Palestine Update 186
Time to build global pressure on Israeli intransigence
Mohamed Salmawy, a prolific Egyptian writer, playwright, columnist, critic and political commentator recently wrote how the Arabs often display a grave weakness and willingness to offer concessions without assurance of reciprocation. Israel is proof of his argument.
In 2011, the Tunisians had brought down a dictator and the Egyptians were on their way to doing the same, beginning with massive demonstrations that grabbed the world’s attention. Protest and revolution would soon spread throughout the Middle East; it would be labeled as the “Arab Spring.” Seven years later, there seems little but despair, with repressive rulers once again in power, civil wars raging, and ISIS extremists occupying large parts of Syria and Iraq. “Arab Spring” was an allusion to the Revolutions of 1848, which are sometimes referred to as the “Springtime of Nations” and the Prague Spring in 1968. When Arab Spring protests in some countries were followed by electoral success for Islamist parties, some American pundits coined the terms “Islamist Spring” and “Islamist Winter”.
The contest for political space tends to be an asymmetric one in nearly every situation. It is sometimes a see-saw competition between the ruling classes/cliques (elite) and the masses of common people. At this stage of world history, it is the former who seem to be in dominance. Certainly the Arab Spring has not given rise to what the majority of people had aimed for – democracy and social justice. Libya, Syria and Yemen have suffered civil war; Egypt has experienced a counter-revolution restoration; and even Tunisia, which had established a pluralist democracy, has witnessed a growing violation of human rights, conducted largely by the repressive institutions of the old regime, which were not reformed. In none of them has the desire for social justice been sufficiently addressed. Five years after the Arab Spring: Despair, but also hope.
Why has this happened? The revolutions in Tunisia, Egypt and Yemen may have deposed institutions. The systems stayed intact. The old ruling networks, intelligence services, the military, crony business class kept either a tacit or overt grip on power. So when the initial burst of the revolutions settled, the counter-revolutions began to strike back. They rested on the rhetoric of volatility and lack of confidence to retrieve their lost arrangements.
Just a week after the 101st anniversary of Balfour, it is important to recap the successes of people’s assertion. (The Intifadas in the case of Palestine). It is said that the powerful never part with power voluntarily. They do so only under pressure. Pressure from below occurs when the people are gripped by the narrative of a young generation rising up against oppressive authoritarianism is political action which relies heavily on the use of mass media and mass communications to persuade those who wield power to concede what the public wants or demands. It could include covert techniques as well impelled by ruthless suppression. Concessions and patience have been fully exploited by Israel to consolidate its colonial character and policies/practices. The threat of withdrawing recognition of Israel by the PLO is a bold move and one waits to see if it will be politically followed through by PA President Abbas.
In 1993, the PLO recognized Israel’s right to exist in peace, accepted UN Security Council resolutions 242 and 338, and rejected “violence and terrorism”. In response, Israel officially recognized the PLO as the representative of the Palestinian people. The PLO’s Central Council now wants to discard compliance with the 1993 Oslo Accord, which set out a transitionary phase during which the Palestinians would move toward statehood. Oslo was, in any case, a sellout and a case of poor negotiation strategy by the Palestinians. The consolation now is that Palestinians have chosen to be assertive and demand statehood right now.
There is a real risk that Israel would by its egotism nullify the Oslo Accord, which, in any case, has lost its very meaning and intent. What was meant to be a win-win has turned out to be advantage-Israel, to borrow a tennis expression! Palestinian generosity has been at the losing end. Patience is giving way to militancy. The refusal to accept the “deal of the century”, and to pursue political options through international bodies is leaving Israel red-faced and under fear. Its leaders know that there exists a vigilant and vibrant civil society that can redo a General Augusto Pinochet style indictment for human rights violations in October 1998. He was ultimately released after being in detention for a year and a half before finally being released by the British government in March 2000. Pinochet is a harsh reminder of what can happen to Israeli cabinet members who have inflicted war crimes of one sort or the other on Palestinians.
The international community needs more vigour and teeth to bring pressure. Just last month, an Israeli lawmaker was accosted by a Moroccan official and branded a “war criminal” during a meeting of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Mediterranean and the World Trade Organization in Morocco’s capital of Rabat. It embarrassed the Israeli delegation no end. Last year, a delegation of Israeli lawmakers stormed out of an international gathering of parliamentarians after facing a tongue lashing, heckling and resolutions critical of Jerusalem at the annual meeting. They complained about mistreatment at the Inter-Parliament Union assembly in Saint Petersburg, Russia, including being heckled while trying to speak at the event. And did they realize just how acutely and persistently they kill, maim, and abuse virtually every human right in the law book against Palestinians? The political thick-skin of the Zionists can only be penetrated and hurt when they experience segregation in return for their own apartheid pattern of rule. And this is what the BDS sets out to do – to isolate, severely inconvenience the Zionist regime and threatens in a tangible way economic catastrophe to Israel so that it finds reason to regret and transform.
Arab policy and generosity
The PLO (Palestine Liberation Organization) Central Committee’s recent decision to suspend recognition of Israel throws into relief an ingrained weakness in Arab policy in general: the willingness to volunteer concessions in order to morally oblige the other party to reciprocate. This tendency spread epidemically in the Arab world since the 1970s when President Amwar Al-Sadat took the initiative to recognize Israel practically and officially when he visited it in November 1977 after which he gave Israel the time and space to consider its next step. Critics at the time agreed that the Egyptian action would have been more generous had the recognition on the part of the largest Arab state come within a comprehensive framework for a political settlement that designated the obligations of both sides.
I still recall how the Israelis toyed with us at the time. When asked how he planned to respond to Sadat’s visit, Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin answered that he would visit Sadat in Egypt. If Egypt eventually obtained more than just the Israeli prime minister’s return call, this was thanks to more than a decade of painstaking efforts until the day when Egypt finally raised its flag on its eastern border, in Taba, in 1989.
Sadat followed the generosity tactic four years before that Jerusalem visit when he expelled the Soviet advisers from Egypt without obtaining anything in return from the US. The US secretary of state and national security adviser at the time, Henry Kissinger, expressed his government’s surprise at the Egyptian decision as Washington would have been willing to pay for it had Egypt negotiated on it beforehand.
The Arabs adhered to the policy of volunteering concessions after the Sadat era and Israel continued benefit, entering into negotiations only at the time and at the pace of its choice, if it felt like negotiating and if it decided to offer some gesture of reciprocation. Perhaps the best example of the syndrome is the Arab Peace Initiative. Coming more than 20 years after Sadat’s death, it offered Israel recognition, normalization and everything else it had asked for in exchange for withdrawal from the occupied territories and the establishment of a Palestinian state. The Arab side of that initiative has since become an implicit and explicit reality that many Arab countries have manifested politically, economically and even athletically. Yet, Israel has not withdrawn a single centimeter from the occupied territories and it barely pays lip service to the principle of a Palestinian state, for which obstinacy, moreover, it was rewarded with Jerusalem as its capital on a silver platter.
I personally heard the US journalist Thomas Friedman relate how he had managed to convince the late Saudi monarch, king Abdullah bin Abdel-Aziz, that the Arab initiative would be, as he called it, a total “game-changer” in the Middle East because it would force Israel to face up to its responsibilities and because international pressures would build up on Israel to reciprocate. Friedman got the response he had anticipated from the Arabs thanks to their legendary generosity. They adopted the Arab initiative in the Arab summit in Beirut in 2002, ever since which they put into effect their obligations without waiting for Israel to concede to the terms that apply to it.
It was not until last week that the Israeli prime minister, who is more hated internationally than all his predecessors, welcomed that initiative. This was during an official visit to Oman accompanied by his wife, Sara, who is stalked by charges of corruption. Then, the following day, we saw the Israeli minister of culture and sports fighting back tears of emotion as Emirati ministers rose to standing when the Israeli national anthem played during her official visit to the UAE. Meanwhile, there is still no sign of Israeli withdrawal from the occupied territories or a move in the direction of the creation of the Palestinian state that the Arab initiative called for.
So, the PLO did well when, in its last meeting in Ramallah, after the Palestinians finally awoke and reassessed their previous policies that gave Israel so much in return for so little, it voted to terminate all the PA’s obligations under previous agreements with Israel and to suspend recognition of that state until Israel recognizes the Palestinian state in the pre-June 1967 borders with its capital in East Jerusalem. At last, for the first time, the Palestinians applied the principle of simultaneous reciprocation, which is the norm in international affairs.
At the same time, we should note that, in fact, the Palestinians do not need Israel’s recognition for their state. The international instrument that approved the creation of the state of Israel was the same international instrument that approved the creation of the Palestinian state. I refer here to the Partition Resolution adopted by the UN General Assembly in November 1947. That we waiting for the Palestinian state to emerge as a result of an extra Israeli stamp of approval, as well, is another manifestation of the futility of the Arab approach. The Arabs should have addressed the international community which had already recognized the Palestinian state in 1947 and the individual members of which did so, again, officially, instead of relying on Israel which only accepted the half of the partition resolution that applies to itself and that it uses as a basis for legitimacy while it continues to reject the other half.
The Palestinian decision to suspend recognition of Israel until Israel recognizes the Palestinian state is, in effect, an attempt to apply both halves of the UN Partition Resolution, as opposed to the warped way that Israel applied it. This should compel the international community to face up to its responsibility to implement the whole resolution, in all its parts, instead of waiting for the types of Arab generosity that have remained unrewarded for so many years.
Don’t befriend me for a day, and leave me a month. Don’t get close to me if you’re going to leave. Don’t say what you don’t do. Be close or get away.
لا تصاحبني يوماً .. لتهجرني شهراً ولا تقربني .. لتبعدني .. لا تقل ما لا تفعل كُن قريباً .. أو ابتعد.