By Ben White
Another Israel/Palestine ‘peace plan’ has been added to the long list of diplomatic dances that have come and gone in recent years, and this time it is a reheated version of the Arab Peace Initiative of 2002. At an Arab League summit in Riyadh in March, the organisation’s members unanimously offered Israel peaceful, normalised relations, should the land occupied since 1967 be returned.
Yet despite all the fanfare, and self-congratulatory talk of an “historic moment”, this proposal shares the same flaw as those that have come before – it is being offered on behalf of those at the root of the conflict, the Palestinians. The Palestinians, who, from the refugees exiled since 1948 to those living in the Occupied Territories, are still not ‘permitted’ to speak for themselves.
The will of the indigenous population of Palestine has been overlooked from the very beginning of the conflict, when external powers collaborated with Zionist efforts to create a Jewish-majority state against the desires of the majority Palestinian Arab inhabitants. Israel often cites the United Nations resolution that authorised the creation of a Jewish state, but even this ‘legal’ process was carried out over the heads of the colonised.
Ever since then, Palestinian resistance to colonisation and occupation has been deliberately subsumed into the generic ‘Arab-Israeli’ conflict, reduced to one component of a regional question. That Arab states are presumed to speak for the Palestinians appeals on two main levels. Firstly, it chimes with a racialised Western discourse that sees the conflict through the prism of ‘little Israel’ against all ‘the Arabs’ (or more commonly since 9/11, the ‘Muslims’), an interpretation that owes much to the influence of the Israeli narrative.
Zionist propaganda will often seek to erase the Palestinians entirely from the conflict’s history, preferring a battle against shapeless ‘Arabs’, for clear ideological reasons. If there are no ‘Palestinians’, but simply Arabs, then why indeed can’t the ‘Jews’ have this tiny sliver of territory to themselves? So the line goes, the so-called Palestinians can simply move elsewhere and live with their Arab brethren.
Secondly, a peace plan minus the Palestinians also appeals to the arrogance of the Arab dictators and autocratic monarchs who for the sake of their own positions of privilege and power have never permitted the Palestinian voice to speak unfiltered. At best, these leaders have given charitable donations; normally, their empty rhetoric has echoed as a desperate sop to citizenry they know are committed to Palestinian resistance.
There are other external players with vested interests in this particular moment in time. The USA, desperately seeking to undo regional setbacks, senses an (albeit small) boost to their Middle East strategy if the non-existent ‘peace process’ maintains at least a semblance of life. The Saudi state, meanwhile, along with other US-funded kleptocrats such as Mubarak and King Abdullah, are worried about their increasingly restive domestic opposition, as well as the regional influence of Iran and recently victorious Hezbollah.
In the majority of mainstream media coverage of this recent ‘Arab peace plan’, the sticking point has been taken to be the right of return of the Palestinian refugees expelled in 1948. Even so, this is often spun as a further example of apparent ‘Arab intransigence’ and a stubborn refusal to relinquish past grievances. The connection is never made between the expulsions of the past, and the continuing, present day Israeli state, whose Zionist infrastructure privileges Jews over indigenous Palestinians.
Just as in 1948, high profile ‘peace plans’ continue to marginalise the very people whose dispossession was, and crucially still is, the core of the conflict. It was not Egyptians, or Syrians, or Saudis who had their orange groves stolen and villages emptied to make way for a Jewish state. Libyans and Kuwaitis have not lived under Israeli military occupation for 40 years. It is only the Palestinian people who can ‘offer’ peace to Israel, because it is their country that has been colonised and occupied; an offer, moreover, that will be made just as soon as, and not before, justice is forthcoming.