The claim that we in Palestine/Israel find ourselves in a historical moment, at a “fateful crossroads,” sounds like a worn cliché. How many historical moments have we entered and passed through, seeming without fateful consequences, in the past century and more? The illusion that nothing is final, that the occasional “crises” in the Middle East can be weathered without lasting effect, arises from following events on a purely political level: conflicts, negotiations, peace plans, initiatives or policies of one leader or another.
A wider view that includes the “facts on the ground” presents a far different picture. The radical physical transformation of Israel/Palestine that took place in 1948 has been extended and deepened in Israel’s concerted campaign to impose a permanent “Matrix of Control” over the Occupied Territories (Halper 2002). In this, I would argue, it has succeeded. The demolition of 12,000 Palestinian homes since 1967; the “quiet transfer” of more than half a million Palestinians from West Bank, “east” Jerusalem and Gaza since the Occupation began; the relentless process of “judaization” that has transferred more than 90% of Palestinian lands into Israeli hands; the construction of a vast web of settlement blocs, Israeli-only highways and “by-pass roads;” the literal imprisonment of millions of Palestinians behind Separation Barrier (called a “Wall” by the International Court of Justice), while preventing their free movement among their dozens of enclaves by means of an external and internal “closure;” pursuing policies of impoverishment, infrastructural destruction and de-development; the instituting of military orders that affect every detail of Palestinian life, of discriminatory laws and Kafkaeque planning and administrative procedures; coercing thousands of Palestinians into collaboration, thereby undermining the fabric of their own society; employing State Terror on a massive scale to break the will of the people – all these constitute irreversible and accumulative “moments” more uncompromising by far than political or even military ones.
The passing of Arafat was heralded as the beginning of a new era offering promising opportunities to resolve what British Prime Minister Tony Blair called “the single most pressing political challenge in our world today.” Hardly was Arafat in his grave than Blair and President Bush solemnly announced their commitment to revitalize the moribund Road Map. That many accept this as heartening news is understandable. The diplomatic paralysis of the past four years has sown deep-seated despair among the peoples of Palestine and Israel, as well as among advocates and activists, local and international, working for a just peace in the region.
From a perspective grounded in the physical transformation of Israel/Palestine, however, a very different assessment emerges. Israel’s aggressive policy of establishing permanent “facts on the ground” shows no sign of abating. Settlement construction continues apace. The population of Ma’aleh Adumim, a settlement-city controlling both “Greater” Jerusalem and north-south Palestinian movement in the West Bank, will grow from its present 30,000 to more than 70,000 in the next five years. Israel is planning an entirely new city of 55,000 in its first stage, Givat Yael, on the lands of Wallajeh between Jerusalem and Bethlehem. Three ultra-orthodox cities — Beitar Illit to the west of Bethlehem, Tel Zion near Ramallah and Modi’in Illit, an extension of the city of Modi’in to the west of Ramallah – represent the fastest growing settlements. The construction of the Wall, accompanied by massive land expropriation and population transfer, also continues. The most recent revelation of Israel’s intentions to remain in permanent control of the West Bank is the plan unveiled in September, 2004, for an $80 million network of Palestinian highways, including sixteen “passages,” bridges or tunnels that give the Palestinians “transportational” but not territorial contiguity, this preserving Israel’s own exclusive network of settler highways. But these are merely additional “security nails” in the coffin of a viable Palestinian state. If Sharon appears forthcoming, a statesman genuinely interested in achieving peace with the Palestinians, it is only because he has completed his program of reconfiguring the country to an extent that a genuine two-state solution has been rendered impossible. Israel could easily relinquish most of its settlements and much of the occupied territory without endangering its control in the slightest.
To be sure, Israel’s Matrix of Control could be dismantled if the required political will existed in the international community. Sharon is certain that it doesn’t. Still, given the definition of “occupation” in international law as a temporary military situation that can only be resolved through negotiations, that danger always exists. Sharon therefore needed extra insurance; he needed to transform the Israeli presence in the West Bank and East Jerusalem from an occupation into a permanent political fact recognized and accepted by the only party that matters, the United States. That was accomplished in June, 2004, when the American Congress endorsed, almost unanimously (407-9), the Bush-Sharon agreement of April. Israel, according to this agreement now made part and parcel of American foreign policy, would not be required to withdraw to the 1967 lines as part of any future peace process. Nor would it be required to abandon its major settlement blocs (which the congressional resolution calls “major Israeli population centers in Israel”), a blatant laundering of the settlements’ patent illegality. This radical shift in American policy effectively nullified UN Security Council resolutions 242 and 338, the agreed-upon basis for resolving the conflict, which calls on Israel to withdraw from the territories seized in the June 1967 war in return for security guarantees from its Arab neighbors. It also contradicted the Road Map which calls for an end to the Occupation, the establishment of a viable Palestinian state and negotiations. By removing the settlement blocs from negotiations, Congress and the Bush Administration in effect reduced the territory left for the Palestinians to negotiate to only 70-80% of the West Bank — a truncated 10-15% of the country. The policy of “creating facts on the ground” appears to have won. If that is the case, it would seem that we have indeed reached an historical moment, a fateful crossroads.
For those seeking a just and sustainable peace, this is the bad news. Even if the diplomatic front begins to heat up in the wake of Arafat’s death and the Palestinian (and American) elections, there is no indication that a viable Palestinian state is in the offing. Sharon has completed his campaign to create irreversible physical and political “facts;” all he needs now is the quisling Palestinian “leader” – a “moderate and pragmatic leader” in Israeli code — who will sign off on the Bantustan. And American Empire, in which Israel plays a key role, has been confirmed by Bush’s re-election. Advocates of a just peace have little to hope for from government initiatives. The good news is that the Middle East conflict seems to be acquiring the standing of the conflict endangering world peace and stability. Almost 60% of Europeans polled last year named the Israel as the greatest threat to world peace ( ). The balance is shifting between those who apportion blame for prolonging the conflict on the Palestinians toward Israel. Concern over the conflict’s destabilizing effects on Europe and the “moderate” Arab states, including its linkage to global terrorism and radical Islam, has lent it an urgency in the corridors of power, albeit less so in the US than elsewhere. As for the progressive and activist elements of the international civil society, the Palestine/Israel issue has become downright emblematic. Its “in-your-face” challenge to human rights and international law, epitomized by the outrageous scale, impact and audacity of the Wall, is raising the struggle against the Occupation to the level of the anti-apartheid struggle.
The good news is that the international public is starting to “get it.” For most people, resolving the conflict means ending the Occupation. The unequivocal ruling of the International Court of Justice that “the construction of the wall being built by Israel, the Occupying Power, in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including in and around East Jerusalem, and its associated regime, is contrary to international law,” ratified by a 150-6 vote in the General Assembly, lends strong legal and moral support to international efforts to end the Occupation. So, too, do the calls of the Presbyterian Church in the US for “the initiation of a process of phased selective divestment in multinational corporations operating in Israel” and that of the latest European Social Forum for sanctions on Israel “as long as it continues to violate international law and the human rights of the Palestinian people.”
Unfortunately, however, at the very moment when the iron is hot, when naked Israeli brutality highlights how intolerable and untenable the situation is, when a new pro-active Palestinian leadership is emerging, we, advocates of a just and viable peace, find ourselves paralyzed. We lack an agreed-upon and achievable end-game, not to mention the strategy, organization and resources to realize it. What it is that we are advocating? A two-state solution? Does anyone believe that is still attainable? If not, are our efforts to end the Occupation strategic or are we simply trying to reach negotiations with the strongest possible demands? And with the resumption of negotiations a possibility, how should we engage with the Palestinian leadership, and them with us?
The impetus behind this paper is a concern that we have become “stuck” at the protest-informational stage of our advocacy efforts in which we confront particular manifestations of the Occupation (house demolitions, the Wall and violations of human rights, for example) and generally advocate for an end to the Occupation. We have not yet become an effective lobbying force able to provide strategic support for the Palestinian people and their leaders, as well as for the Israeli peace camp, in their quest for a just and sustainable peace. Although the signs are there that it could happen, we have not yet created a global movement with an operational agenda as did the anti-apartheid forces. This is crucial.
A post-Arafat era might initiate a new, more pro-active political dynamic. But effective leadership of what must be an international effort to defeat Israeli apartheid needs more than a new figure. It needs a new political vision in order to forge an international movement against the Occupation and for Palestinian independence just as effective as the anti-apartheid movement eventually became. This is especially crucial since the Israeli Jewish public, much like the white population of apartheid South Africa, has taken an entirely passive position regarding the resolution of the conflict. While polls indicate that up to 70% of the Israeli public have little interest in maintaining the Occupation, they have been convinced by the leaders of both Labor and Likud that there is no political solution, that they have no “partner” for peace. Faced with what they see as an irresolvable situation, hunkering down in the hope that the Wall and Sharon’s brutal repression will bring relief from terrorism, they have literally taken themselves out of the political game. Like the South African whites, they will not actively resist an end to the Occupation but neither will they take any pro-active steps to end it by electoral means, especially given the complete absence of alternative political leadership to Sharon on either the part of Labor or of the Zionist liberal-left led by the Yahad party of Yossi Beilin.
With formal diplomatic efforts unlikely to lead to a just and sustainable peace, the ball is squarely in the court of the international civil society. Its commitment and energy is not enough, however. Grassroots activists require leadership and direction, first from Palestinians and then from the Israeli peace camp, which they are not receiving. Our collective inability to exploit the present historical moment highlights a need for urgent consultation, intra-Palestinian as well as with Israeli and international partners, leading to effective action. Civil society groups in Palestine, Israel and abroad are all floundering for lack of a coherent agenda, an effective set of priorities, effective joint initiatives. This lack of direction and the malaise it engenders deserve our urgent attention at this historical junction in particular when Israel’s Occupation is at its strongest yet most vulnerable in years. This paper is intended to highlight the obstacles to effective advocacy. Where are we in our struggle for a just and sustainable peace? Where are we going? How are we going to get there? In this time of transition, these fundamental questions become more pertinent than ever.
Where Are We in the Struggle for a Just and Sustainable Peace?
The Present “Default” Approach
What political program are we currently advocating? The two-state solution remains the only program supported by the Palestinian National Authority. Although the PNA has indicated that it is open to certain adjustments, it continues to advance a two-state solution based on a complete end to the Occupation, withdrawal of Israel to the 1967 lines, the establishment of a Palestinian state alongside Israel and resolution of the refugee issue through a “package” of restitutive measures: Israeli acceptance of the Right of Return, acknowledgement of its responsibility in creating the refugee issue and practical arrangements including repatriation to Israel and Palestine, compensation and resettlement abroad.
The “default” approach rests on the supposition that the Occupation will eventually collapse due to its very injustice, continued Palestinian resistance, sumud (“steadfastness”) and international pressures. This hardly represents a “strategy” of advocacy. It is more of a passive belief in, and reliance on, mystical historical processes which, presumably, will lead to a two-state solution or some other satisfactory resolution of the conflict. It is a “process” to be encouraged but not really directed or lead. The default approach explains the lack of effective advocacy coming from the Palestinian leadership, and the whiny tone of Palestinian litanies of wrongs committed against them rather than effective critiques of the political situation and pro-active measures. (A notable exception to this: the challenge to the Wall initiated and directed by Nasser al-Qibewh, the PNA’s representative to the UN.)
Faced with aggressive pro-active initiatives on the part of Israel where terms (“war on terror,” “no partner for peace,” “separation”), programs (“disengagement”) and downright falsehoods (Barak’s “generous offer”) have allowed it to frame the conflict and thereby control the discourse surrounding it, the default non-strategy is obviously inadequate. Two elements of effective advocacy seem to be missing: a vision, or at least an achievable end-game; and an effective strategy accompanied by effective organization. Here a strategic decision must be made: If we genuinely advocating a two-state solution, then it can no longer be merely a default position. It must be pro-actively pursued by the PNA while reaffirming to the activist community that this is actually the end-game. If a viable two-state solution is ajudged to be gone, if it is merely an opening tactical position when negotiations resume, then the Palestinian leadership, together with its civil society allies at home, in Israel and abroad, must formulate a fall-back position – actually the “real” end-game.
Where Are We Going? Towards a “Middle Range” Strategy
A first step towards effective advocacy might be to hold a wide-ranging discussion over possible scenarios, their acceptability, their likelihood of success, and the operational conclusions that arise, a discussion that would bring a much needed “big picture” perspective not only to activists but to the media and general public as well. Palestinian groups do not generally engage in this type of discussion. They either argue that the task before us is the single-minded pursuit of an end to the Occupation through international pressures and resistance, with the practical solution to the conflict to await issues of an actual negotiations, or they advocate one solution or another (a variation on the one-state/two-state theme), evincing little inclination to engage in an academic discussion of theoretical options.
Yet this is far from academic. If, as I would argue that the traditional two-state solution is gone, raising alternative options better prepares the Palestinians for the day when negotiations do indeed resume and radical alternatives to the two-state solution must be formulated, and quickly. It helps ensure that any fall-back position be based on principles agreed upon by the Palestinian and international communities. And in the meantime it encourages activists and advocates to look at the Big Picture.
What, then are the essential elements of any just and sustainable resolution of the conflict, the basis of a Middle Range strategy of advocacy? These include the following:
• National expression for the two peoples. The conflict is between two peoples, two nations, each of which claims the collective right of self-determination. This is what gives such compelling logic to the two-state solution, and which raises questions about the viability, if not acceptability for both peoples, of the one-state idea.
• Viability. Whatever form a Palestinian state takes, it must be viable as well as sovereign. It must control its borders and its basic resources (such as water). It must possess territorial contiguity and, above all, the ability to develop a viable economy. It must have not only the responsibility of resettling and rehabilitating the refugees who choose to return, it must also have the capability. By the same token it must cope with a population of its own, more than 60% of which are under the age of 25, that is traumatized, impoverished, left with little education and few skills. Mere territorial “swaps” that mechanistically seek to preserve the sacred 78%-22% formula, as in the Geneva Agreement, ignore this crucial issue of viability.
• Refugees. Needless to say, any sustainable peace is dependent upon the just resolution of the refugee issue. Israel must acknowledge the refugees’ right of return; it must acknowledge its role in creating the refugee issue so that a healing process may begin; and only then will a just resolution be formulated that takes into account both the refugees right of choice and Israel’s concerns. (Here I believe the confederational approach, mentioned below, holds great promise.)
• A regional dimension. Despite our almost exclusive focus on the Israel/Palestine, the main issues facing both peoples of that country — refugees, security, water, economic development, democratization — are regional in scope and must be addressed as such.
• Israel’s security. Israel’s legitimate security concerns must be addressed. A cardinal problem in negotiations until now has been an Israeli concept of security so broad and used to encompass so many elements of control that it leaves no breathing space for the Palestinians. That cannot be allowed, although the introduction of a meaningful time dimension in the peace process may assuage the basic fears while making it impossible to use “security” as an pretext for continuing occupation.
Defining the essential elements of a just and sustainable peace permits us to formulate and evaluate the range of alternative solutions. They can be reduced to four possible options, with only the last one, I would argue, being truly just and sustainable:
• The traditional two-state solution in which a Palestinian state emerges on all of the Occupied Territories (with minor adjustments). This is today the “default” position of the PNA. I have argued, with others (most notably the Negotiating Support Unit of the PLO and Israeli historian Meron Benveniste), that this option has been all but foreclosed, unless we accept a bantustan-cum-Palestinian state. As suggested above, the degree to which the settlements have expanded and taken root, combined with the degree to which the West Bank has been incorporated into Israel and the reconfiguring of the entire country along a series of east-west axes, together with American recognition of the permanency of the settlement blocs, all eliminate – as they are intended to do – the rise of any viable Palestinians state. I have yet to hear compelling reasoning for the continued viability of this solution, although various Israeli academics and politicians constantly offer “solutions” based on territorial swap, all intended to preserve Israeli integrity plus the major settlements while expecting the Palestinians to accept as-generous-as-possible/as-good-as-you-can-get offers. Although the Palestinians must open any renewed negotiations with their “default” position, the traditional two-state solution, it will soon become evident that it is simply unachievable.
• An “Israel Plus-Palestinian Minus,” an Israeli version of the two-state solution pursued by both Labor and Likud governments, constitutes little more than a Middle Eastern version of apartheid and is thus fundamentally unacceptable. It would permit a semi-sovereign, semi- to non-viable Palestinian state arising between the settlement blocs. The Geneva Initiative of Yossi Beilan and Yasser Abd-Rabo is, in my opinion, a benign version of this. It is presented as a viable two-state solution mainly because it “compensates” the Palestinians by certain territorial swaps. This technical approach is premised on the view that if the Palestinians “receive” a full 22% of the country, regardless of the viability of the territory, the requirements of a true two-state solution are met. It nonetheless leaves the Palestinians with less than a coherent territory, preserves Israel’s major settlements (including East Jerusalem, much of “Greater Jerusalem and the rich farmlands and water resources of the western West Bank) and fails to adequately address the refugee issue. More in conformity to Likud and Labor policies is the idea of a Palestinian bantustan – “cantonization,” to use Sharon’s phrase. Israeli leaders of both parties believe that faced with military defeat, impoverishment and emigration/transfer, political isolation and the “Iron Wall” of Israel’s permanent presence, a “cooperative” Palestinian leadership can be found which would, with certain cosmetic inducements, accept this option. Only cosmetics differentiate between the Likud and Labor approach. The former, loathe to relinquish any of the Land of Israel, believes it can impose a smaller mini-state; the latter, concerned that the bantustan appear “sellable,” advocates a larger but still not fully sovereign or viable mini-state on up to 85% of the Occupied Territories.
• A single state, either bi-national (although the Israeli Jewish and Palestinian populations are too mixed to achieve any territorial discreteness) or democratic. On the surface this seems the most natural alternative to a two-state solution; after all, it arises out of an Israeli refusal to countenance a viable Palestinian state and recognizes that Israel, by its own hand, through its settlement enterprise, has rendered Israel/Palestine one country. Yet as a stand-alone solution it suffers from some fatal flaws. Since it entails the transformation of Israel from a Jewish state into a unitary democratic one (with an almost immediate Palestinian majority even before any refugees return), it will be opposed totally by the Israeli Jewish population and by a significant sector of the international community, the US and most if not all of Europe at the fore.
Although in principle the one-state solution enjoys widespread popular support among Palestinians – it was, of course, the official PLO position for many years — it has severe drawbacks for them as well. One is the fear of becoming a permanent underclass to an Israeli Jewish population that is much stronger institutionally, educationally and economically. Important Palestinian political thinkers (eg. Khatib 2000) do not object to the one-state solution as the culmination of an evolutionary process, but believe that a Palestinian state is a necessary first step in order to achieve some kind of parity, not to mention a measure of self-determination in a state of their own, before the two societies can join. This is a genuine concern, of course, but it underestimates the vital role that the Palestinian Diaspora could play in the nation-building process, a major but neglected factor in the equation. More salient, perhaps, is the argument that having succeeded to finally get the international community to sign on to the two-state solution that has long been reaffirmed in UN resolutions going back to Partition, it is counter-productive to shift to a one-state solution at this stage, especially given the unlikelihood that such an approach would win broad international support. This pragmatic consideration, together with the message that, yes, there is a partner for peace, lay behind the participation of many Palestinians in the Geneva process, more than belief in the two-state solution, the actual content of the Geneva Initiative or hope of its actual implementation.
• A “Two-State Plus” solution envisions an Israeli-Palestinian (and perhaps Jordanian) confederation (later expanding into a Middle East Union encompassing Syria, Lebanon and other states in the region). Since this introduces a crucial regional dimension, it appears to me the only acceptable and workable end-game. It represents a win-win approach that addresses the underlying cause of the conflict yet respects the integrity of each member state. (This is not code for a “Jewish” state, but rather for the integrity of Israel as a state in its own right. Whether Israel eventually evolves into a normal democratic state belonging to all its citizens is another issue, another process, that needn’t concern us here.) Much like the European Union, a regional confederation rests on the balance between national sovereignty and the freedom to live and work within the entire region. It separates, as the traditional two-state can no longer do, the issue of self-determination from that of economic viability.
I also refer to regional approach as a “two-stage solution.” Recognizing that Israel will not return to the 1949/1967 lines and not foreseeing any territorial swaps that will translate into a viable Palestinian state, it asks that the Palestinians accept a state on something less than the entire Occupied Territories (perhaps on the Geneva model or the 96% suggested by Clinton) on condition that, within a reasonable period of time (five to ten years), the international community guarantees the emergence of a regional confederation. In such a confederation all residents have the right to live and work anywhere they choose. This breaks the Palestinians out of their bantustan. Rather than burdening the small emergent state with responsibilities it cannot possibly fulfill, the confederational approach extends that burden across the entire region. It also addresses the core of the refugee issue, which is individual choice. Palestinians residing within the confederation would have the choice of becoming citizens of the Palestinian state, retaining citizenship in their current countries of residence or leaving the region entirely for a new life abroad. They could choose to return “home” to what is today Israel, but they would do so as Palestinian citizens or citizens of another member state. Israel would be under no obligation to grant them citizenship, just as Israelis (former “settlers”) living in Palestine would retain their Israeli citizenship. This addresses Israeli concerns about the integrity of their state while neutralizing the Occupation by integrating the settlements.
Such a win-win scenario also recognizes that because the fundamental problems underlying the conflict are regional in scope – refugees, water, economic development, inter-religious and inter-ethnic conflicts, security and democratization, to name just a few – no sustainable peace is possible without addressing the region as a whole.
And this relates directly to the issue of the end-game. If, as I argue, the regional dimension is essential for a sustainable resolution to the Israel-Palestine conflict, it is not enough to assume (or hope) that the two-state solution will “inevitably” evolve into the necessary forms. Indeed, the very first article of the Geneva Initiative, by far the most liberal and “accommodating” gesture to the Palestinians, states that when signed the agreement ends the conflict and settles all claims and grievances. In Israel-speak this means the end of the process, period. No evolution promised, none intended. Leaving this critical element of the end-game unaddressed only guarantees an unsustainable political arrangement, and end-game (two states) in which the required end is missing.
What is being raised here is what may be called a “middle range” strategy. It goes beyond the current “default” non-strategy by fostering visions of where we are heading, based on an explicit statement of the “red line” elements that must be part of any negotiated settlement. Without committing the Palestinians to a particular solution or undermining the demand to end the Occupation, it allows for initiating pro-active campaigns focused on Israeli attempts to foreclose a just and sustainable solution. This releases us from the limitations of the two-state solution while lending vision, a clear direction, yet flexibility to our advocacy efforts. “Middle range” campaigns contribute measurably to international advocacy by presenting a comprehensive and coherent picture of the conflict to the public, highlighting issues of prime importance, providing direction to activist groups and helping to develop effective strategies of communication and action.
In fact, although presenting a different vision and set of red lines, we might say Israel is effectively employing a “middle range” strategy. It sets out its vision in intentionally limited and short-term frames (the Road Map, “separation,” “unilateral disengagement,” a general “peace,” etc.), it lays down its “red lines” (an end to terrorism, security, claims to Jerusalem and parts of the West Bank, etc.), lending coherency to its claims and objections and policies, but refrains from offering a particular solution out of fear that it would tip its hand before its goal of establishing irreversible “facts on the ground” is accomplished.
How Do We Get There? Towards A Pro-Active Campaign of Advocacy
Any international effort to defeat Israeli apartheid needs a clear, compelling political vision accompanied by an aggressive and well-financed strategy of advocacy. Regardless of whether a new “hot” period of diplomatic activity thrusts the post-Arafat Palestinian leadership into government-based initiatives and negotiations or we remain in prolonged periods of “cold” diplomatic inactivity, the reinvigoration of the international movement against the Occupation is crucial. Effective advocacy empowers the Palestinian leadership in the first instance, while it prevents Israel and its allies from imposing a fait accompli in the second.
An effective action-plan of “middle range” advocacy must fundamentally re-frame of the conflict in order to release an alternative just-peace logic. It must also provide nuts-and-bolts organization and funding.
(1) A fundamental re-framing. Having laid out the essential elements of a just and sustainable settlement, effective advocacy requires them to be placed within a coherent, compelling reframing of the conflict. Israel has succeeded in seizing the framing, one based on “security,” the Palestinians as terrorists, the need for self-defensive and, ultimately, Israel as the victim. In this way it controls the parameters of the discussion, the issues to be addressed and the terms to be used; it controls the logical flow of the discussion and, in the end, its conclusions. Re-framing is not intended to “answer” the Israeli framing. Instead, its purpose is to fundamentally alter the logic and flow of the discussion.
Reframing rests on a number of key re-conceptualizations (for a summary see Table 1):
• Israel as the strong party in the conflict. Israel is able to avoid accountability by presenting itself as the victim. Since victims have no responsibility and enjoy the sympathy extended to the underdog, this permits it to act with impunity despite its obvious political, economic and military superiority over the Palestinians, not to mention its position as an occupying power. Re-casting Israel not only as the strong party in the local conflict with the Palestinian but a regional and even international superpower would enable us to demand accountability. It should be pointed out that Israel’s economy is three times larger than Egypt, Palestine, Jordan, Syria and Lebanon put together, that it is the world’s fourth largest nuclear power and the fifth largest producer of arms, that it possesses nuclear, chemical and biological weapons and has never signed a non-proliferation treaty or agreed to international inspection, that it is by treaty a “strategic ally” of the US and that it is the Occupying Power. This reframing would serve to alter the public’s perception of the conflict, laying the foundations, for example, for a campaign of sanctions. Highlighting human rights violations while disabusing the public of the notion that Israel is in an existential fight for its life opens the way for demands that international law – and in particular the Fourth Geneva Convention – be applied.
• The Occupation as a pro-active policy. Framing its policies as merely defensive responses to Palestinian terrorism while removing even the term “occupation” from the discourse represents one of Israel’s great PR successes. A reframing places the Occupation at the very center of the discussion and then goes on to make a telling point: that the Occupation represents a pro-active claim to the entire country. The major elements of what I call Israel’s “Matrix of Control” – the settlements, the infra-structure of highways that incorporate the West Bank and East Jerusalem irreversibly into Israel, the closure, land expropriation and massive house demolitions, the invasive Wall-cum-border – cannot be explained in terms of security and defense. We must highlight the internal contradictions between Israel’s security framing and its pro-active policies. The struggle should be recast pro-actively as the Palestinian people’s seeking freedom from oppression.
• Israel’s attempt to de-politicize the conflict. Israel’s framing shifts the blame for the continuing conflict onto the Palestinians and the wider Arab world. Barak’s famous line that the Palestinians “are not partners for peace” has had a tremendous impact on both Israeli and international public opinion. It led to the delegitimization of Arafat, and continues to be used to constantly “test” the Palestinian leadership. This framing, like the post-9/11 discourse with which it is tied, presents the conflict as a clash of civilizations, thereby (and deliberately) eliminating any political solution that does not suit Israel’s interests. Insisting that the conflict is a political one between two peoples prevents a self-serving mystification on Israel’s part, while placing the Palestinians on equal footing.
• Forthcoming Palestinian and Arab peace offers: Israel’s claim that it is engaged in an existential fight for its life is a powerful elements in its framing of the conflict, but ignores, of course, the Palestinians’ repeated recognition of Israel within the 1949/1967 boundaries in which they relinquish their political claim to 78% of historic Palestine. Calling attention to the Palestinians’ “generous offer” is crucial in off-setting the political mileage Israel has gotten with Barak’s (mythical) “generous offer”. Such a recasting also calls attention to the peace treaties Israel has with Egypt and Jordan, formal and semi-formal ties with most of the states in the Middle East, North Africa and the Muslim world and, not least, the 2002 Saudi Initiative in which the Arab League offered Israel regional integration if it would relinquish its Occupation. Casting Israel as the recalcitrant party in terms of giving up its Occupation for peace and regional integration is a key to reframing.
• Shifting to a win/win rights-based approach. A major obstacle to addressing the Palestinian-Israeli conflict is the extreme partisanship and emotionalism it calls up. Employing a discourse of human rights and international humanitarian law avoids the emotional claims and counter-claims, the charges of anti-Semitism, the obfuscation in general. Because human rights are universal and internationally agreed-upon, they provide a useful basis for evaluating a situation and highlighting the sources of injustice and responsibility. And since Israel is the strong party pursuing a pro-active policy of expansionism in violation of international law, they provide the instruments by which Israel can be held accountable.
A rights-based approach is also valuable when addressing the issue of terrorism, a central elements of Israel’s framing. It asserts the inadmissibility of attacks on civilians, thus highlighting not only on non-state “terrorism from below” but also the much more deadly state terrorism “from above.” Indeed, in terms of the security needs of all the parties to the conflict, a reframing of the solution that insists on conformity to the Fourth Geneva Convention, UN resolutions, international law and human rights conventions provides the most effective “road map” to a just – and ultimately win/win — resolution.
• An emblematic conflict with global impact. In terms of connecting to the wider public, one of the first questions we must address is: Why should I care at all about this conflict? My aim here is not to dictate a script, but I would only suggest a framing that brings the international public into the equation. Presenting the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as emblematic serves this purpose. Its significance as an arena in the struggle between American Empire and the incipient forces promoting human rights and international law should be highlighted. Here a fundamental question should be introduced: What if, in the glare of the mass media, on the southern border of Europe, as a direct consequence of American policy, the Occupation actually prevails? What if an entire people is literally imprisoned in a new bantustan and the world is confronted with a new apartheid? For American audiences in particular, this question should be supplemented by considerations of the conflict’s negative impact on the global standing of the United States. How does the deep American involvement in sustaining the Occupation impact, for example, on “the war on terror” that so preoccupies the American public?
Advocates for a just peace have a hard “sell,” much harder than did the anti-apartheid movement. Not only do they have to contend with images of the Arabs (and especially the Palestinians) as terrorists, compounded infinitely after 9/11, but they face a moral framing that makes compelling sense: Jews as victims fighting once again for their existence in a little state arising from the ashes of the Holocaust. Zionism – and by extension Israeli policies that are carefully couched in terms of religion, rights, security and a historical debt to the Jews — enjoys a legitimacy completely lacking in the case of apartheid. Israel has succeeded in framing the conflict in the public mind in a way that absolves it of all responsibility and places the blame squarely on the Palestinians. Indeed, critics of Israeli policies are accused of anti-Semitism, a reversal of the anti-apartheid struggle wherein opponents of the regime were seen as supporting the forces of liberation and anti-racism. All this obliges us to re-frame the conflict and overcome a powerful reluctance to pressure Israel, requirements that, on the surface at least, the ANC found less problematic.
(2) Organization and funding. Finally, a pro-active middle-range strategy of advocacy requires much better organization and funding. This means, at a minimum, better coordination, the establishment of forums for ongoing strategizing, the development of focused and strategic campaigns,
• Tightening Coordination. A middle-range approach fostering focused, pro-active, coordinated international campaigns rivaling Israel’s own sophisticated PR efforts would rejuvenate the network of NGOs, faith-based groups, journalists, academics and government officials that stand by the Palestinian cause. As in the “default” approach, the demand to end the Occupation would lie at the center of such campaigns, while alternative scenarios would be raised, discussed and evaluated in public forums, no specific post-Occupation plan would be advanced. We might hope that the PNA would adopt as directed a role as the Israeli government does, running an expansive network of lobbies (AIPAC being the most prominent and effective), ambassadors, consuls, religious groups, NGOs, journalists, university professors and students – indeed, entire governments (an “Israelization” of American foreign policy has been commented upon frequently, most recently by General Zinni in relation to Iraq). That being unlikely, we could at least demand the appointment of an International Civil Society Coordinator. That would ensure that campaigns and actions would conform to the PNA agenda, while giving latitude to activist groups. Related to this is a pressing need for better Palestinian representation in the world’s capitals and other influential places. The access to decision- and opinion-makers that such steps would offer would make our collective work all the more effective.
Important steps have been made to better coordinate the working relations among the hundreds of civil society groups involved, directly or indirectly, in the Palestinian issue. Numerous conferences and meetings have been held on key issues, and the World, European and Mediterranean Social Forums are increasingly used as forums for meeting, coordinating and strategizing. It seems imperative, however, to re-establish the International Coordinating Committee on Palestine (ICCP), which until the mid-1990s worked out of an office in Geneva. The International Coordinating Network on Palestine (ICNP) set up by the Division of Palestinian Rights of the UN aspires to provide such a framework, but has not yet crystallized as an effective body. Other global frameworks, perhaps located within the World Social Forum or in other venues, should also be explored and developed.
On a regional level, the regional coordinating committees that once existed should be reinvigorated or re-established. A European Coordinating Committee (ECCP) exists in Belgium and is headed by Senator Pierre Galand, but needs additional leadership and invigorating. North America, Latin America, Africa and Asia all lack Coordinating Committees. (With 120 member organizations, the US Campaign Against the Occupation could fill the function of a USCCP if it would expand its mandate from an exclusive focus on American government support for the Occupation to include support for the advocacy efforts of Palestinian, Israeli and European organizations.) Without such coordinating frameworks the myriad individuals, groups and organizations involved in the Palestine issue will find it have difficult to transform a global but unwieldy network of activists into a mobilizable and focused movement reminiscent of the movement against apartheid. It is necessary Palestinian and Israeli groups have ways in which to interface with their international partners.
• Forums for Strategizing. Next, we must create effective forums for collective strategizing. The weakness of the PNA in providing leadership for the civil society requires first and foremost a forum for intra-Palestinian discussion involving Palestinians “inside,” the refugee communities and the Palestinian Diaspora. Here the various voices would be heard and lines of strategic campaigning, if not a definitive end-game, could be thrashed out. Perhaps spokespeople and representatives better able to articulate the Palestinian case, to advance it in the halls of power and to guide non-Palestinian activists and advocates would emerge from this pool. At some point the discussion should open up to include Israeli (and Diaspora Jewish) partners in the struggle for a just peace. With all due respect to hesitations to “normalize” relations with Israelis, a liberation movement unable to differentiate between genuine partners in the opposing camp and unreliable interlocutors severely limits its range of effective action.
In this the Palestinian Diaspora could play a major role. The refugees in the camps, poor, isolated, fragmentized, virtually invisible and having the largest stake in the outcome, have been largely excluded from active participation in the national dialogue and in the different diplomatic initiatives. The far-flung Palestinian Diaspora abroad, traditionally an educated and affluent community, well connected and plugged into the international scene far more than the PNA, able to press and even challenge the Palestinian leadership in a way the Palestinian NGOs “inside” cannot do, has been for the most part passive (occasional solidarity meetings and a few outspoken intellectuals aside). This is understandable given the reluctance of immigrants to speak out, especially Muslim Palestinian Arabs in the hostile post-9/11 atmosphere. This only heightens the role that international activists must play, unless a core group of Palestinian intellectuals and activists, if not the PNA itself, takes a more pro-active stance (recognizing the important Diaspora voices that do exist).
• Developing Focused and Strategic Campaigns. Once a structure of advocacy is set in place, an effective set of campaigns, focused on the most relevant issues and target populations, well coordinated, with the potential of turning into a global movement, may be launched. Here, not only does the question of the end-game enter in, but the very centrality of the Occupation itself as the focus of the resistance and advocacy efforts. Activist groups in Israel and abroad, lacking an over-arching campaign and strategy, pursue a myriad of issues of great importance, but not ones that will actually bring an end to the Occupation. The campaign against the Wall, resisting home demolitions, harvesting olives, boycotting Caterpillar, lobbying to suspend the EU-Israel Association Agreements, monitoring checkpoints, accompanying Palestinian children to school – all these and more justly highlight the sins of the Occupation but, collectively, do not constitute an effective and coherent campaign to resolve the conflict. On the contrary, they often come dangerously close to what Paulo Freire refers to as “dumb activism.”
What is called for are strategic “meta-campaigns” that highlight the Occupation and the human rights violations it involves, Israeli accountability and the responsibility of the international community towards the Palestinians. Such meta-campaigns might include : a campaign to apply the Fourth Geneva Convention to the Occupied Territories; a campaign against apartheid; a campaign to freeze Israeli construction in the Occupied Territories; a campaign to stop Israel’s use of US weapons against Palestinian civilians; and, not least, a campaign of divestment/sanctions. None of these meta-campaigns need replace, of course, important micro-campaigns and actions against particular manifestations of the Occupation such as house demolitions, settlement expansion or the building of the Wall.
If anything characterizes grassroots organizations, it is the lack of resources. While it might not be appropriate for the PNA to fund campaigns and activities (especially non-Palestinian ones), funding is an issue that must be addressed.
Providing Support in Times of “Hot” Diplomacy
One of the greatest handicaps we face is trying to formulate coherent and effective strategies when alternating dramatically between “hot” and “cold” periods of diplomatic activity. Israel, of course, has always been interested in delaying a final settlement indefinitely. Sharon is on record as preferring a “long-term interim agreement.” That said, Israel after Arafat also has an interest in nailing down the Palestinian Bantustan. It has spent almost four decades creating “facts on the ground” that foreclose the establishment of a viable Palestinian state. In June 2004 it shepherded through the American Congress an almost unanimous ratification (407-9 in the House) of the Bush-Sharon understanding that Israel would not be required to withdraw to the 1967 lines, nor would it be required to abandon its major settlement blocs (which the Congressional resolution tellingly calls “major Israeli population centers in Israel”). All that remains is to find the Palestinian leader willing to sign off on the Bantustan (with, perhaps, cosmetic improvements). So what we might expect is a “hot” period of diplomatic activity as long as Israel’s control remains basically unchallenged, alternating with long “cold spells” (formaldehyde” to use Weisglass’s metaphor) when Israel wants to put pressure on the Palestinians or when developments do not go its way.
A strategy of advocacy during the interstices of the diplomatic process has been outlined above. But what should we do during periods of diplomatic activity? Probably more of the same. If we have done our work well, the logic and parameters of the Palestinian negotiating position should be known and understood by the international public. But in order to maintain public support, especially in light of Israel’s sophisticated PR, the Palestinian leadership must communicate with us. I have written on why the Palestinians rejected Barak’s “generous offer,” but until this day we have no authoritative explanation from the Palestinian negotiators themselves. That has got to change. Although it is the PNA who will do the negotiating, civil society support will be crucial in order to “level the playing field” and ensure a fair process. It is to be hoped that in the post-Arafat era the Palestinian leadership understands this.
Grassroots activists – Palestinian, Israeli and international alike – play a critical role in a political process that pits a powerful state against an occupied people possessing only a limited governmental authority with no sovereign territory. Their energy and commitment is not enough, however. They require leadership and direction, first from the Palestinian leadership, then from Palestinian civil society and finally from the Israeli peace camp, all of which they are not receiving. Our collective ability to exploit the present historical moment calls for urgent consultation, intra-Palestinian as well as with Israeli and international partners, leading to effective action.
It is hoped that this paper will generate constructive discussion and action. A middle-range approach that generates a pro-active strategy of advocacy has the ability to become a global movement akin to the anti-apartheid struggle. Under Palestinian guidance but in coordination with the Israeli peace movement and international activists and advocates, it must provide direction, effective forums for strategizing, reframing and the formulation of focused and strategic campaigns. It must impart a vision, principles, red lines and alternative scenarios. These are critical steps at this historical moment. As the old slogan has it: When the people lead, the leaders follow.”
Journal for Palestine Studies, January 2005
Benveniste, Meron 2000 Sacred Landscape: The Buried History of the Holy Land. University of California Press.
Halper, Jeff 2004 Beyond Road Maps and Walls. The Link 37(1):1-13.
—- 2002 The Matrix of Control. In The Other Israel: Voice of Refusal and Dissent. Roane Carey and Jonathan Shanon (eds.). New York: The New Press.
Khatib, Ghassan 1999
(Jeff Halper, an anthropologist, is the Coordinator of the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions . He can be reached at .)
Table 1: REFRAMING THE ISRAELI-PALESTINIAN CONFLICT
Presented by Jeff Halper, ICAHD
The Israeli Framing
• The Land of Israel belongs exclusively to the Jewish people.
• Since Israel is the victim fighting for its existence, it is exempt from accountability for its actions.
• “Both sides” must end the conflict.
• Israel’s policies are based on concerns for security.
• The Arabs don’t want peace.
• The problem is Arab terrorism.
• The Palestinians are our enemies.
• Israel is willing to give the Palestinians a state on pieces of the Occupied Territories.
• States (Israeli government/ Palestinian Authority) have a monopoly over negotiations and the setting of terms of peace.
• Israel has a right to use all the means at its disposal, military as well as political, to achieve terms suitable to its interests.
• The answer to anti-Semitism and the conflict with the Arabs is a militarily strong Israel aligned with the United States.
• Israel’s treatment of Palestinians is an internal matter. Internationals should stay out. The Peace and Human Rights Framing
• Two peoples reside in Israel/Palestine and each has rights of self-determination.
• Israel is a major regional superpower that must be held accountable for its actions.
• There is no symmetry of power between the sides.
• Israel pursues a pro-active policy of expansion into the Occupied Territories based on settlement and control.
• The Palestinians recognize Israeli sovereignty over 78% of the country; the Arab world has offered Israel regional integration.
• The problem is Israel’s Occupation and Israeli state terrorism. Palestinian terrorism is a symptom of oppression.
• Israeli and Palestinian civil societies work closely for a just peace. We refuse to be enemies.
• A Palestinian state has to be viable and truly sovereign, not merely a bantustan.
• Only states negotiate, but civil society plays a key role in monitoring the process, making certain that they conform to human rights, international law, justice and a sustainable peace.
• Only a solution based on human rights and international law ensures a win-win solution.
• Only respect for human rights, regional integration and a universal struggle against racism will effectively address anti-Semitism and Israel’s security concerns.
• In a world of human rights, Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians should be the concern of everyone.