By Dina Jadallah
Now more than ever, it is necessary to state caveats when using words. In some cases, the caveats have expanded so greatly, that there is little space left for the original meaning.
Politically, this means that while some words and ideas refuse to die, they have become denuded of meaning and merely serve as tools of statecraft. Others are dead and buried but are then retrieved and presented as if they are still viable.
In an effort to wipe the lipstick off the proverbial pig, I’ll present a few examples of expired and expiring ideas in the Palestine-Israel conflict . Some of these ideas are blatantly dead. Everyone knows they’re dead. And yet the powers that be prop them up and use them as a means of controlling the population or as justification to conduct “negotiations,” also known as endless concessions.
These expired and expiring ideas are important because they are the tool by which “promises” are extracted and “binding agreements” are made. But how meaningful and representative are these “results”? The answers are crucial to the future of the Palestinian people.
Increasingly, and especially since Oslo, there has been a blurring of the lines between the PLO, Fatah, and the Palestinian Authority (PA). In theory, the PLO represents the Palestinian people. But the lack of specified boundaries allows a “back door” means of “representation.” This is the one that is approved by international power politics because it enables a representation, but of a totally different kind.
Thus, the Fatah-controlled Palestinian Authority (PA) (or sulta, i.e. control, rule, power, command) technically “represents” and “governs” the Palestinians. Yet the PA’s creation and continued existence are dependent on the political, military, and financial backing of non-Palestinian backers. Structurally and practically, the PA is unconcerned with Palestinians in the Diaspora or with Palestinian citizens of Israel.
While sulta implies government and representation, there is a corollary that is often ignored: and that is responsibility and hopefully, accountability. Neither seem to exist in application.
Take, for instance, an example that impinges on the very heart of the Palestinian struggle: land. There is a long list of house appropriations and demolitions that regularly happen in the West Bank and Jerusalem. (1) On 8/10/2009, al-Jazeera reported that Israel dropped leaflets on 13 houses in the Dahyeh part of Kafr Qalil village east of Nablus, informing their owners of intended house demolitions. The “reason” given is dubious at best. Israel claims that the houses fall in Area C (which according to the ill-fated Oslo Agreement of 1993 is under Israeli control even though, it is in the theoretically gestating Palestinian state, which so far is a false pregnancy!). The homeowners denied this, saying that their houses are in the municipality of Nablus which is in Area B, and that proof of this is that the municipality had extended services (water, electricity, etc…) to them years ago.
One can decry the unconscionable, inhumane, and racist behavior of this latest Israeli action. It is all those. But… What about the responsibility of the sulta (PA) to speak on behalf of these people and to defend them? Time after time, they are missing in action. One struggles in vain to find any meaningful protest and non-passive response by the PA against demolitions, land confiscation, Israeli army arrests of Palestinians in the West Bank, and many other “infringements” (to put it mildly) on the PA’s inchoate sovereignty. This raises the question of what the PA’s true function is? And that question is integral to the representation question. The answer should reveal whether the PA is actually dead or alive, from a Palestinian perspective.
This came to the fore at the 20-year delayed Sixth Fatah Organizational Conference in Bethlehem. The PA and its beneficiaries are trying to revive the PLO from its dead state in order to try and regain some relevance or legitimacy, not really for Palestinians, but for its ability to continue making concessions and negotiations in their name so that it may continue its policing role (the only part of “sulta” diligently implemented) on behalf of the occupier.
For many Palestinians, this has raised questions about the legitimacy of representation. Most prominent is why is the conference being held under occupation, with the occupier overseeing who is admitted and who is not? Imagine if the Resistance in Vichy France had held its organizational meetings in Berlin… Furthermore, was the venue chosen in order to allow Israel to enable the entry of only those Fatah delegates that were supportive of ‘Abbas and the endless “peace process?” How can any platform that is adopted be taken seriously given who formulated it, and under whose auspices was it deemed “acceptable”? Does any of this hullabaloo have any meaning or is it a manifestation of the expiring process of an almost expired institution?
Another example of where appearances betray reality is Mahmoud ‘Abbas’ presidency of the PA. Here a blatantly dead “legitimacy” is obvious but ignored. Power interests have yet to acknowledge the expiration of his term. He is still designated as the sole “speaker” for the Palestinian people and the only possible “peace partner.” What the Palestinian people think about the issue is immaterial.
The expired aspects of this situation are many. I will mention just a few that, had they occurred in most other parts of the world, would have been deemed shocking and unacceptable. Consider the idea that the occupier (and her backers) can dictate to the occupied not only who represents them but also what constitutes a valid subject of negotiation. Moreover, the occupier (and her backers) are maintaining the fiction of the constitutionality and legality of these dead institutions and their heads, in order to kill the original ostensible purpose for which they were created in the first place, i.e. the creation of a Palestinian state. In effect, the sulta (PA) is now officially and blatantly transformed (it has always been –but more surreptitiously) a tool with which to end al-muqawama , the Resistance to occupation in pursuit of liberation.
How else to explain Lt. General Keith Dayton, US security coordinator for Israel and the PA, who is now the commander of the “Palestinian National Security Forces,” which he is “transforming… into a gendarmerie,” and the one who dictates who, what, and where they fight.? This is the same Dayton, who in a lecture at the Washington Institute said that overseeing these forces are three intelligence outfits: the Mossad, the CIA, and the Jordanian Muhkhabarat. He also said that the focus is to eliminate nationalistic motivations and leanings, and to replace them with blind obedience to the execution of orders. (2)
How else to explain the training of Palestinian “security forces” in Jordan with the aim of adding seven more battalions (of 500 men each) to the original three? Dayton stated that “the Interior Ministry is the key to normalcy for Palestine.” So now, force and police control are the key to a normal Palestine, not liberation.
From a nationalistic and liberation movement perspective, the term sulta has died and now stands for a dying process. It now represents the hegemonic powers that created it and have since used it as a political and ideological tool of occupation and repression. When one reviews its history and “achievements” (dubious at best), one finds the invidious aim of killing resistance and transforming fundamental and inherent rights and objectives. This has narrowed the scope of debatable and negotiable “issues” to what is “realistic.” It has further functioned as a substitute policing arm and negotiating tool for the occupier. Ultimately, it has relieved Israel, the international community, and Arab governments of any and all responsibility for the plight of Palestinians.
But the simple fact that resistance persists is testimony to the expiring of the PA and its functions and is manifestation of the search for a true voice.
The Two State Solution
The dying PA is used to push for another obviously dead idea, but almost everyone with political power is trying to resurrect it: the two-state solution. This “solution,” deriving from Oslo, envisions the two respective states as ethno-nationalist entities. Taken to its ultimate conclusion, this “vision”/“solution” is fundamentally threatening to Palestinian citizens of Israel. Senator Mitchell, the American “peace” envoy was sent for the purpose of reviving the “peace process” and to insist on a two-state “solution” — that is mostly Israeli-dictated and is most probably going to be stillborn. Granted, the definition of the “state” is highly dubious. As Likud Information Minister, David Bar-Illan said (1996), “let them call it fried chicken…” This deformed and meaningless “state” may come, but only after all Arab states establish normal relations with Israel.
Even with all these pre-conditions and qualifications, the current Israeli government, whose interests are best served by it, is on-and-off rejecting it and trying to revive the so-called “Jordanian Option.”
Far from seeing this insistence on a “state” as a “rift” with Israel, it is in reality an act by the hegemon to reign in the potentially self-destructive behavior of its client state. And it is probably little more than a public relations response to unrealistic Israeli demands that had been presented as a decoy. Any retreat from these maximalist demands may then be presented to it’s enemies as a “concession” when in reality, it is a further infringement on and usurpation of fundamental Palestinian rights.
Proof of this is that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Middle East Special Envoy George Mitchell as well as member of Congress are leading the charge and demanding an end to the boycott of Israel, open trade relations, visas for Israelis, and invitations to academic, professional, and sporting events. Recent statements by ‘Amr Mousa, head of the Arab League, demanding that Israel stop settlements in return for normalization, is indicative that Arab “states” are listening and obeying. Such a “demand” is in fact a huge retrogressive concession from previous Arab demands (and international UN resolutions) for Israeli withdrawal from Occupied Territories. Like the PA, in effect, the Arab League has been transformed from an institution of support for the Palestinian cause to an instrument of normalization with Zionism.
Moreover, the increasingly strident tone of Israeli demands – given expression by extremist far-right members of the Netanyahu government – may have been threatening to American designs and projects aimed at quashing Palestinian resistance. For instance, such statements put in jeopardy relations with Jordan, and the current quadrilateral arrangement overseen by Dayton whereby Jordan “trains” Palestinian forces, whose sole aim is to restore “security”, aka eliminate the resistance.
In the larger picture, it also threatened – at least rhetorically – the presentation of the Obama administration as more understanding towards regional issues. This posture of support for the forces of “moderation” as they are pitted against “extremists” was suddenly thrown a monkey wrench when “extremist” – or at least, not-said-in-polite-company – rhetoric started emerging from it key ally, the relationship with whom is “unshakable.”
Oslo’s putative aim, the two-state solution is also expiring for an ironic and counter-intuitive reason. Its creation, the PA and the attempts made to strengthen it, have actually weakened it. International funding has been used to build this policing/governing sulta, often the expense of building the bases of the emerging Palestinian state and economy. Much of this funding either ended up as salaries and pensions for redundant civil servants and “security” forces or was used for corrupt and clientelist purposes by those in power. Furthermore, this support that often derived from the enablers of the Occupation as well as from the Occupiers themselves, thus leading to loss of legitimacy. To add insult to injury, the sulta has been unable to attain a single political achievement after almost twenty years of “negotiations’.
And in a note of cognitive dissonance (or, perhaps the arrogance of power) Tel Aviv University’s War and Peace Index (May 2009, Profs. Ephraim Yaar and Tamar Hermann) indicates that while the majority (67%) of Israelis do not envision peace except within the two state solution formula, 52% of them oppose this solution if it entails “substantial” territorial concessions. The definition of what is “substantial” is pivotal. Considering that most Israelis oppose giving up any part of Jerusalem or dismantling settlements, especially “non-isolated” ones, i.e. the huge settlements in the West Bank, a “solution” that will be acceptable to the Palestinians is dead in the water.
The expired and expiring issues of representation, legitimacy and the two-state solution affect the future and viability of another term that is frequently repeated: democracy. Here is another concept that is so mutated when applied to the Middle East that it bears little resemblance to its origins in ancient Greece. When mentioned, it ought to be accompanied by a massive caveat emptor or parentheses to flag the “uniqueness” of its application in this context.
Critics of Zionism and its creation, Israel, have long objected not just to the usurpation and denial of the rights of Palestinians, but also to its inherent racism. Recently, this racism has been magnified.
The Israel Democracy Institute has come out with its annual Israeli Democracy Index Report on August 3, 2009. The focus of this year’s poll was on the attitudes and integration of Jewish immigrants from the former Soviet Union to Israel. Its findings revealed that newcomers were even more racist, a fact that does not bode well for those hoping for “peace” through “negotiations.” (3)
Apparently unaware of the irony, former Soviet Union immigrants (FSUI) overwhelmingly support, by 77%, promoting Arab emigration from Israel. Not that native Jewish Israelis are much more accepting of the Palestinian citizens in Israel: 47% support their emigration. (p. 65) Only 23% of them versus 33% of native Jews support Arab political parties in the Knesset. Furthermore, 73% of Israelis support the statement that a Jewish majority is necessary for making fateful decisions for the country. (This statement is indicative of support for stripping political rights from the Palestinian minority.) Considering that almost 20% of Israelis are Palestinian, that leaves only 7% of Jewish citizens who oppose this statement. In 2003, those who supported this statement were less, 62%. Thus, it is safe to say that most Jewish citizens do not support the participation of Palestinians in government or its decision-making. Also noteworthy is that 61% of those polled said they were dissatisfied with Israeli democracy.
One result that is indicative of cognitive dissonance and that has collective implications for citizens of Israel is that 74% of Israelis supported freedom of speech for everyone regardless of status while, at the same time, 58% of them also support that “a political speaker must be prohibited from voicing harsh criticism against the state of Israel. In 2003, only 48% of respondents agreed with that last statement.
And in what will have significant implications for the prospects of negotiations and “peace” going forward, 48% of the Jewish public is unwilling to evacuate the settlements (and 64% of FSUI). On the issue of Jerusalem there is hardly any difference in attitude between the left and the right among FSUI. Both are equally hawkish. (p 85) It is also interesting (and inauspicious) that when the Jewish respondents were broken down by political orientation into right , center, and left, that negative attitudes towards “Arabs” are high almost across the board, with one exception. (Among native Jews, the numbers with negative views of “Arabs” were 72%, 55%, and 32% respectively; and among FSUI, the numbers were 78%, 58%, and 59% respectively.) (p. 84)
Is it reasonable to assume that the prognosis for the condition of democracy is not good? Especially because Israel is a state that is built on ethnocentric and religious exclusivity and privilege? Is it really fair to blame the increase in racism on the influx of FSUI and on “Russian media” as the authors of the report say (p.65), given that the deterioration in the statistics has also occurred in the wider Jewish Israeli population?
Some might argue that the “threat” of the “demographic time bomb” that Israel is confronting might be the reason for rise in anti-Arab sentiment. But that argument is a tautology. It is racist in its very formulation. And it has pre-existed and persists after the large-scale arrival of FSUI that started in the 1990s.
Another popular “explanation” is the “existential” one frequently presented by Zionists regarding the “threats” and “attacks” that Israel confronts from “violent” “terrorist” Palestinians. But even here, one could counter with straightforward facts. For one, Palestinian attacks against Israel have actually decreased over the last few years, while Israeli attacks have increased. The facts are that multiples more Palestinians were killed and injured between the outbreak of the Second Intifada in September of 2000 until the end of 2008 than Israelis. According to the Palestine Red Crescent Society, 33,639 Palestinians were injured and 5,365 were killed during that time. And according to the Israeli Foreign Office, 8,341 Israelis were injured (these numbers include non-Israelis injured in the conflict, and also Israelis that were injured by non-Palestinians) while according to B’Tselem, 1,062 Israeli soldiers were killed.
Is the rise of racist attitudes attributable to a generational transition? Are present-day Israelis so used to tolerant and permissive American support that they feel no need to temper their language and their demands (let alone their assaults)? Or is it that the Arab states are now so detached from any semblance of responsibility for Palestinians, that they feel that there will be no repercussions?
Or is this rise in racism with all its pernicious and deadly effects on “democracy” the testimonial “fruit” from the separatist development policies and the segregated housing that the Israeli state has pursued vis-à-vis its Palestinian citizens?
Or can one argue that Israel’s inability to attain any of its goals in the Lebanon war of 2006 or its goals in its attack on Gaza in 2008-2009 have led to increased chest thumping on the part of the Israeli military establishment and political leaders, endless military “exercises,” and so forth, thereby feeding patriotic chauvinism?
These are only a few speculations about what may be behind the changes in attitudes as shown in the poll results. But the basis for racism remains the same. The ethnocentricity and exclusivity of Israel as it is currently constituted.
The above examples highlight the implosion of central concepts and institutions in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. Many are either expired or expiring but are re-vivified in Frankenstein- form for the purposes of controlling Palestinians. It is time to ask if resuscitation is possible or even desirable…
– Dina Jadallah is an Arab-American writer, artist, and political science graduate. She is of Palestinian and Egyptian descent. She contributed this article to PalestineChronicle.com.
(1) According to Miftah.org, from 1967 to July 2008, 33,000 Palestinian homes were demolished since 1967. This form of collective punishment was originally used by the British mandate to quell resistance and was later pursued vigorously by the emerging Zionist state and then the state of Israel.
(2) See Washington Post. According to Dayton, the results of this partnership has “exceeded the most optimistic expectations.”
(3) The authors of the annual report attribute the immigrants’ anti-Arab attitudes to four factors. One, they argue that when they arrive, they learn that prejudice against Arabs is acceptable because “Arabs are a hostile group” and that being anti-Arab makes one a “true Israeli Jew.” Two, they argue that post-Soviet literature and culture feature an “enemy image” that splits a complex world into good versus bad. Third, that this is a displacement by the FSUI of responsibility and blame on the “other.” And fourth, that this reflects the “influence of Russian media” in Israel which shapes negative attitudes toward the Arab public. P. 65. In this writer’s opinion, the annual report itself displaces responsibility and blame from the Israeli state and its hardly benevolent views and treatment of its Palestinian citizens.