “ant-Semitic” to labeling them “anti-Israel” [falling back on the old canard of “Israel has a right to exist as a Jewish state and to hell with the Palestinians”] and spending millions on “branding Israel” by normalizing its apartheid and colonialism.
Even CNN has recently recognized the change in dynamic: “There is … a growing disillusionment with Israel,” Ben Wedeman wrote in an analysis there on Jan 21, 2013. “The Boycott, Divest and Sanction (BDS) movement, aimed at isolating Israel in protest over its treatment of the Palestinians, is gaining ground. Even pop stars are now shunning Israel in reaction to protests. Some say the dynamic between Israel and the Palestinians is being reframed much like South Africa under apartheid. It’s a comparison, drawn by Desmond Tutu among others, that enrages many Israelis and their supporters elsewhere.” South Africa’s ruling party endorsed BDS against Israel “unapologetically” on December 21, 2012.
One objective of BDS is to expose Israel for what it is. Exposure is what Israel fears most now: “A year or so back, Netanyahu said that Israel’s greatest threats were Hamas and Iran and Richard Goldstone. Now he has apparently revised that assessment and said that Israel’s greatest enemies are Haaretz and the New York Times” – meaning the media and any other agency that “delegitimizes” Israel by exposing it for the criminal regime it is.
The BDS Movement website (http://www.bdsmovement.net/) has been announcing successes with increasing frequency and highlighting the international law obligations of EU Member States and those of other countries and the necessity of not breaching such obligations by, for example, trading with illegal Israeli settlements in occupied Palestinian territories.
The Reut Institute, a privately-funded policy group designed to provide “long-term strategic decision-support to Israeli leaders and decision-makers” has also identified the Palestinian call for boycotts and divestments (and Ali Abunimah, author of One Country: A Bold Proposal to End the Israeli Palestinian Impasse, in particular) as a major strategic threat to Israel that has been able to make “inroads in alienating Israel from liberal and progressive circles.”
How many more years of failed negotiations must Palestinians bear? The governments of Netanyahu, Lieberman, Lapid and other hardcore Zionists have continuously proven that they have no desire whatsoever for peace with justice. Instead, they have continued relentless confiscation of Palestinian land to build settlements for mainly fanatical Zionists from the United States, further propagating an apartheid regime and causing more bitterness and conflict.
So what is there to stop Abbas from joining Palestinian civil organizations in calling all nations to boycott, divest from and sanction any Israeli institution that is directly complicit in the subjugation of Palestinians and the denial of their right to freedom, justice and equality under international law and, in doing so, join in solidarity with refugees and Palestinians around the world and in Palestine/Israel? As Nadia Hijab, a Palestinian political analyst, put it in November 2012, the way to go is through “an increasingly effective campaign for boycott, divestment and sanctions that is exacting a moral and economic price, and, potentially, a movement for full civil and political rights in the part of Palestine that became Israel in 1948 as well as the Palestinian territory occupied in 1967.”
– Rima Merriman is a faculty member in the English department, Al Quds University in the occupied West Bank. She contributed this article to PalestineChronicle.com.