ICAHD

Thoughts by Jeff Halper following travels in Europe

Jeff Halper, Director of ICAHD, has travelled since the new year to Norway, Finland, France, Belgium and Luxembourg. He summarises impressions and thoughts from his encounters below.

There is clearly something moving in Europe regarding the Israeli/Palestinian conflict. Public opinion throughout the Continent, always wavering between guilt over the Holocaust and a strong commitment to human rights, has clearly shifted to the Palestinians. Though criticism is growing in the EU _ in February the EU Heads of Missions in Jerusalem and Ramallah released at damning report on settlement construction which, in their view, is _systematic, deliberate and provocativeeand remains the biggest single threat to the two-state solution,_ even recommending sanctions on Israel _ both the EU and its member governments remain far behind public opinion in their own countries.

During my meetings in the Foreign Ministries of Norway and Luxembourg, I asked them what would have to happen to convince them that the two-state solution is dead. Their answer was always clear and concise. They stated that the Palestinian Authority (which we know keeps alive the pretence of negotiations between two _sides_) would have to resign or collapse. I said that it is indeed likely that the PA will collapse and asked them _what then_? The parliamentarians were adamant that the governments would still not adopt a one-state solution and would merely increase their humanitarian aid to the Palestinians.

Given that governments will not act effectively to end the Occupation (they engage in conflict management, not conflict resolution), it is up to civil society to formulate actual solutions and to develop campaigns that pressure governments to adopt them. Thatas the way it works. At the moment we are _between solutions._ Almost everyone who knows the Occupation on the ground, Israeli policies and it government dynamics realizes that the two-state solution is over. But our Palestinian partners, who must ultimately provide the direction, have not yet shifted to a one-state solution; it is not an automatic default position. Since they are engaged in a national liberation struggle, the two-state solution offers them the only opportunity for gaining even a modicum of self-determination. Like Gramsci who spoke of _the pessimism of the intellect and the optimism of the will,_ so, too, do Palestinians seem torn between the realization that a Palestinian state will not emerge and the reluctance to give up that aspiration.

But rather than mechanistic formulae, it is time to imagine what political form the Middle East could assume that would address the cultural needs, political aspirations and economic concerns of all the peoples of our conflict-torn region, an area containing dozens of national, cultural, religious and political communities, not just Israeli Jews and Palestinian Arabs. My tour with Mazin helped me crystallize some ideas _ and I do believe we are in a preliminary stage of envisioning our future, of identifying the sources of conflict and trying to suggest political frameworks that address rather than suppress them. Hopefully that stage wonat take too long _ we are in the midst of political crises that demand urgent attention _ but thorough venting of the problems and brainstorming over how to solve them must precede concrete plans and solut ions.

Many of our Palestinian partners are still (understandably) shying away from going beyond the two-state solution, and from brainstorming with even critical Israelis. This is a luxury that we cannot afford for long, for if we do not formulate our version of a just peace in the region, governments will, and justice will be their last consideration.

Iam now in the process of writing up my ideas, a fusion of activism and theory (anthropologically-based and _grounded_) that may constructively contribute to that debate, as it did when Mazin and I tried out our ideas with one another. For the moment, let me just share a progression I think is called for: (1) a democratic but bi-national state in Palestine-Israel to address the immediate sources of that specific conflict; (2) because the basic issues facing us are regional in scope (security, economic development, conflict resolution, refugees, water, the strengthening of inclusive polities and civil societies), we need to look beyond the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to an economic confederation comprising Palestine/Israel, Jordan, Syria and Lebanon; and (3) ultimately we should work towards a regional confederation of cultures that reflects be tter the actual social composition of our region than do states.

For me at this stage of our struggle for a just peace, ICAHDas advocacy efforts are more about engaged envisioning between Israelis and Palestinians, brainstorming and engaging the public than on _selling_ a particular solution _ though an agreed-upon solution or at least direction is urgently needed.

Jeff Halper, founder and Director of Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions (email jeff@icahd.org)

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