Institute for Palestine Studies Senior Fellow Mouin Rabbani spoke to Palestine Square on developments on the ground in Palestine after his recent trip to the West Bank and Jerusalem.
The main impression I got – in a variety of rural areas and also in Ramallah and Jerusalem – was how severely abandoned the average Palestinian and Palestinians collectively feel by their own leadership, their own political movements, by the Arab states and increasingly by the Arab people as well. Moreover, abandoned by the international community. Broadly speaking, a sense that no one is in anyway interested in the Palestinian issue anymore let alone seriously cares about even seeing it resolved. And this to a large extent explains what we’ve been seeing on the ground for the last six months or so – individual actions, often by young teenagers, overwhelmingly disconnected from and unconnected to any organizational structure or even a clear political agenda and many of these initiatives, or attacks, are not even connected to each other. An act of desperation by members of the people who are being slowly, overwhelmingly crushed right before the eyes of the whole world and in which no one seems in the least interested in doing something about it.
The other aspect is of course the Israeli occupation, today being perpetuated by an Israeli government that seems to be growing more extreme by the day, to the extent that even the regular rights and privileges that Israeli citizens, particularly Israeli Jews, have enjoyed are being significantly eroded so you can only imagine what this means for Palestinians. And a government that seems to being getting more extreme, more violent, more expansionist by the day. The pattern seems to be that the more extreme it becomes the more impunity it enjoys and the less accountable its actions are being held by anybody.
Failure of the Palestinian Leadership
The Palestinian Authority has no vision, no agenda, no aspiration, and no objective whatsoever. No vision apart from remaining in power from one day to the next. The disconnect between people and leadership is unlike anything I’ve ever seen before, particularly when you consider this is supposed to be a national liberation movement. A leadership that, at best, has nothing but total contempt for its own people. Not even fear of its people as in seeing them as an obstacle to its own agenda. But real and total contempt. To give one example, when you’ve had these periodic Israeli assaults on the Gaza Strip, the leadership in Ramallah sends its security forces into the streets to break up demonstrations which were neither organized by Hamas nor organized to expressly support Hamas. But, rather, organized in solidarity with the residents of Gaza who are being bombed by Israel’s air force. And these are demonstrations that are taking place not on the boundaries between areas of Israeli and Palestinian control where you could make an argument, however inappropriately, that the Palestinian security forces are intervening to prevent clashes and Palestinian casualties. These are peaceful, civil demonstrations organized in the very heart of Palestinian urban centers and they are attacked at a time when there’s an Israeli assault on the Palestinian people in the context of an Israeli occupation.
I wouldn’t single out the Palestinian Authority. One can equally make the same argument about the Hamas leadership in the Gaza Strip. As for the prospect of reconciliation between Fatah and Hamas I don’t think this will happen anytime soon. Both parties are fundamentally committed to preventing it because they feel they have more to lose by reconciliation than they have to gain.
Creeping Annexation of the West Bank?
Israel’s policy in the West Bank has always been characterized as one of creeping annexation. And that’s basically because the Israeli government in 1967 – with the exception of East Jerusalem and its surroundings – took the decision that it was for a variety of reason unprepared to simply annex the West Bank but nonetheless wanted to permanently control it. Over the past half century, Israel has expanded its physical control and settlement territory on an incremental basis and that has now been continuing at an accelerating pace. Whole areas of the West Bank, although not formally annexed, are now functionally part of Israel in their governance, demography, infrastructure and so forth. We’re talking about a process of creeping annexation. And there are now increasing calls not just from the militant fringe in Israel but from senior members of the Israeli government for the outright formal annexation of at least most of Area C if not the West Bank in its entirety. And you look at those who appointed themselves the sponsors of the so-called peace process and they basically look the other way. See no evil. Hear no evil. And above all speak no evil. And if there’s one thing the Israelis are learning from the international community is that they have virtual impunity and that there will be no accountability for their actions.
End of Two-State Settlement?
Many people who say the two-state settlement has failed are people who were formally committed to a two-state settlement and believed that Oslo was the great hope for achieving that. When Oslo didn’t produce that outcome they became disillusioned not only about Oslo but its purported objective as well. If you reject a two-state settlement as a matter of principle that’s one thing. But if you reject it because you believe it has been tried and failed, my response would be there’s no evidence that it has been seriously attempted, least of all in the context of the Oslo agreements. And if you’re then going to start saying it’s no longer feasible because of the number of settlements, settlers etc., these are matters of politics not of physics. And in politics these things can always be changed and transformed and reversed by mustering sufficient political will and resources. It can of course be substantially more difficult under one set of circumstances than the other, but there’s no evidence it cannot be done.
Palestine Always Returns
While Israel is committed to perpetual occupation and the international community has basically taken a collective decision to not confront Israel, I nevertheless remain convinced – and this has nothing to do with a personal inclination toward optimism or pessimism – that this reality cannot and will not be indefinitely sustained, and that it will not be resolved by the Palestinian people rolling over and playing dead. If the current Palestinian leaderships – and I use the plural advisedly – are unable to get their act together and more effectively serve the interests of their people, I am confident they will in due course be replaced by people who do have that commitment.
This Palestine question is not going to go away as a major regional and international issue. It is a cause which has maintained an existential hold on Arab identity. It is in my view also only a matter of time before the international community is compelled to focus on Palestine once again. It’s important to stress that this is not a particularly comforting prognosis if you go to some obscure village in the Hebron region which is being literally crushed under the weight of Israeli bulldozers and settler violence and reassure these people “I’m sure your issue will return to the regional and international agenda.”
Part of the problem has to do with the governments we have in the region. We see this phenomenon of normalization that has extended beyond those that have formal peace treaties with Israel. In the past it used to be limited, at least publicly, to Egypt and Jordan and even then it was largely a cold peace. We will see a shift back to the Palestine problem, but it can take time and depends on how developments proceed within the region.
In the end, you ignore Palestine at your peril.
Interview by Khelil Bouarrouj.