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The Politics of Partition of Historic Palestine
“At some point, Mr Abbas must admit to his people that most of the refugees will never return to Israel: that is the price of partition”.
This statement appeared on page 14 of the issue of the Economist dated September 24th to 30th, 2011. The Economist is a weekly British journal that distributes over one million copies of every issue and to a large extent represents the mainstream of Western political and economic thought.
The logic of partition is that it is two sides of the some coin. If there is going to be a Palestinian state, this means that there is going to be a Jewish state. The partition of the land means the separation of the people who live on it. For Palestinians to have a separate state and also having their people return to Israel is seen as having one’s cake and eating it at the same time. It is true that Palestinians have the legal and moral right to return to their original homes, but one gives up one thing to get another. Palestinians would be giving up their right of return in exchange for getting a state. To think otherwise would be eccentric logic and self-deception.
The politics of position does not end there: it affects Palestinians in Jordan, Syria, Lebanon and Israel. Upon formation of such a state, Palestinian refugees in Jordan, Lebanon and Syria will become citizens of the new state. This means that in Jordan they will lose what little political rights they currently have, something that is being openly discussed by influential groups such as the retired military organization. Surplus people and the malcontent will be pressured to move to their state. In Lebanon and probably also in Syria, refugees will be moved from their temporary camps to permanent ones in the West Bank or Gaza.
How would partition affect Palestinians in Israel? First, the land exchange between Israel and the Palestinian state that has already been discussed by the two teams of negotiators. Pieces of land in Israel with majority Arab population bordering the west Bank will be exchanged for Jewish settlements contiguous with Israel. Second, administrative exchange; population centers with a Palestinian majority in Israel will be structured as communes to be politically administered by the Palestinian state; settlements in the West Bank will become communes administrated by Israel. Such arrangement exists in Belgium between the French speaking province (Wallonia) and the Dutch-speaking province (Flanders). The small fraction remaining will be pressured to, as Tzipi Levni put it: “fulfill their national ambitions in their Palestinian state“. They will join about four hundred thousand that were internally displaced within Israel after 1948.
This is the meaning of partition for which we need to be prepared and not be surprised as happened repeatedly before.
Mr Mahmoud Abbas admitted in a recent interview with an Israeli television station that Palestinians will not return to their homes in Israel, but it is dubious that he will have the moral courage to say that directly to his people. Many leaders of the Ramallah authority have made similar statements but received little attention. After the failed Camp David negotiations in 2000, Madeline Albright, then American secretary of state, revealed that the Palestinian negotiators privately promised to divert most refugees away from Israel and that they will be satisfied with the return of a nominal number of one hundred thousand. There were also famous statements such as by the late Yasser Arafat: “who is going to return, the millionaires of Brazil?” or the one by chief negotiator, Saeb Erekat: “we cannot expect Israel to commit suicide by taking back the refugees; and the statement by prime minister of the Ramallah authority, Salam Fayyad, “the refugees will be welcome to the Palestinian state“. The leaked Palestine papers left no doubt that the authority gave up the right of return.
While the Ramallah authority has been consistent, with its behavior and pronouncements clearly showing its surrender, the goals of the Gaza authority have not been consistent with its rhetoric. It supports the partition of historic Palestine and proposes a truce with Israel lasting twenty to fifty years. However, it continues to talk of the destruction of Israel and the “liberation” of all Palestine. The Hamas leadership wants us to believe that the purpose of the truce is the preparation for the liberation. This is magical thinking that children usually outgrow by the time they are seven years old. They have set up a quasi one – party state that they see as indefinite and will not easily abandon. Consider this scene: shortly after the 2008-2009 Israeli assault on Gaza, the deputy minister of tourism of Gaza was interviewed on Aljazeera Television, after inspecting a resort called Crazy Waters, to say that his government has tourism plans for the next ten years.
What can explain the drive of the two authorities to have an entity no matter how insignificant, and with no consideration for the rights of their people or what they actually want? In January 2004, Mr. Ahmed Qurai, then prime minister, threatened to call for the one-state solution in historic Palestine. Mr Tayseer Khaled, a leader of the Democratic Front and its representative on the PLO executive committee was asked for his opinion. He replied that he is against the one – state solution because the “elites” of Palestinians are not up to the level of Israeli elites. These elites are the managerial class and their business allies. It is this managerial impulse, the will to power, animus domenadi, that is driving the leaders of Fatah, Hamas, and most of the other factions. Hamas is going down the same path of Fatah. It has not gone to the extent of directly collaborating with Israel on security matters because it is a younger organization (established in 1987 compared to 1965 for Fatah). Organizations become bureaucratized with time gradually abandoning their original goals and devoting their energies increasingly toward preserving and promoting the organization. Within Hamas leadership, the managerial impulse has been overcoming the resistance impulse.
With power come other privileges: the authorities do not usually publish the salaries of their offices, but it recently became known that one Muhammed Mustafa, the chairman of the Palestine Investment Authority, receives 35 thousand dollars per month, which is exactly the salary of the president of the United States. The Palestinian people are energetic and resourceful; they have survived the harsh conditions of exile and oppression. They are not afraid as are the likes of Mr. Khaled to share a society and political entity with the Israelis.
Let the Palestinian people decide
The Palestinian people never had the opportunity to decide their political future. In 1949, what become known as the “West Bank“ was annexed to Trans Jordan following negotiations between David Ben Guriun and King Abdullah and with the blessing of the British (see Collusion across the Jordan : King Abdullah, the Zionist Movement, and the partition of Palestine by Avi Shlaim). This was followed by the divestment of the West Bank from Jordan in 1985. Then there was the secretive Oslo accords in 1993, which was conducted by a few individuals. As though dealing with Israel and the two authorities is not enough, prince Hassan of Jordan is talking about reclaiming the West Bank, hoping to resume the mission of his grandfather.
The partition of Palestine directly affects the lives of all Palestinians: in Israel, the West Bank, Gaza, Jordan, Syria, Lebanon and many other countries. Even if we manage to ellect a national council that represents all Palestinians, the leadership of the factions and the managerial class cannot be entrusted with making a decision regarding the partition of historic Palestine. They are so desperate to have an entity to manage no matter how insignificant that may be. They very well realize that such an entity will be a collection of reservations, a human warehouse. The leaders of the factions are bickering about who will be the administrator of the prison, and they have brought with them over eighty thousand prison guards. With an equivalent population to the West Bank and Gaza, the cities of Chicago and Los Angeles, with much higher crime rates, each has less than nine thousand police. The factions are leading their people into a trap, using the flag as bait.
The Palestinian people should make this fateful decision through direct democracy by a referendum. This requires a census and registration to be conducted by a neutral organization. The mass media has the ethical responsibility to open its entire means to a debate on this issue. The referendum will be a means to mobilise the Palestinian people, especially the refugees, to think and prepare for their return to their homeland rather than be satisfied to talk about the theoretical “right of return”. In lieu of a referendum, a poll can be conducted by a reputable organization.
Let the Palestinian people decide whether they want to pay the price for a state that, in the words of Mahmoud Darwish: “has no room for intimacy between a male and a female pigeon, a state that you will despise the day it is announced”.
Mahmoud N. Musa teaches globalization studies at the post-graduate program of the Centre for Diplomatic and Strategic Studies in Paris; his most recent book is Contesting Global Values: Transnational Social Movements Confront the Neoliberal Order (AuthorHouse, 2011).