By Hasan Afif El-Hasan
President Obama said his administration was committed to pursuing lasting peace and stability in the Middle East, but there is doubt as to whether he will be willing to pressure Israel to end the 40-year occupation of the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem which is a requirement for a durable peace. While continues to state in his speeches to Arab and Muslim audience that he believes the security of Israel is “paramount”, he ignores the security needs of the Palestinians. He praised the Arab peace initiative; but his focus was only on Arab states normalization with Israel and nothing about ending the occupation.
In his first visit to the region, George Mitchell, Obama’s envoy to the Middle East who came to “listen rather than to dictate” refused to listen to any representative from Hamas movement, which won the 2006 legislative elections and currently controls Gaza, because it does not meet the Israeli conditions. Mitchell listened only to the US allies in the Arab countries whose opinion has already been known. And he did not visit Gaza, the site of the recent unspeakable massacres committed by Israel’s military that took the lives and maimed thousands; and reduced homes, schools, mosques, government civil administration and civil infrastructures to rubble. The tone of President Obama’s speeches and interviews differ substantially from those of his predecessor, but on the Palestinian issue, he works within the same parameters drawn by the Bush administration. His continuous support to the Israeli collective punishment and the siege of the Palestinians in Gaza suggests business as usual in Washington.
Even if President Obama is serious about forcing Israel to conclude a just peace as some optimists expect, it does not mean Israel will compromise its strategic territorial objectives to appease its major ally and defender. The history of the Zionist movement before and after the establishment of Israel suggests that, when it comes to the interests of Israel, alliances do not count unless they serve its goals.
The success of the Zionist project was possible only because the British conquered Palestine in 1917 and issued in the same year the Balfour Declaration to create a Jewish homeland in Palestine. But the Zionist military organizations carried out violent campaign against the British in Palestine demanding no restrictions on the Jewish immigration, killing and injuring scores of British soldiers in the process. And four months after the UN recognized the State of Israel in 1947 and gave it the legitimacy it needed, the UN mediator Count Folke Bernadotte and his aid Colonel Andrè Serot were murdered in downtown Jerusalem by members of the Jewish armed ultranationalist Lehi “Stern” terrorists. Bernadotte was murdered because his plan to create a peaceful situation between Jews and Arab Palestinians fell short of the Israeli territorial goals.
Today, Israel feels more confident and secure as a state; it does not need US military to protect it and it is capable of making strategic decisions independent from its allies. That explained why the Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Leiberman reaffirmed Israel’s determination to continue its settlement program while sharing the platform with the US Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton who was calling for complete halt to settlement expansion. Only days after President Obama called for a total freeze on settlement construction, the Israeli government authorized the construction of 300 new homes and roads to get to them in a West Bank so called by Israel “illegal outpost”. Israel’s upgrading the status of outposts to a full fledged settlement subverts Obama’s pledge to revive the peace process in the region.
Once the two-state solution is declared dead, the Palestinians are not expected to sit passively and endure oppression. They are oppressed and weak but they have the power to reject living under the status quo. Israel defeated three Arab armies in six days but it has not been capable of subduing the Palestinians after forty years of occupation and repression. The Palestinians’ struggle for national liberation will continue, but they need self-assessment, self-purging and a new strategy. First and most important, Palestinian leadership must accept their share of the blame for their people predicament and correct what went wrong. Their factions have to patch up their differences and unite the people behind them. Palestinian elites should rehabilitate their credibility among their own people and inspire support to the cause.
They should tear up the Israeli issued VIP identity cards that became a symbol of the virtual wall that Israel created to divide the Palestinians in the West Bank into two unequal classes in the national struggle, the people who suffer daily and sacrifice under occupation, and the other Palestinians, a class of VIP elites plagued by endemic corruption and reaped illegal personal benefits from the international aid and economic ties with Israel.
The Palestinians should stop waiting for the US government to help them achieve their national aspirations. The US government, a self-appointed mediator and arbiter, has been incapable of adopting a balanced approach to the conflict. It never had been an honest broker; its proposals have been closer to the Israelis’ maximal positions. President Clinton plan for peace in 2000 was to grant the Palestinians limited rights and no sovereignty, and President George W. Bush approved in writing Ariel Sharon colonization plans.
The Palestinians should invigorate their struggle based on a strategy that may take long time to bear fruit; but it should not include abrogating their national goals, or acceptance of limited self-rule, or temporary borders as options. The methods of struggle and the end game should be defined, embraced by all political factions and civil societies and supported by the Palestinians inside the occupied lands, the refugee camps and the Diaspora. It should exclude attacks on civilians and focus on appealing the Palestinian’s case to the progressive forces of the world including the Israelis, the advocates of the universally recognized human rights values and international law.
The Palestinians have the right to use all means to resist occupation especially when they find themselves victims of state terrorism to which leaders of the international community do not seem to object; but by adopting a strategy of peaceful protest, civil disobedience and boycotting the Israeli products, the Palestinians can produce needed international support for their struggle and strengthen Israel’s peace camp. Civil disobedience makes occupation too costly to maintain and unacceptable by the international community.
After years of negotiations based on power politics, not on international laws, with the superior occupying force, the Palestinians have been offered a disconnected prison-state and Israel more than doubled its settler population on the occupied lands. The Palestinians should use non-traditional methods to challenge the international community to exercise its moral responsibility, enforce the provisions of the Fourth Geneva Convention and pressure Israel to end the occupation.
Palestinians and their Arab and Jewish supporters should appeal for freedom and justice to human rights activists, churches, synagogues, temples and other faith-based organizations, trade unions, political groups and intellectuals everywhere. The new forms of communications, the internet, twitter, blogs, real-time chat rooms and discussion forums should be employed to breakdown borders, transmit text and video, reach and inform potential supporters all over the world. The strategy is to provide people of good will sufficient facts about life under occupation and Israel’s colonial enterprise where millions of the indigenous Palestinians are confined to tiny enclaves surrounded by massive Jews-only settlements, Jews-only highways, roadblocks and the apartheid wall.
Options of the endgame for the Palestinians must be the establishment of a truly sovereign state over the land occupied in the 1967 war or joining a multi-ethnic liberal democratic state over all historical Palestine. But because it is too simplistic and naïve to assume that majority of Israelis would accept the one-liberal-democratic-state solution or convince the international community to impose it on Israel, the two-state solution will be the only option capable of realization.
If the self-appointed “international community” continues to abandon its moral responsibility toward a vulnerable people, denied their fundamental rights, and fails to bring the Palestinian issue to a just conclusion, the values of human rights and justice that the so called “civilized nations” claim to defend will be nothing but hollow rhetoric.
-Born in Nablus, Palestine, Hasan Afif El-Hasan, Ph.D. is a political analyst. He contributed this article to PalestineChronicle.com.