maandag 18 mei 2009

Civil rights, the only issue that counts

I heard Steven Friedman from South Africa and American Palestinian Ali Abunimah at a meeting organized by the Dutch Committee for Palestine (Nederlands Palestina Komitee) last Saturday. Friedman, whom I met in Johannesburg two years ago at the house of a common friend, is a columnist with Business Day, researcher at the Institute for Democracy in Johannesburg and visiting professor of politics at Rhodes University in Grahamstown. Abunimah is writer of a book, One State, and cofounder of the Electronic Intifada.
Both of them are in favour of a one state solution of the problem of Israel/Palestine. I was not beforehand aware of it, although I could have been if I had listened better to what Steven and his friend Virginia Tilley told me during that shabbat evening meal we had in Johannesburg and if I had paid attention to what Abunimahs book was all about.
I'm not sure whether I'm in favour of a one state solution. I've always been for the establishment of an independent Palestine alongside Israel, but gradually I've come to the conclusion that it's probably not feasible anymore. Not geographically, and not because it will never be accepted by an Israeli majority. Nowadays I wouldn't object to equal rights for Palestinians in a one state model anymore, although it still is not my favourite solution.
But Friedman and Abunimah presented pretty convincing arguments, I have to admit. Abunimah pointed out that the so called peace process has been underway for such a long time that children who were born at the time it started are going to university by now (which is true if one takes Madrid 1991 as a starting point), while at the same time nothing at all has been achieved. Also he stated that a whole community of people - politicians, diplomats and others in Israel, Palestine and elsewhere - have developed a vested interest in this process over time. Consequently - and with some justification - he referred to this community as the 'peace industry' (I myself used to refer to it as the 'peace circus', but peace industry, equivalent of Finkelstein's 'holocaust industry' is fine with me).
His second observation concerned the terms in which a two state solution usually is described. He choose a rather recent paper by Brent Scowcroft, security adviser of former president Bush I, for an example. In it Scowcroft spoke of a state 'based upon' the borders of June 1967 (Abunimah: if one watches a tv-play 'based upon a true story' one is all too much aware that it is not the true story itself). The solution should take into account the population developments on the ground (Abunimah: meaning that the settlements have to stay) and ought to be accompanied by land swaps to which both parties had to agree. This state should be demilitarized and in order to guarantee the safety of Israel it should be patrolled by troops provided by NATO,together with contingents of Egyptians,Jordanians and .... Israeli's (Abunimah: in other words: the troops that now are occupying Palestine should continue their occupation after this so called state came into being).
Even more damning was Abunimahs observation that surveys may continue to show that a majority of Israeli's is still in favour of a two state solution, but that if one goes into details like: are you in favor of the borders of '67, would you relinquish East-Jerusalem and do you agree to the evacuation of the settlements, 90% is against.
Abunimah's conclusion: the two state solution as it is advocated in loosely defined terms by a majority of Israeli's and the international community, in in fact more of a stumbling bloc than a stepping stone on the way to a solution. His solution therefor is: a campaign for equal - civil - rights for all the inhabitants of Palestine and the refugees, while at the same time pointing out how Israels racial supremacy is based on oppression and persecution (he argued that the 1,5 million Palestinians from 'within' Israel by now are pretty much in the same boat as those outside it). This campaign for civil and human rights has to be accompanied by boycots, de-investments and sanctions (bds), executed by the international community.

Friedman gave a picture that was as convincing in a different way. As a South-African he watched from nearby how in the nineties the white consensus, which seemed as solid as could be about maintaining the apartheid, started to crumble after the whites became pariahs in the rest of the world. Not armed struggle, not a process from within, but isolation did the trick. It simply became too costly to continue the situation as it was. Friedman: Nobody wants his sports teams to be boycotted, to be isolated culturally, to be in a position that oil and other commodities have to be smuggled in because of the sanctions.
And why are these discourses so convincing? Just because the alternatives look so hopeless. The peace camp in Israel, tiny as it used to be, has all but vanished. The right won the elections very convincingly the last few times. The left, or what used to be called the left, is not only shrinking rapidly but has also discredited itself twice (Labor as well as Meretz) by not opposing the wars against Lebanon and Gaza in 2006 and 2008. The trend, in other words, is not towards peace, but in the opposite direction. In this situation of stagnation and worsening perspectives a bds campaign which focuses on the oppression and lack of rights of the Palestinians is a kind of last resort for real leftist Israeli activists and a means that might appeal to the conscience of the outside world and therefor come off the ground. A campaign, as Friedman said, for democracy and equal rights for all, because in the end that's the only thing that really counts. And would that as well be a campaign for a one-state solution? 'Yes,' Abunimah said in answer to a question from the audience. 'Yes, maybe. But if a two-state solution would result from it instead, we might be happy with that too. Look at the website, it doesn't state any preference.'

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