Ms. Noura Erakat, Mr. Khaled Elgindy, and Ms. Leila Hilal
Transcript No. 378 (9 November 2012)
9 November 2012
The Palestine Center
Ms. Noura Erakat::
Thank you to the Palestine Center for this warm invitation. I was thinking as I approached this, how unique it is for being one of the very few institutions that has been sustainable on this question, so for students like Sima who are recent graduates who look to how to continue their advocacy, it’s refreshing to find that there are institutions being built, like the Institute for Middle East Understanding, like blogs including Mondoweiss, Electronic Intifada, Jadaliyya, but long-standing institutions like the Jerusalem Fund and the Palestine Center, and so thank you for that. Dr. Ali, if you thought that the last panel was youthful, and this panel may be similarly youthful, in fact, the new generation of leaders is much more youthful than anything you can witness here, and I was very honored to see those student and community organizers last week at the National Students for Justice in Palestine conference, who are intrepidly forging ahead with a campaign for boycott divestment and sanctions, and unlike their Israeli student, or Jewish Zionist student counterparts, who are being funded with millions of dollars, there is $500,000.00 that was donated to the Hilel at University of Michigan Ann Arbor alone, to counter the student movement and these students, these students have done everything on a shoestring budget. They fundraised $20,000.00 on direct appeal, to be able to put on their own conference, and this is making something out of nothing, what in Arabic we call ibdaa, so I want to applaud them and also emphasize that once these students graduate, the problem is, is that energy, that radical vision, that enthusiasm has very few outputs. Where do those students go from there, and that’s where it’s up to us to continue to create institutions to be able to harvest and nurture that leadership for the future, so that we don’t have the same conferences and speak to one another but that we can actually speak out and farther.
So in that tone, for those of you who may have been checking your news or your phones earlier today, today there was a protest organized in Beirut, and the organizers of that protest were also youth, Palestinian refugee youth in Beirut who came out to protest against Abu Mazen’s declaration that he does not care to return to Safad as a refugee, but considers his new home in Ramallah. So at Abu Mazen’s address, he was addressing Channel Two Israeli news, an Israeli audience, and not his own Palestinian constituency, and certainly not those Palestinian refugees who today came out and organized a protest, and not only called on Abu Mazen to resign, called on the Palestinian Authority to dissolve, and called on Oslo to be annulled. That seems quite radical, and unfortunately it doesn’t permeate and percolate to the top of our mainstream media, because there is no form of accountability in Palestinian leadership today. There isn’t a way that these Palestinian refugee youth for example, can cast their vote in a democratic process and oust the leadership that they feel doesn’t speak for them. There is no way that they can enter the elections themselves so that they can create and harvest a new vision for Palestinian liberation. Whatever we think of as democracy and accountability does not exist in the current Palestinian leadership. What exists today in the form of the Palestinian National Authority was meant to be an interim body to serve as a transition from occupation to independence in the early ‘90’s. It was never meant to supplant the Palestinian Liberation Organization, which represents all Palestinians, regardless of their geographic location, nor was it meant to supplant the Palestinian National Council, which is the democratically elected body of Palestinians wherever they may be that actually informs the Palestinian Liberation Organization how to behave on behalf of Palestinians. And yet, today this Palestinian Authority continues to rule by fiat, without a democratic mandate, and continues to speak not only on behalf of the base of their constituents no more arguably than the West Bank including Jerusalem, and the Gaza Strip, if that, which is only 37% of the Palestinian population, but they also purport to speak and to create a strategy for Palestinian national liberation which is not part of that mandate.
And, so what has that strategy been, and why would there be objection to it? And of course that strategy is encapsulated in the two-state solution, which we continue to discuss and debate and yet the two-state solution, by all stretches of the imagination and actual fact finding no longer exists as a viable option. That lack of viability is not a mistake and a failure to hold Israel to account to the Oslo Accords; it’s actually a direct product of the Oslo Accord. The way that it was written and the Declaration of Principles was written produced the results that we see today. Consider that the Oslo Accords had no reference to international law, so all reference to terms and how to resolve the conflict resort to politics, and in this case politics reflect the more powerful party, and in this case that’s Israel which is a state, the fourth largest nuclear power in the world, the US’s number one ally in the Middle East, and the US happens to be a global superpower. So what can Palestinians eschew from political negotiation under these terms without even reference to international law? And as Mr. Khaled Elgindy has pointed out in an article I often cite, not only was there a failure to refer to Article 49 of the fourth Geneva Convention, which prohibits the transfer of one civilian population into territory that it occupies and violation of that amounts to a violation of Article 147, which is a war crime, and was reaffirmed as a war crime in the Rome Statute, not only did the negotiators fail to mention Article 49, but it fails to mention that Jerusalem is part of the West Bank. So at the start of Oslo, 54% of the settlements were legal by the terms of Oslo itself, which is to say nothing about putting off the most critical issues – water, borders, refugees, and settlements obviously – to the end in the final status agreement. So it should be no surprise to anyone today that the settler population has increased from 193,000 settlers in the early 90’s to nearly 600,000 settlers today – and arguably, Israel can argue, that it’s abided by the terms of Oslo, and it can make its way out of this by swapping land with the Palestinians in order to still create a two-state solution.
There are more flaws in the Oslo Accords, and one of the most significant ones is buying into a paradigm that this is a conflict about land for security, that somehow Palestinians will offer security if they get land in return, and yet that’s not the paradigm that we witness on the ground. This is a conflict about settler colonialism, about the colonization of an indigenous population’s land, that has been deprived of their cultural contiguity, their territorial contiguity, and have the right to self-determination, not only in the form of self-governance, but self-determination as a people to continue cultural and their national development. This paradigm of security for land is very explicit in Oslo – the Oslo Accords prioritize Israeli security above Palestinian self-determination, and in fact condition any type of Palestinian self-rue on the ability to deliver security to Israel. Security in any place, including here, requires institutions, police, educational institutions, it requires the machinations of a state and yet what Oslo says is that you can’t get any of that to provide the security we’re requiring in order to give you that. It’s a failed equation, at its core, and that’s why today, rather than provide for Palestinians to remain on their lands by supporting their agricultural industry, by supporting their educational industry and some sort of economics, the Palestinian national budget allocates no less than 20% of the budget to security forces, and those security forces are not used to protect Palestinians from Israeli settlers who pummel the land and burn olive and almond trees, on a weekly basis, nor is it to protect the Palestinians from expanding settlement projects, but it’s used to protect the settler, Israel as an occupying power from the Palestinians. And so in late July when Shaul Mofaz who is one of the architects of the incursion into Jenin came to Ramallah, or was supposed to come to Ramallah and meet the president, who does not rule by democratic mandate, Palestinian youth who protested were actually beat down and arrested by Palestinian security forces.
Now compare that in contrast to what’s invested for the agricultural sector. Palestinian farmers need access to water and resources to stay on their land. And yet, the national budget for agriculture today is less than 1% – it’s about .74% compared to 20% for security. So it’s no surprise that the agricultural sector in Palestine has diminished from 13.2% in 1994 to 5.2% in 2010. These conditions should be no surprise. They are the direct result of a failure to affirm a narrative and the continuation of a two-state solution which envisages two states for two people divided by their ethnicity and based on ethnic homogeneity, is a very anachronistic concept of any type of plural democracy that one can imagine – and in fact UN Resolution 181 never proposed that when it proposed a two-state solution; it proposed that there be a Jewish state and an Arab state, and both stipulated a non-discrimination clause and treatment towards all its citizens regardless of ethnicity and religion, and whatever national origin was going to be created. In contrast, the two-state solution today is based on the reverse concept, not of some sort of inclusiveness, but on an exclusivity.
Why does this fail to meet the needs of Palestinians today, because as I mentioned this is not about security for land. This is a project about the forced population transfer of Palestinians from their homes, regardless of where they live, in order to reduce their number and concentrate them onto small swaths of land. Forced population transfer by the way is the legal term for ethnic cleansing. I think it sounds a lot more palatable to say forced population transfer, especially for folks in Washington. But, this ethnic cleansing is not just limited to the West Bank, where the apartheid wall has created, has not only built 85% into the West Bank, confiscated 13% of the land, and made 50,000 Palestinians now a new term, a new category under international law, because they’re stuck between the wall and the green line – so this is the wall, and this would be the green line, the 1949 armistice line – 50,000 Palestinians stuck in that are now constituting a new category under international law, called “internally stuck persons”, as if we didn’t have enough categories into which we fit: refugees, persona non grata, civilians under occupation, Jerusalemites without residency, second-class citizens of Israel – now we are also “internally stuck persons.”
That phenomenon of concentrating the Palestinians does not only exist in the West Bank and Gaza, where you can imagine this on a large scale, it also exists within Israel itself. Israel’s treatment of its non-Jewish Palestinian citizens mirrors its treatment of these Palestinians under occupation, and that’s most obvious when you consider the 30-45,000 Palestinian Bedouins who live in the Naqab or the Negev desert. These are the descendants of 19 tribes who existed, who lived there before the establishment of Israel, who have already been once-displaced and now the state is under the power plan, proposing to remove their own citizens, about 30-45,000 of them, concentrate them into urban townships so that they have no relationship to their agricultural history and livelihood, in the name of development. In the early 2000’s, between 2002-2004, the state tried to remove its own citizens by spraying toxic chemicals onto their lands, onto their agricultural lands. ‘Adalah, the Arab center for minority rights in Israel, filed a successful suit and procured an injunction against that practice – and so now today instead of spraying the land with toxic chemicals to remove the Palestinians, there is just outright demolition of their homes. In al ‘Araqib, the homes of Palestinians in al ‘Araqib have been demolished no less than 25 times – and every time those Palestinian villages rebuild their homes, and what Israel wants to build in place of their homes anybody can guess, is a park, and a forest, and new Israeli settlements within Israel. And insidiously, these Palestinians who have rebuilt their homes have now been given a bill for the cost of demolition of their own homes.
This type of ethnic cleansing, the concentrate which I’m terming the removal of population, the reduction of their numbers, the concentration of them in certain geographical areas, is not just in the Occupied Territories, it’s also in Israel as this example demonstrates, as well as the example of the ban on family reunification, which was just affirmed as “constitutional” by Israel, which doesn’t have a constitution, but as constitutional for not violating any rights. And the ban on family reunification basically says that no Israelis can marry, can acquire status, citizenship status for those persons who live in enemy states, or enemy entities. The enemy entities refer to the West Bank, to Gaza, to Syria, to Lebanon, where Palestinians predominantly live and so this law disproportionately and almost exclusively affects Palestinians, Palestinian-Israeli citizens, and in fact, the high court of justice said that we cannot support human rights at the expense of national suicide. So human rights, at least Palestinians are part of the entire human rights framework, but the national suicide refers to the fact that Israel views itself as a state for its Jewish nationals only and in Israel, in fact, Jewish nationals are distinguished from Israeli citizens, because there is no such thing as Israeli nationality. And because of that distinction, Israel can privilege its Israeli citizens or its Jewish Israeli citizens and discriminate against its non-Jewish Israeli-Palestinian citizens using this law and making it all legal. This is the same reason Palestinian refugees are denied the right of return because they are not eligible to acquire Jewish nationality –Jewish nationality is defined by the law of return of 1950 which provides it [the law of return] that it belongs to the descendants of Jewish mothers, or by conversion…
If I can just wrap up really quickly, I apologize for not being more sensitive to time, and just to wrap up and to say, in light of this ethnic cleansing project, it would behoove us to think of Palestinian refugees as either a constituency that the Palestinian leadership needs to care for, or as an issue that needs to be dealt with. Palestinian refugees are neither an issue nor a constituency; they are the heart of this issue. No state, no state, can stem an ethnic cleansing process. If this process continues and we establish two states, that land will be called, they will be called “bantustans”. If this process continues and we establish a one-state, those areas will be called “reservations”. There is more that needs to be done to stem the ethnic cleansing process that goes beyond these narrow frameworks that have been given to us, almost conditionally in order to achieve national liberation. I’m sorry that I went over in time – I can continue to discuss this afterwards. Thank you.
Thank you Dr. Ali, and thank you to the Palestine Center. And thank you Noura, for such a compelling presentation, but I don’t thank you for making my job all that much more difficult to have to follow you. I agree with a lot of what Noura laid out, including of course the fact that the peace process is dead, but let me, by way of framing, make a distinction that I think is important, and that is between what we call the “peace process” or “Oslo process” and a two-state solution. I think the end of the peace process doesn’t necessarily have to mean an end to the two-state solution. If we, by we I mean if Washington, its allies and the Israelis and the Palestinian leadership can think outside of the very narrow framework that Oslo created beyond this idea, I do agree that realities on the ground have obviated, made it virtually impossible to unscramble the egg, as it were, as far as drawing hard borders between a state of Palestine and a state of Israel – and it is virtually impossible to do. Having said that, though, I’m not saying that I think it’s likely. I think if I were to bet that Washington was going to think creatively, and [have] new ideas and let go of the failures of the past, I would probably vote against such a thing. But is at least theoretically possible, and I think as an analyst it is my job, partly, to lay out these scenarios, to lay out these possibilities and conditions.
One of the consequences of the end of the Oslo process is that we have a very severe leadership crisis on the Palestinian side. I think that is clear. I just returned from Palestine yesterday, having spent a week doing meetings in Ramallah and Jerusalem, and I came away more convinced than ever of the reality of this leadership crisis. I think it is much more severe than certainly people here in Washington believe, to the extent that they actually focus at all on Palestinian politics, and what is really striking about this leadership crisis is that it’s all consuming. We’re not just talking about the person of Mahmoud Abbas, or the person of Khaled Mishaal, or any individual leader. We’re talking about institutions, new and old. The PA is collapsing before our very eyes. The PLO had been hollowed out from within years ago, and it is now in a very sorry state, and even parties and factions, Fatah, is internally divided and dysfunctional, Hamas is divided, not yet dysfunctional, but there are deep divisions. A lot of them have to do with changes happening in the region.
And I think also, across the board, there is a fundamental lack of strategy, as has already been touched on, and at least as far as Mahmoud Abbas is, I think this is one of the real great ironies that one day people in Washington are going to have to come to terms with, is the growing regional and international isolation of Mahmoud Abbas and his leadership. It was very striking actually to see and to hear from so many interlocutors that I met with in Ramallah and Jerusalem the fact that Mahmoud Abbas not only has a narrowing circle as far as who he represents or doesn’t represent on the ground as far as Palestinian constituencies, but his regional and global friends are also shrinking. He has bad relations with Egypt, of course, since Mubarak’s departure, and has been unable to come to terms with new realities there, bad relations with several key Gulf States including Qatar and Saudi Arabia, the Emirates. And all of this is not very good for a man who has bad relations with, increasingly bad relations with the United States over the plans to go to the UN. And Israel also seems very indifferent to him, at best. I think the reaction to him, the statement that was so shocking for Palestinians was received with a fair amount of indifference for Israelis, indifference and in some cases even contempt. But his world, Mahmoud Abbas’, is increasingly shrinking, I think.
But going back to this idea of the collapse of the peace process, I think another point that Noura made, I think, very strongly, is the extent to which the peace process, the occupation and the Palestinian Authority have become intertwined, virtually inseparable. I think we saw that in the September protests where the trajectory of the demands of the protestors started off as against Prime Minister Salam Fayyad because people weren’t getting their salaries. They were angry about price hikes, and then they morphed into demands for Mahmoud Abbas’ resignation and then rescinding the Paris Protocol, which is the Oslo era agreement determining the economic relationship between Israel and the Palestinian Authority, and then Oslo itself. So we’ve got this graduation – because it’s impossible to talk about the Palestinian Prime Minister or the Palestinian President or the Paris Protocol without … it is interconnected, and I think there isn’t really an appreciation of that here in Washington.
As far as institutions, this collapse or decay of Palestinian leadership is tangible, and I think it’s clear to most people. In terms of institutions, as I mentioned, the PA is, in my view, it’s not “if and when”, I’m often asked or the question is often phrased, “How do you prevent the PA from collapsing?” It’s already collapsing. We are in this process, it is an on-going process, the collapse of the PA isn’t just something that we just wake up and find that it’s gone. It is now in the process. That process has already started, and we know of course of a very severe fiscal crisis, the PA donor money is drying up for different reasons, the Americans haven’t made contributions since last year as a result of the UN bid, Arab states and others have a case of donor fatigue, they feel that they are simply just underwriting the occupation, and they’re reluctant to pay and they’re also very displeased with the quality of Palestinian leadership. We saw the Emir of Qatar go to Gaza in order to at least partly send a signal to the leadership in Ramallah, and then on the other side of the equation, the PA has racked up an enormous, enormous debt, both foreign and especially domestic. They’ve borrowed well over a billion dollars from local banks, and I’ve heard estimates that it’s even higher, and none of this is good for the Palestinians, but one of the points that I stress with you as policy makers, is it’s not good for American interests. You need to have a cohesive, coherent Palestinian polity to deal with.
Even the security cooperation that is so fundamental to the Oslo framework is not immune, I think, and is actually, I would argue, unsustainable. For financial reasons, it’s very difficult to justify, Noura made this point also, it’s very difficult to justify the expenditure on security, which actually estimates I heard are well above 20%, 36-40% is what I heard. And if you compare that to the World Bank and other international financial institutions, you can find data on governmental expenditures as a percent, on military as a percent of its total expenditures, and I think Israel is in the very high range, about 18% of their budget is spent on the military. Other countries, I think the United States is around 6 or 7 [%], actually it may be a little bit higher than that, but when you consider 40% of this government’s expenditures are in the area of security, and only a very tiny portion of that is policing, actually just basic law and order policing in Area A, petty crimes and whatever the Palestinian police actually do – and the rest of course is in terms of security coordination with Israel.
But it’s also politically unsustainable. A term that I kept hearing over and over in various forms is this idea of a “5-star occupation”. Israel has a “5-star occupation”, international donor money being paid on check-point upgrading and the Palestinians are handling the security, and the American are paving roads, and everybody’s taking a piece of the occupation, while Israel is essentially off the hook, both financially and politically in terms of the occupation. So politically maintaining this “5-star occupation” is, I think, untenable. And also because the issue of security coordination is a key sticking point in Palestinian internal reconciliation talks between Hamas and Fatah. So I think it is unsustainable, maybe over the short-term, but certainly over the medium-term. Already I’ve noticed, and others have noticed, that both Palestinians and Israelis have begun to deal with this new reality of the PA collapsing and are dealing with the day after, and they’re already dealing in contingencies and preparing for the downsizing and downgrading of the PA, which is essentially a reversal Oslo. So Oslo is actually being reversed on the ground, and we’re going in many respects, back to the future, we’re going back to the 1970’s and 80’s.
On the Israeli side I take very seriously the threats by Israel, by Lieberman and others, to collapse the PA if they’re going to go to the UN. And the actions that are happening on the ground are leading to that. One thing that Israel did during the local elections, for example, that were held a few weeks ago, there was unprecedented Israeli facilitation of these elections, whereas for past parliamentary elections and presidential elections there were always a lot of problems as far as the Jerusalem voters, very sensitive issues, getting ballot boxes, having to travel through area C, none of these problems were there. Of course there were elections in East Jerusalem at the municipal level this time around, but there were Palestinian police force presence in East Jerusalem, in Abu Dis, for example, had to make their way, and all of this was facilitated at an unprecedented level, and I think this suggests that Israel is coming to terms with a post-PA reality. And I hear this also from Palestinians, a lot of Palestinians who would otherwise have reservations about local elections because they weren’t inclusive, that Hamas had boycotted, that they weren’t for the West Bank and Gaza, as well as Jerusalem, were still somehow supportive of them because they saw local institutions as being a safety net in case that the PA is no longer there. And so at least they would have local institutions with some legitimacy to latch onto.
But also there’s an economic re-integration of the territories, very ironically. The past ten years, since the second intifada, we saw the paradigm was separation. And so now we still have the realities of separation, the wall and the closures and so on, but there’s also this economic re-integration, so Palestinian labor that works in Israel is now at pre-intifada levels, and it’s actually growing. You have new pilot projects, like during the Eid, Israelis abandoned the checkpoints and allowed half a million Palestinians to enter Israel. It’s been explained to me as a pilot project, can the infrastructure handle such a volume, and of course would it go off without incident. Would there be security threats that would emerge from it? So you have Palestinians from the West Bank on the beaches in Tel Aviv and elsewhere and this harkens back to the pre-Oslo days. So we’re seeing this re-integration happening on the ground.
The Palestinians are almost across the board talking about a bare-bones authority, getting rid of certain ministries, stream-lining the bureaucracy, they would have to keep some institutions, I often hear about it in terms of the PA becoming a municipal authority, and so forth. In the meantime we’re seeing a building up of the President’s office. It’s often referred to as a “shadow government”, which is a phenomenon similar to what happened in 2007 when the international community boycotted the PA, the government that was drawn from the elected legislature. And there’s also a focus on the greater rebuilding of the PLO, as far as institutions, not necessarily politically, which of course also has to do with Palestinian reconciliation.
As I mentioned, apart from institutions, it is clear that there is no strategy, there is no Palestinian strategy here, and we can see the leadership of Mahmoud Abbas floundering, flipping from tactical maneuver to another, and it’s not clear that he has any kind of a commitment to any of these positions. He still talks about a negotiated settlement with Israel, he still talks about and has pursued on some level, reconciliation with Hamas, and he talks about bypassing the peace process altogether and going to the UN to achieve an upgrade of the status of the PLO there, of statehood status. Rather than put these together into a coherent strategy, and I think that they’re not incompatible, contrary to the views of the Washington establishment, he triangulates, hopping from one to the other until it’s no longer feasible, but really without any direction. I think it’s also true of Hamas, that they don’t have a strategy, their strategy is essentially, “the other guy’s going to fail and we’re going to be there to pick up the pieces and to fill the vacume.” It looks like a promising formula, I think, for them, given the regional trends in favor of Islamists but also because they have much less in terms of responsibilities and costs. The PA in the West Bank is still paying 40% of its budget in salaries to Gaza employees who don’t go to work. And of course they have a much smaller budget to begin with. And they also have this conflict within Hamas between resistance and governance. I think they’ve discovered the contradiction between being a government and governing, and being a revolutionary resistance movement that the PA encountered twenty years ago.
By and large both of these leaderships have bought into the two-state paradigm, and that alone continues to make the two-state solution relevant. Whether or not it’s likely, you have the two largest factions in the Palestinian political arena who are prepared to pursue a two-state settlement of one sort or another, based on roughly 1967. At the end of the day though, the reality that we have is a leadership not only with decaying institutions and no strategy, I think all of this points to a fundamental lack of legitimacy and the PLO of course and the PA leadership of Mahmoud Abbas is the primary problem in this regard, since nobody, very few people expect that Hamas would be the political address of the Palestinians, at least at this stage, but the PLO and the PA by extension Abu Mazen and Fatah, have greatly lost legitimacy as a result of their attachment to this failed peace process and failed negotiations, and we see also they’re increasingly disconnected from their own people. Abbas’ interview on Israeli Channel Two was a prime example of the degree to which he was – for most leaders, their domestic public is their first audience, and their foreign public even if they’re doing an interview on foreign television is their secondary audience. I think it’s safe to say that that situation was reversed in this case.
There is not a lot of talk on the Palestinian side, not a lot of consideration given to their own domestic political constituency. I think one of the missing components, and again, this applies to both Abbas’ leadership and Hamas, is that no one leadership can claim to represent all Palestinians. The PLO used to, but the PLO doesn’t really represent refugees anymore, Hamas is not a member of the PLO, as well as other factions aren’t members of the PLO, so that representativeness has been eroded, and I think other elements of legitimacy, elections, international recognition, governance, performance, all of those are also on the decline. The fact that the PA now is collapsing is really the last sign, the last pillar of the PA’s legitimacy, and it itself is also collapsing. Having said that though, I think there are no third alternatives. There isn’t a third option. The revolutionary youth movement, to the extent that such a thing exists in Palestine is weak and divided, and I think also visionless, or at least divided on their vision. So even the best of intentions, in the lessons that we learn from Egypt, these revolutionary youth groups were empowered for about 18 days and then it ended. After that it was the political forces that filled the vaccume. The youth movement in Palestine has not yet coalesced into a viable political force. Thank you.
Khaled you just gave half of my talk, but you did it in much more profound and interesting way given that you have got back from the West Bank. I find what both you and Nora said to be of great interest and so in the interest and the desire to get to a discussion about what you have said I will try to be brief. What I wanted to do was to talk a bit about the lack of a strategy and where we stand since the last demise of the last peace process, two years ago I guess at this point in time. So where do we stand, and as I see it and as Khaled outlined there are essentially three main actors on the political, the Palestinian political scene right now: the PLO/ PA and the other is Hamas and the third is civil society, and as Khaled said about the PLO there have been three strands of strategic action or areas that we could suggest of action. One is negotiations with Israel, there was an attempt to negotiate under Jordanian auspices in January and there have been news reports that there have been talks in Ramallah. I think that there have been some secrete or quiet talks about updating the Oslo interims arrangement but that has not been made public, so there is this one strand of bilateral negotiation with Israel. There is a second strand of strategic action, which is internal Palestinian reconciliation with Hamas. The third is this international diplomatic effort at the UN, which when the Palestinian decided to go to the UN Security Council I sort of interpreted that as indicative of a desire to make a symbolic move responsive to the public’s interest in seeing something done. It occurred to great fan fair, in the West Bank they had set up cameras broadcasting Abu Mazan’s speech at the UN and the application for membership was handed to the Secretary General with great drama, but the fact that they went to the Security Council I think was indicative of the desire really not to rock the boat entirely, because it was assumed that there would be an American Veto.
These three strands of strategic action have been pursued simultaneously without a cohesive strategy or at least none that has been articulated and have been done half-heartedly and we see that there is likely to be another application or another resolution before the UN General Assembly for a non-member observer state status with the UN, on the 15th of November which is the day that the Palestinians declared independence. So all these lines of actions are sort of ongoing and in a half-hearted way. Hamas for its part is I think riding the Arab Spring, playing its cards. It had downgraded its resistance ideology and was promoting a more compromised line of engagement, which has oddly been reversed lately with the sending of rockets. Perhaps Hamas is feeling emboldened by the visit of the Qatar Emir to Gaza. I think we could spend a lot of time just sitting here debating what that visit means and what the intention is. One very worrying suggestion that I have read coming from the Israeli commentators that I that there is a desire to make Gaza the third state. So is Hamas playing this strategic game, I don’t know but it’s certainly not interested in reconciliation.
The third actor on the scene is civil society, and as Khaled said, civil society has presented a very deep and profound criticism of the two state solution of the status quo of the Oslo as we heard from Noura. You have the BDS movement which is intended to draw on international law and promote Palestinian rights through international pressure on Israel. But there has been no articulation of a political platform by civil society and by the BDS movement. So I think it is also half-hearted in a sense because the third way or the third force presented by civil society obviously has a clarity about principles and ideas and about what’s wrong but there has been no coalescing around an alternative paradigm, and granted it’s going to take us a while to flush that out but I also think there has also been a reluctance to present an alternative to the two-state paradigm and I think we have to question that as potentially stalling progress and pushing forward against and over and beyond the status quo.
So I think we are stuck and the Palestinians are stuck and I think it’s not easy to admit that we are stuck because for 12 years now we have pursued a paradigm which was based on the notion that Israel would see it in its rational self-interest to end the occupation of the West Bank and Gaza strip and that the Palestinians would provide concessions on major issues by compromising on the historical compromise on giving up 22% of mandate Palestine, asking only for a symbolic return combined with Israeli rational self-interest and American appreciation for Palestinian pragmatism that this would produce a two- state outcome. And I think a lot of institutions, a lot of political effort is invested into the two state paradigm. The whole J Street, which is new, in its third year of existence is premised on this whole paradigm. There is a lot of political activity, a lot of monetary investment on the part of the donor community and a lot of Jewish progressive thinking along this paradigm. The Palestinian PA themselves are stuck in this paradigm. I thought it was very telling that Yousef published his critique that said the Israelis have chosen two things: one they have chosen apartheid and they have chosen to admit that they are not practicing apartheid. And this was published on the same day that Saab Erekat published an Op-ed in Harratz saying the day before the Palestinian election was our last chance to save the two-state solution.
The Palestinian leadership is still clearly stuck in the in the cul de sac that it’s been in. It does not have alternative ideas and it doesn’t have alternative partners and it’s not being pushed by civil society, in any substantive way that would galvanize these movements that have been built up around the two- state paradigm toward a different direction. I think also it is not easy to say that we are going to dissolve the PA. The PA has built these institutions that are serving so many people. You have 60 thousand Palestinians that are receiving salaries. I’ve heard the former head of the World Bank’s office in Jerusalem say the PA is the best welfare system that we can imagine. So there is acknowledgement that the PA is a process of conflict management, a process of getting support to the Palestinians, and it’s a process that the Palestinians themselves on the ground are invested in to a degree because it’s an indication of some level of self-governance and I don’t think self-determination because these are interims institutions they are not, they haven’t been conceived of or promoted as institutions of self-determination. But I don’t think Palestinian necessarily want to do away with the PA I don’t think it’s an easy option.
I think there are two factors that are really presenting a major strain on the PA , those two things are one, donor dependency, and dependency on Israel for the vat transfers and for the movement of people. I think that for donor dependency, that after the Palestinians went to the UN last September, and the US congress put a hold on what was only 200,000 economic development assistance, the Palestinian PA leaders were very dismissive of the implications of this, but the European Union has not adopted a policy that is that different from the Americans. It hasn’t withheld its aid but it has certainly pressured the Palestinians from acting outside of the box. The EU is paying salaries on a regular basis. Dependency on Israel is not an easy thing to get over. Again the vat transfers are significant for the PA because the PA does not have the ability to collect those revenues on their own, despite the fact that have advanced ideas to do the collection and get around movement restrictions.
Then there is also the permit system that has been built up, and the VIP system. It is deluxe occupation as Khaled said. And there are a lot of people that are invested in the privileges that they gain from the existence of the PA and their relationship with Israel. I think it is interesting to say that this is breaking down and that there is more of a general opening and what could that possibly mean for new strategies I think is an interesting question. I think the Palestinian leadership is complete disconnected from the public, both the PLO and the Hamas leadership, I think Hamas increasingly so, despite that its former ability to claim difference was its proximity to the population, and closeness and representative nature of people on the grassroots level. And I think that the Palestinians are really at a critical moment of political divison and fracturing and I think civil society is not hesitant to call Abu Mazen out and suggest that he is a traitor of the cause, whereas the PA leadership is not reluctant to push back protesters who are demanding basic rights and you have Hamas who appears ready to establish its own little statelet. It is a very critical moment for the Palestinians because, and also the Palestinians in the Diaspora, I think the Palestinians in Lebanon are now highly invested in promoting their rights within Lebanon and the right of return is critically important. They want a better life where they are; you have have multiple generations. There are different Palestinians with different interests. And I think if we’re going to avoid a problem where the Palestinian nation is completely disaggregated into interest groups, we have to think about a new strategy and we have to produce new leadership, and we have to give that strategy a platform, beyond just international law and principals. I don’t know maybe it’s time to endorse one state. I still think that doesn’t resonate with the majority of Palestinians.
It’s time when we need to start flushing out alternatives. We also need to figure out who else we can work with at the International level. There has been a complete reliance on the US as a sponsor of political progress and I think there is a question of what other countries can do. Can the Arab states in the new geopolitical shifts provide some new leverage for the Palestinians or partnerships beyond just an Islamic partnership? What about the British countries can we pressure the EU a bit? Do these different international actors present different opportunities for the Palestinians? I think there is a question about what the Obama administration will do. I don’t think it is beyond reason to say that in his second that Obama may vote in favor of a UN resolution at the General Assembly supporting recognition of the Palestinian statehood. I could see that happening. I don’t see it happening November 15 but if there is a stretch of time between now and when that resolution is put forward there is potential. I don’t think there is real potential to change the dynamic on the ground through the US because it is more of a systematic problem. So the question is again who else can we look to, to support Palestine rights? Thank you.
Noura Erakat is a human rights attorney and activist. She is currently the Freedman Teaching Fellow at the Temple Law School, and is the US-based Legal Advocacy Coordinator for Badil Center for Palestinian Refugee and Residency Rights. Most recently she served as Legal Counsel for a Congressional Subcommittee in the House of Representatives, chaired by Congressman Dennis J. Kucinich. Her publications include “Litigating the Arab-Israeli Conflict: The Politicization anthology,” and “BDS in the USA: 2001-2010,” in the Middle East Report. She is a Co-Editor of Jadaliyya.com.
Khaled Elgindy is a Fellow with the Saban Center for Middle East Policy at the Brookings Institution in Washington, DC. He previously served as an advisor to the Palestinian leadership in Ramallah on permanent status negotiations with Israel from 2004-2009, and was a key participant in the Annapolis negotiations of 2008. He is the author of numerous publications on Arab-Israeli affairs, Palestinian politics, Egypt’s transition, and related subjects, including: “The Middle East Quartet: A Post-Mortem” (Brookings Institution, Feb. 2012); “Palestine Goes to the UN: Understanding the New Statehood Strategy,”
Foreign Affairs (Sep./Oct. 2011); as well as “The Impact on the Peace Process: Peacemaker or Peacebreaker?” (with Salman Shaikh) and “The Palestinians: Between National Liberation and Political Legitimacy,” both in the recent Brookings volume, The Arab Awakening: America and the Transformation of the Middle East (Nov. 2011).
Leila Hilal is Director of the New America Foundation Middle East Task Force, which covers in-depth analysis and commentary on the Middle East and North Africa. From 2002 to 2007, she served as a legal adviser to the Palestinian Negotiations Department. She also advised the Palestinian Constitutional Committee during the drafting of the Basic Law. She has also consulted widely and published on conflict mediation policies in the Middle East, including for the Chatham House, International Development Research Center, International Center for Transitional Justice, Institute for Historical Justice and Reconciliation, and the Euro-Med Human Rights Network.
This transcript may be used without permission but with proper attribution to The Palestine Center. The speaker’s views do not necessarily reflect the views of The Jerusalem Fund.