By Mich Levy
Winning the war against Israel’s domination of Palestine would concomitantly be a deafening blow to the imperial powers and partners that have controlled the larger region for a century and shaped our global political economy for longer. It is this bigger picture, and history, which suggest that the battle for the self-determination of the Palestinian people, despite the momentum it has currently garnered, is poised for another perilous setback.
It is likely true that Israel has been irreversibly exposed and must change its strategy in order to maintain power. It is likely true that the U.S. government can no longer afford to be seen – by people at home or abroad – as indiscriminately supporting Israel’s current forms of oppression and state violence. It is also likely true that we are approaching the moment in which some form of ‘resolution’ will be found to sufficiently relieve this political pressure – and signs point to the creation of a Palestinian ‘state’.
This does not mean that a two-state solution miraculously turns the vestiges of Palestine that remain into a viable state. The people are fragmented and dispersed, control over its own borders is not something Israel is willing to cede, and Jerusalem has been almost completely surrounded by settlements. The West Bank has been divided by those same settlements, shrunk by the wall, carved up into enclaves and its water taken. A Palestinian ‘economy’ would be even further reliant on Israel than it is now. Extensive planning has already gone into a Palestinian Economic Initiative that outlines the trademark neoliberal ‘structural reforms’ of an outward-facing economy – in this case, outward toward Israel first.
This is not an argument for a one-state solution per se; it is an observation that neither a Palestinian state, nor Palestinian self-determination, is likely to be meaningfully acquired if relations with Israel are normalized while unjust circumstances remain. And they do.
This is a tried-and-true, proven strategy for undermining a movement for self-determination: bring the opposing party to the table, and include them in the process of taking them for everything they’ve got. Once those willing to take these risks have been included in the process, those who oppose the deal are cast as ‘radicals,’ and having lost their legitimacy in the eyes of the public, risk being relegated to the sidelines of history.
This is precisely what happened once the Oslo Accords were signed. Public discourse was full of updates about the challenges and advancements of implementing the Accords, the proliferation of Palestinian and Jewish ‘dialogue groups’ and the forthcoming end of the ‘conflict’. Aid was sent to build Palestinian NGOs, and Israel was building hotels in Gaza so that Israeli Jews could visit on peace-building tours. Any dissention from this program was quelled or judged as absurd. Critiques of the Accords, discussions about Zionism as a political project or ideology, and the colonial history and expulsion of 1948 were all taboo. The Palestine solidarity movement of the past was floundering without a publicly acknowledged raison d’être which the public could understand and rally around. Such was the context in which people were attempting to organize. Meanwhile, the concerns of some of the most impacted – refugees – had fallen off the radar, and Israeli settlement building, the enclosure of the Gaza Strip, lack of access to water, electricity, freedom of movement – every aspect of living under occupation – rather than being alleviated, worsened during that time.
This is nearly always the strategy of choice for those who want to maintain power when they sense they may soon lose their relative advantage and be held accountable for their actions. I call it the strategy of inclusion. There are myriad examples, but think the inclusion of NGO representatives in the process of building the IMF-funded dams in India.
If this moment goes by unrecognized or misread, the movement will continue to charge ahead as if we are gaining ground, without seeing the mines that are buried there. Here is a potential scenario: The Palestinian people living in the West Bank and Gaza continue to repel an Israeli occupation supported by the U.S. and facilitated by the Palestinian Authority and its U.S./E.U.-trained security services. For years, this is happening in a context in which masses of people are uprising throughout the region, with demands that reflect and echo those of the Palestinian people. BDS has and is fulfilling its intended and vital role of bringing the issues to the fore and exposing them for the world to see and build external pressure around. Israel comes to understand that its old strategies of justifying its systematic violence, branding the other as the dangerous enemy, and making false claims of anti-Semitism when challenged, no longer work in the public eye. If it is not careful, perhaps this could lead to the actual delegitimization of the concept that an exclusionary state built on occupation and oppression of another is or can be ‘democratic.’
Israel then changes its strategy on BDS, backing away from the BDS ‘delegitimizes the state’ claim to using BDS as a strategy for getting away with the same loot they already have in their pockets: they are now willing to ‘negotiate’ and ‘compromise’ with the Palestinians, in a strategy of inclusion. Much has been written, over many years, about the inequalities and risk for the Palestinian people that are inherent in such negotiations, and this has not changed. As such, BDS enters public discourse (the New York Times and Israeli prime time TV, for example) where ‘open debate’ ensues in a framework in which:
• The perceived impact of Palestinian dissent is deflected and minimized (Israel is responding to international pressure regarding some of its policies, not to Palestinian demands or the Arab street which understand the root of the problem as a colonial and imperial history);
• Israel is seen to be engaged in negotiations toward a two-state solution under pressure, as if it is losing something in a deal that would serve to reinforce the legitimization of a Jewish state at the expense of the other people living there;
• The ‘problem’ is framed as the ‘67 occupation and settler policy, thus deflecting the issue of the 1948 occupation and expulsion, and therefore the more than 7 million refugees whose needs fall outside of the framework of a two-state solution. This occurs despite the great need of, for example, refugees currently being ethnically cleansed from Syrian camps;
• The Israeli public is offered an argument for how a two-state solution (and end of the ‘67 occupation in its current form) will be good for business and technology and therefore more beneficial to the growth of the Israeli state.
If the prospect of a two-state solution were to materialize soon, in this scenario it would have been facilitated by both the offensive BDS strategy Israel found a way of using to its advantage, and the lack of a defensive strategy on behalf of the solidarity movement. One way I see to address this concern, despite the cries I can already hear proclaiming my sectarianism, would be to cease the support of campaigns that can be used to justify a two-state solution. This includes boycotts that focus on goods produced in the West Bank while not including goods produced inside of Israel. It includes any Jewish organizing that reinforces the idea that Jewish positions on Israel/Palestine range only from the Zionist Right to the Zionist Left.
Another way to address this concern is to do everything possible to amplify the voices of the Palestinian people, individuals, families and communities, in the West Bank, Gaza, living as citizens of Israel and as refugees, who have steadfastly rejected ‘compromises’ in which they are the ones who are expected to pay the price. A just solution is still out of reach, and will only become that much more distant if Abbas, the United States and the international community are not publicly shamed into hearing the voices of dissent that are there to be heard. If those voices can be silenced sufficiently, they will not be heeded.
– Mich Levy has a master’s degree in the Politics of Alternative Development Studies and has been active in anti-Zionist Jewish and Palestine solidarity organizing since the second intifada broke the stranglehold of the Oslo Accords in 2000. Mich is also a co-founder of the International Jewish Anti-Zionist Network and in that capacity has published on the Electronic Intifada, Jadaliyya and Mondoweiss and co-edited the ebook Greenwashing Apartheid: The Jewish National Fund’s Environmental Cover Up. He contributed this article to PalestineChronicle.com.