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Fall-out with Finkelstein on Palestinian political strategy

In Response to Norman Finkelstein Interview
Palestine youth voice blog
February 15, 2012

Imperial College London conducted an interview with Norman Finkelstein on the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement. I used to listen to Mr. Finkelstein in admiration. It could be because he had a pro-Palestinian stands. But I think most importantly is because he gave facts as is, straight forward. Nonetheless, I believe he tripped when he started advocating for a certain political solution.

In a lecture in University of London last year, he gave a lecture advocating for a 2-states solution, claiming it has a Palestinian consensus. I have no clue how did he decide that. Nonetheless, in the Q & A I asked him a clear question: since there is no consensus on a 2-state solution or a 1 state solution, isn’t it just fair to advocate for what holds a consensus; namely, the right of return? He didn’t answer my question, and went on talking about a 1state and 2states solutions. He has marginalized the right of return in his lecture.

In his interview in February 9, Mr. Finkelstein have continued marginalizing the right of return. He said: “If you are serious about building a mass movement, you cannot go beyond what the public is ready to accept.” Which public does he mean? The Palestinian public? Well we are not ready to accept a solution that undermines our rights. The international community? well they accepted the massacre in Gaza, on flotilla, hundreds of thousands of arrests, oppression, dozens of massacres in the past 64 years. Not doing anything about it is accepting it. Also, they are not part of the conflict. They do not get a vote in this. It does not affect every aspect of their lives. It’s our dreams, hopes, lives on stake here. Or is it the Israeli public? The Israeli public that accepted Gaza massacre, dozens of massacre in the past years, displacement of Palestinians, building of settlements, and many more oppression.

Mr. Finkelstein criticized BDS movement of being picky about the law. He says that the law is clear. “It is also correct that Israel is a state,” he said. “If you want to use the law as a weapon to reach the public opinion you cannot be selective about the law.” UN Resolution 273 (III) admission of Israel to membership in the United Nations recalls “its resolutions of 29 November 1947 and 11 December 1948” as the basis of accepting Israel as a state. The membership of the State of Israel in the UN is dependent on their respect to resolution 194 and the right of return. UN Resolution 194 (III) article 11 states that “the refugees wishing to return to their homes…should be permitted to do so”. This is also part of the law that you wish to be selective about. He criticizes the BDS movement of being selective about the law for calling for the implementation of a UN resolution! Unfortunately, he joined the new trend of using the expression of “a just resolution for the refugee question based on resolution 194″. This is a deceiving expression. The just resolution is to implement resolution 194. There is already an international consensus, expressed in resolution 194, on how should the refugee question be solved.

Norman says: “There is nothing anywhere in the international consensus for resolving the conflict that says anything about the minority inside Israel, the Palestinian Arab minority.” This statement is completely false. More than 18 percent of the Palestinians with Israeli citizenship are refugees. Thus, they are encompassed in UN resolution 194. Also, the United Nations recognised the Palestinian Liberation Organisation (PLO) as the representative of the Palestinian people and granted it an observer membership in resolutions 3236 and 3237. The PLO recognises the Palestinians holding Israeli citizenship as Palestinians. Thus, they are part of every resolution or agreement that the PLO signs or accepts. Nonetheless, if Mahmoud Abbas manages to replace the PLO’s representation by the suggested State of Palestine in his UNBid, then those Palestinians will be excluded. But not yet!

Norman Finkelstein argues if it is reasonable to implement the right of return on the basis of what is more convenient for the Zionist movement, not on the basis of implementing the law. It is okay to talk about laws that does not threat the existence of the state of Israel. I have not heard a bigger fuss on the existence of a political system or state as there is on the existence of the State of Israel. The Soviet Union disappeared and it is alright. Yugoslavia was dismantled and life is seen much better. The state of East Germany and West Germany merged into a one country. Mainly, the communist state of East Germany does not exist any more, so this makes life perfect! When a political system becomes more important than a human right, then our humanity is doomed.

On a last note, I must agree with Norman that if the BDS should focus on mobilising their people if they are a Palestinian organisation. Nonetheless, it is just the fact that BDS is not really a Palestinian organisation. It is mainly led by international activists. And we still need a pure Palestinian movement to mobilise the Palestinian public. Norman is right, Palestinians should not be telling the International community what to do to support us. But we would appreciate it if no one tell us what solution should we accept. We want our full rights. That is not a crime, that is not being illogical. It is simply being determined.

Interview with Norman Finkelstein on the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement. Recorded at Imperial College London on February 9, 2012. Interview by Frank Barat, 31 minutes.


Mondoweiss has posted two pieces, by Daniel Crowther and Noura Khouri, on political strategy and Norman Finkelstein

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