Palestinian Rejection of Zionism is a Historical, Anti-Colonial Strategy (Part 1 of 2)
Zionist colonial narratives do not take Palestinian history into account. For an anti-colonial and decolonial strategy to evolve, Palestinians need to assert, and link to, their historical principles.
State actors involved in diplomatic negotiations to broker an agreement based on the two-state paradigm have normalized the political narrative of the process merely lacking the “political will” of the Palestinian leadership and people. From 2016 onwards, when the Middle East Quartet– comprised of the EU, Russia, UN, and US and established in 2002 to facilitate the Middle–East Peace Process negotiations– declared the two-state compromise obsolete, the UN pursued two diverging narratives.
On one hand, the UN did not issue an unequivocal rejection of the Quartet’s statement, hence a tacit recognition of fact consolidated by Israel’s colonial expansion. Nevertheless, the UN persisted in promoting the “broad consensus … that the Palestinian-Israeli conflict can only be resolved on the basis of a two-state solution,” which, according to the UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, Nickolay Mladenov, has been endorsed by Palestinians and Israelis.
What is the meaning of “endorsement” when there is no equivalence between Palestinians and Israelis in terms of diplomatic allegiances and a political process which weaves the Zionist colonial narrative into the expected final agreements, if these ever materialize?
In 2013, Natasha Gill authored a paper titled “The Original ‘No’: Why the Arabs Rejected Zionism, and Why It Matters,” departing from former US President Barack Obama’s speech in 2013, which Gill describes as “a reflection of, and a response to, the prevailing view of the conflict in Israel today.” Parallel to the international response to “the conflict” – the catchphrase used for colonial land grab – lies the rejection of Palestinian narratives in terms of the historical rejection of Zionist ideology and politics.
Israel needs to accept that “their enemies have their own story to tell: one that is not merely about human rights’ abuses in the West Bank.”
Gill’s analysis portrays the gaps in Zionist colonial narratives which have nonetheless been validated internationally. If peace is to be achieved, Gill argues, Israel needs to accept that “their enemies have their own story to tell: one that is not merely about human rights’ abuses in the West Bank and one that is not going away any time soon.”
In terms of revealing the Palestinian people’s rejection of Zionism and colonial expansion, Gill makes use of the Israeli and international terminology which constructs Palestinians as “the enemy,” colonialism as “the conflict,” and Palestinians as “the Arabs.” All terms are reminiscent of the prevailing narrative which shapes perception and politics today, in particular the ambiguous concepts of peace and the two-state compromise.
Within the essay’s context, this can be read either as a portrayal of the Israeli colonial psyche, or a subtle normalization of Israeli colonialism, albeit the latter is dissected in a series of observations which insists upon the earlier colonization process from the late 1800s onwards, as the departure point for understanding Palestinian refutation of Zionism.
It is possible to identify a structured Palestinian refusal of Zionist colonization – the founders of Zionism were well aware that the indigenous population would not consent to being ousted by incoming, European settlers who exploited biblical myths for their colonial, political narrative of alleged return. The 1947 UN Partition Plan affirms the earlier Zionist narrative and puts the colonial process into motion, which included the forced transfer of the Palestinian population to accommodate the European settler-colonialists.
It must be noted that the founders of Zionism exhibited disregard for the indigenous inhabitants of Palestine, as David Ben-Gurion declared in 1937, “I support compulsory transfer. I don’t see anything immoral in it.” Similarly, in the current political context where annexation has been temporarily shelved while Israeli settlement expansion is set to resurge, Israeli leaders have maintained the diminishing of Palestinian politics and narratives in order to evade the reckoning of Palestinians’ legitimate anti-colonial struggle, their political demands, and their right to land and return.
The myth of the barren land contradicts the Zionist need to forcibly transfer and ethnically cleanse the Palestinian population from their land.
Zionism employed political ambivalence with reference to the Palestinian people. The myth of the barren land contradicts the Zionist need to forcibly transfer and ethnically cleanse the Palestinian population from their land. Undoubtedly, the Balfour Declaration of 1917, which the Palestinians also rejected for its intentional refusal to acknowledge their presence clearly, aided the recurring Zionist narrative which only constructs the existence of the Palestinian people when it is necessary for the colonial state to justify its violence.
As Gill shows in her analysis, the elimination of Palestinian narratives from the political process enables Zionism to generalize Palestinian opposition to colonization as anti-Semitism. Yet, the political intent to fabricate an anti-Semitism narrative cannot be equated with the possibility of Israel’s supporters not possessing enough knowledge of the colonization process. The latter is indeed possible, but the focus needs to shift to Zionist leaders and the plans to empty Palestine of its indigenous inhabitants, through a narrative that exploited biblical myths and moved on to a neoliberal enterprise that saw value in land and applied the principles of modernization to disregard Palestinian claims to their territory.
Indeed, the modernization narratives are the equivalent of “making the desert bloom” – a phrase which Israel successfully marketed to an international community aligned with colonial interests. Notably, the 1948 Nakba was also promoted by Chaim Weizmann as “a miraculous clearing of the land: the miraculous simplification of Israel’s task.”
In the space created by Israel for the Palestinian people, there is ample awareness from Zionist leaders that the Palestinian refusal of colonialism is based upon political demands. It is merely simpler for Israeli leaders to obfuscate Palestinian existence in order to claim that Palestinians have no legitimate political demands.
From the early colonial settlements to the Balfour Declaration and onwards, the Zionist aim was to expand over Palestinian land. The 1948 Nakba, which Palestinian historian Salman Abu Sitta describes as “the largest planned and foreign-supported ethnic cleansing in modern history,” and the UN’s subsequent recognition of Israel as a state in 1949 prevailed over Palestinian national consciousness in international politics primarily due to the global acceptance of the Zionist narrative.
In the early years of Zionist colonization, it was imperative to transcend ideology into action on the ground. With the foundations laid in the 1948 Nakba, which elicited no political opposition from the international community, Israel could then move from legitimizing its colonial presence to legitimizing its expansion over Palestinian territory.Compromise never existed because Zionist colonization depends upon maintaining inequalities to thrive.
Palestinian rejection of Zionism, therefore, is an unequivocal rejection of a foreseen outcome. It is not a rejection of compromise – a concept which Israel and the international community have strived, and managed, to normalize in terms of its two-state diplomacy. To put it succinctly, compromise never existed because Zionist colonization depends upon maintaining inequalities to thrive, and the biggest manifestation of this is rooted in the forced displacement of Palestinians to accommodate a European settler population, without Palestinian consent.
Zionist colonization in Palestine overturned all principles of international law. Once colonized, the Palestinian people had to face the struggle of self-determination, while the European settlers, backed by post World War II guilt, as well as political decision-making that would see Zionist leaders play the war to their advantage, faced no international reckoning for the creation of a state on stolen land.
The persecution of the Jewish people and other minorities in World War II is a subject researched by Israeli historian Ilan Pappe in his book, “The Idea of Israel: History of Power and Knowledge.” Prior to the Nazi plans for Jewish extermination, Zionism and Nazism found common ground in the concept of a Jewish exodus; the abandonment of Europe by Jewish people would serve Zionist aims of mass immigration to Palestine (Pappe, 2014, p. 161-162).
Pappe also quotes Ben-Gurion saying, “If I knew that it was possible to save all the children in Germany by transporting them to England, but only half of them by transporting them to Palestine, I would choose the second – because we face not only the reckoning of these children, but the historical reckoning of the Jewish people.” An exploitative ideology towards those it considers its own, let alone the indigenous population which, for Zionism, stood in the way of a Jewish national home and a future state.To legitimize its own violence, Zionism manufactured a narrative of violence and ascribed it to “the other.”
If Zionism took into consideration its own inherent violence, a logical analysis would follow as to the Palestinian people’s refutation of both ideology and implementation. To legitimize its own violence, however, Zionism manufactured a narrative of violence and ascribed it to “the other.”
This paradigm set the foundations for Israeli impunity, which to date does not take responsibility for the atrocities committed by Zionist paramilitaries such as the Haganah, Irgun, and Stern, which were later partly incorporated into the Israeli Defense Forces. To substantiate this impunity, it was important for Israel to delegitimize the Palestinian people’s legitimate anti-colonial struggle, which is enshrined in international law and which the UN, in keeping with the Israeli narrative, has also constructed as “terror.”
Palestinian anti-colonial struggle needs a Palestinian narrative that situates its predicament within the colonial context imposed by Zionism. Contrary to what Israeli propaganda stipulates, the Palestinian resistance “by all means” as allowed in international law, was instigated by the international community’s blind acceptance of Zionism to the exclusion of the indigenous inhabitants’ rights. Tracing the Palestinian response to Zionist colonization back to the international community’s failure to engage diplomatically with the Palestinian people shows that decolonization, and not the two-state compromise, is the solution to the violence unleashed by Israel’s colonization of Palestine.