Note: Labor for Palestine and the US Palestinian Community Network are co-endorsers of this statement. To sign on, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
June 23, 2010
In the year and a half since Israel’s massacres in Gaza, the Palestine solidarity movement, for fifteen years weakened by the two-state “Peace Roadmap” of the 1993 Oslo Accords, has gone through what can only be described as a major political recalibration.
After years of meaningless “peace negotiations,” the aim of Oslo — a “Jewish state” on 78 percent of historic Palestine and a rump “Palestinian state” on the remaining 22 percent — is rapidly losing whatever credibility it may have once had among Palestinians. Indeed, outside the Palestinian Authority, created by Oslo to serve Israeli interests, it is hard to find any Palestinian voices advocating for such a solution with conviction.
From the ruins of Oslo have emerged new campaigns with holistic goals. The most significant of these has been the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanction (BDS) movement, initiated and overwhelmingly supported by Palestinian civil society.
This campaign seeks to address the entire spectrum of what BDS leader Omar Barghouti describes as Israel’s “three-tiered system of oppression against the Palestinian people”: the 1967 occupation of Gaza, the West Bank and East Jerusalem; the denial of Palestinian refugees’ right of return; and the systemic discrimination against Palestinian citizens of Israel.
These BDS demands present a direct challenge to the Zionist regime of Jewish domination over the Palestinian people. The same goals have generated growing support for the principle of a single, democratic state throughout all of historic Palestine. Even longtime two-state supporter Mustafa Barghouti concedes, “I believe the vast majority of Palestinians would accept equal rights and one person, one vote in one state with alacrity. I certainly would were we to reach such a day.”
Outrage over Israel’s atrocities in and against Gaza — including the recent assault on the Gaza Freedom Flotilla — has dramatically infused these ideas into the international Palestine solidarity movement, thrusting the Palestinian struggle in the world spotlight as perhaps never before. Despite attempts of its opponents to tar it with the brush of anti-Semitism, BDS is increasingly advocated throughout the world, often by Jewish activists.
Zionist organizations have noted these developments with alarm. The Reut Institute, a leading Israeli think tank, recently warned that support for BDS is based on a “set of ideas that are increasingly sophisticated, ripe, lucid, and coherent,” which, if not aggressively countered, could lead to a “paradigm shift from the Two-State Solution to the One-State Solution as the consensual framework for resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.”
Meanwhile, some in the solidarity movement seek to limit or even oppose BDS. They claim that it is “unrealistic,” or even morally undesirable, to advocate BDS goals that challenge the separate “Jewish state” envisioned by the “Two-State Solution.” Although those who argue this include courageous critics of Israeli policy, their position here is deeply flawed.
First, the principle of self-determination means, above all, that decisions about what is or is not “realistic” belongs to those who live under oppression, rather than their sympathizers — however well meaning. “As in the struggle against South African apartheid,” writes Omar Barghouti, “genuine solidarity movements recognize and follow the lead of the oppressed, who are not passive objects but active, rational subjects that are asserting their aspirations and rights as well as their strategy to realize them.”
Second, is there any social justice movement that has not seemed “unrealistic” or even impossible? Yet, circumstances change rapidly and unpredictably; what was fantasy yesterday often comes true tomorrow. It is enough to remember the long decades that preceded the abolition of slavery, the civil rights victories of the 1960s, or the collapse of colonialism and apartheid in southern Africa.
Third, the “Two-State Solution” is itself realistic only as ratification of a fractured, Israeli-controlled Bantustan; a “Two-Prison” solution, as Palestinian activist Haidar Eid bluntly describes it. This has been the Israeli and U.S. goal since the beginning of the “peace process”; indeed, anyone looking to catch glimpse of a future Palestinian “state” need look no further than the systematic strangulation of Gaza and continued “Judaization” of the land on both sides of the 1948 “Green Line.” In that sense, the most dangerous aspect of this solution is precisely that it is possible.
Finally, “pragmatism” at the expense of justice is always an illusion. As Martin Luther King Jr. famously pointed out, true peace is not merely the absence of tension, it is the presence of justice. An apartheid state built on the notion of Jewish supremacy in an Arab land cannot be part of that vision of justice; on the contrary, it promises unending oppression and conflict.
Although it would be naive to expect an imminent collapse of this state, the genie is out of the bottle. If King was right — that the arc of the “moral universe” does indeed bend toward justice — there is reason to be confident about the movement’s long-term prospects.
Now more than ever, it is time for the solidarity movement to align itself with the growing number of Palestinians in the 1967 occupied territories, the refugee communities, and within the 1948 lands calling for a single democratic Palestinian state of all its citizens from the river to the sea.
This cannot happen until all those and their descendants who were driven from their villages and cities in 1948 by terror, force and massacre are able to return and live in freedom and equality in all of historic Palestine. For those interested in true peace, that is the only pragmatic option.
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Al Awda New York