Where do we go from here?
May 30, 2011
Imagine. September 22nd (or 23rd or 24th), the day after the Security Council recognizes Palestine as a member state within the 1967 borders and it is ratified in the General Assembly by more than 150 countries:
The Palestinian flag joins that of 192 other member states, all of whose territorial integrity is ensured by the United Nations. Indeed, this is one of the most fundamental of UN tasks.
The entire Matrix of Control constructed by Israel over the past 44 years collapses. There are no longer any Areas A, B and C, or prohibitions on entering Jerusalem, since the entire West Bank, “East” Jerusalem and Gaza are now the sovereign territory of the State of Palestine. Tens of thousands of Palestinians begin marching throughout their country, accompanied by thousands of supporters from abroad, passing through and dismantling checkpoints that have no legal status. So as not to create unnecessary confrontation, the settlements are avoided. The Palestinian government tells the settlers that they are welcome to stay in their homes, although it is made clear that their communities now come under Palestinian law and Palestinian citizens are free to move in. Those settlements existing on private Palestinian land are either removed or, after compensating the Palestinian owners, are given to refugees or to families whose homes have been demolished by the Israeli authorities (some 25,000 since 1967).
All the myriad campaigns for pursuing Palestinian rights, including BDS, now focus on one single unifying goal: getting Israel out of Palestine. No negotiations over borders (unless the Palestinian government seeks border adjustments); no negotiations over settlements. As between any two countries, Palestine and Israel will negotiate security issues, but from a mutually beneficial point of view. No security measures need be accepted – such as an Israeli military presence in the Jordan Valley, changes in the 1967 borders that allow Israel to retain its major settlement blocs or Israeli control of Palestinian airspace – that in any way compromise Palestinian sovereignty.
Palestinian ambassadors replace “representatives” in the capitals of the world as well as in the UN. The Palestinian government is now able to utilize the international courts and UN mechanisms to seek justice and redress for decades of occupation without having to go through other parties. All the Israeli ploys to avoid international law are gone. Palestine is now unequivocally occupied. No more arguments about the very fact of occupation, no more exploiting ambiguous terms like “disputed” or “administered territories” to muddy the waters. No more “annexation” of East Jerusalem. Now governments and the UN, not only civil society supporters, call for effective international sanctions on Israel, including boycotts of military goods. Of prime importance: pressing claims against Israel going back to 1948, the Palestinian refugees’ right of return foremost among them.
The Palestinian Authority, now a transitional national unity government, initiates elections in which all Palestinians worldwide are entitled to participate. Palestinian citizenship is accorded to any Palestinian seeking it, and residents of both the refugee camps abroad and the Diaspora are invited to come home.
Even before the September vote, it must be made clear that the Palestinian vision is not of a two-state “solution” but rather of a two-state stage in a process that will ultimately result in a single state – democratic, bi-national or part of a regional confederation. The very dynamics of two peoples sharing the same land in peace and mutual relations, together with the existence of a Palestinian community inside Israel and the right of the refugees to truly return home, lead to further evolution. It may take decades, but the idea is that both countries are transformed into a more inclusive entity on the entire land between the Mediterranean and the Jordan.
A September push for Palestinian statehood appears to be the agenda of the Palestinian Authority, though it maddeningly keeps the door open for “negotiations” as well. While some Palestinians have reservations about the wisdom or scope of the move – it does not address the refugee issue, they argue, and it cannot force the removal of the Occupation – it is late in the day to express them. Unless we pull out all the stops between now and September, unless the Palestinian leadership joins with its civil society to mobilize the masses of people the world over who support the Palestinian cause, the September initiative is liable to become a joke, a half-hearted attempt to merely make a point, an empty gesture that exposes, above all, the Palestinian leadership’s inability to effectively counter Israel. That would be a genuine disaster.
If the September “moment” is to be fully exploited, the Palestinian unity government must unequivocally and immediately declare its intent to go for independence and admission to the UN in September. It must be followed quickly by an effective mobilization of civil society support worldwide. Mahmoud Abbas and the PA in general should see this as an integral part of the Palestinian strategy.
International civil society is the Palestinians most important ally, but as non-Palestinians we can only organize in response to a Palestinian Call. Mobilization, then, should begin with a “Call for Support” issued by the elected representatives of the Palestinian people in the Occupied Territory (the National Unity government), together with Palestinians of the refugee camps, those inside Israel and of the Diaspora. Immediately following this, grassroots activists throughout the world could issue a Civil Society Call to support the Palestinian initiative at the UN, to be signed by thousands of supporters and delivered to the UN in September.
Mobilization should climax at the UN in an enormous “sideshow” accompanying the application for membership, a demonstration of support held at the UN Headquarters in New York attended by tens of thousands of people from the world over. This would generate coverage and anticipation that would make it hard for the US and Europe to defy. Time is extremely short, but the infrastructure exists to make this happen – if we move quickly.
And, at long last, the PA should appoint an articulate senior official with credibility and organizational talent to coordinate the campaign and mobilize civil society. The lack of spokespeople capable of carrying the Palestinian case to the public – something Israel excels in – has hampered our ability to inform and persuade the public for decades. The official responsible for information should be given authority to establish a team of effective spokespeople, based both in Palestine and in key countries abroad, that will provide the framing and counter the campaign that Israel and its supporters has already mounted against the September initiative. The lack of articulate, pro-active people among the Palestinian diplomatic corps has also contributed to the PA’s notoriously bad public relations.
Regardless of our view on September – and we have to ask ourselves if we can afford to miss political opportunities like this – if the PA is going to pursue admission to the UN, we must do everything we can to ensure that it succeeds. And even if it doesn’t succeed (we all know an American veto is inevitable), it has advanced the Palestinian cause in two ways.
First, it has got fruitless “negotiations” out of the way. International support for September, including that of major European countries, arises precisely out of a realization that negotiations have been rendered impossible by Israel and its American patron. The fog has lifted. No longer will so-called negotiations be a façade for continued Israeli occupation. Indeed, the very positions set out by Netanyahu – recognition of Israel as a Jewish state; Israel’s retention of its settlement blocs; a “united” Jerusalem under Israeli control; a demilitarized Palestinian state that has no control over its borders, land, resources or the movement of its people; a solution to the refugee problem, “outside Israel” and no negotiations with a government that includes Hamas – become manifestly unacceptable.
And second, rejecting Palestinian admission to the UN puts an end to the “two-state solution.” As long as the possibility of two states could be held out, any other option, including one state or a regional confederation, was effectively eliminated. Moving beyond that after September clears the way for the only genuine and possible solution: one inclusive state.
September appears to be a political moment that cannot be avoided and which, if pursued seriously, offers positive gains for the Palestinian struggle whichever way it turns out. Either we come with good reasons why not to go for September and present an effective alternative strategy, or we should go for it. “Going for it” depends upon a Palestinian Authority leadership that has never shown any interest in mobilizing civil society and appears still to be wavering. May the massive support we can give the PA in September be enough to give it the courage to push Palestinian statehood – the two-state stage – through the UN.
Jeff Halper is the Director of the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions (ICAHD). He can be reached at