CIVIL SOCIETY AS WATCHDOG IN THE ISRAELI-PALESTINIAN NEGOTIATIONS
By Jeff Halper (3 September 2010)
Civil society is a blunt instrument. As “public opinion” we form a vague background to government decision-making and as voters we have a broad – but only broad – effect on who is in power and what policies are pursued. Occasionally sections of us can be mobilized, less focused in the case of Glenn Beck’s “Restore Honor” rally in Washington, more focused as in the BDS campaign of boycotts, divestment and sanctions against the Israeli Occupation. But we are excluded from actual decision-making; we will not be part of the secret negotiations beginning Sept. 2nd between the Israelis and Palestinians.
Still, we have clout, and we will be a crucial element in eventually forcing governments to arrive at a just peace. Indeed, we of the international civil society are the only genuine allies the Palestinians have. What, then, should be our role as actors striving to resolve this interminable conflict? It is two-fold: making the conflict unsustainable and forcing our political leaders to act through mobilizing public opinion; and (2) when they finally do take an action, as in the up-coming negotiations, keeping them honest and preventing them from passing off apartheid as a “two-state solution.”
The first task we are doing pretty well. Better organization is always welcomed, but our grassroots campaigning has raised the Israel-Palestine conflict to one of the three or four major international issues.
Now, on the verge of impending negotiations, is the time for monitoring. Governments prefer to manage conflicts rather than resolve them, so the immediate challenge facing us is to prevent the imposition of an apartheid regime through power-based negotiations that, backed by massive “facts on the ground,” will present the Palestinians yet another “generous offer”: a truncated Bantustan arising on “cantons” between Israel’s massive settlement blocs. We must insert ourselves into the political process. We must be the watchdogs, so that, when the Palestinians reject the inevitable offer of apartheid, they will not be blamed yet again as rejectionists.
So what positions should we take? What solution should we be advocating? In my view, the only solution is a just peace, a win-win solution that meets the requirements of all the parties. It may take many forms; a few years ago the Palestinian think-tank PASSIA published a collection of a dozen solutions. In the end the solution may be one that no one has thought of yet. But that is the politicians’ job; ours is to insist on a just peace defined by fundamental parameters – an approach to peace – and not allow any other “arrangement” to prevail.
I would suggest the following seven elements that must configure any just solution. If they are all included, many alternative forms of resolution are possible. But if even one is excluded, then no solution will work, no matter how good it looks on paper.
- A just peace must be inclusive. Two peoples reside in Palestine/Israel. That reality must be accepted and built into the resolution of the conflict. Only then can the unavoidable process of reconciliation and historic accounting be undertaken.
- National expression must be provided for both Palestinians and Israelis. These two peoples are not merely ethnic groups in a larger national society, or merely a collection of individual voters, but national entities in themselves. This constitutes the strongest argument for a two-state solution, though Israel has likely eliminated that option, but it also argues for a bi-national state, which Israel refuses to even consider. Nevertheless, this is the reality and must be incorporated into any workable solution.
- Economic viability. This principle, enshrined in the Road Map, would, if implemented, foreclose an apartheid “solution.”
- Conformity to human rights, international law and UN resolutions. Any process based on the two sides negotiating over specific issues (settlements, borders, water, refugees, Jerusalem, sovereignty, etc.) will fail if it is not based on these three foundations. Only they can create parity between the sides. The Oslo process failed primarily because it was based only on power, and if power alone determines the outcome, then Israel wins.
- The refugee issue must be addressed squarely. It is negotiable, but it requires two pre-conditions: acceptance of the refugees’ right to return, so that it is not merely a “goodwill” or “humanitarian” gesture on the part of Israel; and acknowledgement by Israel of its responsibility for driving out half the Palestinian people in 1947/48, as well as for the expulsions of 1967. It is Israel’s steadfast refusal to accept the refugees’ rights and to make that symbolic yet crucial acknowledgement of responsibility that makes the resolution of this fundamental issue impossible.
- A just peace must address the security concerns of all in the region. Netanyahu wants to begin the negotiations by addressing Israel’s security concerns before the issues of occupation and Palestinian sovereignty. This will not work because no party’s security can be guaranteed before a political settlement; indeed, the very point of a political settlement is to resolve the conflict and thereby bring security to all parties. Security is a critical issue, but it must be applied to all parties (the Palestinians, after all, have had many more civilian casualties and have suffered more from house demolitions and other threats to their security than have the Israelis). It must be embedded, however, in an overall solution.
- A just peace must be regional in scope. Israel/Palestine is too small a unit to cram all the elements of peace into. Refugees, water, security, economic development, environmental sustainability – all these are regional issues that can only be addressed by a process that includes, at a minimum, Egypt, Jordan, Syria and Lebanon. Such a broadening of the peace process may wait on meaningful movement between Israelis and Palestinians, but it is part-and-parcel of the overall equation. (I have written about the possibility of a Middle Eastern economic confederation as an alternative to the one-state/two-state conundrum.)
Adopting these elements in a comprehensive approach to peace gives us a powerful filter through which to evaluate the course of negotiations or any future peace process. If we cannot be present in the negotiations, we can ensure that the process actually produces a just peace. As weak as their negotiating position may be, the Palestinian people possess one trump card: they are the gatekeepers. If they are not convinced that a solution will actually address their needs and grievances, they will not accept it. And even if they cannot directly influence the outcome of negotiations, their resistance can defeat any attempt by Israel, the United States and their allies to impose an unjust solution. They will find support not only in the Muslim world but among growing circles of civil society supporters around the world – us. We have collective clout, and we must organize to use it.
(Jeff Halper is the Director of the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions (ICAHD). He can be reached at <firstname.lastname@example.org>.)