CounterPunch, May 12, 2010
On the surface and viewed from the perspective of dominating powers, their designated minions, and entrenched cohorts, it may appear that the Nakba is diminishing. Several facts corroborate that view: the passage of time, the very dispossession and dislocation of millions, the tendency of official Palestinian "leadership" to accept whatever scraps they are given, the seemingly insurmountable military superiority of Israel and its main backer, the United States, to name a few.
Discursively also, talk of the Nakba has been curtailed, especially among official Palestinian Authority officials and Arab governments. It has been increasingly replaced by details and technicalities that avoid dealing with the crux of the Palestinian predicament.
Details and technicalities are evident in "negotiations" and "discussions" over the Two State Solution, settlements (stop, don’t stop, temporary freezes, natural growth,…), Jerusalem, municipal control of various services, collection and distribution of taxes, policing and security forces, road blocks, fences, airspace, percentages, companies, and so many other minutia. They serve to obscure the original and much larger issue at stake, namely, liberating Palestine.
By focusing exclusively on the Two State Solution and its accompanying and derivative details, it becomes possible (for some) to lose sight of the origin of the ongoing Palestinian predicament: namely, the Nakba.
The details are a method of exercising power over Palestinians. (1) They are evident, not only in the obvious control mechanisms that I just listed, but are also apparent in the very "negotiations" that took and take place between Israel / US and the Palestinians. From Madrid, to Oslo, to Taba, to Camp David, to the Road Map, to the current indirect Proximity Talks – one side has maps and details and conditions and rules, while the other side pleads, accepts, capitulates, and frequently, adopts the very language used by his oppressor.
An illustration of the above is Mahmoud 'Abbas’ frequent references to "peace and security," "growth," and "stopping the settlements," forgetting that the real issues are right of return, liberating the land, and an end to racist and usurping ideologies and governments. Another example is 'Abbas’ recent reference to the land of historical Palestine as the land of the tanakh. In other words, he acceded to Netanyahu’s racist demand that Palestinians recognize Israel as "Jewish homeland" by buying into the Zionist myth that Jews were the original inhabitants of the land.
Yet another instance of Palestinian leadership adopting the language and reasoning of their oppressor was evident in the speech delivered by 'Abbas at the opening of the third round of Fateh’s Revolutionary (not) Council. 'Abbas insisted on the Two-State Solution. He even warned that "the idea of the so-called One State Solution has started leaking (tatasarrab) among people, because hope on the [real] ground is diminishing bit by bit… The question to the Israeli side is: do you want two states on the 1967 borders? We are ready. But if you don’t want, then you are responsible for what happens after that." (Al-Jazeera (Arabic), 4/24/2010, "Abbas clings to the Two State Solution and Hamas Rejects.") He continued his advice to Israel by saying that "the choice of peace needs brave Israeli leadership."
Few were surprised by his obvious concern for the Israel’s well-being, least of all Israel and the United States. It is equally probable that there are countless Palestinians, Arabs, and believers in a just solution who are not surprised that he seems to have forgotten that liberating Palestine also needs brave leadership.
Instead, 'Abbas addressed his rivals in Gaza, calling on them to accept the Egyptian proposal for Palestinian reconciliation and praising Hamas’ efforts at stopping the launching or rockets directed at Israel. He also urged Palestinians to abide by "peaceful popular resistance," assuming that it is possible for anything peaceful to co-exist with a stage of siege, daily attacks, continued usurpation, racism, and so forth.
In truth, this is a new term with an old meaning: a submission that is rationalized by "realism."
Facts exist but cannot speak. There is a whole system and class of people, "experts," "leaders," institutions and organizations that mediate what they will mean. They will assign words to the meanings / facts. And somewhere else, in the dominated part of the world, a different people who are oppressed and/or excluded from this system of control, stand perplexed and outraged that a diametrically opposite word was assigned and repeated, hijacking their facts, their meanings, their reality.
The facts are a product of social, historical, oppositional, economic, and political circumstance. Those who live them know the right word for the real meaning. But others assigned as "leaders" over them, dutifully transpose and impose the altered terminology. The new word becomes the new normal, the "realistic," the quick deal that we can consume immediately, forever destroying the original source.
This is precisely what the Two State Solution and its details entail.
And yet, all these things aside, the Nakba continues unabated, growing in significance and in numbers. Most conspicuous is the demographic growth in the number of Palestinians who are descendants of the Nakba, whether they are refugees, settled, or unsettled. To those we must add more numerical growth due to the continued displacement and dispossession of Palestinians in present-day Israel as a direct result of Israeli military orders, exclusionary laws, banishment, forced exile, dispossession, house demolitions, and so forth.
Conceptually also, the Nakba strengthens. This is evident in emergent groups, discourses of counterhegemony, resistance movements, and the growing International Boycott Divestment and Solidarity (IBDS) movement. There is a palpable change in the international perception of Israel that emerged during and after its assault on Gaza. (2) This has forced Israel to launch a diplomatic propaganda campaign, "Brand Israel," to repair the damage to its image.
The fact that the hundreds of thousands of refugees in Gaza were direct products of the Nakba of Israeli establishment over their ancestral homes is significant. The fact that Israel was unable to accomplish any of its political goals in Gaza, despite the wanton destruction, also has important repercussions. Thus, the Nakba, directly or indirectly, continues to be a catalyst for a continuing re-evaluation of Israel’s position as a dominating power. Militarily, the last several wars that Israel has launched against Lebanon and Gaza have made obvious its weaknesses. Furthermore, it is amply demonstrable in the world today that military superiority is no solution to determined and organized resistance and insurgency.
Thus, there is hope in recognizing the persistence of the Nakba. It stands as an event in human history that exists beyond the reach of dominating systems – even though the latter may have caused it. This makes change possible and limits the power of a hegemonic or dominating system. The Nakba is a historical reality that refuses to go away, providing the fuel for emergent movements and resistance.
Nevertheless, dominant powers continue their efforts to marginalize the Nakba as a central unresolved crisis.
Just in time for the commemoration of the Nakba, U.S. mediator George Mitchell is meeting with Israeli and Palestinian officials (after Palestinian officials sought and got approval from Arab officials), in order to start the process that will lead to so-called indirect proximity talks that were announced by U.S. Secretary of State Hilary Clinton. The Washington Post reported that Mitchell is trying to break the stalemate "in recent months," (3) perhaps forgetting that, from the perspective of most Palestinians, there has not been progress, in fact there has been retrogression, on the "solution" to the conflict since Madrid and Oslo happened almost two decades ago.
According to the article, "For the Palestinians, the two paramount issues are territorial borders -- precisely how much of the West Bank Israel will surrender and the future of Jerusalem." Yet again there is confirmation that externally designated Palestinian "leaders" are making a complete mockery of the Nakba, not even referencing that the crux of the problem is the dispossession of millions of people and the usurpation and colonization of Palestinian land.
When one listens to the words of a Mahmoud 'Abbas or a Salim Fayyad, it becomes obvious that it makes no difference who among the "leaders" of the Palestinian Authority (PA) talks. The content is the same, for they are simply delivery mechanisms and not the creators of the message. (The same applies to most other Arab leaders.) Having reached the inevitable terminus of the Peace Process and the Road Map and their interminable negotiations, they are now clutching the straw of the Indirect Proximity Talks. 'Abbas, desperate to sustain a role for himself, was busy throwing the hot potato to equally ineffectual Arab leaders. The latter, if they do anything at all, they pass on the hot potato to the United Nations or some future conference of the Arab League. In other words, they try to freeze the hot potato to death.
Such "leaders" do not acknowledge that there is no justification for the assumption that a Two State solution is a teleological goal. It has failings that must be examined in light of new forms of reasoning, new events, and new practices. (4) For while, the "vision" of the Two State is "legitimate" in "the international consensus," legitimacy is in the eye of the beholder. "Whose consensus?" is a legitimate question. What about the point of view of the people who most affected by this consensus?
One need only to look at borders, roads, contiguity, sovereignty dimensions, economic sufficiency, and so forth to realize that the Two State Solution is hardly "realistic." While the Palestinian Authority is entrenched in political quietism, self-censorship, and obeisance, they nonetheless must confront the effects of that path.
This particular "pragmatic" approach, being a product of its dominating system, cannot envision and does not admit that it cannot have power over everything.
The weakness of this "realistic" approach is that it cannot anticipate or deal with change. It cannot account for peoples’ abilities to imagine an alternative future society. It cannot admit that some can perceive and analyze the nature of power and oppression in their present societies, thereby making it possible to counteract the details and to resist internalization of dominating ideologies. (5)
Dominating systems do not and cannot combat resistance or insurgency or rebellion effectively every time.
The PA and the dominating system of which it is a functionary must ultimately face the truth that concepts and facets of what is considered "authoritative" and "traditional" is frequently ambiguous and contestable. Authority is valuable only insofar as it offers choices for society. Choices that must be viable for its future welfare. Otherwise, other "traditions" and "authorities" will emerge. This is precisely the fate that is facing the Two State solution.
Putting aside any moral and ethical arguments against the Two State solution, all the facts on the ground are obliterating a potential second state. Even within this putative proto-state, Israel is obliterating this possibility. A recent example was reported by Amira Hass on 4/22/2010 in Ha’aretz. Israel began implementing a new military order, No.1650, regarding the Prevention of Infiltration (Amendment No. 2). It defines "a Palestinian with a Gaza Strip address as a punishable infiltrator if he is found in the West Bank." This is the latest in a series of steps to sever Gaza from Palestinian society. It is also part and parcel of Zionist laws enacted at Israel’s founding, such as the Law of Return and the Law of Present Absentees, and so forth, whose aims are to control space and to fragment and dispossess Palestinian society.
The economy of the proto-state under the Palestinian Authority’s Two-State path is also illustrative of the non-realism and non-viability of the purported goal. It may serve as an indicator of what is entailed in the future if this "vision" of a Two State is pursued any longer.
The latest economic figures released by the Arab League Economic Report on the Palestinian Occupied Territories in 2009 clearly show the deterioration. Here are a few examples. Between 1999-2008, Palestinian real inflation-adjusted GNP fell off a cliff by 35% to $1,108. A significant factor in that is the multitude of Israeli restrictions, land confiscations (the West Bank lost 15% of its agricultural capacity due to the apartheid wall), destruction of trees and farmland, and so forth that have led to a sharp decline in olive oil production. Real per capita income fell by almost 21% to $1,284. The services sector grew to a record 76.8% of GDP with all that this entails in terms of declining productive capacity of the overall economy. This is also reflected in the fact that the trade deficit grew by 14% to $3.032 billion. Unemployment is now officially recorded at 16% in the West Bank and 49% in Gaza.
Also contributing to the dependency (and ensuring political obedience), external revenue, including remittances and global financial aid grew sharply to reach $2bn, much of it spent internally on PA commitments to civil servants and security personnel.
A UN Seminar on Assistance to the Palestinian People, held in Vienna by the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People on 3/24/2010, corroborated and added to the statistics provided by the Arab League report. (6) Mahmoud El-Jafari, Dean and Professor of Economics at Al-Quds University noted that there are twin budget and trade deficits. The ratio of imports to exports stands at 60%. He added that absolute poverty rates stood at 57.3 %, according to 2007 figures (i.e. pre-Gaza assault – whose damage is estimated at 25% of GDP). In Gaza, 76.9 % are under the national poverty line.
The comments made by Mahmoud Elkhafif, Coordinator of Assistance to the Palestinian People Unit at the UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), revealed that post-Oslo, there has been an "integration" of the Palestinian and Israeli economies. These have been hugely advantageous to Israel at the expense of the Palestinians. Israel takes advantage of Palestinian land, water and labor as it simultaneously isolates Palestinians from their historical economic partners in the Arab countries. Moreover, the Paris Protocol framework for economic relations has produced a semi-customs union in which the PA could not have its own currency, monetary, or trade policy. Israel determines value added tax, collects it and, depending on how cooperative the PA is perceived, pays it to the PA. But even in good times, he said, the payment was just 60% of the figure owed.
Elkhafif concluded with the disturbing indicator of the extent of exploitation: that in the 1980s, Israeli income had been 7.5 times that of Palestinians and was now about 17 times higher.
Any reasonable assessment of this situation would see the proof in the pudding, so to speak. Why 'Abbas and his cohorts cling to the Two State solution can only be attributed to factors that do not and will not benefit Palestinian society or national aspirations.
The other side of the coin is Israel.
The last several wars that Israel has launched against Lebanon and the Palestinians have revealed a serious decline in its capacity to accomplish its military and political goals. Despite the wanton destruction wreaked by its vastly more superior military, the image / myth of its invincibility has been irrevocably shattered.
This topic has been dealt with extensively elsewhere, so I will not dwell on it here. Instead, I would like to offer a few examples to consider in re-assessing Israel as well as the "realistic" position of why Arabs and Palestinians must capitulate to its demands.
It is well-known that Israel needs the assistance of the United States, to shield it from approbation in international venues such as the UN, and to help it financially, militarily, economically, in research and development, and so forth. Israel is also failing in the key category of providing guaranteed results to empire. Prominent among those failures is its inability to impose peace on its terms, nor to wage war from which it is confident to emerge as victor. This is not to dismiss its indisputable military superiority, but it does indicate that it is no longer enough or even capable of achieving its political goals.
It is therefore time to re-assess the "realistic" approach. For many years now, the dominant view of Israel in much of the Arab world has reflected an internalization of the myth of Israeli superiority, not morally or ethically, but militarily and economically. Conveniently, it was parroted and propagated by successive different Arab governments in order to rationalize and justify the shirking of their historic responsibility to help Palestinians in achieving self-determination and independence based on the liberation of all usurped land.
But ultimately, the historically insurmountable reality that is the Nakba stands. It is distressing that the Palestinians as a people, need to remind their so-called leaders as well as most other Arab leaders, of their lived reality which has struggled for decades to ensure that their fundamental and inalienable rights are not forgotten or whittled away by the pseudo pragmatic reality of a Two State solution. Once again, for those who may have forgotten, these are: the right to their land and a national home, the right of return, the right to determine their own destiny, and the right to compensation for dispossession and the horrors and crimes of occupation.
Dina Jadallah is an Arab-American writer and artist. She studied political science at Georgetown and the University of Chicago. She is the author of numerous articles dealing with political developments in the Arab world. Her work was published at Arab Studies Quarterly, Palestine Chronicle, Counterpunch, Ramallah Online, and Global Research, among others. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
(1) These details may remind some readers of Michel Foucault’s theory of power. His theory of (pouvoir et savior) analyzes how systems of control work by confinement from the inside. Their functioning depends first on the continuity of the institutions that confine and second, on the proliferation of justifying technical ideologies for the institutions. These technical ideologies may be discourses, such as is evident in talk and conduct related to the roadmap, the peace process, security, development through privatization, and so forth. But that power needs detail in order to work. For example, in the case of the confinement of Palestinians in the Occupied Territories, these would consist of the proliferation of road blocks, military orders, fences, curfews, long lists of what will be allowed to pass through the siege on Gaza, and so forth. Foucault has no role for classes, economics, insurgency and rebellion in societies, however. And this is the reason for the circularity and the trap – there is no escape within his conception of this type of power.
(2) This is apparent in various international polls. See for instance this large European Union poll: http://www.eutimes.net/.
(3) See http://www.washingtonpost.com/.
(4) Several have written about this topic. Notable among them is Ali Abunimah’s One Country: A Bold Proposal to End the Israeli-Palestinian Impasse (2006).
(5) My statements are based on Chomsky’s insightful critique of Foucault. It offers a way out of the trap of a dominating system. He argued that a sociopolitical battle can be waged with two objectives: 1) persons and groups can imagine an alternative future society that is based on a more just conception of human nature; and 2) that persons and groups have the ability to perceive and analyze the nature of power and oppression in their present societies. Both of these together may lead to resistance and counterhegemony, thus providing a way to escape the trap.
(6) See http://unispal.un.org/UNISPAL.NSF/.