Thoughts on Zasloff and Palestine

I read Jonathon Zasloff’s recent post regarding the People’s Voice plan with some dismay. Its not just that I disagree with the plan on several fronts (specifically demilitarizing Palestine, a unilateral move that effectively strips the future country of sovereignty and ignores the fact that its neighbor is a military superpower), what really bothers me is that anyone can envision or support a political future for Abbas. If one thing is clear in the aftermath of the Gaza slaughter, it is that Mahmoud Abbas’s career is effectively over, and the degree to which it is not is only a measure of continued American and Israeli undemocratic influence on the political representation of Palestinians. I’ve pasted my email to him below, but before that I also have some comments on his latest piece, “Parole the Palestinian Refugees.

This post deals with the population of Palestinian refugees in countries neighboring Israel/Palestine. Mostly this is about Palestinian refugees in Lebanon, who have lived as second class citizens and suffered from attacks both by Israelis (their occupation fo Southern Lebanon lasted until 2000) and the Lebaneses (the Sabra and Shatilla massacre, enabled by the IDF, was carried out by Lebanese Christian Phalangists).  

Claiming that the US should actively participate in the peace process by “providing a home for thousands of Palestinian refugees” strikes me as manipulative and opportunistic. It is aimed to curry favor with the Palestinian disapora by alleviating the ongoing pain of refugees in a totally indirect manner. But it also helps Israel by removing the legal right of return for those Palestinian refugees who end up in the US. This move would also further isolate Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza.

Fundamentally, this plan shows disregard for the emotions and humanity of Palestinian refugees. Yes they want to live under better physical conditions, but that doesn’t mean that sweeping them under the rug is appropriate, or even that they would accept it. It only means that the illegal actions that created their situation need to be remedied fairly, in a process that actually considers their desires. While many would jump at the chance to emigrate to the US (even cultural isolation and losing the last shred of hope for a return to your homeland is better than nothing), I’m sure that if you simply asked them what remedy they desired, they would put US citizenship far below returning to their homelands (or even to the occupied territories), if they even thought of it at all. And that’s why the claim that “this would be a humanitarian step of the highest order” really rings false to me. It reminds me of the kind of thinking that Western Europe and the United States engaged in after World War 2 when dealing with the issue of Jewish refugees (oh lets just send them here, or there, just Not In My Back-Yard). The humanitarian thing to do would be to fix their problem in a manner that reflects their desires and entails equal compromise on both sides. The fact is that you can’t just move Palestinians around on a map like you would pawns in a chess game, and you can’t assume that peace can be achieved without listening to the Palestinian side, and legitimately considering what they want. They don’t want to go to the US, they want to go home. 

Anyways, what I wrote to him about the People’s Voice accord (and politicians running on it to jumpstart peace talks) is after the jump.

1. My main sticking point with the plan is the idea of demilitarizing Palestine. This seems to echo the failed US idea of insisting that other countries not gain nuclear weapons while sitting on the world’s largest stockpile. It hasn’t stopped other countries from turning indignant and bitter, and it certainly hasn’t stopped them from trying and succeeding anyways. I don’t see that general pattern failing when it comes to a demilitarization of Palestine, especially if their security is entrusted to precisely the countries and world bodies that have failed them since the British Mandate. Military power is a critical part of true sovereignty, and Palestine would deserve that as much as Israel does.

Its not that I want Palestine to be an armed country, or to use military means to achieve anything, but it seems very unfair and impractical to insist on a demilitarized Palestine while its 60-year occupier stands ready with the Middle East’s most formidable army and the only nuclear weapons in the region. Whatever Israel fears an armed Palestinian state might do, Israel will probably always be the more formidable military power, and whatever it might reasonably fear will probably not be any worse than what Palestinians continue to fear the Israeli government might do to them (a fear based on experience). 

And lastly, the insistence on demilitarization strikes me as an indirect endorsement of the crude claims that Palestinians are not capable of self governance, etc. 

2. Mahmoud Abbas’s name is now worth less than dirt in both Gaza and the West Bank and any proposal that he campaigns on will probably fail. His behavior during the Gaza attacks was truly shameful and plainly politically motivated, and even people who have suffered a great deal under Hamas now refuse to have anything to do with Abbas. I’m not sure whose candidacy would carry The People’s Voice but the next two logical choices would be Mustafa Barghouti and Marwan Barghouti (two people, unrelated, who might win the next presidency). But I don’t think either is interested in what is right now an idealistic and inappropriate measure with serious flaws like the one mentioned above. And that’s also presuming Marwan will be released before Olmert’s term is up.

3. The mood among Palestinians is justifiably not focused on the two state solution right now. It is focused on rebuilding Gaza, the blockade, national unity, the land grabs in East Jerusalem which are eliciting organized strikes across the occupied territories, and some type of international justice regarding the claims of war crimes during the attack. Moreover, it is still not clear that land-swaps and monetary compensation will be a panacea for all problems. The People’s Voice seems like a plan well worth considering during times of peace, and one that might even pass under better circumstances, but before fundamental justice on some basic pressing issues, it seems like a far away dream. 

4. Even in Israel, public sentiment seems to have abandoned the 2 state solution for now. Only 32% of Israelis support the creation of a Palestinian state at the moment, 51% oppose. Looking at its language, its certainly possible that the question was primed, but nevertheless this is a disheartening result for those interested in two states. Also, Bibi is on the record calling for Palestinian economic zoneshas said he wanted to retain control over 50% of the West Bank, and wants to deny Palestine 4 basic rights of sovereignty: control of its airspace; control of its electromagnetic spectrum; the right to maintain an army and to sign military alliances [already discussed above]; and, most importantly, control of the border crossings where arms and terrorists could pass.” That he and his party do not recognize the Palestinian state’s right to exist further highlights the insanity and hypocrisy of the situation (Hamas must recognize Israel but Likud doesn’t need to recognize Palestine). I’m not pretending that Israelis during better circumstances aren’t actually somewhere left of Netanyahu, but I’m sure he will be in power for at least a few years, and the land-grabs and settlement expansions already underway will undoubtedly leave the prospects for two states in further shambles whenever he is finally out of office. 

And its not just Likud that doesn’t support 2 states (or recognize the Palestinian right to exist). Kadima and Labor have had horrendous track records on the peace process, and the fact that Livni and Barak were the main voices and engineers of the recent slaughter is just another indication of the lack of daylight between the three main Israeli political parties (I’m generously counting out Avigdor Lieberman’s Yisrael Beteinu).

For these reasons, even totally ignoring the physical realities in the way of The People’s Voice, I don’t see it as a viable plan in the next few years. 

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Filed under Politics, Rahim

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