Back to Basic: abandoning negotiations and calls for one or two states
(The following is a condensed version of Susan Abulhawa's speech at the Al-Awda Center grand opening)
Summary: Susan Abulhawa presents an argument to abandon all negotiations with Israel and to abandon calls for the One State and Two State solutions; and in fact, to abandon academic debates on a political construct in favor of embracing the basic calls of Palestinian civil society for essential human rights. This strategy includes the need for a consensus and unified call originating from Palestinians in the Occupied Territories and agreed upon with the various Palestinian communities that make up the Palestinian Nation, including: Palestinians of the West Bank, Jerusalem, Gaza, refugee camps outside of Palestine, the worldwide Diaspora and Palestinians of 1948. She argues that the greatest and unstoppable power available to Palestinians lies in their roots, the moral authority of their struggle for freedom. Harnessing that power, to which Israel has no real defenses, is the most practical path forward and it is rests on the need for 1) a unified call for freedom and the full range of human rights and dignities 2) a point of synergy among the multitude of internal and external movements which include direct action and solidarity activities inside Palestine and around the world and 3) sustained mobilization from the bottom up, hopefully with the assistance of the Palestinian Authority, but at least without interference from them.
To try to comprehend the PA’s UN bid for statehood and to figure out what the ramifications are on many fronts, it behooves us to take a look at history because, this is, after all, not the first time that a Palestinian state was formally declared. I know there are legal differences between the declaration of state in the 1980s and the current application for recognition, but for all intents and purposes, they are both attempts to achieve statehood by seeking international recognition, which, I feel, is the wrong approach for our struggle at this moment in history and, in my opinion is also probably a cynically calculated move that has little to do with actually achieving statehood.
The First Intifada & Declaration of Statehood
In 1988, the PLO formally declared the State of Palestine, and the designation "Palestine" for the PLO was adopted by UN in acknowledgement of that declaration, even though we had no formal status at the UN as a state. At that time, as with the present, we had overwhelming popular support in the General Assembly. Also at that time, as in the present, the US did everything it could to prevent any kind of recognition or international legitimacy for Palestine.
The more important and striking similarity between the declaration of statehood in 1988 and in the present UN bid is the presence of a persistent nonviolent movement with growing international solidarity.
In 1987, the first Intifada began as a popular, spontaneous, and grassroots uprising that moved the Palestinian struggle away from guerilla warfare. It changed the way the world saw Palestinians and began to reveal the brutality of the occupation. The first intifada was nonviolent, marked by mass civil disobedience, boycotts, refusal to pay taxes, disruption of power and sewage going to illegal colonies and more of the like. Throwing rocks against tanks and armored Israeli vehicles was symbolic and few in the international community bought Israel’s claims that these rocks constituted serious violent threats.
As a result, the first intifada began to capture the imaginations and inspire civil societies everywhere, despite Israel’s best PR and hasbara campaigns. Popular international solidarity was growing and there was a burgeoning awareness of who we are and what we had suffered for decades under occupation. And for the first time, there was open public criticism of Israel in places that would not have dared to do so before. Simply, the moral authority of our cause could not be ignored.
Even though Israel was committing unspeakable war crimes to suppress the intifada, the movement only intensified and caused power to shift to the Palestinian street, for the first time. That shift was also changing world opinion, which was a major threat to Israel because it hit at their greatest weak point: their image, and I’ll touch on that more shortly.
But the first intifada didn’t just threaten Israel, it was also a threat to the Palestinian leadership, which was outside of Palestine at the time. The persistence of the first intifada spawned local leaderships that were not directly affiliated with the PLO, and although the PLO had nothing to do with the first intifada, they quickly positioned themselves at the forefront and began to take control as much as possible from the outside. The PLO’s efforts to control extinguished the intifada’s fire and culminated in the Madrid Conference followed by the Oslo Accords.
In essence, here’s what happened: after decades of suffering at the hands of a brutal military occupation whose only purpose was to displace or subjugate Palestinians under their control, we had the first bottom up movement that was full of solidarity, full of hope. And, more importantly, it was full of promise. It promised to grow and spread. It promised a path of successful nonviolent resistance with growing international attention at the levels of civil society, mainstream media, and government leaderships. This promise was seized by the Palestinian leadership. They took ownership of the movement when it started to gain momentum on the ground and abroad, they grabbed the reigns of it, and then they steered us into what turned out to be more slaughter and more wholesale theft of our lands and properties, all under the auspices of a negotiated settlement called the “Peace Process”.
Today we find ourselves in a situation bearing many of the same hallmarks and a reaction by the Palestinian leadership that looks too much like their reaction then.
The Second Intifada & UN Bid for Statehood
Although the second intifada’s early days saw violent Palestinian reactions to Israel’s sustained terrorism, it has morphed into a nonviolent struggle that is taking roots not only in Palestine, but throughout the world. The change in the 2nd Intifada’s character has spurred many to declare it over, but this is not an accurate statement. The second intifada is alive and well and growing.
Perhaps the earliest manifestations of the active nonviolent resistance came from the activites of the International Solidarity Movement. Construction of the Apartheid Wall spawned more local heroes who began leading unrelenting and regular demonstrations. The call from Palestinian Civil Society for international Boycott Divestment and Sanctions against Israel was launched was launched in 2005, pushing the movement in new directions and far outside of Palestine, whereby solidarity groups all over the world joined and have been implementing creative nonviolent resistance actions.
The results have been impressive and nonviolent resistance is once again taking hold in the occupied territories and around the world. It’s happening on an even greater scale internationally, thanks to the current communication technology that was not available in the 1980s. Among the many victories of BDS abroad, several major corporations have had their hands forced by activists. Thanks in large part to BDS affiliate, CodePink, AHAVAs flagship store in London was forced to close. Veolia, the French multinational corporation lost billions of euros worth of municipality contracts for its involvement in building infrastructure to illegal Israeli settlements and it is now facing financial meltdown. Most recently, Agrexco, a major Israeli exporter of produce, that come primarily from illegal Israeli farms on stolen Palestinian land, has been forced to liquidate its assets after being unable to pay its creditors thanks to the efforts of BDS.
These are just a few examples of the results of cooperation between civil society everywhere who have heeded the calls of BDS. This popular movement is taking a life of its own and is accompanied by similar movements, like the International Solidarity Movement that I mentioned before, the Free Gaza Movement, the flotillas, and the Russell Tribunals, to name a few. Important international figures across the world have signed on and taken action against Israel’s apartheid. These are prominent individuals in their fields – literary figures, musicians, clergy, military personnel, activists, journalists, and more – who have taken very public stands against Israeli Apartheid.
This is huge! It’s importance and impact should not be underestimated.
It hits right at what I said was one of Israel’s weakest points. Israel pours billions of dollars into creating and maintaining the image of civilized and enlightened country, and they panic when the world starts to see the reality of their ongoing campaign of ethnic cleansing; And they panic even more when they’re called out on it.
That’s why they’ve been so freaked out lately passing one fascist law after another to try to police what people say, what they publicly remember [anti-Naqba law], or what they choose to buy or not buy [anti-boycott law]. They’re freaked out by internationals bearing witness to their war crimes; so they’ve passed a series of laws to prevent non-Palestinians from going into the West Bank and Gaza. Then there’s the racist loyalty oath – the list goes on. They are absurd, fascist laws that only show how scared Israel has become of our growing solidarity movement, BDS, and nonviolent actions inside Palestine.
This ground swell should not be minimized!
Then came Arab Spring!
It caused a seismic shift in power away from the ruling elite toward the people and toward popular action and democracy throughout the Arab World. Arab Spring inspired and galvanized our movement even more. Arab Spring is now going global, as it’s not a stretch to make a connection between the demonstrations in Tahrir Square and the ongoing Occupy Wall Street in New York.
Against this backdrop of people power, the Palestinian Authority, unilaterally [and I don’t mean ‘unilaterally’ in that it excluded Israel; but ‘unilaterally’ in that it excluded Palestinians] decided to make a bid for statehood at the UN. At no time did Mahmoud Abbass address the people he supposedly represents. Even at the UN, when he made the bid for statehood, he was still speaking to everyone except us. That, to me, is a bad sign that history could be repeating itself here. It looks too much like the past, particularly when we see images of Palestinians giving Abu Mazen a heroes welcome home; it reminds me of the fanfare of the PA’s arrival in the West Bank after Oslo, which is clear to everyone in retrospect to have been nothing more than a ruse to quiet popular nonviolent action in order to give Israel the time it needs to continue its colonial endeavors in the occupied territories.
I would also add that the timing of this UN bid is questionable, as it comes when the PA is severely weakened by the damning revelations of the Palestine Papers leaked on Al Jazeera. Why, after 20 years of negotiations, does the PA make this move? I’m sure it didn’t just dawn on them that Israel was only ever just trying to buy itself time to create facts on the ground. They’re not stupid and they understood Israel’s colonial expansion and goal to take everything they could. The truth is that the PA was scared. Their power was threatened by Arab Spring and by the fadeeha el kobra (the great scandal) of the Palestine Papers. So, this move may well have been just a cynical calculation to restore the power of the PA. I hate to think the worst – that it was actually orchestrated with Israel and the US for the same purpose and what we’re witnessing is theatre.
Caution to the PA/PLO
So, I’m worried about this UN bid. However, I also think, that if certain conditions are met and the same mistakes of the past are not repeated, it can still be salvaged as a good thing. For that to happen, the PA (or PLO, it’s hard to know who is who anymore) must ensure that the following happens:
1. They must go forward full force with what they started, without compromise.
I hear that at least one Security Council member is trying to get the PA to alter the text of the UN bid, in exchange for voting in favor of statehood, so that it excludes the ability to take any retroactive grievances to the International Court of Justice.
If this happens, it would be a disaster for us because it would be a back-handed way for the PA to abdicate the Right of Return (which they have no right to do) under the cover of statehood.
We cannot let them do that and I think, Zahi, it’s time for another petition with 600,000 signatures to deliver to Abbass like the one Al-Awda delivered to Arafat when he was considering the same thing.
The second part of going full force forward is to take the bid to the General Assembly once the SC sends it back with the promised US veto. I’m very happy to see that the PA has been pushing for Palestine membership in various UN bodies, including, most recently, UNESCO.
2. Don’t stand in the way of popular movements. Already the PA is sending police to bust up peaceful anti-occupation protests, in essence, working for the occupier. This has to stop. The PA cannot be allowed to seize the power on the ground and tamp out the spread of nonviolent resistance.
3. Become a force that creates synergy among our various efforts to achieve our rights; make the UN bid into something that adds to the ongoing efforts instead of something that stifles them. For example, the UN bid can open up legal avenues for a whole new arena for our struggle, but don’t let that come at the expense of tamping a growing nonviolent resistance movement.
4. They should become a force of unity; not only between Gaza and the West Bank, but also among Palestinians of 1948; Palestinians still in refugee camps in other nations; and Palestinians in the Diaspora, whether in Arab nations, the Americas, Europe, Africa, Asia and other parts of the world.
5. Finally, they should not assume that they will maintain power without popular blessing, which will not remain if this UN bid stifles our efforts or gives away an iota of our Right to Return.
This is a warning to the PA that accepting statehood at the expense of retroactive grievances (i.e. everything we’re fighting for, including the Right of Return) will have terrible consequences for us all.
Time to abandon calls for Two-State Solution AND the One-State Solution
That said, I want to emphasize why I think we are living in the most opportune time we’ve had in the history of this conflict.
The kind of bottom up power we’re witnessing is fertile ground for us. This is the arena in which we are more powerful. This is the field where we win because Israel has no real defenses against us in this arena. Our greatest power lies in the moral command of our cause – we are the indigenous people fighting for freedom, struggling to live dignified lives in our own homeland. We didn’t come from Poland or Russia, or France, or Germany, or any other place. We are the natives of the Holy Land in ever sense of the word “native” – historically, ethnically, culturally, legally, and even genetically, we are the natives. If you take samples of our DNA, the results will show genetic markers specific to that region of the world. Our strength is in our roots.
It is no accident that Israel is so often so busy uprooting our olive trees or unearthing our cemeteries to cover them over with new structures. Because the truth is that there is no forensic evidence linking most Israelis to the land. So, they have been busy either destroying traces of our existence or trying to claim it as theirs. But that is really an impossible task, now matter how much they’ve already destroyed. Palestine is passed down from one generation’s hearts and memories to another. Ben Gurion could not have been more wrong when he predicted that “The old will die and the young will forget”.
But we are where we are now and they are here with us, whether we or they like it or not.
And the bid for statehood has been made, regardless of how we feel about it.
So what is the path forward?
Before we answer that, we have to decide what is the end game. What is the result we want to achieve. Unfortunately, and after 65 years of this struggle, we still do not have a truly unified call.
People often ask me which proposal do I support, the one state or the two state. It seems those are the only two proposals in people’s mind. That it has to be one or the other and we end up struggling for one or the other. We waste precious time and energy debating the merits of one over the other. Which is better, we ask: The Two State Solution - ostensibly based on the 1967 borders; or the One State Solution - which would presumably include all of Palestine for all her inhabitants.
The fundamental problem with both of these proposals is that they are concentrating on the political construct and of statehood. And I think that is the wrong approach.
If we drill down to what we really want, what we all want and all can agree on: it is to live dignified lives in our own homeland, with full human and civil rights accorded to everyone there equally regardless of religion.
I know this sounds a lot like the One State proposal; but it differs in that it is simply a call for basic rights. It is not a call for a particular political construct because frankly, it doesn’t matter what the political construct looks like, as long as all our basic human rights are upheld, and that includes our natural right to return and live in our own homeland.
This, in my opinion, is what we should be working toward. Calling for our natural rights as human beings and as an indigenous people is what unifies us all. To be accorded human rights is our rightful inheritance. It is the rightful destiny of human beings not to be subjugated, expelled or oppressed. The call from Palestinian Civil Society, which originated inside the occupied territories, is the best starting place framework. In any event, we are in great need of a consensus for a unified and uncompromising call founded on the goal of human dignity. This can form the frame of reference for whatever actions we take.
So, I would say, do NOT think in terms of a political construct; but to think in terms of human rights. In terms of human dignity and human worth that is not measured by religion. This is a goal that will unify us and will strengthen our collective efforts that pour into the same movement for freedom.
Palestinian Resistance: Failures of the past and why it’s time to abandon negotiations
For the most part, Palestinian resistance has been allowed to develop on two major fronts, and mostly exclusive fronts.
1. Armed resistance.
Although we have the right to resist foreign occupation by any means available to us, including armed resistance, I think this is not an effective strategy for us.
For starters, rocks, moltov cocktails, or even homemade rockets, don’t stand a chance against armoured tanks, warplanes and some of the most sophisticated death machines known to man. This is simply not an arena where we can gain any ground because here we are weak in this regard. We do not have a military or any necessary hardware to change this fact.
More importantly, armed resistance ultimately erodes the singul most important power we have. As I already mentioned, it is the moral superiority of the cause of justice and human rights, against their cause, which is the desire for power and an ethnoreligious pure society.
2. The second main path that the Palestinian leadership has taken us has been negotiations. This too is and always was a fundamentally flawed and moral unsound approach, because it assumes a very denigrating assumption:
That our basic rights as human beings, our rights as the indigenous people of the Holy Land, and our freedom, are things to be negotiated for; as if our rights, enshrined in all tenets of international law, and our freedom are mere bargaining chips to be traded for clean water or bread.
And yet, the PA has continued along in what every one of us knows is a sham. This peace process was never designed to lead to a life of dignity for Palestinians. It was never meant to lead to a viable Palestinian state. Netanyahu’s speech made that clear. Israel’s actions for the past twenty years have made that clear. Why else would they continue, on a daily basis, to expropriate Palestinian land and turn it over for the exclusive use of Jews being invited from all over the world to come and take what is not theirs? Why else would they continue their policy of home demolitions unabated? The Peace Process was always a ruse to buy Israel more time to take more and more and more and ultimately wipe us off the map.
You only need to look at how the map has changed over time to see the truth in that statement.
The current map proves that. How could this not be apparent to the PA? In fact, even as he submitted the bid for statehood, Mahmoud Abbas made the mind boggling statement that there was no substitute for negotiations.
He is, in fact, very wrong. In fact, there is no other instance in history where an occupied and oppressed people has been expected to actually negotiate with their oppressors for freedom and for basic human rights.
When Nelson Mandela was in prison and change began to sweep over South Africa, some of his comrades were being released from prison. Nelson Mandela too was offered a deal for his freedom. P. W. Botha offered him freedom if he would renounce violence. Mandela refused the offer, and his now famous letter, he explained that "Only free men can negotiate."
He was the only one of his comrades to remain in prison by the end of the 1980s. His uncompromising insistence on implementing the full range of human rights and freedoms to Blacks equal to Whites inspired us all and eventually culminated in bringing Apartheid to it’s knees.
Likewise, Rosa Parks did not negotiate with the white driver or white passengers to take her rightful place among the rest of humanity on that bus. She stayed put with all the force she could muster. Her insistence on being recognized as fully human, fully worthy, inspired the Civil Rights Movement.
Martin Luther King and Malcom X didn’t enter into negotiations to beg the government to let Black folk use a few more water fountains, or to be allowed to buy a house in just a few white neighborhoods.
Yet that is precisely the indignity we are accepting upon ourselves by engaging in these negotiations. By continuing to negotiate for basic rights, we are accepting the premise that we cannot be fully worthy human beings unless Israel says so.
This is Our Time
With Arab Spring, with BDS, ISM, Free Gaza, and the massively growing international solidarity, this is our time!
It’s our time to say that only free people can negotiate. It’s our time to take our seat on the bus and refuse to get up for anyone. It’s our time to boycott. To divest. To proudly link arms with every human being willing to stand with us, no matter who they are – be they Jewish, Christian, Muslim, gay or straight, Black or White or any color in between. And to remember the solidarity shown to us, as our beloved Edward Said once said.
If we continue on the path of nonviolent resistance that we started in the occupied territories and throughout the world, and with the solidarity of justice-seeking people everywhere, I believe with all my being, that we will eventually be in a position to say to the Israelis in no uncertain terms, and with a force they will have no choice but to listen to, that they are welcome to stay as our equals, but not as our masters.
You may think that that day is unrealistic. You might say that because we’ve been conditioned to see our weakness. To see how outgunned we are. How outmaneuvered we’ve been. Or how little clout we have in the halls of power compared with the intense influence that Israel wields on the most powerful countries. But focusing on these things obscures how powerful we really are.
I read an article recently by someone I very much admire and whose words I often like to read; but this particular article was one that I disagreed with because it reinforces this sense of powerlessness, which is quite harmful. The article was written when everyone was speculating whether the PA would follow through with the UN bid and the premise of the article was that no matter what happens, Israel will win, whether Abbas follows through or not.
I not only disagree with the premise, but I think that this kind of defeatist outlooks really hurts us. Yes, I know it’s true that Israel can make any US President jump when they say jump; but I don’t think Israel is feeling much like a winner right now.
How triumphant do you think Israel feels with the world turning against them? Peoples of the world are seeing them for the apartheid state that they are and their growing isolation surely doesn’t feel very triumphant to them. It surely doesn’t feel triumphant to them to essentially lose their two major allies in the region, Egypt and Turkey, within the span of one year.
And by believing that we are powerless, we’ve allowed every Israeli to think they can dictate our destiny to us. Just take for example Benny Morris, who said on Cross Talk a few weeks ago, quote:
“I wish the Palestinians would return to the negotiating table to which they had been invited repeatedly, and do so seriously in good faith and negotiate in good faith. If they don’t want to do that, the Palestinians will continue to suffer.”
Translation: “Do as Israel wants or you will continue to be bombed, killed, deprived, oppressed, and systematically robbed.” In fact, that is happening even when we do negotiate as Israel wants; but the point is that you can see from this statement the level of arrogance that pervades every sector of Israeli society.
We Are Powerful & History is on Our Side
While it is true that we don’t have the military capabilities nor do we have anywhere near Israel’s clout among the ruling elite of powerful nations, we are not powerless.
In fact, we are unrivaled in our power on the ground level internationally. Our struggle for freedom is the longest running and best known around the world. Harnessing that advantage is the path we must continue to take.
Taking our case, not to the UN or the US State Department or to the UK or France; but to the populations of the world is where our energy should be focused.
- It’s to the universities that have been signing onto the academic boycotts;
- To consumers who do not want to buy blood products;
- To the churches and synagogues and other religious institutions that understand the ungodliness of ethnic cleansing and who are making sure that their trusts are not invested in Israel’s war crimes
- To the municipalities and the labor unions who are divesting their pensions from Israel in order to affirm their belief in universal human dignity regardless of ones religion
- To the artists and musicians and writers and filmmakers who do not want their names or creations associated with Israel’s Apartheid
- To our fellow US citizens who do not want their tax dollars spent in support of ethno-religious entitlement and exclusivity, especially when our school districts are teetering on bankruptcy and the unemployment is knocking on the door of 10%.
We cannot lose on this path. You don’t need to take my word for it. History is replete with examples that prove what I’m saying. We don’t need to reinvent the wheel.
And we don’t need to continue down a path of denigrating and racist negotiations. We are a native people who deserve to live in their native homeland with full human rights. It’s that simple.
And so to the new sound bite that Israel issued (which is being parroted by the Obama administration, Congress, and nearly all mainstream media commentators): “there are no shortcuts to peace”, I would like to offer these truths:
“Palestinian freedom is non-negotiable”
and “Human Rights are non-negotiable”.
Our message will resonate – maybe not with the ruling elite, but certainly with civil society and ordinary people who adhere to principles of justice and fair play. Because,
Our demands are self-evident truths that we should pursue without apology, without negotiations, without compromise, and without fear.
That’s how every freedom movement achieved its goal before us, and that is how we will achieve ours. THAT is our most effective path forward, not negotiations.