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An Accelerating Palestine Rights Movement Faces Uncertain Direction

US-instigated and propelled wars have continued to rage for 15 years in fulfillment of  influential neoconservative ideologue Michael Ledeen’s envisioned “creative destruction” through “total war.” General Wesley Clark related the Bush administration’s intention, reported by a Pentagon friend, to “take out” seven countries: Iran plus six Middle Eastern and North African Arab countries – all of which happened to be unfriendly to Israel.  Egypt and Jordan, which had peace treaties with Israel, were not on the list.  Nor was oil a common denominator. The list included Lebanon, of interest only to Israel, not Exxon, and did not include the oil-saturated Gulf states that collaborate with Israel despite lip service paid the Palestinians. This agenda fits Israel’s long-term strategic game plan recounted in 1982 by Israeli Foreign Service senior official and Jerusalem Post journalist Oded Yinon to control the Arab world by shattering its countries into  sectarian political shards emasculated as nations. As John Pilger titled two documentary films 25 years apart, “Palestine is Still the Issue” –  the ever-bleeding heart of the Middle East.

The imperial monster behind this agenda is clearly non-partisan. Like the bullfight picadors weakening the bull in preparation for the matador, Bill Clinton had prepared Iraq for easy takedown with eight years of suffocating sanctions that killed an estimated half-million children. Obama/Clinton followed Bush with the wholesale destruction of Libya, a secular, socialist, well-developed nation with the highest human development index in Africa, and using weapons looted from Gaddafi’s arsenal, launched the Syrian war in collusion with the Saudis, Qatar, Turkey and Israel, each with its own motives, none of which Americans should support. However rationalized as oil-driven, currency-protecting or strategic moves on the global chessboard, the monumental financial, moral and societal costs of these wars vastly exceed any benefits, real or imagined.  Without the regional conflicts long caused by Israel and relentless pressure and political extortion by the Israel lobby, most or all of these terrible debacles might well have been avoided.

But change – perhaps revolutionary change – seems in the air. Israel no longer exerts automatic mastery of her neighbors and the US government. As Gideon Levy titled his 2014 Haaretz article, “The World Is Sick of Israel and Its Insanities.”

Israel failed to prevent the Palestinian Authority from filing war crimes evidence with the International Criminal Court. The Israel lobby failed to stampede the US into attacking Syria.  It failed to derail the nuclear negotiations with Iran. After an unbroken 44-veto win streak, it failed to strong-arm an American president into vetoing the 2016 UN Security Council resolution condemning settlements.  It is desperately fighting a losing battle against the BDS movement despite mounting a full-court press in American universities, ecumenical faith communities, the mainstream media, and the academic and entertainment industries with its familiar, shrill accusations of “anti-Semitism” and dubious claims of  indispensability to American “interests” and “shared values.”  In an April 5, 2017 Portland, Oregon city council hearing to consider divestment from socially irresponsible corporations, a third of citizens testifying cited business practices enabling Israeli abuses of Palestinians as a divestment criterion. And on April 16, the reliably pro-Israel New York Times unexpectedly published an occupation-searing op-ed by Palestinian activist Marwan Barghouti, long-imprisoned in Israel for presumed complicity in three attacks that killed five people during the second intifada.

The Palestinian solidarity movement shows signs of burgeoning life, but with uncertain direction now that President Trump announced departure from 23 years of formal US insistence on the fraudulent two-state solution – “as long as both sides agree.”  Agreement, of course, is the devil in substance as well as details.  Palestinians have the rightful position under international law, but Israel has all the power in the relationship and has never come close to agreeing to anything remotely approaching justice. With Palestinians rendered helpless for 69 years, responsibility for justice falls by default upon “the international community.”

World opinion outside the US is not sanguine toward Israel. Not one among the four other permanent and 10 rotating UNSC members ever joined the US in those 44 UNSC votes. Israel is effectively a US protectorate clinging tenuously to its claims upon the American taxpayer to fund its occupation and its assurance of US protection in the UN from international justice, with a loose cannon in the White House inclined to unpredictable reactions when offended.

With pressure building and the impasse shaking loose, several possible developments are in play.

Trump’s ambiguity evoked immediate UN and Arab League declarations reaffirming  a two-state solution as “the only way to achieve comprehensive and just settlement to the Palestinian cause.” But the long-stalled, tentative two-state “Geneva Initiative” blueprint developed through the interminable “peace process” – which largely ignored the refugee and diaspora population’s rights – is neither comprehensive nor just.

Israeli Education Minister Naftali Bennett, leader of the pro-settlement Jewish Home Party, is  pushing Netanyahu to abandon the idea of a Palestinian state altogether, abandon restraints and annex a settlement of 40,000 population near Jerusalem for starters.

Hamas and Fatah continue to press for an independent state, anticipating that a single state by annexation would merely create “one state, two systems” continuing Israeli control without even a token pretense of PA administration.

J street also opposes this. Annexation would dismantle the myth of democracy Israel projects to the world.  J Street president Jeremy Ben-Ami dreads the one-state model as “not a solution but a dissolution” since this would publicly formalize their apartheid system with a Jewish minority ruling over a Palestinian majority.  He is right.  But alternatively, were Israel to annex the Palestinian territories and provide constitutionally protected equal citizenship rights to all – which the Arab population would demand, supported by international pressure – this would end Israel as a self-definable “Jewish state.” The Jewish and Palestinian Arab populations of the combined areas are now approximately equal, and Palestinians exercising their right of return coupled with predictable exodus of Jews unwilling to live as equals with Palestinians will shift the demographic balance decisively.

With its collective identity embattled and its stability threatened by BDS, Israel is becoming increasingly desperate, arresting BDS founder Omar Barghouti, a non-citizen resident of Israel, for allegedly evading taxes on income from a Ramallah-based company for 10 years they hadn’t apparently noticed until now, and passing a law banning foreign nationals who support BDS from entry despite significant economic and public image risks. Most troubling to their control obsession, American Jews are no longer reliable Israel supporters. The recent annual AIPAC protest demonstration in Washington was the largest and most vociferous yet, conspicuously amplified by Jewish protesters.

Although this protest was Palestinian-organized with numerous well-known groups and figures, the media spotlight was captured by hundreds of young, spirited American Jews who made themselves newsworthy by blocking entrance to the convention center with a human chain and speaking with passion to the press, demanding freedom, equality, justice and dignity for Palestinians. The stated goal of their main organization, If Not Now, is “to end American Jewish support for the occupation.”  Without unison on thorny related issues, their proximal focus is simply the intolerable here and now.

Logically and morally, Jewish voices deserve no special privilege.  We all have the same duty to protect human rights. And almost all US taxpayers involuntarily supporting Israel are non-Jewish.  But politically, American Jewish voices carry special weight in confronting AIPAC, ADL and 336 tax-exempt “Israel affinity organizations” depriving the US Treasury of tax revenues on $5-6 billion annually supplementing Israel’s current foreign aid allowance of over $3 billion.  Anti-Zionist Jewish voices can dispel conflation of Palestine support with anti-Semitism and confer permission to the non-Jewish 97% to challenge Israel without fear of being so labeled.  However imbalanced the media coverage of the protest, the size, energy and unequivocal repudiation of Israel by young American Jews may mark a turning point smoothing the path ahead for others.

However, the 2-edged sword here should not be overlooked. The largest, best-established Jewish organization challenging Israel is Jewish Voice for Peace. At the recent Portland hearing, six of 14 advocating divestment from companies enabling the abuse of Palestinians were JVP members. With annual budgets in the $3 million range, JVP is also the largest, best-financed organization within the Palestine Solidarity Movement, which provides it disproportionate visibility and influence. This influence is not without potential hazards.

JVP has endorsed strong positions including the BDS movement, which includes the right of return among its three bottom-line objectives. The right of return was declared by UN Resolution 194 in 1948, has been re-confirmed annually, and remains a yet-unfulfilled condition of Israel’s 1949 admission to the UN. This has been a major roadblock to conflict resolution. A 2009 survey by One Voice, an organization that tries to paper over conflicting goals to discover or manufacture appearances of Israeli/Palestinian agreement, nevertheless found the greatest disagreement on the right of return, with 95% of occupied Palestinians rating this, including compensation, as “essential” to a final resolution, an outcome rated “unacceptable” by 77% of Israelis.

Both JVP and upstart If Not Now are focused on ending the ugly occupation, a deformity on the face of Judaism.  But what next?  It is the Palestinians who for 69 years have suffered armed robbery, forced exile, political imprisonment, extrajudicial killing, continuous humiliation under apartheid within Israel, suffocating military occupation and blockade in their own land outside Israel, and who, as the oppressed people, have the inalienable right to determine the course and outcomes of their movement. The rights to redress and restitution belong to the victims and cannot as a matter of justice be parsed by the perpetrator or its friends.  Full and fair justice for Palestinians will mean significantly restructuring Israel/Palestine. Will JVP  be willing to go that far?

It is less a question of principles than of competing loyalties. Can people with personal, familial, cultural and/or financial stakes connected to Israel honestly follow the path to full justice? How many JVP members are potentially compromised by such ties? For example, JVP executive director Rebecca Vilkomerson’s husband, Jonathan Lebowitsch, is employed as a “solution architect” for an Israeli company, Check Point Software Technologies, founded by an IDF Intelligence Corps veteran. Imagining itself ever-threatened, Israel relies heavily on surveillance/security technology and would predictably intend to continue such intrusions to undermine Palestinian self-determination under any new political arrangement. What position would JVP take when faced with restoration of proportional Palestinian political power in historic Palestine with its transfiguring on-the-ground  implications?

To be in solidarity as allies of an oppressed people, the rest of us including Jewish Americans must provide unequivocal support along whatever paths toward whatever goals of freedom, equality, justice and dignity under international law Palestinians themselves choose to seek, without efforts to steer them in other directions or toward lesser goals.

Whether within two genuinely equal states, a federation, or a unified single state with universal rights, this would not end the right of Jews to live there as their homeland but would end their current supremacy and privilege, just as the US is the homeland for people of many ethnicities and religions living (at least formally) in political equality. Israel could become a normal country rather than, as encouraged by IDF General Moshe Dayan, “like a mad dog, too dangerous to bother.”  To be honest allies, I believe Jewish supporters of Palestinians must embrace this transformative vision.

More articles by:

Jack Dresser, Ph.D. is National vice-chair, Veterans for Peace working group on Palestine and the Middle East and Co-Director of Al-Nakba Awareness Project in Eugene, Oregon  

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