Apr 13th 2012

The Politics of Palestine

by James J. Zogby

Dr. James J. Zogby is the President of Arab American Institute
It may still be possible to imagine a just political resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. But, in the real world, politics is not the work of our imagination. Rather it is about power, those who have it and how they use it. Politics, at the end of the day, is not about what we hope for or what we believe is just. Instead, politics is about what we can get with the power we have and are willing and able to use.

It is a sad fact that many of those with power have done everything possible to effectively block a just resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. To date, their efforts have succeeded resulting in creating a deeply deformed situation in Israel, in Washington, and in the occupied Palestinian lands.

In Israel, hard-liners have won the day. Decades of illegal settlement and "Jewish-only" road construction, the erection of an oppressive barrier wall/fence, land confiscation, demolition of Palestinian homes, and the free reign that has been given to a radical fringe allowing them to seize land to build and expand "outposts" deep in Palestinian areas—all have combined to profoundly distort the map of the West Bank.

Just this month, the Israeli government flaunted its own legal system refusing to close down an illegal "outpost" that had been built on Palestinian-owned land. And even when they did evacuate a home in Hebron that had been seized by extremist settlers in an act of provocation, the Prime Minister sought to inoculate himself from criticism by announcing that he would begin construction of hundreds of new housing units between Bethlehem and Jerusalem—two cities that had once had a synergistic relationship, but have now been effectively severed one from another. Add to this the recent report that appeared in Ha'aretz revealing that Israel's Civil Administration has been "secretly setting aside" an additional 10% of the West Bank for settlement expansion, and it becomes increasingly difficult to even imagine how and where one would establish a Palestinian state.

It is not just the current hard-line Israeli government that is at fault, since all of these policies have been at work without interruption for the past 45 years. And there is no hope for change in sight. Polls show that in any future election, Israeli voters would elect a government that would pursue policies that are much the same, if not worse.

While Arabs have long imagined that this sorry state of affairs could be arrested "if only America or the 'international community' would act to restrain Israel,” reality has been sobering. Hope, for example, had been placed in President Obama's early commitment to find a solution to the conflict, but these hopes have been dashed. Seeing the U.S. President "schooled" by the Israeli Prime Minister and then watching the U.S. Congress embrace Netanyahu, humiliating their own President, was a shocking eye-opener.

With the White House tamed and, at least for the foreseeable future, out of the game of peace-making, the politics of Washington has turned to other issues like the economy, Iran, and November elections. And in this mix, Palestinians and their rights don't rate even a blip on the nation's radar screen.

Equally disappointing have been Palestinian efforts to turn to the United Nations. Here the strong arm of the United States (prodded by Israel and its U.S. supporters) has effectively blocked initiatives to have Palestinian rights recognized or to stop Israeli violations of these rights.

Over the past 45 years, this sorry state of affairs has taken a substantial toll on the Palestinians. With the Oslo process, two and one-half decades of a brutal occupation only gave way to an equally harsh reality. During the pre-Oslo occupation, the major sources of Palestinian wealth were poorly paid, humiliating day-labor jobs in Israel, and producing commodities for sale through Israeli middle men. Now these are gone leaving the Palestinian economy largely dependent on foreign aid. Palestinians live in an Apartheid-like system, trapped in isolated cantons surrounded by barriers to commerce and travel, increasingly squeezed by ever-growing settlements and encroaching roads that now cut the West Bank into pieces. The Palestinian metropolis of Jerusalem, once their center of cultural, social, and economic life, has now been severed from the West Bank. And Gaza, always destitute (it is one of the most densely populated, poorest places on earth), has become strangled by a blockade, its people despairing.

All this has impacted the Palestinian society, leaving their economy dependent on various external sources and their leadership divided, lacking in imagination. As is the frequently the case, one further consequence of long-term humiliating oppression has been inward turning violence and other forms of aberrant and sometimes self-destructive behaviors.

Efforts to correct this situation have so far been frustrated by some Palestinians who have not wanted to cede what little power they have or outsiders who have used their financial or political hold to squash both moves toward Palestinian unity and efforts to mobilize a national non-violent resistance movement.

In the face of power so ruthlessly and irresponsibly exercised to squash hope for change, there are still those who not only continue to imagine a just peace, but are organizing to achieve it. They differ on tactics and even on goals. Some advocate boycotts, divestment, and sanctions, others promote non-violent direct action in the occupied lands, or organizing politically to change Washington. Some actively support two states; others are advocating a democratic one-state solution. But where they are united is in a refusal to accept the current state of affairs, be it the oppressive system that has been imposed on the occupied lands, the dysfunctional politics of Washington, or the interference and crippling paralysis that has stymied Palestinian action. They imagine a just solution, and know that it will only be achieved if they organize to secure the power that will be required to make change real. They need to make what they imagine real.

 

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