There was once a time, not very long ago, when prioritizing the Palestinian cause above all else was a socially and politically constructed self-evident truth in the Arab world. Explaining to outsiders who asked why we loved Palestine was as impossible as explaining why we loved someone. Because it’s Palestine, would have been the natural answer. Regrettably, we have now entered a new phase whereby we need to respond to this question—asked from within our own ranks no less— with more compelling reasons. We now need to persuade supporters of the Syrian opposition who have always supported Palestine in the past, that liberating Palestine takes precedence over overthrowing the Syrian “regime”, or why imperialism and settler colonialism is a graver threat than internal repression.
But the imperialism versus authoritarianism debate is itself rooted in a deeper divide over the meaning of Palestine for Arab activists and intellectuals. As I wrote previously, Syrian oppositionists and some Third Wayers (assuming they still exist) “misunderstand the extent of Israel’s iniquity by locating it solely in Zionist aggression, human rights violations or in the circumstances of the occupation. The resistance camp conceives of Israel as the greatest injustice because of its very existence and the unprecedented nature of its oppression, which renders it not merely a human rights cause, but humanity’s cause.”
The difference in outlook became all the more stark to me when I read this description of the BDS movement and its priorities, by Ali Abunimah founder of the highly commendable website, Electronic Intifada:
Rather than fetishising “statehood”, the BDS campaign focuses on rights and realities: it calls for an end to Israel’s occupation and colonisation of all Arab lands conquered in 1967; full equality for Palestinian citizens of Israel; and respect for and implementation of the rights of Palestinian refugees.
Although I am a huge supporter of the BDS movement and see it as a necessary complement to the armed struggle, and although I agree with the movement’s refusal to “fetishize” statehood, I take issue with its priorities as well as its willingness to settle for a truncated state with 1967 borders . Yes, Palestinian rights are of utmost importance and the Palestinian people are indeed subject to the grossest form of oppression and injustice which requires our collective efforts, but my unit of analysis is Palestine, not only the Palestinians.
When I think of Palestine, the people are of course a leading component but not the only component of this concept. Palestine is, as Seyyid Hassan Nasrallah alludes to it, “not just the blood of a man, the fate of a woman, the crushed bones of a child, or a piece of bread stolen from the mouth of a poor or hungry person. It is the issue of a people, a nation, a fate, holy places, history, and the future.” Palestine is the land and the people, past, present and future generations. If we are to limit our understanding of Palestine to Palestinians then we would be forced to relinquish the Palestinian cause and to betray future generations of Palestinians, if the their elected representatives chose to abandon armed struggle and satisfy themselves with a Bantustan comprised of 22% of historic Palestine.
More than this, Palestine not only needs us, but we need Palestine: it is the identity that once united us, the direction that guides our moral compass, the cornerstone of our political principles, the lens required for our awareness and understanding of imperialism, and a strategic necessity for the freedom and self-determination not only of Palestine, but of the entire region.
When I confine my understanding of Palestine to Palestinian individuals, I am effectively renouncing my need for Palestine. When Palestine is relegated to a human rights’ cause I open myself to the argument made by the Syrian opposition camp, that Palestinian blood is no worthier than any other Arab blood (itself a flawed argument). When individual Palestinians are my unit of analysis rather than the trans-historical concept of Palestine, I also open myself to the charge—made by some supporters of the Syrian government who withheld support from Hamas in the recent Gaza war — that Palestine is no longer a priority given Syria’s higher death toll and Hamas’ abandonment of Assad.
The only way we can ensure the Arab and Islamic world’s ongoing commitment to the Palestinian people is by making Palestine our unit of analysis and point of departure. And while we should never fetishize a truncated statehood, we should fetishize resistance and liberation for there is no other way to free the Palestinian people or the people of the region from the plague of Zionism.
There can be no denying that the PA’s attainment of UN non-member observer status for a Palestinian micro-state is a public relations victory which successfully capitalized on the Palestinian resistance’s recent military victory . Moreover, Israeli and US officials’ hysterical responses, particularly Livni’s depiction of this victory as a “strategic terrorist attack”, also makes it something of a political defeat and a source of humiliation for the Zionist entity.
Having said that, the move has created cognitive dissonance for many supporters of Palestine who fear it could be used as a strategic weapon against longer term aspirations for full statehood (whether pre-‘67 borders or pre-‘47 borders). Joseph Massad has written the most comprehensive and persuasive critique of the statehood bid arguing over a year ago that “Whether the UN grants the PA status as a state or refuses to do so, either outcome will be in Israel’s interest.”
More confusing still, is how divided Israeli media has been over the danger this development represents, with some belittling the significance of the statehood bid’s success and others decrying it. Most illuminating is the op/ed below written by Sever Plocker for the November 30 edition of Yedioth Ahronoth, entitled “THE VOTE IS ALSO GOOD FOR US”. The implications of this piece are more disturbing still when one recalls Khaled Mishaal’s recent [and considering Hamas’ military success, completely uneccesary] concession to Christian Amanpour on CNN ” I accept a Palestinian state according to 1967 borders with Jerusalem as the capital, with the right to return.” Mishaal also implied in the interview that he would be willing to recognize Israel once this Palestinian mini-state [22% of historic Palestine] was established: “I want my state. After this state is established, it — besides its standing toward Israel, don’t ask me when I’m in prison and under pressure, under Israeli pressure. You cannot ask me, as a victim, what is my stand toward Israel. I have mentioned my stand when there is a Palestinian state…”
Excerpts from the Yedioth Ahronoth piece:
“The nations of the world did just vote in favor of the Palestinians last night. They also voted in favor of Israel. In favor of a sovereign, independent Israel, separate from Palestine, separate from the Palestinians. By giving recognition to the Palestinian state, the UN gave, for the second time since the end of World War II, its repeated recognition of the Jewish state.
The PA delegation formulated its request in diplomatic language that left no room for doubt: the Palestinian people request to establish for itself a state in West Bank and the Gaza Strip based on the 1967 borders that will live in peace alongside Israel. The sensitive issue of Jerusalem was not mentioned in the operative section of the request and remains open to negotiations between the sides. The same for the issue of the final borders and the settlements.
The resolution passed by the UN is not anti-Israel. It is only seen as such by Israelis who are opposed to the idea of two states. In practice, this could serve as the jumping-off point for pulling the peace process out of the mud. True, unilateral steps are never the best solution, but the recognition that the world conferred last night on the Palestinian state does not constitute a major injury to Israel’s vital interests. We can live with it and even derive benefit from it. The benefit—including to Israel —is in setting a new opening point for negotiations: between two nation-states and not between an occupying nation and a national entity living under occupation. The gaps have been reduced in a non-violent way. That, in and of itself, is positive.
In the last few years, the Israeli government in general, and the foreign minister in particular, waged an intimidation campaign against the idea of UN recognition of the Palestinian state. We scared ourselves good, at least up until last week, when official spokespersons began to mightily spin the propaganda wheel backwards in a desperate attempt to explain that the devil wasn’t all that bad. And indeed it isn’t: the only concrete danger that the intimidators can mention is the hypothetical appeal of the PA to the International Criminal Court in The Hague.”
The author neglected to mention that the ICC issue is no longer even hypothetical considering that the Palestinian Authority has given assurances, that in exchange for recognition of a tiny sliver of Palestine, it will not hold Israel accountable for its war crimes by means of legal instruments like the ICC. As the Guardian reports:
“Palestinian officials said Britain and the US had pressed Abbas to sign a confidential side letter, which would not be presented to the UN general assembly, committing the Palestinian Authority not to accede to the ICC.”
In the final analysis, the non-member observer status does not appear to be much of a game changer and may even be detrimental to the longer-term objective of a one state solution in ALL of historic Palestine if the fate of Palestine remains in the hands of Mahmoud Abbas and Khaled Meshaal. The only real guarantee of Palestine’s liberation is a unified resistance movement that does not abandon its raison d’étre or principles. In other words, what is required for real Palestinian statehood is Islamic Jihad’s expansion both in size and military power, and for a break to occur within Hamas’s ranks, specifically between the external Doha-based leadership and the Gaza leadership, or for Hamas’ military wing, al-Qassam, to split from its political wing. As the example of Hizbullah demonstrates, a resistance movement that is effective and capable of scoring strategic victories and retrieving land needs to be a military movement with a political wing and not the reverse.