Nur Arafeh, Tareq Baconi, and Nadia Hijab
Zeina Azzam: Good afternoon, and welcome to The Jerusalem Fund and our educational program, the Palestine Center. My name is Zeina Azzam and I’m the executive director here. Welcome also to our online audience.
We are delighted to have with us today three experts who are all affiliated with Al-Shabaka, the Palestinian Policy Network, which is an independent, nonpartisan nonprofit whose mission is to educate and foster public debate on Palestinian human rights and self-determination within the framework of international law. The distinguished panel, with Nur Arafeh, Tareq Baconi, and Nadia Hijab, examines the intersection of Israeli policies of occupation and containment which prevent Palestinian self-determination. It focuses on the experience of Palestinians living under occupation in Jerusalem and Gaza, and the ways Palestinians and their supporters are organizing politically, economically, and culturally to protect their human rights and work toward a different future. (I said Jerusalem and Gaza but I assume we’re also including the West Bank.)
So let me introduce our panelists. I will introduce all of them, and then they will each go stand at the podium and talk to you. The first person I’ll introduce to you is Nur Arafeh who’s immediately on my right. She is an Al-Shabaka policy fellow. She has written widely on Jerusalem and economic fragmentation in the occupied Palestinian territories. Her main research interests include the political economy of development in the Middle East, sociology and politics of development, and economic forms of resistance. Her analyses have appeared in Le Monde Diplomatique, The Hill, and The Huffington Post, among others.
Tareq Baconi, who’s in the middle, is also Al-Shabaka policy fellow. He focuses on Islamist movements. His forthcoming book, titled “Hamas: The Politics of Resistance, Entrenchment in Gaza” is being published by Stanford University Press. He also analyzes energy issues, including in the Mediterranean. His writings have appeared in Foreign Affairs, Sada: Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, The Guardian, The Huffington Post, and Open Democracy.
We welcome back Nadia Hijab, who’s at the end. Nadia used to be executive director here and she’s spoken here many times, so it’s really lovely to have you back with us, Nadia. She’s currently the executive director of Al-Shabaka, which she co-founded in 2009. She is a frequent public speaker and media commentator, and her analyses have appeared in The New York Times, The Nation, and Le Monde Diplomatique, among other outlets. Her first book, titled “Womanpower: the Arab Debate on Women at Work” was published by Cambridge University Press, and she also co-authored “Citizens Apart: A Portrait of the Palestinian Citizens in Israel.”
We’ve asked each speaker to speak for about 15 minutes, after which we’ll open the floor for questions and discussion. Those of you who are watching online can tweet questions to us at @PalestineCenter. So please help me in welcoming our panelists and Nur Arafeh to the podium.
Nur Arafeh: Thank you, Zeina. And thank you all for coming. I’m delighted to be here today. So, the goal of my presentation is to examine Israel’s plans and vision for Jerusalem by 2050 and the initiatives and efforts made by Palestinians in Jerusalem to resist the Israeli occupation. I will end my presentation with some recommendations on what can be done in the future.
In 1995, Edward Said warned, and I’m quoting, “It was only by first projecting an idea of Jerusalem that Israel could then proceed to the changes on the ground which would then correspond to the images and reality.” Based on that, and since we tend to focus more on what Israel is doing in the present, the question I asked myself when I was doing research and policy brief with Al-Shabaka is, “What is Israel’s idea and vision of Jerusalem 3 years from now or 30 years from now?” So in this presentation, I will examine 3 Israeli master plans that convey Israel’s projection of Jerusalem and its plans to turn the image into reality. The plans are used by Israeli authorities as a political and a strategic tool to Judaize Jerusalem, which means ensure and expand Jewish political, demographic, territorial, and economic control over the city while further evicting and dispossessing Palestinians.
But before I talk about the 3 plans, I want to give you an overview of the Israeli planning system. Israel has developed a really well-organized and efficiently implemented planning system which entails a comprehensive vision of the country, and Jerusalem is at the heart of this planning system. So, planning in Israel begins with the national outlined plan, followed by district and local outlined plans. And then you have the local detailed plans and planning applications. Both outline and detail plans are zoning plans, which include zoning maps to define land use and ordinances to delineate building characteristics. There are also different bodies to oversee the top-down implementation of planning, such as the government, a national planning and building board, a regional planning and building commission, local planning and building commission, and the city or council engineer.
So, back to the three plans. The best known of these plans, and probably the most important one, is the Jerusalem 2000 master plan, or the 2020 master plan, which is considered as the eternal master plan. It was prepared by a national planning committee and published in August 2004. It is the first comprehensive and detailed spatial plan for both East and West Jerusalem since the occupation of East Jerusalem in 1967. Although the plan has not been validated yet, as it was not deposited for public review, Israeli authorities are implementing its vision and its essence.
The second plan, which is not well-known, is the Marom Plan, a government-commissioned plan for the development of Jerusalem, which will be implemented by the Jerusalem Development Authority–it’s a major planning body for the Jerusalem Municipality, the Land Administration, and other organizations in the fields of housing and employment. The Jerusalem Institute for Israel Studies is conducting the consultation, research, and monitoring for the Marom Plan. It’s a multidisciplinary research center that takes a leading role in the planning and development policies for Jerusalem in the fields of urban planning, employment, culture, tourism, labor market, etc.
Another very important and not well-known development plan is the Jerusalem 5,800 Plan, also knowns as Jerusalem 2050. It’s a private initiative that was founded by an Australian Jewish businessman and technology innovator called Kevin Bermeister, and the plan provides a vision and projected proposals for Jerusalem up to the year 2050. So it’s represented as, I’m quoting, “a transformational master plan for Jerusalem.”
The plans reinforce each other through one common systematic thread: they all aim to increase the number of Jews living in Jerusalem and reduce the number of Palestinians living in the city. They also address 3 main sectors: the tourism sector, the education and high tech sector, as well as urban planning. So I will be talking about each sector separately.
The development of the tourism sector in Jerusalem is at the heart of the 3 development plans. Under the 2020 Master Plan, the Jerusalem Municipality seeks to promote the tourism sector and especially enhance the cultural aspects of Jerusalem, and we’re talking here about the “Jewish” aspects. So it’s planning a marketing campaign to increase the potential of real estate development, support international and urban tourism, and invest in tourism infrastructure to ensure the sector’s development. The Marom Plan also aims to develop Jerusalem as a tourist city. In 2014 alone, the Jerusalem Institute of Israel Studies conducted 14 of its 18 studies on the tourism sector alone. And then there’s—the 2050 Master Plan also seeks to promote the sector by increasing private sector investment and construction of hotels in Jerusalem by building rooftop gardens and parks, transforming the areas surrounding the old city of Jerusalem into hotels while prohibiting the use of vehicles and constructing high-quality transportation routes. The plan also proposes the construction of an airport in the Hyrcania Valley between Jerusalem and the Dead Sea to serve 35 million tourists per year. The airport would be connected through roads and rail to Jerusalem, the Ben Gurion Airport, and other city centers. It’s also worth noting that the tourism sector is not only seen by Israel as an engine of economic development in the city; Israel’s development of, and domination over, the tourism sector in Jerusalem is a major tool to control the narrative and ensure the protection of Jerusalem as a Jewish city in the outside world.
Another common goal of the three plans is to attract Jews to Jerusalem by developing 2 advanced industries: the higher education and high tech industries. To promote the higher education industry, the 2020 Master Plan aims to build an international university with English as the main language of instruction. The Maron Plan seeks to make Jerusalem a “leading academic city” that is attractive to both Jewish and international students. In the same vein, the Jerusalem 2050 Master Plan sees an opportunity to create jobs and achieve economic growth through extended stay educational tourism. And the development of the higher education industry is linked to the development of a high tech, bioinformation, and biotechnology industry. So, the 2020 Master Plan calls for the establishment of a university for management and technology in the city center of Jerusalem, and also calls for government assistance and research and development. The Maron Plan also aims at promoting Jerusalem as a center of research and development in the field of biotechnology.
The third area I want to focus on is urban planning because it’s a major geopolitical and strategic tool that Israel has used since 1967 to tighten its grip over Jerusalem and constrain the urban expansion of Palestinians. Urban planning is at the heart of the 2020 Master Plan, which fused Jerusalem as one urban unit and one metropolitan center and as the capital of Israel. One of the main goals of the plan is to maintain a solid Jewish majority in the city by encouraging Jewish settlements in East Jerusalem and by reducing negative migration. The plan also seeks to connect Israeli settlements in the West Bank—geographically, economically, socially—to Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. And, while the plan recognizes the housing crisis suffered by Palestinians in East Jerusalem and it aims at enabling the densification and thickening of rural villages and some urban neighborhoods in Jerusalem, there’s a lot of discrimination against Palestinians in the plan. For example, the plan does not take into account the Palestinian growth rate in East Jerusalem and the accumulated scarcity of housing. It only allocates 2,300 dunams for Palestinian construction, compared to 9,500 dunams for Israeli Jews. And most of the new housing units proposed for Palestinians are located in the northern or southern parts of Jerusalem, rather than in the Old City where the housing crisis is the most severe. Moreover, almost 62% of the increase in Jewish building will happen through expansion and building of new settlements and new Jewish neighborhoods in East Jerusalem, while more than half of the additional housing for Palestinians will happen through densification, which means building within the existing urbanized areas, including through vertical expansion. So, this is just a very brief overview of three major plans, which are part of the very well-grounded planning system of Israel.
But Israel of course has tens of thousands of plans for Jerusalem and the country in general. And while Israel has a comprehensive vision for Jerusalem, a comprehensive, unified Palestinian vision and plan for East Jerusalem remains absent. There have been some efforts to develop a plan for East Jerusalem; for example, the Welfare Association established a special program in 1994 for the revitalization of the Old City of Jerusalem and the preservation of the cultural heritage of Jerusalem. There is also the Jerusalem Unit at the president’s office in Palestine, which issued in 2010 the Strategic Multi-Sector Development plan for East Jerusalem for the years 2011 to 2013. However, the main problem is that the plan failed to be implemented because there was no operational arm for it to be implemented. There are also some efforts by international donors, such as the UNDP or the GIZ or the EU to develop a plan for East Jerusalem. The problem is that that these efforts are all fragmented, and there is still a huge planning leadership and institutional vacuum in East Jerusalem. Since 2001, Israel has closed more than 30 Palestinian institutions in East Jerusalem, including the Orient House and the Jerusalem Arab Chamber of Commerce and Industry, in order to tighten its control over the city and control Palestinian activism. Even the ministry of Jerusalem Affairs cannot actually operate in Jerusalem, and has offices in Al-Ram, which is outside the Israeli-defined municipal boundaries of Jerusalem.
There is also a sense of political abandonment of East Jerusalem. So, for example, while East Jerusalem is “officially” represented as the capital of the state of Palestine, the Palestinian Authority planned to allocate only 0.44% of its budget to the Ministry of Jerusalem Affairs and to the Jerusalem governorate in 2015, further restricting the rules in East Jerusalem.
As a result, what you have in Jerusalem now is institutional atomization, absence of a representative body, social disintegration, addiction, family violence, high dropout rates, and economic collapse. And so this has led to the growing disgruntlement of Palestinians with the Palestinian leadership and a sense of regional and international abandonment, particularly at the official level. And this is how many efforts are being made in Jerusalem to address this, or to fill the planning gap in Jerusalem.
So, I’m just going to give you some examples of initiatives that are undertaken in Jerusalem to resist the occupation. For example, PASSIA, the Palestinian Academic Society for the Study of International Affairs—it’s a research institute in Jerusalem—has been working on a project, which I’m part of, to identify strategies that help Palestinian Jerusalemites remain steadfast inside Jerusalem. The goal is to focus on four main themes—which are economy and services, urban planning, institutions and civil society, and representation—and develop strategies to promote these sectors in Jerusalem. All these strategies are being developed as a result of many roundtable discussions and focus group meetings with the public sector, the private sector, and different civil society organizations in Jerusalem. So, it’s kind of a collective effort to do something in Jerusalem.
The Jerusalem Unit at the President’s Office, which was closed for several years and was opened a month ago, is now also working on updating the multi-sector development plan that was published in 2010, that I mentioned previously. But there are also important efforts that are undertaken by Palestinian civil society organizations which are based in East Jerusalem to create the political, social, and economic conditions to help Palestinians remain steadfast on the land. For example, one of the main goals of Burj al Laqlaq, which is a developmental association founded in 1991 in Bab al-Huta neighborhood in the Old City of Jerusalem—one of its main goals is to create a healthy environment and the space for children and youth of the Old City in order to improve their psychosocial reality. For example, they facilitate educational, cultural, psychological, health and sport entertainment programs for Palestinian kids and youth. There are also attempts to bridge the gap between labor-supply and labor-demand, and to raise the awareness of Palestinians of labor market needs. For example, some organizations work on providing vocational counseling to students to help them develop their career plans.
Very briefly, what is the problem with these initiatives and what can be done? One of the main shortcomings of these efforts is the absence of a common and unified strategy for East Jerusalem. There’s an urgent need for Palestinians to project a clear vision for Jerusalem and answer the question, “what kind of Jerusalem do we want to live in, 10 years from now or 30 years from now?” and then develop an offensive strategy, and not a reactive strategy, to implement or to achieve this vision. It’s also important to ensure grassroots participation and partnerships among institutions when developing this vision and strategy for Jerusalem. Special attention should be paid to the education sector, especially as Israel has been attempting to control the curriculum used by Palestinian schools in East Jerusalem. We can also build a development fund to ensure and fund the development strategies in Jerusalem.
And I will end by a recommendation on the international level. Recently, many American delegations have been coming to Palestine to explore economic opportunities. However, my main message may be, from this whole presentation, is to say that a focus on economic development complement, rather than be seen as a substitute, for progress on the political front. So it’s time for the US to go beyond rhetoric and take effective measures to hold Israel accountable for its legal annexation and colonization of East Jerusalem and help build a new paradigm based on respect for international law and human rights.
Tareq Baconi: Thank you Nur, that was excellent. Good afternoon, everyone. First of all, I want to thank the Palestine Center for hosting us. Selfishly for us, it’s a great opportunity because we’re a virtual network, so we work everywhere in the world—and this is actually the first time I’ve met Nur even though we’ve been working together for a few months—so it’s wonderful to be here. And it’s wonderful to be in DC again because it’s very important to have the discussions that we’re having here with the audience that’s sitting here, with the DC community because it’s so impactful in terms of the discussions we’re having and the ways forward that we’re trying to move.
So, I’m going to speak very briefly because I’d like to leave some room for discussion at the end in the Q&A session. I was asked to talk about the blockade of Gaza, Hamas, Hamas’s regional relations, and suggest a few ways forward, which is a very short order, and I can do that in 15 minutes without any problems. The way that I’m going to talk about the blockade and Hamas and Hamas’s relationship to Israel is by putting forward two interventions, which will hopefully inform everyone in terms of how the dynamic of the blockade has come to be and how it’s been sustained. And once those interventions are made, I’ll put forward 3 thoughts—not necessarily policy recommendations but thoughts in terms of what we need to be considering for the steps forward.
So, in terms of the interventions that I want to make, the first is this: I’d like to rupture the widespread assumption that many have—perhaps not many in this room, but many have—that Gaza is currently under blockade because it is ruled by Hamas. I think that is incorrect. I think it’s more accurate to suggest, or that people should think about, the fact that Hamas is marginalized because of Gaza; it’s not Gaza that’s marginalized because of Hamas. What do I mean by this? Historically, for various reasons, including the fact that Gaza has an incredibly high proportion of Palestinian refugees, Gaza has been an important birthplace of Palestinian resistance in its various forms. As such, the Gaza Strip has been an exceedingly challenging area for Israeli political leaders. Over the course of more than 6 decades, since 1948 onwards, Israel has attempted to deal with Gaza in a whole host of different ways. The historian, Jean-Pierre Filiu, talks of the 12 wars which had been waged by Israel on Gaza since 1948—the latest of course is the one in 2014. Against the backdrop of these wars, Israel’s mode of engagement with the Strip has ranged from direct occupation to indirect occupation by outsourcing administrative paths to local elites, from outright war to unilateral withdrawals to blockade and cordoning off Gaza’s population. Despite voices within the Israeli political establishment advocating for annexation of Gaza as early as 1948 and throughout the 1950s and 1960s, the predominant feeling among the Israeli establishment has been to view Gaza through the very problematic paradigm of it being a demographic threat, and a disturbingly unpacified one at that.
On the basis of viewing Gaza as a demographic threat, the blockade has been in the making in one form or another before the rise of Hamas’s leadership to the political establishment. Before blockading and bombarding Gaza because it was, quote-in-quote, “a terrorist haven under Hamas,” Israeli political leaders talked of liquidating Gaza in the 1950s because it was a, quote-in-quote, “Fedayeen’s nest.” One could argue that Sharon’s unilateral disengagement with Gaza in 2005, before Hamas was elected into the Palestinian legislature, was in itself the first step in the official separation of Gaza from the West Bank. The disengagement has allowed Israel to consolidate its grip on the West Bank and to circumvent the demographic threat that Gaza represents by maintaining as much territory as possible in the West Bank, with as little Palestinians on it by cordoning the Palestinians off in the Gaza Strip.
Viewing Israel’s history with Gaza from this lens, it becomes evident that Hamas’s rootedness in Gaza since 2007 has in effect legitimated Israel’s policies towards the strip. It has made it much easier for Israel to adopt a strategy of geographic detachment and marginalization as a way of dealing with an area that has long been quite troublesome, and which Israel has endlessly tried to subdue with tremendous force. So in effect, Hamas has become the fig leaf to Israel’s containment and blockade of the Gaza strip. Because of this, Hamas’s role as a governing authority in the Strip has become more favorable to Israel than having it as part of a national consensus government. Indeed, Hamas’s efforts to shed its governing responsibilities of Gaza in 2014 were one of the primary reasons behind Israel’s war on Gaza that same year. Israel has been actively seeking to contain and maintain Hamas as the ruler of the Gaza Strip.
Which leads me to my second intervention. Over the course of successive wars in Gaza since the blockade was instituted, Israel has perhaps inadvertently validated Hamas as an effective ruler and ensure its continued entrenchment within Gaza. In other words, being contained in the Gaza Strip has made Hamas, almost by default, Israel’s counterpart to the Gaza Strip. It’s been responsible for stabilizing Gaza and for policing all the resistance efforts directed at Israel from Gaza. This has produced a new relationship, a new modus vivendi, between Israel and Hamas over the past few years whereby Hamas stays in power in return for maintaining stability, and, in effect, limiting resistance from Gaza on Israel. Senior members within Israel’s security establishment have been firm in saying that Israeli wars on Gaza should not remove Hamas from power; it should merely deter it from carrying out further action against Israel.
Unlike the PA, which has explicitly acted as a pacified administration, which controls resistance and armed struggle and safeguards Israel’s security by extensive security coordination, Hamas’s government actually provides an environment which is conducive to armed struggle. But this is what the important point is: the environment of resistance that Hamas has nurtured and that it cultivates in Gaza is within the limits that are implicitly agreed with Israel through various cycles of violence and negotiated short term ceasefires. This approach is volatile, and it has given rise to three wars since 2008 interspersed with countless escalations in between: Operation Cast Lead in 2008, Operation Pillar of Defense in 2012, and Operation Protective Edge in 2014. These operations are often referred to by Israeli military as “mowing the lawn,” a cynical term to describe the dynamic that I’m referring to. Underlying this term is the belief that every few years, a military intervention is needed to restock deterrence from the Israeli side, and from Hamas’s side, to renegotiate terms of the ceasefire to solidify its rule and to invest in its legitimacy as a resistance movement. This phrase, “mowing the lawn,” betrays an effort by Israel to manage rather than resolve the conflict. Or, precisely the situation in Gaza, it relies on a military, rather than a political tool to maintain the status quo in a manner of least disruption to the Israeli public. This dynamic, and Hamas’s validation as a ruling entity in Gaza, has undermined prospects for Palestinian reconciliation. But perhaps more importantly, it has resulted in the creation and the production of a zero-sum approach to competitiveness between the two factional strands of the Palestinian government. When Hamas is seen to be well-poised to push forward the Palestinian struggle, this is regarded as a blow to Abbas’s government in the West Bank and vice versa. International interlocutors, including the US, when dealing with Gaza and the West Bank, are rooted in the belief that all their policies need to be shaped in such a manner that Hamas does not gain legitimacy over Abbas. This results—or the result of these policies is the continued marginalization of the Gaza strip in an effort to contain Hamas there, coupled with the failure of the PA to achieve any of its aspired goals because it is not seen as being representative of a significant constituent of Palestinians within Gaza.
Quite apart from the lethal violence which underpins everything that I am talking about of which civilians in Gaza pay the highest cost, this reality has all sorts of economic and social implications which as devastating and long-lasting. And we can talk about what these are and how to deal with these specific realities in the Q&A. But what I want to leave you with is three thoughts, and these will hopefully inform the future trajectory of the Palestinian struggle. I don’t think that they will come as a surprise to many of you, but they are still important thoughts to bear in mind when thinking about Israel, the blockade of Gaza, and Hamas’s role in this.
The first point I want to make is very specific. It goes without saying that actors in their various locales, whether in Gaza, in the West Bank, in East Jerusalem, internationally, must push for advancing their own struggle on the ground. In Gaza, this means that they must push for lifting the blockade, and in Gaza and the West Bank, they must push for ending the division and reuniting the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. Much of this effort needs to be driven by the population on the ground. The protests that began in 2011 and 2012 within the Palestinian territories were directed mostly at holding the Palestinian leaders accountable for continuing to maintain this division and for avoiding the conciliation. This needs to continue. For various reasons, since 2011 and 2012, these protests have died out. But there needs to be a push from people within the West Bank and within Gaza, within East Jerusalem, to hold their leaders accountable for this absence of reconciliation.
But, this is only a minor part of the reason that the division has continued. Apart from the local actors, organizations and individuals in the US and the EU have a tremendous role to play. The division, which is currently in place, is sustained through policies that have systematically facilitated the division from the onset and prevented any form of reconciliation to be achieved. So, it not only that the policies enabled this division to be created, it has also prevented the Palestinians from achieving the reconciliation that they have been seeking since 2007. So, for Palestinians to achieve unity, the international community must be supportive of these endeavors, and that is not currently the case. So, maintaining calls for achieving unity while preventing any form of reconciliation from actually being long-lasting, is not only counterproductive, it’s also hypocritical. Organizations here and in the EU have a role to play in holding their own governments accountable for policies that entrench this division.
The second thought I want to make should be seen as complementary rather than contradictory to the first point I made, which is, when we think of the blockade of Gaza and when we think about the Palestinian struggle, we must avoid internalizing the fragmentation that has been imposed on the Palestinian people. The blockade of Gaza is not its own tragedy. It’s part and parcel of the overwhelming predicament that the Palestinian people, as a whole, face. So the blockade, while it’s particularly horrific, is only one facet of an occupation and of a colonization, of Palestinian land and resources. So in that sense, any attempt, anywhere, to deal with the Palestinian blockade must be a constituent element of a much broader comprehensive approach that the Palestinian people need to adopt to achieve their rights; it shouldn’t be seen as a goal in and of itself.
The third thought that I want to leave you with—and this is perhaps less a policy recommendation and more a personal opinion, but one which is increasingly gaining in legitimacy here in the US and further afield—is that the Palestinians need to transition into an era of post-factional politics where the struggle is defined by rights. The system of government which is embodied by the PA, or Hamas’ government in the Gaza strip, have, perhaps naturally and expectedly, been compromised. Rather than getting caught up in the politics of administration, whereby ruling authorities fight for truncated sovereignty under occupation, Palestinians must break from these systems of government and establish transnational networks that work toward a single goal which is achieving Palestinian rights and equality. Framing the Palestinian struggle in this manner, I believe, will allow Palestinian to avoid getting entangled in the localized manifestations of Israel’s occupations and the various it takes, and allow for broader forms of solidarity to emerge across the world. Thank you.
Nadia Hijab: Well, I want to echo my colleagues, Tareq and Nur, to say how great it is to be here again, and to thank you all, and how lovely it is to be amongst family really for me. I’m also going to echo a little bit of what they had to say, but obviously without getting into any repetition, and what I want to talk about today is to really briefly review— as Susanna said, we are also going to talk about what is going on in the West Bank. I want to briefly review the situation that’s facing Palestinians under occupation and put it in a broader context because this will help to explain why Israel has been undertaking such Draconian attacks against those working to defend Palestinian human rights, and why it is so vital to support the capacity of the movement for Palestinian rights. So in occupied Palestinian territories, the Palestinian political situation, as my colleagues have said, is pretty much in a state of paralysis, even as the regional environment shifts with alarming speed, creating new alliances, both overt and covert, between Arab and non-Arab actors, and Israel. We’ve recently, in the occupied territories—I say we as belonging to the broader Palestinian people, not as we living in the occupied territories, because I don’t—but we recently had a farce of an attempt to hold municipal elections, which was effectively torpedoed by the rivalries of Fatah and Hamas. Meanwhile, you have the Palestinian Legislative Council elections that haven’t really taken place since 2006, and as for the Palestinian National Council—which is supposed to represent all Palestinians everywhere—it hasn’t really had a truly representative meeting since 1988. Now, the only public space where Palestinians have free and fair elections is at the university level, so what an indicator of political paralysis. There have been renewed efforts by Fatah, the major political party, to put its house in order and to hold the long delayed seventh conference, but unfortunately, these moves are probably more of a response to external pressure on Fatah and Abbas, especially by Arab actors, such as Egypt, Jordan, and the Gulf, who don’t want to see a vacuum of leadership in the occupied territories, given that there is no successor to Abbas. So, there’s also been talks of Arab attempts to impose the former Gaza strongman, Mohammed Dahlan, who’s been expelled from Fatah, as PA president. So what we’re facing today is a situation where the cherished Palestinian independence of movement, independence of setting decision making in its own goals that was achieved in the 1960s, is now a fading memory. In all of this turmoil, there is no sign of any strategic thinking by the Palestinian political establishment or any effective planning to counter Israel’s attacks beyond helpless calls to the international community to come and save us. While of course, at the same time, the Palestinian Authority maintains its security coordination—its hated security coordination—with Israel.
This dismal state of the formal Palestinian body politic, and the prospect of the occupation going on forever—now, it’s in its fiftieth year—has led to an intifada of individuals of uncoordinated armed attacks against Israel, which is a sign of sheer desperation and real despair. This month, in fact, marks a year of this uprising of individuals which ebbs and flows, and which was sparked originally by Israel’s ever clearer desire, which were very well set up by my colleague Nur, on Jerusalem and particularly on the Al-Aqsa mosque. Israel’s response has been to ramp up its usual measures that it takes against the Palestinians to keep the population under control in the West Bank and east Jerusalem: arrests, shooting to kill, extrajudicial executions, and reviving its policy of home demolition. In the past twelve months, at least 220 Palestinians and 35 Israelis have been killed, and nearly 18,000 Palestinians wounded. I mean, we tend to forget about the wounded and how they can go back about rebuilding their lives. All of this leaves the way clear for Israel to ramp up its colonization program. It’s totally undeterred by the verbal condemnation by the US and the European Union. Now, it’s true—obviously, this audience knows—the US language in condemning Israel’s settlements has gotten much stronger in the past couple of weeks. But, why should Israel care? It just got the 35 billion dollar military aid package from the US and couldn’t care less in fact—38, sorry. Thanks.
But the Obama Administration’s worst blow against the Palestinian people may be to come. For several weeks there have been rumors about—or cause for—the US administration to actually do something in that period between the end of the elections, the election of the president and the handover of power, and to do something such as a presidential statement or support for a Security Council resolution that would lay out the parameters for a solution. A presidential statement you can quickly forget, a Security Council resolution is much more serious. In order to prevent a huge Israeli backlash against such resolutions, it could end up providing recognition of Israel as a Jewish state, which would officially condemn the Palestinian citizens of Israel to second-class status. Such a resolution could also basically undermine international law by speaking of agreed modifications to the ‘67 border and the notion under international law that acquisition of territory by war is inadmissible—illegitimate—could be undermined if this is done before a peace agreement is even reached, and it could also undermine international law on the rights of Palestinian refugees.
Even more dangerous, is that the PLO and the PA are so weak that they’ll be willing to accept any thin slice of rights for an international gesture like this. So basically, the task of stopping Israel’s rights violations and colonial project has fallen on Palestinian civil society and the international solidarity movement with Palestinians, and this has been effective in a lot of ways through occasional legal, diplomatic challenges and especially through the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement. Actually, this really threatens Israel; it threatens Israel not for the reasons only that you might think. It doesn’t only threaten because it’s nonviolent, this movement. It doesn’t only threaten because it successfully convinced several banks, and pension funds, and companies to stop business with Israel’s illegal settlements. It not only threatens because it’s convinced artists and academics not to perform in Israel and academic associations to condemn Israel and to support BDS. It’s also because of the three goals articulated by the BDS movement. They refocus the Palestinian struggle beyond the occupied territories to the entire Palestinian people and their rights. The three goals call for freedom from occupation, equality for the Palestinian citizens of Israel, and justice for the Palestinian refugees. By the way, these three goals can be achieved in either a one state or a two state solution, so they don’t envisage what the political outcome should be; they’re focused on rights. In this I’m echoing what Tareq said in his conclusion about focusing on rights. Now by refocusing the Palestinian struggle on these goals of rights, of freedom, justice and equality for the entire Palestinian people, it refocuses the discourse on the core of the problem, which is the Zionist enterprise and the discrimination against non-Jews that is inherent in its colonial ideology and policy of displacement and exile of the Palestinian and taking of their lands. It’s important to understand, even though we’ve been focused on the occupied territories, for most of this panel—it’s important to understand that Israel’s’ goals have not changed since day one. You know, the creation of taking a land without a people and giving it to a people for a land. They have been totally consistent since 1897—a majority Jewish state—and all of mandate Palestine.
Consider that Israel actions are actually mirror image of its actions against Palestinians citizens of Israel. Look of the treatment of the Bedouin in the Negev and the treatment of the Palestinian in the Jordan valley, as Israel seeks to empty out both areas. It practices these tactics in one area to use against another. The adamant rejection of the right of Palestinian refugees to return to their home is of course part of the plan which hasn’t changed, and not even allowing the desperate Palestinian refugees in Syria, who face desperate plight, to go back to the West Bank. So, these are some of the concrete illustrations of how Israel’s project has not changed from day one. So this is why the BDS movement is such a threat to Israel because it refocuses that discourse, and Israel is ramping up—you know we can get into details of how Israel is ramping up in the Q & A—but it’s ramping up its attacks on the BDS movement and the Palestine solidarity movement and one of the most potent threats it’s using is accusations of anti-Semitism to just completely shut down the discourse and that’s having some success here and there. In the UK, where I now live, attacks of being anti-Semitic have recently forced suspension twice of a labor party activist who is herself half-Jewish. So, luckily here in the US the Palestine Solidarity movement is at a stage of development where it can push back. We have organizations that have staff that can push back in areas where they are needed, like Palestine Legal, with legal support, like the Institute for Middle East Understanding with media engagement and support, providing alternative sources of information, such as you do here, such as EI, Electronic Intifada, Mondo, organizing Americans to use their rights as American to lobby their elected representatives by forming coalitions such as the US Campaign to End Israeli Occupation, organizations such as Jewish Voice for Peace.
But, I would add, that to counter Israel’s aggression against Palestinian and human rights defenders, it’s vital to do all of the above, but it’s especially vital to zero in on the core of the problem, and how it all began if we want to see a resolution— if we want to arrive at a resolution. There are a series of anniversaries that we can use to shape the discourse: the 50th anniversary of occupation, the 70th anniversary of the Nakba, and the 100th anniversary of the Balfour Declaration—and the 70th anniversary of the Nakba. I want to say that we, at Al-Shabaka, will be playing our part in contributing to this discourse shift by providing analysis that links the past with the present and the future, and if you’re not on our email list, I want to encourage to get on. We actually, I think, brought a sign-up sheet, if people want to get on it. We can maybe circulate around the room—if that’s okay, Zeina. So, on that powerful note, I will end and leave you with the Q&A. Thanks.