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Tracking the trends of the Palestinian cause since 1967: Looking forward

June 7, 2017 4:38 P.M. (Updated: June 8, 2017 10:11 A.M.)
Palestinian children walk along the rubble of Gaza City houses destroyed by Israeli shelling in 2014, on June 22, 2015. (AFP/File)
By: Al-Shabaka

Al-Shabaka is an independent non-profit organization whose mission is to educate and foster public debate on Palestinian human rights and self-determination within the framework of international law.

This is the second part of a report, written by Al-Shabaka Executive Director Nadia Hijab and policy adviser Mouin Rabbani, looking at the future of the Palestinian cause 50 years after the Six-Day War and the Naksa. The first part of this report was published on Ma’an on Tuesday. The report can be read in full here.

Looking forward

In some respects the situation today has come full circle since 1967. The broadly unified Palestinian national movement that predominated from the 1960s to the 1990s has disintegrated, perhaps terminally so. It is today split between Fatah and Hamas, with the latter, along with Islamic Jihad, as yet excluded from the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), while splits within Fatah and the PLO are rife.

The Palestinians in Gaza are suffering horrendously under a decade of Israeli blockade that is getting worse on account of Palestinian Authority (PA) and Israeli pressure on Hamas. The Palestinians in refugee camps in Syria and Lebanon are suffering greatly from the civil strife in Syria and the earlier fragmentation of Iraq, as well as from conflicts between different groups in the camps.

As for Israel, 1967 transformed it from a regional state into a regional power. It is eager to normalize relations with Saudi Arabia and the Arab Gulf states, using Iran as the bogeyman to nurture that relationship. In turn, it wants to use that alliance to impose a deal on the Palestinians that would effectively perpetuate Israeli domination, achieving a final peace treaty whereby it would keep security control throughout the occupied Palestinian territory (OPT), maintain its settlements, and continue to colonize.

But there continue to be obstacles in Israel’s path to legitimizing the occupation, which keep the door open for a Palestinian movement and strategy to secure rights and justice. It is no small feat that, during a period comprising half a century, not one state has formally endorsed Israel’s occupation of Palestinian -- or Syrian -- territory.

While European governments, for example, feared that doing so would endanger their relationships with others in region, they are also among the most committed to upholding a rules-based international order; the memories of the First and Second World Wars have not been forgotten. They thus cannot recognize Israel’s occupation even though they have failed to challenge Israel in the same way they have confronted the Russian occupation of Crimea.

Moreover, the election of Donald Trump as US president soon after the United Kingdom voted to leave the European Union last year is hastening the European Union’s determination to consolidate its economic and political power and reduce its dependence on the US for protection.

This offers an opportunity for the Palestinians to bolster modest EU measures such as prohibiting research funding to Israeli settlement enterprises and labeling settlement products, and to push for differentiation between Israel and its colonial enterprise, drawing on the language of UN Security Council Resolution 2334 of December 2016.

Israel is also facing resistance in unexpected places. As the Palestinian national movement has weakened, the global Palestine solidarity movement, including the Palestinian-led Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions Movement (BDS) launched in 2005, has grown rapidly, particularly in the wake of Israel’s repeated assaults on the Gaza Strip.

This is in contrast to the situation in the 1970s and 80s, when Western publics tended to be broadly supportive of Israel. Israel is ferociously pushing back against this movement by conflating criticism of Israel with anti-Semitism, and by pushing legislation in the US and Europe to ban boycott initiatives. As yet, however, it has not succeeded in shutting down the debate or in preventing churches and student groups across the US from supporting activities in solidarity with the Palestinian people.

Israel’s pushback is also weakened as a result of a third trend that is entirely of its own making. The fact that it has been able to violate international law unchallenged in its occupation of the Palestinian territories, as well as with its own Palestinian citizens, is leading to overreach.

Even Trump’s determination to “do a deal” that would certainly give Israel vast tracts of Palestinian land and permanent security control is likely to hit up against the increasingly powerful right-wing movement, which rejects on principle any concession to the Palestinians.

Indeed, the growing raft of what can only be described as racist laws is exposing not just its present acts but also those of the pre- and early post-1948 era.

For example, to name just a few, the citizenship and family law, renewed annually since 2003, denies Palestinian citizens of Israel the right to marry Palestinians from the OPT as well as several other countries; the continued destruction of Palestinian villages within Israel as well as the West Bank; and the law to retroactively legalize the theft of private Palestinian land in the West Bank.

All this makes it impossible to pretend that Israel subscribes to either universal or “Western” values, such as the rule of law and equality.

A good indicator of the impact of this exposure is the fast-growing number of non-Israeli Jews who are becoming increasingly estranged from Israel, including such organizations as Jewish Voice for Peace. When they speak up, pro forma accusations of anti-Semitism are easily deflected, and they empower others to take similar positions.

Another area where Israel has overreached has been in making support for it a partisan issue. As the Republican Party ensures there is no daylight between itself and Israel, opinion in the Democratic Party’s rank-and-file shifts steadily in support of Palestinian rights, and Democratic representatives are slowly becoming emboldened to speak up.

These longer-term trends that work against Israel’s violations of international norms cannot by themselves secure Palestinian rights. The shift from Arab custodianship over the question of Palestine to Palestinian custodianship ultimately resulted in the disaster of Oslo. What is needed is a formula to combine Palestinian mobilization at home and abroad with an Arab strategy to achieve self-determination.

And, although efforts to reform the PLO into an effective national representative have failed to date, there are ways to apply pressure on parts of the PLO that still function -- for example, in countries where some segments of Palestinian diplomatic representation are still effective -- with a view to reviving the national agenda and strategy.

The Palestinians today are without doubt in the most unenviable position they have experienced since 1948. Yet if they mobilize the resources at their disposal -- first and foremost their own people and the growing reservoir of global support for their rights and freedom -- they can yet formulate and successfully implement a strategy to secure their place in the sun.

The views expressed in this article are the authors’ and do not necessarily reflect Ma'an News Agency's editorial policy.
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