Palestine statehood bid signals long struggle ahead for equal rights

My following piece is published today on ABC’s The Drum:

Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas returned from New York to occupied Ramallah on the weekend as “an Arab leader of significant standing“, according to writers from the liberal Israeli paper Haaretz.

The Abbas speech in front of the United Nations, calling for the international body to formally recognise the state of Palestine, allegedly slotted well into the narrative of the Arab Spring:

“Abbas succeeded in giving the Palestinians some hope”, the Haaretz journalists stated. “Following the failure of armed struggle and the freeze in negotiations, Abbas offered them a third way: a diplomatic struggle in parallel with peaceful ‘resistance’.”

The response inside Palestine was mixed but certainly a number of people welcomed the Palestinian Authority’s supposed robust defence of their rights. President Barack Obama’s speech at the UN was the exact opposite, endorsing indefinite paralysis.

Yet it was largely ignored that Palestine’s ambassador to Lebanon said last week that the millions of Palestinian refugees in the Diaspora would not automatically become citizens in a newly created state of Palestine.

Such a position fundamentally contradicts a just resolution of the conflict.

Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu gave his own speech at the UN last week but it was a cliché-ridden mish-mash of paranoia, bigotry and Holocaust insecurities, none of which befit a man leading the fourth largest army in the world.

It was rightly seen by Haaretz columnist Gideon Levy as the clearest indication yet that the Israeli leadership had absolutely no intention of establishing a two-state solution.

In fact, Netanyahu’s obsession with maintaining the illegal colonies in the West Bank is ensuring a one-state equation and the de-facto end of the Zionist “dream”.

This is something anybody who believes in the concept of equality before the law should celebrate; Zionism inherently discriminates against non-Jews and the Abbas statehood bid indulges the dangerous fantasy that Palestinians should accept a tiny fraction of historical Palestine to appease the nation with a nuclear weapon and super-power backing.

A number of progressive voices in America found the Abbas speech moving, a rare moment where the corporate media had little choice but to listen to a moment about ethnic cleansing, occupation and human dignity. And even I can’t deny the symbolic importance of seeing an Israeli leader so isolated internationally by belligerently declaring that colonisation was a natural right, even responsibility, of the Jewish people.

Not surprisingly, Murdoch’s Australian chastised Abbas for even raising his voice and calling for justice; those uppity Arabs should know their place, serving American and Israeli interests.

The world saw two, competing visions for a future Middle East, Netanyahu and Abbas, yet only one of them resides legally in office (and that person isn’t Abbas, his term in office expiring some time ago).

Whenever “saving” the two-state solution is discussed, an air of unreality permeates the discussion. It is a dangerous fantasy that argues the problems only emerged after the 1967 war and the establishment of settlements in the occupied territories. As Palestinian writer Ghada Karmi argued in the Guardian last week:

“As… things stand, the danger is that international endorsement of the current statehood proposal will make it the benchmark for all future peace negotiators, and entrench the idea that partitioning Palestine unequally means justice. True friends of the Palestinians should oppose this application and support their struggle for real justice.”

Partition would merely entrench the discrimination.

In Sydney this week I heard a key spokesperson from the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement, Rafeef Ziadah, who rightly explained that the struggle for equal rights for all citizens in Palestine – Jewish, Muslim, Christian, atheist or anything else – should threaten the concept of Zionist exclusion. BDS is the legitimate move, wholly backed by international law, to end the occupation, implement the right of return of Palestinian refugees and allow full rights of Arabs inside Israel.

A two-state solution would merely codify these inequalities and the Palestinian Authority, led by Abbas, has spent two decades negotiating (un)equally with a side that has no intention of granting the indigenous population even the most basic human rights.

Too often we refuse to examine what Israel and its Zionist Diaspora colleagues have created in the West Bank. A system of apartheid actively protects the interests of the colonist over the Palestinians in their own land (this recent video shows the kind of impunity enjoyed by settlers). Fundamentalist Zionism is one of the great achievements of the Israeli state and ultra-nationalists are funded, armed and defended by the full weight of the Zionist entity. Abbas has no plan to eradicate this threat.

Moreover, foreign Jewish militants are allowed to enter the West Bank to allegedly protect settlements. The extremist Jewish Defence League is just the latest bunch of bigots that Israel now attracts within its borders.

The Zionist Diaspora is silent over these abominations in an effort to provide “support” for Israel.

The thinking was revealed once again last week when I was approached on a bus by a Zionist lobbyist who used to send me hate emails. He asked if he could sit down and talk. I agreed and we engaged politely for a few minutes. He said he believed that any public criticism of Israel would weaken Zionism and I had to remember that anti-Semitism was everywhere, so in this logic a “weak” Israel was one that couldn’t handle critical comments from a Jew in Sydney.

It turned logic on its head – Israel has most of the world’s Western politicians on a string and yet paranoia in the Jewish community runs rampant – and displayed the increasing moral panic that only knows how to repeat tired mantras about Nazis under the bed (once again seen during this country’s sordid BDS “debate”).

This is the collapse of a moral, mainstream Jewish position on Palestinian self-determination.

The Western-backed PA, a corrupt institution reliant on foreign aid to survive, compounds it. Its economy, praised by ignorant Western visitors who enjoy the relative comforts of Ramallah, is a bloated privatised enterprise assisting very few. The Palestine Papers revealed the duplicity of PA leaders who were willing to give away the most sacred aspects of the Palestinian cause, including territory in East Jerusalem. The PA even wanted to block implementation of the Goldstone Report into Israel crimes against Gaza during Operation Cast Lead.

The Netanyahu government wants American funding to the PA to continue because it knows full well that its American-trained shock troops are essential tools in the maintenance of the occupation. This is the PA “vision” for Palestine.

Instead of seeing the UN statehood bid as breathing new life into the moribund two-state solution, it should be seen as the death of it. These are the two issues of over 500,000 Jewish settlers in the occupied territories and an Israeli government that has enjoyed ever-deepening financial and military ties with Washington; Newsweek reports this week that soon after Obama came into office he sold Israel bunker-buster bombs designed to strike Iranian nuclear sites.

The only positive outcome of the statehood bid would be a global realisation that America (and its trusty lap-dog Australia) has no desire to fairly resolve the conflict. Internationalisation threatens the decades-old, cosy relationship between a crack dealer known as Washington and an addict known as Zionism.

We could do far worse than listen to the wise words of Israeli-born Miko Peled, son of a key Israeli military man, Matti Peled, who is currently in Australia explaining that his country of birth must radically reform its heart and soul. His thinking was transformed after finally meeting Palestinians under occupation.

“As an Israeli that was raised on the Zionist ideal of a Jewish state”, he says, “I know how hard it is for many Jews and Palestinians to let go of the dream of having a state that is exclusively ‘our own’.”

No US president, Zionist leader or Australian politician has come up with any coherent argument to counter the coming reality, due to Palestinian population growth and settlement expansion, of a minority Zionist leadership ruling over a majority Palestinian population in a land where just separation is incompatible with true democracy.

The PA statehood bid is the beginning of a longer struggle for recognising the rights of the Palestinian people in their entirety, a future to be secured through BDS and a local and international campaign of action that highlights the impossibility of partitioning a nation with a colonised, Zionist mindset.

Antony Loewenstein is an independent journalist and the co-founder of Independent Australian Jewish Voices.

Text and images ©2024 Antony Loewenstein. All rights reserved.

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