If Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas is to be believed, the Annapolis peace conference “will be a historic opportunity to open a new page in the history of the Middle East based on the establishment of our independent Palestinian state”. But this seems more like wishful thinking. For aside from being more concerned with preparing the ground for the approaching attack on Iran than with resolving the Palestinian Israeli conflict, the conference is subject to a set of limitations that combine to lower its threshold and shrink its potential.
The first of these is Bush’s letter to former Israeli Prime Minister Sharon of 14 April 2004 which was ratified in both houses of the US Congress. The document confers full American backing for Israel’s positions regarding refugees – who would be settled outside Israel’s borders in contravention of UN resolution 194, which demands their immediate return to their homes – and illegal settlements, since as it states “In light of new realities on the ground, including already existing major Israeli population centres, it is unrealistic to expect that the outcome of final status negotiations will be a full and complete return to the armistice lines of 1949.” In other words, Palestinians should accept Israel’s expropriations as a fait accompli.
The second is the demand that Arabs recognise the Jewishness of the Israeli state. This would effectively wipe out the existence of over four million Palestinian refugees. It would mean the legitimisation of the forced expulsion of hundreds of thousands of Palestinians by Zionist gangs and militias in the lead up to, and after the establishment of the state of Israel and possible ethnic cleansing of the remaining 1.5 millions inside Israel.
This is the thrust of the Israeli foreign minister’s recent statement that “It must be clear to everyone that the state of Israel is a national homeland for the Jewish people,” and that “the future Palestinian state would provide a solution to Palestinians worldwide – including Israeli Arabs – in their struggle for national expression. Coming from one of the most senior officials in the Israeli government, this signals a move towards the transfer policy championed by many within the Israeli political class.
Responding to Livni’s words, Ahmed Tibi, the Arab Knesset member, declared that the minister “is preparing the ground for the expulsion of Arab citizens from Israel…the Arabs were here before Livni and will be here after her”. Mohammed Barakeh, another MK retorted “the Palestinian Arabs in Israel live in their homeland. They did not immigrate. It is the state that immigrated.”
On the core issues at the heart of the conflict very little will be said: viz, the occupation, settlements, separation wall, refugees’ status, and Jerusalem. Instead, we will hear much on the coming of the “viable Palestinian state”, an amorphous shapeless and faceless notion devised to divert attention from the real issues on the ground. This is one of history’s greatest fallacies; a “state” founded with no distinct boundaries, no coherent territory, no freedom of movement, no control over borders, water, airspace or communications, no economic viability, no military, and not even the right to forge alliances without Israeli permission.
A handful of scattered cantons enclosed by Israel from all sides, this “state” had been invented to fulfil a crucial task: the regulation of the indigenous population’s movement internally – much like the colonial administrations of old. What it amounts to in the final run is a collection of security services devised to relieve the Israeli military machine of the Palestinian burden. Yitzhak Rabin used to wish that he would awake in the morning and find that Gaza had drowned in the sea. Oslo was his chance to do just that.
Palestinians have been chasing this ghost, this endless mirage since Madrid 16 years ago, all in vain. The foggy entity keeps shrinking by the hour. Today, all that Palestinians have been left with is much less than 12% cent of historic Palestine and only 10% of land occupied in 1967, with 30% of prime agricultural land annexed in the Jordan Valley for a border with Jordan, and 9.5% expropriated from the West Bank for the wall, the military buffer zones around the Israeli settlements, the restricted reservation areas, the security checkpoints, and all the Israeli-only roads. Palestine is gone and all that remains is the “viable Palestinian state”.
It is time that Palestinians broke free from this deformed reality in which they have embroiled themselves, where prisoner turns into jailer in a bigger Israeli jail. For the truth is that all are prisoners in a prison whose keys lie in an Israeli hand. They must regain their unity, reject this sick state of schism and self-mutilation, and rebuild bridges between the West Bank and Gaza on the shared ground of opposing occupation, dismantling settlements, demolishing the Apartheid wall, and returning the displaced to their homes through a civil protest movement and the mobilisation of international public opinion in their favour.
It is time they shook off the suicidal illusion of statehood. Had the Algerians, Vietnamese, or any of the nations whose lands were occupied throughout history viewed their reality through the prism of the “viable state”, they would have never wrested land and sovereignty and never founded a state. Liberating land and freeing sovereignty are the way to the state and not the other way round.
First Published in The Guardian, Tuesday 27 November 2007