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Bill Pfaff's current thoughts on the situation in Israel/Palestine

TO: Distinguished Recipients
FM: John Whitbeck
 
Transmitted below are Bill Pfaff's current thoughts on the situation in Israel/Palestine.
 
Bill sees not the slightest glimmer of hope -- and it is difficult to argue that this is not an entirely rational way to view the situation. However, exceptionally, I do not agree with all aspects of what Bill has written here. Specifically, he suggests that the "only hope" for the Palestinians if they were to choose to pursue, by non-violent means, full democratic rights in a unitary state in all of historical Palestine "would be that Israel would actually impose a regime of national discrimination and apartheid". I would argue that this is, in fact, an accurate description of the current regime -- and has been for almost 60 years in the portion of the country conquered in 1947/1948 and for over 40 years in the portion of the country conquered in 1967. Post-Oslo, this reality has been effectively camouflaged (albeit increasingly less effectively so) by subcontracting out certain functions of repression (and the provision of certain basic services which cost money) to a "Palestinian Authority" which, while it was initially launched with good intentions and genuine hope (at least among most Palestinians, including those who served in it), has become thoroughly corrupt, collaborationist and capitulationist, the effective servant of the enemies of the Palestinian people rather than of the Palestinian people it purports to serve.
 
Bill also appears to assume, at least implicitly (as does Uri Avnery, another old friend whom I also respect immensely), that, even if democratic, non-racist states with equal rights for all are the ideal everywhere else, it is pure folly to even think of such a thing in Israel/Palestine because Israeli Jews would never, ever, not-in-a-million-years tolerate living in such a state, which would be the antithesis and negation of political Zionism. Of course, they may be right. However, one can certainly recall other "isms" in which many people believed passionately during the 20th century which are now recognized to have been tragic mistakes -- not simply for those who found themselves in their paths but also for those who embraced them. Furthermore, it must surely be morally and ethically depressing to argue that racism and the need for racial supremacy are irremediably hardwired into the genes of Israeli Jews, to the point of being more important than life itself, and that nothing, not even evident self-interest, could ever produce a constructive evolution in such attitudes and worldviews.
 
In this context, I concluded an article of mine published in December as follows: " Israelis might wish to talk to some white South Africans. The transformation of South Africa's racial-supremicist ideology and political system into a fully democratic one has transformed them, personally, from pariahs into people welcomed throughout the region and the world. It has also ensured the permanence of a strong and vital white presence in southern Africa in a way that prolonging the flagrant injustice of a racial-supremicist ideology and political system and imposing fragmented and dependent 'independent states' on the natives could never have achieved. This is not a precedent to dismiss. It could and should inspire."
 
I certainly would agree with Bill that things can always get worse -- and, in Israel/Palestine, usually do -- but I do not see this as a reason to abandon all hope that things could ever be much, much better -- and not even to try to make them so.
 
I would also argue that there is another, alternative hope as to how Israelis might react if the Palestinians were to return to seeking a unitary democratic state --a sudden, desperate embrace, as the only viable way to avoid a democratic nightmare, of precisely the course of action which Bill characterizes, in the concluding paragraph of his article, as an "unthinkable solution" and might equally well have characterized, along with democracy, as an "impossible dream".
 
At least in my view, perpetuation of the apartheid status quo is a virtual certainty if "business as usual" (the illusory "peace process" on Israeli/American terms) continues to be the "only game in town" -- and nothing better will ever be achieved unless the Palestinians dare to seek something better. Both a decent two-state solution and a democratic one-state solution may seem -- and may be -- impossible dreams, but I believe strongly that it is time for the Palestinian people to seize the initiative, to set a new agenda and to make a determined effort to achieve one or the other -- and that the road to both is the same: demanding democracy and pursuing that demand by non-violent means.
 
Given the assymetry of power, the choice will be Israel's. So be it. Let Israel make it. It is time.
 
 


The Desperate Choices before Israel, the Palestinians, and the U.S.

William Pfaff


Paris, March 5, 2008 -- The stalemate between Israel and the Palestinians, which implies collapse of the American policy commitment to a two-state solution of their conflict, is now all but complete.

Israel confronts alternatives that it considers foreclosed and unacceptable – even unthinkable. Its troops reentered Gaza Tuesday night because Hamas was already claiming victory in Gaza, just as Hezbollah did after Israel invaded Lebanon and was forced to withdraw with unexpected losses, leaving Hezbollah strengthened. 

The rocket fire against Israel from Gaza continued, now using relatively sophisticated weapons with a range of some 12 miles, able to reach the city of Ashkelon, with a population of 120 thousand. There was a pause in Israeli military operations Tuesday when Condoleezza Rice was in Israel, long enough to allow her to give a speech in favor of peace. 

Mahmoud Abbas, the PA president, confined to the West Bank territories, has been forced by Palestinian opinion to suspend contact with Israel and cooperation in Condoleezza Rice's Annapolis project for agreement on a two-state solution "this year." 

U.S.-Israeli policy has been to punish the Palestinians because they gave victory to Hamas in the parliamentary elections of 2006, while simultaneously raining blessings and gifts on Abbas in order to convince the people that to support him is the only way to win a semi-independent Palestine. The policy has failed.
The secret operation by the U.S. last year to destroy Hamas dominance in Gaza – revealed at length by David Rose in the April issue of Vanity Fair magazine – actually produced Hamas's total takeover of Gaza. It further strengthened the organization's claim to be the only Palestinian group truly committed to national liberation – however unconvincing that claim may seem as a practical proposition. 

Abbas has been able to supply no blessings for the West Bank Palestinians. Not a single Israeli military blockade inside the West Bank has been lifted since the Annapolis conference, despite promises made there. Promised development projects have not arrived. The Israeli colonies on Palestinian territory have continued to expand, again contrary to Annapolis agreements, since rockets never ceased being launched into Israel from Gaza.

The choice made by Israel's Olmert government has been the familiar one of trying to destroy all resistance -- and as in Lebanon (twice), and now again in Gaza, it is getting them nowhere.

The sheer desperation of the Israeli leadership at what may be called the trap they deliberately walked into, when they decided to take and keep the Palestinian territories in 1967, was made keenly evident February 29 when the vice minister of defense, Matan Vilnai, warned that the rockets being fired from Gaza could bring down a "shoah" on the Palestinians in retaliation. His press people hastily claimed mistranslation; the word in Hebrew does not, they said, mean in Israel what it means everywhere else.

Many Palestinians now despair of the possibility of obtaining a separate state, however attenuated its sovereignty. The proposal now made is to dissolve the Palestine Liberation Authority, throw down arms, give up resistance to the conquerors, and make themselves, in Shakespeare's words, 'naked before thine enemies.' 

They would revert to their original post-1967 condition, before the Oslo accords, when they were a conquered and occupied people under the absolute control and legal responsibility of Israel. Those who argue this course say the Palestinians could then demand democratic rights as forced residents of the state which occupied their land in 1967 and has since been annexing increased portions of it. 

One assumes that they would do this with no expectation that they would be granted such rights, which would terminate Israel's existence as a Jewish state, giving it an Arab electoral majority. 

Their only hope would be that Israel would actually impose a regime of national discrimination or apartheid, which these Palestinians would like to think the United States, the European Union and the UN would not tolerate. That is the assumption upon which the strategy rests.
 
In view of what all three have tolerated until now, this would seem a foolish hope. It is what the French call the "politique du pire" – making things so bad that they have to get better. But they don't have to; they can always get still worse, as vice minister for defense Vilnai impetuously recalled.

Stalemates never last. There are alternatives. The Palestinians could throw themselves into what might be called the Final Intifada -- an act of collective nihilism. The Israelis could accept the bitter need to negotiate with Hamas.

Or the Israelis could go home. They could shut down the colonies, withdraw all their settlers and their troops, and go back behind their 1967 borders. The could even build a new wall on those borders. Then their future and permanence as a Jewish state could be assured. They might expect eventually to lose all, or most, of their enemies. But this, today, remains what I referred to as the unthinkable solution.
 
© Copyright 2008 by Tribune Media Services International. All Rights Reserved
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