x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 24 January 2018

Palestinians failed by realpolitik - and by their own leaders

Just about everyone who has power over the Palestinian situation has used it to frustrate Palestinian aspirations.

It may still be possible to imagine a just political resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. But in the real world, politics is not the product of our imagination. Reality is about power. At the end of the day, it is not about what we hope for or what we believe in - it is about who has power, and who does not.

Many of those in power have done everything possible to block a just resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. To date, their efforts have succeeded, resulting in a distorted situation in Israel, in Washington and in the occupied Palestinian lands.

In Israel, hardliners have won the day. Decades of illegal settlement and "Jewish-only" road construction, the erection of the oppressive barrier wall, land confiscation, the demolition of Palestinian homes, and the free rein given to a radical fringe of settlers - these have all combined to deform the map of the West Bank.

Just this month, the Israeli government defied its own legal system by refusing to close an illegal "outpost" that had been built on Palestinian-owned land. And when authorities did evict settlers from a house in Hebron, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu sought to defuse criticism by announcing that he would begin construction of hundreds of new housing units between Bethlehem and Jerusalem, cities that have now been effectively severed from one another.

Add the recent report in the Israeli newspaper Ha'aretz revealing that Israel's civil administration has been "secretly setting aside" an additional 10 per cent of the West Bank for settlement expansion, and it becomes increasingly difficult to even imagine how and where a Palestinian state could be established.

It is not just the current hard-line Israeli government that is at fault, since all of these policies have been at work for the past 45 years. And there is no change in sight. Polls show that in an election, Israeli voters would favour a government that promised the same policies, or worse.

While Arabs have long imagined that this sorry state of affairs could be arrested "if only America or the 'international community' would act to restrain Israel", the reality is sobering. Hope, for example, in President Barack Obama's early commitment to find a solution has been dashed. Seeing the US president taken to task by Mr Netanyahu, who was then embraced by the US Congress, was a shocking eye-opener.

With the White House tamed, at least for the foreseeable future, the politics of Washington have turned to other issues such as the US economy, Iran and November elections. In this mix, Palestinians and their rights are not even a blip on the US radar screen.

Equally disappointing have been Palestinian efforts to turn to the United Nations. Here the strong arm of the United States (prodded by Israel and its US supporters) has effectively blocked initiatives to recognise Palestinian rights or to stop Israeli violations of these rights.

Over the past 45 years, this sorry state of affairs has taken a substantial toll on the Palestinians. When the Oslo Accords were signed in 1993, it signalled a change in two and a half decades of a brutal occupation, only to give way to an equally harsh reality. During the pre-Oslo occupation, most Palestinians' jobs were poorly paid, humiliating day-labour in Israel or producing commodities for sale through Israeli middlemen.

Now, even these options are gone leaving the Palestinian economy dependent on foreign aid. Palestinians live in an apartheid-like system, trapped in isolated cantons surrounded by barriers to commerce and travel, and squeezed by ever-growing settlements and roads that cut the West Bank into pieces.

Jerusalem, once Palestinians' centre of cultural, social and economic life, has been severed from the West Bank. And Gaza, always destitute (it is one of the most densely populated places on Earth), is strangled by a blockade.

All of this has affected Palestinian society, leaving the leadership divided. As is frequently the case, one further consequence of long-term oppression has been inward-focused violence and other self-destructive behaviour.

Some Palestinians have not wanted to cede what little power they have; outsiders have used their financial or political leverage to squash moves towards Palestinian unity and efforts to mobilise a national non-violent resistance movement.

In the face of power so ruthlessly and irresponsibly exercised, there are still those who not only imagine a just peace, but are organising to achieve it. They differ on tactics and even on goals. Some advocate boycotts, divestment and sanctions, others promote non-violent direct action in the occupied lands or political organising in Washington. Some actively support two states; others advocate a democratic one-state solution.

But where they are united is in the refusal to accept the current state of affairs: the oppressive occupation, the dysfunctional US politics, and the interference and paralysis that have stymied Palestinian action. They imagine a just solution, and know that it will be achieved only if they organise to secure the power that is required to realise change.


James Zogby is the president of the Arab American Institute

On Twitter: @aaiusa