On Palestine, briefly

by J.A. Myerson

My friend Jonathan Cristol has a piece up for National Post today in which he argues:

The only way that Palestine will achieve a viable independent state is through direct negotiation with Israel. The pursuit of Palestinian statehood at the United Nations is a bad strategy for the Palestinians and is a testament to their continued poor leadership. Being seated in the General Assembly will not mean that Israel will grant Palestinians over-flight rights, trade agreements, open borders, work permits or other privileges that the Palestinians presumably desire. The only way to achieve these privileges is through bi- or trilateral negotiation with Israel and the United States.

The piece raises some good points, as all his pieces do, but neglects the central issue: The last sixty years of the US-led, Irael-dictated “peace process” have brought only further colonization, occupation and settlement.

Nor is there any reason to suspect a change in this trajectory, given the interests of the negotiating partners to whom Jonathan conscripts the Palestinians. The United States is the most militarily powerful country in the world and has made no secret of the fact that it is committed foremost to Israel’s most right-wing expansionist interests. As an illustration, President Obama’s recent UN speech contained 120 words on Israeli suffering and 0 on Palestinian suffering. (For context, the death toll since 2009: 1,629 Palestinians, 13 Israelis). Writes The Nation‘s Robert Dreyfuss:

In one speech, Obama smashed to pieces every hopeful speech, false-start peace initiative and half-hearted initiative he’s tried since taking office. The appointment of George Mitchell as Middle East peace envoy? Dead. The June 2009, speech in Cairo aimed at rebuilding ties to the Arab and Muslim world? Dead. His feckless call for Israel to stop building illegal settlements on Palestinian land under occupation by Israel’s brutish army and a vast militia of armed, fanatical settlers? Dead. His weak-kneed call for a deal between Israel and Palestine based on the 1967 borders? Dead as a doornail.

The Palestinians are indeed poorly led, as I’ve written before. But that is no reason to suspect that the Palestinian people are wrong when they regard Israel’s occupation as unshakable by the same old means — a previous rejection of the “peace process” was democratically electing Hamas in Gaza, and I submit to Jonathan that a statehood bid at the UN is a considerably wiser move than that, by way of advancing Palestine’s national interests.

It is true, as Jonathan prognosticates, that a post-occupation Palestine will be a society in tatters.

Once Palestine is an independent state, the legal distinction is clear. Palestine is responsible for the Palestinians and Israel for the Israelis. Israel, like any other state, is under no obligation to allow foreign nationals the right to work or even visit its territory. There will be no obligation to share water, to share energy, or medical care. The Palestinian patients who enjoy outstanding health care in hospitals in Tel Aviv will have to take their chances at Ramallah Hospital. It can even build a massive wall along the border (and shoot people trying to cross it). The maritime boundary will remain disputed for some time and Israel’s naval superiority will ensure that no ships will reach Gaza.

But that’s what the third world is: a collection of societies struggling to achieve stability, equality and prosperity after having shed their colonial masters. The misery subsequent to emancipation is not a deterrent to emancipation — emancipation is the precondition. First, you achieve independence. Then, you work to shed the misery.

Jonathan is certainly among the most level-headed of the American pundits coming to the aid of Israel, but even the level-headed can easily underestimate the importance of national sovereignty (and the concomitant dismantling of settlements it implies) in a debate environment this imbalanced. Indeed, as Yousef Munayyer of The Palestine Center was recently moved to remark, on the matter of Israel/Palestine, “those who favor segregation/separation are ‘moderates’ those who favor equality/civil rights are ‘extremists.'”