Sunday, January 31, 2010

One Nation: Israelis and Palestinian

Dear Friend,
Meron Benvenisti was the mayor of Jerusalem. He has long argued that since 1967 especially, Israel has "annexed" traditional Palestinian territory. So it is only a matter of what kind of entity the nation will become.

Here is an excerpt from an article appearing in the 31 January, 2010 edition of Ha'aretz newspaper which gives his conclusions on the matter and raises the question of what kind of bi-national entity Israel will become. Mr Benvenisti is, of course, controversial in his efforts to puncture the fantasy world in which the typical Israeli lives.

The article appeared in Hebrew and has been translated into English and circulated by email. Thanks to my friends in the PCUSA IPMN (Israel/Palestine Mission Network) for this link. JRK

Durable status quo

The conclusion that Israel will continue to manage the conflict by fragmenting the Palestinians is realistic. The status quo will endure as long as the forces wishing to preserve it are stronger than those wishing to undermine it, and that is the situation today in Israel/Palestine. After almost half a century, the Israeli governing system known as “the occupation”–which ensures full control over every agent or process that jeopardizes the Jewish community’s total domination and the political and material advantage that it accumulates– has become steadily more sophisticated through random trial and error an unplanned response to some genetic code of a supplanting settler society.

This status quo, which appears to be chaotic and unstable, is much sturdier than the conventional description of the situation as “a temporary military occupation” would indicate. Precisely because it is constitutionally murky and ill defined, its ambiguity supports its durability: it is open to different and conflicting interpretations and seems preferable to apocalyptic scenarios, therefore persuasive.

The volatile status quo survives due to the combination of several factors:

1. Fragmentation of the Palestinian community and incitement of the remaining fragments against each other.

2. Mobilization of the Jewish community into support for the occupation regime, which is perceived as safeguarding its very existence.

3. Funding of the status quo by the “donor countries”.

4. The strategy of the neighboring states which gives priority to bilateral and global interests over Arab ethnic solidarity.

5. Success of the propaganda campaign known as “negotiations with the Palestinians,” which convinces many that the status quo is temporary and thus they can continue to amuse themselves with theoretical alternatives to the “final-status arrangement.”

6. The silencing of all criticism as an expression of hatred and anti-Semitism; and abhorrence of the conclusion that the status quo is durable and will not be easily changed.

Internal changes

One must not surmise that the status quo is frozen; on the contrary, actions taken to perpetuate it bring about long term consequences. Cutting off Gaza is not a temporary but a quasi permanent situation which will affect the future of the Palestinian people. The severance of Gaza from the West Bank creates two separate entities, and Israel can record another victory in the fragmentation process: 1, 5 million Palestinians are on their way to achieve a caricature of a state that encompasses 1. 5% of historic Palestine where 30% of their people reside.

The West Bank canton, whose area is rapidly shrinking due to massive settlement activity, is considered the heart of the Palestinians under occupation. However, it is experiencing rapid political and economic developments that resemble those experienced by Israeli-Palestinians after 1948, with obvious differences due to historical circumstances and population size. It seems that many West Bankers have genuinely grown tired of the violence that led them to disaster [DL1] t , which forces the Israelis to relate to their non-violent struggle and to their community’s accumulation of economic and socio-cultural power.

All these and other changes in the status quo, are significant yet internal, and take place under the umbrella of Israeli control that can speed them up or slow them down, according to its interests. However, without the sanction, or at least the indifference of external powers, the status quo would not endure. Massive financial contributions free Israel from the burden of coping with the enormous cost of maintaining the control over the Palestinians and create a system of corruption and vested interests. The artificial existence of the PA in itself perpetuates the status quo because it supports the illusion that the situation is temporary and the “peace process” will soon end it.

Economic disparity

Usually the emphasis is on the political and civil inequality and the denial of collective rights that the model of partition–or the model of power sharing–is supposed to solve. But the economic inequality, the greater and more dangerous inequity , , which characterizes the current situation, will not be reversed by either alternative. There is a gigantic gap in gross domestic product per capita between Palestinians and Israelis–which is more than 1:10 in the West Bank and 1:20 in the Gaza Strip–as well as an enormous disparity in the use of natural resources (land, water). This gap cannot endure without the force of arms provided so effectively by the Israeli defense establishment, which enforces a draconic control system. Even most of the Israelis who oppose the “occupation” are unwilling to let go of it, since that would impinge on their personal welfare. All the economic, social and spatial systems of governance in the occupied territories are designed to maintain and safeguard Israeli privileges and prosperity on both sides of the “Green Line”, at the expense of millions of captive, impoverished Palestinians.

One must therefore seek a different paradigm to describe the state of affairs more than forty years after Israel/Palestine became one geopolitical unit again, after nineteen years of partition. The term “de facto bi-national regime” is preferable to the occupier/occupied paradigm, because it describes the mutual dependence of both societies, as well as the physical, economic, symbolic and cultural ties that cannot be severed without an intolerable cost. Describing the situation as de facto bi-national does not indicate parity between Israelis and Palestinians–on the contrary, it stresses the total dominance of the Jewish-Israeli nation, which controls a Palestinian nation that is fragmented both territorially and socially. No paradigm of military occupation can reflect the Bantustans created in the occupied territories, which separate a free and flourishing population with a gross domestic product of almost 30 thousand Dollars per capita from a dominated population unable to shape its own future with a GDP of $1,500 per capita. No paradigm of military occupation can explain how half the occupied areas (”area C”) have essentially been annexed, leaving the occupied population with disconnected lands and no viable existence. Only a strategy of annexation and permanent rule can explain the vast settlement enterprise and the enormous investment in housing and infrastructure, estimated at US$100

History of bi-national-partition dilemma

The bi-national versus partition dilemma is not new to either national movement. The Palestinians, who rejected the 1947 UN partition resolution, stated in their National Covenant, that Palestine “is one integral territorial unit”. This principle evolved in the 1970s to the concept of “democratic non-sectarian (or secular) Palestine “. In 1974 PLO political thinking began to grapple with the idea of partition. The formula endorsed was the Phased Plan: “We shall persevere in realizing the rights of the Palestinian People to return, and to self determination in the context of an independent national Palestinian state in any part of Palestinian soil, as an interim objective, with no compromises, recognition, or negotiation”. In 1988 this strategy was changed through negotiations to the present formula of partition along the 1967 armistice lines,. Thus, Palestinian acceptance of the partition option is only two decades old.

Until the mid 1940s, the Zionist officially defined its ultimate national objectives exclusively by the general formula of the transformation of Palestine (Eretz Israel) into an independent entity with an overwhelming Jewish majority. The ultimate objective of all national movements, the creation of a sovereign state, was implied in Zionist self-identification as s national liberation movement. However, the debate on the merits of emphasizing that ultimate objective continued throughout the history of the Zionist movement. The official leadership concentrated on formulating intermediate political objectives and those changed according to political conditions. These objectives (in chronological order) were: a national home, unrestricted immigration and the creation of a Jewish majority, “organic Zionism” (i.e., settlement and an independent Jewish economic sector); power-sharing (”Parity”) with the Arabs (irrespective of size of population); a bi-national state; a federation of Jewish and Arab cantons; partition. Only in the early 1940s the Zionists openly and officially raised the demand for a sovereign Jewish state. The territorial objectives of the Zionist movement were also ambiguous. The agreement to the partition of Palestine (1936, 1947) was accepted by many as merely a phase in the realization of the Zionist aspirations, but also (by some) as a fundamental compromise with the Palestinian national movement.

During the Mandate period the bi-national idea was acceptable to the Zionist establishment, including Haim Weizman and David Ben-Gurion. However, one must remember that the Jews were a minority and the demand for a Jewish state was s impudent; power sharing, and even parity, sounded better. Also, a federation of cantons could have evened out the huge Arab demographic lead. The choice between bi-nationalism and partition was made twice: in 1936 the Peel Commission rejected the Cantonization Plan of the Jewish Agency and chose partition; in 1947 the UN General Assembly voted for partition and rejected the minority plan for a federal state.

Only a marginal group of Jewish intellectuals considered the bi-national state as the only way to avoid endless bloody conflict. They sought to emulate the Swiss model, accentuated the principle of parity but did not elaborate the details. Indeed, there was no need for such elaboration since both the Palestinians and the Zionists rejected the bi-national idea, and most Jews considered it treason. Hashomer Hatzsair movement adopted some elements of the bi-national model, but the establishment of the State in 1948 called off the initiative. The opinion that the realization of Zionism can only be achieved by a sovereign Jewish state triumphed, and those who dare to challenge this precept are considered traitors.

After the 1967 war the Israeli political Right played with the concept of bi-nationalism, in the shape that suited its ideology (the Autonomy Plan). Likud ideology rejected the” transitory” nature of Israeli occupation but its belief in “Greater Israel” clashed with the demographic reality, and liberal circles in Likud (led by Menachem Begin) struggled with the famous dilemma: a Jewish or democratic state? Begin’s answer was based on the (failed) system known to him in Eastern Europe after WW1—non- territorial, cultural and communal autonomy for ethnic minorities under the League of Nations minority treaties. Begin’s Autonomy Plan had been modified in the Camp David (1978) accords and territorial components were added. The Oslo model used many components (with major changes) of Begin’s Autonomy Plan, and the Oslo accords can be viewed as bi-national arrangements, because the territorial and legal powers of the Palestinian Authority are intentionally vague; the external envelope of the international boundaries , the economic system, even the registration of population, remained under Israeli control. Moreover, the complex agreements of Oslo necessitated close cooperation with Israel which, considering the huge power disparity between the PA and Israel, meant that the PA was merely a glorified municipal or provincial authority. So, in the absence of any political process, a de-facto bi-national structure, was willy-nilly, entrenched.

Description, not prescription

It is no longer arguable; the question is not if a binational entity be established but rather what kind of entity will it be. The historical process that began in the aftermath of the 1967 War brought about the gradual abrogation of the partition option, if it ever existed. Hence, bi-nationalism is not a political or ideological program so much as a de facto reality masquerading as a temporary state of affairs. It is a description of the current condition, not a prescription.