Welcome to the Palestinian Unity Government

The establishment of a united Palestinian government is an important step forward in the battle for Palestinian rights and for a just peace coming as it does when Israel is on the defensive and US policies in the region are in deep trouble. It has been long clear that the Palestinians and the Arab countries are ready for a far-reaching compromise for peace. If there is a chance, at this point, for serious negotiations, it stems from the crisis of Bush’s policies. The area is in turmoil, and US control of the Middle East is on the downgrade. The entire world keeps telling the US government that the tension surrounding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the US blanket support for Israel is destroying the last vestiges of US prestige in the region. With the US wallowing in Mesopotamian mud in Iraq, the so-called “moderate” Arab countries are demanding a revision in US policy. Rice is trying to pass off a new round of blather and chatter as the resumption of the ‘peace process’, but more and more nations and countries are losing their patience. Everybody has had enough of the bluff.

The only alternative to the present ugly reality in Israel-Palestine is peace based on the establishment of an independent Palestinian state alongside Israel. With all the favorable developments surrounding the Saudi initiative, it is far from certain that given the obstacles, the odds are in favor of an early peace. Looking dispassionately at the obstacles to genuine peace, even the most engaged advocate of the two-state solution knows that we are talking about a possibility and not a probability. In any event the current struggle for peace is an important element in the international effort to further isolate and expose Bush and Co.

Many of us were pleased to see Mustafa Bargouti among the ministers in the new Palestinian government. Mustafa Bargouti is well known to the peace camp in Israel and to the friends of peace in the international community. He appears regularly in the international media as an effective and articulate spokesperson for the Palestinian cause. As a rule, Bargouti supports serious dialog between Palestinians and Israeli groups fighting for a just peace. His frequent appearances in important meetings of the protest movement bear witness to his humanist principles. He was absolutely right when he declared on television this week that if Israel really wants peace, all the issues can be solved peacefully within the framework of the two-state solution. If the people of Israel will find a way to overcome the obstacles raised by the Olmert government, peace can be achieved ushering in a period of prosperity and security.

The Contours of the Settlement Were Never Clearer

Though no one can promise that there will indeed be a two state solution, we can say with a reasonable degree of exactness – as a result of contacts over the years and repeated analysis of the real possibilities – what a two state solution would look like. The contours of this very settlement appear in almost identical formulation in a long series of proposals, many of them from authentic Palestinian and Arab sources.

The borders will be determined in accordance with the pre-1967 lines, with mutually agreed alterations. Obviously, there will be serious bargaining about territorial trade offs. The more reasonable approach suggests that it will be easier to find a fair trade off, close to the 1967 borders, than demanding the evacuation of heavily populated Israeli properties. But the 1967 principle means that the Palestinians will demand and receive territory of equal political and economic value.

Jerusalem will indeed serve as two capitals – Israeli and Palestinian as the Palestinians extend sovereignty over the Arab neighborhoods in the city.

There will be a fair and just solution of the refugee problem. The practical translation of this conception, fathered by Yasser Arafat, draws a distinction between the indispensable need for recognizing the rights of the Palestinian refugees on one hand and the implementation, of those rights on the other hand - which will take into account Israeli demographic concerns. The Palestinians can and will demand serious damages and large scale compensation, which is all the more reasonable since repatriation to Israel will be possible only in a small minority of cases. Financial compensation, citizenship rights, recovery of property, choice of domicile, limited repatriation, and subsidized emigration opportunities can go a long way towards a serious improvement in the life of each and every refugee family, though they may not meet the criteria of absolute justice. It is right and just that any responsible Arab negotiator will put the moral demand for repatriation on the table. It will remain there until it is replaced by a serious international material and moral commitment to the welfare of the refugees and a modicum of Israeli cooperation is ensured. At that point it will be possible to enable the mechanics of compromise to do their work.

The New Utopians

Sadly enough, the Israeli ruling circles have recklessly undermined Israel’s moral right to existence. But this does not mean that Israel is on the verge of collapse. Any orientation on swift and just revenge for the crimes against the Palestinians would be politically foolhardy and morally problematic, since it would be quite unhelpful to insist that the Israeli people pay for the miserable policies of their leaders. In all likelihood, the armed conflict must and can end before Israel fully understands the nature of its crimes and mistakes.

It must be understood that we are still very much in the era of practical solutions (with all their limitations) to burning problems and still searching for ways to shorten the duration of human suffering. In case the advocates of the one state solution have not noticed it, we are not in a revolutionary period. We need to pursue the kind of politics which takes into account this reality however unpleasant. Ignoring reality involves immediate and costly failure, and has long ago lost its heroic dimension.

There was a period in which the left did indeed formulate revolutionary policies and slogans for the Middle East. But back then there were some indications that revolutionary ideas and forces were at work in the region. Though these views were based on exaggerated hopes and unrealistic expectations, they did reflect real ideas and forces. They did build on the daily practice of thousands of dedicated activists. The most common slogan on the left back then was the establishment of a single democratic secular socialist state. That slogan back then was infinitely more relevant and achievable than the idea of a single democratic state of Jews and Palestinians in Palestine today. Today, the support for a one- state solution draws its encouragement from the current stalemate and everything it involves. The highly tenuous logic holds that, if the two-state vision is not working, then the potential for a single state solution increases. But there is not the slightest attempt to outline the processes or the actors which will struggle for a single democratic state. Of course, many will admit that “it is a good idea.”

The advocates of the one-state solution usually share with the left a completely totally justified condemnation of the role of the United States and its collusion with Israeli intransigence. However, in the foreseeable future – even envisioning highly positive shifts in the international and regional alignment – there are only two possible states of affairs. The first, and the most likely, is the continuation of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. This involves constant fluctuations in the levels of tension and repression and periodic wars by Israel to maintain its deterrent capacity and to prevent slippage in the existing balance of forces with the ongoing danger of a general catastrophe. The second is the establishment of an independent Palestinian state alongside of Israel.

In passing, it is relevant to notice that what we have today is a one-state affair. Israel continues to integrate the occupied territories through Israeli settlement efforts and reinforces it grip on the remains of the Palestinian economy. Given favorable circumstances, Israel is always on the look out for expanding absorption of Palestinians into the Israeli labor force. Of course, it is also highly important that both peoples are clearly locked into the idea of an independent sovereign state.

Only one ideological approach can justify principled opposition to a two state solution: the classic position of Palestinian nationalism (which, of course, is in no way morally inferior to Jewish nationalism). The classic position of Palestinian nationalism is that Palestine is an Arab country and must be the exclusive basis for the self determination of the Palestinian people. This is a principled and coherent position and accepting a deal for anything less, which seals off the possibility of an Arab state in all of Palestine, is tantamount to treachery. The true nationalist is ready to wait until there is a major reversal in the relations of forces and the important thing, until then, is not to compromise principles.

However, the prevailing experience with all or nothing approaches is that more often then not, you can end up with nothing. This is more than likely here in Palestine where there are a number of processes impacting on the small, tiny territory of Palestine, any of which might cause the final and total collapse of the Palestinian nationalist vision. These include Israelization, Islamicization or Pan-Arabization.

Israelization could conceivably dissect over time and eventually dismember the national movement by a combination of repression, assimilation and expulsion. We see evidence of partial Israeli successes in all these fields.

Islamicization, very much on the rise, has the potential to eliminate all secular, national perspectives. Most devoted Palestinian nationalists see political Islam as more of a danger than an ally. To complete the list of potential disruption of the Palestinian vision, it is necessary not to forget the past. At one point, Pan-Arabism, presently in retreat, almost replaced any special role for Palestine independence.

Of course, the hoped for reversal of fates – the collapse of Israel – might indeed rescue the chances for full Palestinian national liberation. But this involves a rather ironic danger: that the Palestinians find themselves in the role of oppressors of the Jews in the country. There might be some sort of poetic justice in such a reversal of fate. But that kind of role might conceivably be worse for the Palestinians’ national vision than the long night of victimhood in their own land.

We Must Test Our Principles in Real Life

Bush and Cheney are growingly isolated. Forward looking Palestinian policies are contributing to that isolation. Washington is locked on the horns of a dilemma. It can either cooperate in a joint international effort to reduce mounting tension and dangers in the region or it can stall and look for the first opportunity to re-establish unlimited domination by new military expeditions. The old clearly delineated relation of military, economic and political forces is crumbling. It takes a lot of realism in Washington to interiorize the new situation. The US must try and recognize that it has lost “big” in the Middle East and that the only way to prevent further escalation is to deal sincerely with foes and friends. It is to be hoped that at one point the US leading groups will become convinced that accords and agreements based on the new circumstances are preferable to new wild and irresponsible adventures. These are the circumstances that can impart new life into the search for Israeli-Palestinian peace.