The need for ‘collapse with agency’ in Palestine

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Sonja Karkar – editor of Australians for Palestine – writes:

Few can express what is happening in Palestine with the clarity that Jeff Halper brings to his presentations.

The article below serves as a dire warning about the reality on the ground and what needs to be done to prevent the permanent warehousing of the Palestinian people.  He says “While the Palestinian Authority plays the “two-state solution” game, Israel can simply herd the Palestinians into the 70 tiny islands of Areas A and B, lock the gates and let the international community feed them – and go about placidly building a Greater Land of Israel with American and European complicity.”  Israel. . .  “simply exploits the willingness of the Palestinian Authority to perpetuate the illusion of negotiations as a smokescreen covering its virtual imprisonment of the Palestinian ‘inmates’.  Once the current mopping up operations are completed, the process of incarceration will be complete.”

He goes on to say “A necessary and urgent first step towards collapsing the otherwise permanent  regime of oppression in Israel/Palestine is that we stop talking about  a two-state solution. It’s dead and gone as a political option – if, indeed, it ever really existed. It should be banned from the discourse because reference to an irrelevant ‘solution’ only serves to confuse the discussion.”

Unlike others who just look at the negatives of this intractable human crisis, Jeff Halper always provides constructive solutions that, if heeded, may well pull the Palestinians back from the brink of disaster after years of courageously struggling for freedom and justice. Indeed, we all have our work cut out for us.

You can’t get there from here: the need
for ‘collapse with agency’ in Palestine

Jeff Halper

Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions
18 February 2012

Even as I write this, the bulldozers have been busy throughout that one
indivisible country known by the bifurcated term Israel/Palestine.
Palestinian homes, community centers, livestock pens and other “structures”
(as the Israel authorities dispassionately call them) have been demolished
in the Old City, Silwan and various parts of “Area C” in the West Bank, as
well among the Bedouin – Israeli citizens – in the Negev/Nakab. This is
merely mopping up, herding the last of the Arabs into their prison cells
where, forever, they will cease to be heard or heard from, a non-issue in
Israel and, eventually, in the wider world distracted from bigger, more
pressing matters.

An as-yet confidential report submitted by the European consuls in Jerusalem
and Ramallah raises urgent concerns over the “forced expulsion” of
Palestinians – a particularly strong term for European diplomats to use
–from Area C of the West Bank (the 60% of the West Bank under full Israeli
control but which today contains less than 5% of the Palestinian
population). Focusing particularly on the rise in house demolitions by the
Israeli authorities and the growing economic distress of the Palestinians
living in Area C, the report mentions the fertile and strategic Jordan
Valley (where the Palestinian population has declined from 250,000 to 50,000
since the start of the Occupation), plans to relocate 3000 Jahalin Bedouins
to a barren hilltop above the Jerusalem garbage dump and the ongoing but
accelerated demolition of Palestinian homes (500 in 2011).

At the same time the “judaization” of Jerusalem continues apace, a “greater”
Israeli Jerusalem steadily isolating the Palestinian parts of the city from
the rest of Palestinian society while ghettoizing their inhabitants, more
than 100,000 of which now live beyond the Wall. Some 120 homes were
demolished in East Jerusalem in 2011; over the same period the Israeli
government announced the construction of close to 7000 housing units for
Jews in East and “Greater” Jerusalem. “If current trends are not stopped and
reversed,” said a previous EU report, “the establishment of a viable
Palestinian state within the pre-1967 borders seems more remote than ever.
The window for a two-state solution is rapidly closing….”

In fact, it closed long ago. In terms of settlers and Palestinians, the
Israeli government treats the whole country as one. Last year it demolished
three times more homes ofIsraeli citizens (Arabs, of course) than it did in
the Occupied Palestinian Territory. The demolition of Bedouin homes in the
Negev/Nakab is part of a plan approved by the government to remove 30,000
citizens from their homes and confine them to townships.

None of this concerns “typical” Israelis even if they have heard of it
(little appears in the news). For them, the Israeli-Arab conflict was won
and forgotten years ago, somewhere around 2004 when Bush informed Sharon
that the US does not expect Israel to withdraw to the 1967 borders, thus
effectively ending the “two-state solution,” and Arafat “mysteriously” died.

Since then, despite occasional protests from Europe, the “situation” has
been normalized. Israelis enjoy peace and quiet, personal security and a
booming economy (with the usual neoliberal problems of fair allocation). The
unshakable, bi-partisan support of the American government and Congress
effectively shields it from any kind of international sanctions. Above all,
Israeli Jews have faith that those pesky Arabs living somewhere “over there”
beyond the Walls and barbed-wire barriers have been pacified and brought
under control by the IDF. A recent poll found that “security,” the term
Israelis use instead of “occupation” or “peace,” was ranked eleventh among
the concerns of the Israeli public, trailing well behind employment, crime,
corruption, religious-secular differences, housing and other more pressing

As for the international community, the “Quartet” representing the US, the
EU, Russia and the UN in the non-existent “peace process” has gone
completely silent. (Israel refused to table its position on borders and
other key negotiating issues by the January 26th “deadline” laid down by the
Quartet, and no new meetings are scheduled). The US has abandoned any
pretense of an “honest broker.” Months ago, when the US entered its
interminable election “season,” Israel received a green light from both the
Democrats and Republicans to do whatever it sees fit in the Occupied
Territory. Last May the Republicans invited Netanyahu to address Congress
and send a clear message to Obama: hands off Israel. That same week, Obama,
not to be out-done, addressed an AIPAC convention and reaffirmed Bush’s
promise that Israel will not have to return to the 1967 borders or
relinquish its major settlement blocs in East Jerusalem and the West Bank.
He also took the occasion to promise an American veto should the
Palestinians request membership in the UN – though that would merely amount
to an official acceptance of the two-state treaty that the US claims it has
been fostering all these years. No, as far as Israel and Israeli Jews are
concerned, the conflict and even the need for pretense is over. The only
thing remaining is to divert attention to more “urgent” global matters so
that the Palestinian issue completely disappears. Voila Iran.

Oh, but what about the “demographic threat,” that “war of the womb” that
will eventually force a solution? Well, as long as Israel has the
Palestinian Authority to self-segregate its people, it has nothing to worry
about. While the Palestinian Authority plays the “two-state solution” game,
Israel can simply herd the Palestinians into the 70 tiny islands of Areas A
and B, lock the gates and let the international community feed them – and go
about placidly building a Greater Land of Israel with American and European
complicity. Indeed, nothing demonstrates self-segregation more than Prime
Minister Salem Fayyad’s neoliberal scheme of building a Palestinian
something… “from the ground up.” By building for the well-to-do in new
private-sector cities like Rawabi, located safely in Area A, by building new
highways (with Japanese and USAID assistance) that respect Israeli “Greater”
Jerusalem and channel Palestinian traffic from Ramallah to Bethlehem through
far-away Jericho, by expressing a willingness to accept Israeli territorial
expansion in exchange for the ability to “do business,” Fayyad has invented
yet a new form of neoliberal oppression-by-consent: viable apartheid
(viable, at least, for the Palestinian business class). And as in the
Bantustans of apartheid South Africa, the Palestinian Authority maintains a
repressive internal order through its own American-trained/Israeli-approved
militia, a second layer of occupation. (During the 2008 assault on Gaza, one
of the few places in the world in which there were no demonstrations was the
West Bank, where they were forbidden by the Palestinian Authority.
Then-Prime Minister Olmert crowed that this was evidence of how effectively
the Palestinians had been pacified.)

Indeed, by clinging to the two-state solution and continuing to participate
in “negotiations” years after they have proven themselves a trap, the
Palestinian leadership plays a central role in its own people’s warehousing.
The reality – even the fact – of occupation gets buried under the diversions
set up by the fraudulent yet unending “peace process.” This only enables
Israel to imprison the Palestinians in tiny cells; witness today’s mini-ethnic
cleansing, just one of thousands of micro-events that have the cumulative
effect of displacement, expulsion, segregation and incarceration.
It also enables Israel to then blame the victims for causing their own
oppression! When a Palestinian leadership assumes the prerogative to
negotiate a political resolution yet lacks any genuine authority or leverage
to do so, and when, in addition, it fails to abandon negotiations even after
they have been exposed as a trap, it comes dangerously close to being
collaborationist. For its part, Israel is off the hook. Instead of going
through the motions of establishing an apartheid regime, it simply exploits
the willingness of the Palestinian Authority to perpetuate the illusion of
negotiations as a smokescreen covering its virtual imprisonment of the
Palestinian “inmates.” Once the current mopping up operations are completed,
the process of incarceration will be complete.

Today the only alternative agency to the Palestinian Authority is segments
of the international civil society. The Arab and Muslims peoples for whom
Palestinian liberation is an integral part of the Arab Spring, stand
alongside thousands of political and human rights groups, critical
activists, churches, trade unions and intellectuals throughout the world.
Crucial as it is for keeping the issue alive and building grassroots support
for the Palestinian cause that will steadily “trickle up” and affect
governments’ policies, however, civil society advocacy is a stop-gap form of
agency, ultimately unable to achieve a just peace by itself. We, too, are
trapped in the dead-end personified by the two-state solution, reference to
a “peace process” and their attendant “negotiations.” There is no way
forward in the current paradigm. We must break out into a world of new
possibilities foreclosed by the present options: a “two-state” apartheid
regime or warehousing.

In my view, while advocacy and grassroots mobilization remain relevant,
several tasks stand before us. First, we must endeavor to hasten the
collapse of the present situation and subsequently, when new paradigms of
genuine justice emerge from the chaos, be primed to push forward an entirely
different solution that is currently impossible or inconceivable, be that a
single democratic state over the entire country, a bi-national state, a
regional confederation or some other alternative yet to be formulated. The
Palestinians themselves must create a genuine, inclusive agency of their own
that, following the collapse, can effectively seize the moment. Formulating
a clear program and strategy, they will then be equipped to lead their
people to liberation and a just peace, with the support of activists and
others the world over.

A necessary and urgent first step towards collapsing the otherwise permanent
regime of oppression in Israel/Palestine is that we stop talking about
a two-state solution. It’s dead and gone as a political option – if, indeed,
it ever really existed. It should be banned from the discourse because
reference to an irrelevant “solution” only serves to confuse the discussion.
Granted, this will be hard for liberals to do; everyone else, however, has
given up on it. Most Palestinians, having once supported it, now realize
that Israel will simply not withdraw to a point where a truly viable and
sovereign state can emerge. The Israeli government, backed by the Bush-Obama
policies on the settlement blocs, doesn’t even make pretence of pursuing it
anymore, and the Israeli public is fine with the status quo. Nor does the
permanent warehousing of the Palestinians seem to faze the American or
European governments, or the Arab League. Even AIPAC has moved on to the
“Iranian threat.”

Behind the insistence of the liberal Zionists of J Street, Peace Now, the
Peace NGOs Forum run out of the Peres Center for Peace and others to hang on
to a two-state solution at any cost is a not-so-hidden agenda. They seek to
preserve Israel as a Jewish state even at the cost of enforcing
institutional discrimination against Israel’s own Palestinian citizens. The
real meaning of a “Jewish democracy” is living with apartheid and
warehousing while protesting them. No, the liberals will be the hardest to
wean away from the two-state snare. Yet if they don’t abandon it, they run
the risk of promoting de facto their own worst nightmare of warehousing
while providing the fig-leaf of legitimacy to cover the policies of Israel’s
extreme right – all in the name of “peace.” This is what happens when one’s
ideology places restrictions on one’s ability to perceive evil or to draw
necessary if difficult conclusions. When wishful thinking becomes policy, it
not only destroys your effectiveness as a political actor but leads you into
positions, policies and alliances that, in the end, are inimical to your own
goals and values. Jettisoning all talk of a “two-state solution” removes the
major obstacle to clear analysis and the ability to move forward.

The obfuscation created by the “two-state solution” now out of the way, what
emerges as clear as day is naked occupation, an apartheid regime extending
across all of historic Palestine/Israel and the spectre of warehousing.
Since none of these forms of oppression can ever be legitimized or
transformed into something just, the task before us becomes clear: to cause
their collapse by any means necessary. There are many ways to do this, just
as the ANC did. Already Palestinian, Israel and international activists
engage in internal resistance, together with international challenges to
occupation represented by the Gaza flotillas and attempts to “crash” Israeli
borders. Many civil society actors the world over have mobilized, some
around campaigns such as Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS), others around
direct actions, still others engaged in lobbying the UN and governments
through such instruments as the Human Rights Council, the Committee on the
Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) and international courts. There
have been campaigns to reconvene the Tribunal that, under the Fourth Geneva
Convention, has the authority and duty to sanction Israel for its gross
violations. Dozens of groups and individuals alike engage in public
speaking, mounting Israel Apartheid Weeks on university campuses and working
through the media. And much more.

And here is where Palestinian civil society plays a crucial role, a role
that cannot be played by non-Palestinians. If it is agreed that the
Palestinian Authority must go if we are to get beyond the two-state trap –
indeed, the dismantling of the PA being a major part of the collapse of the
present system – then this call must originate from within the Palestinian
community. Non-Palestinians must join in, of course, but the issue of who
represents the Palestinians is their call exclusively.

Non-Palestinians can also suggest various end-games. I’ve written, for
example, about a Middle East economic confederation, believing that a
regional approach is necessary to address the core issues. The Palestinian
organization PASSIA published a collection of twelve possible outcomes. It
is obvious, though, that it is the sole prerogative of the Palestinian
people to decide what solution, or range of solutions, is acceptable. For
this, and to organize effectively so as to bring about a desired outcome,
the Palestinians need a new truly representative agency, one that replaces
the PA and gives leadership and direction to broad-based civil society
agency, one that has the authority to negotiate a settlement and actually
move on to the implementation of a just peace.

As of now, it appears there is only one agency that possesses that
legitimacy and mandate: the Palestinian National Council of the PLO
(although Hamas and the other Islamic parties are not (yet) part of the
PLO). Reconstituting the PNC through new elections would seem the most
urgent item on the Palestinian agenda today – without which, in the absence
of effective agency, we are all stuck in rearguard protest actions and
Israel prevails. Our current situation, caught in the limbo between seeking
the collapse of the oppressive system we have, and having a Palestinian
agency that can effectively lead us towards a just resolution, is one of the
most perilous we’ve faced. One person’s limbo is another person’s window of
opportunity. Say what you will about Israel, it knows how to hustle and
exploit even the smallest of opportunities to nail down its control

“Collapse with agency,” I suggest, could be a title of our refocused efforts
to weather the limbo in the political process. Until a reinvigorated PNC or
other representative agency can be constituted, a daunting but truly urgent
task, Palestinian civil society might coalesce enough to create a kind of
interim leadership bureau. This itself might be a daunting task. Most
Palestinian leaders have either been killed by Israel or are languishing in
Israeli prisons, while Palestinian civil society has been shattered into
tiny disconnected and often antagonistic pieces. At home major divisions
have been sown between “’48” and “’67” Palestinians; Gaza, Jerusalem and the
West Bank have been effectively severed; and within the West Bank
restrictions on movement among a bewildering array of “areas” – A, B, C,
C-Restricted, H-1, H-2, nature reserves, closed military areas – have
resulted in virtual, largely disconnected Palestinian mini-societies.
Political divisions, especially among secular/traditional and Islamic
factions, have been nurtured, not least by Israel. Overall, the Palestinian
population, exhausted by years of sacrifice and resistance, impoverished and
preoccupied with mere survival, has been left largely rudderless as many of
its most educated and skilled potential leaders have left or are forbidden
by Israel to return.

For its part, the Palestinian leadership has done little to bridge the wider
divisions amongst those falling under PA rule, Palestinian citizens of
Israel, residents of the refugee camps and the world-wide Diaspora,
divisions that have grown even wider since the PLO and the PNC fell
moribund. Indeed, major portions of the Palestinian Diaspora (and one may
single out especially but not exclusively the large and prosperous
communities of Latin America), have disconnected from the national struggle
completely. The Palestinian possess some extremely articulate spokespeople
and activists, but they tend to be either a collection of individual voices
only tenuously tied to grassroots organizations, or grassroots resistance
groups such as the Popular Committees that enjoy little political backing or
strategic direction.

Ever aware that the struggle for liberation must be led by Palestinians, our
collective task at the moment, in my view, is to bring about the collapse of
the present situation in Palestine in order to exploit its fundamental
unsustainabilty. The elimination of the Palestinian Authority is one way to
precipitate that collapse. It would likely require Israel to physically
reoccupy the Palestinian cities and probably Gaza as well (as if they have
ever been de-occupied), bringing the reality of raw occupation back to the
center of attention. Such a development would likely inflame Arab and Muslim
public opinion, not to mention that of much of the rest of the world, and
would create an untenable situation, forcing the hand of the international
community. Israel would be put in an indefensible position, thus paving the
way for new post-collapse possibilities – this time with an effective and
representative Palestinian agency in place and a global movement primed to
follow its lead.

But given the underlying unsustainability of the Occupation and the
repressive system existing throughout historic Palestine – the massive
violations of human rights and international law, the disruptive role the
conflict plays in the international system and its overt brutality –
collapse could come from a variety of places, some of them unsuspected and
unrelated to Israel/Palestine. An attack on Iran could reshuffle the cards
in the Middle East, and the Arab Spring is still a work in progress. Major
disruptions in the flow of oil to the West due an attack on Iran, internal
changes in Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States, instability in Russia and even
the fact that China has no oil of its own could cause major financial crises
worldwide. Sino-American tensions, environmental disasters or Pakistan’s
nuclear weapons falling into the hands of the Taliban with unpredictable
Indian reactions may all play an indirect yet forceful role. Who knows? Ron
Paul, President Gingrich’s newly appointed Secretary of State, might end all
military, economic and political support for Israel, in which case the
Occupation (and more) would fall within a month.

Whatever the cause of the collapse – and we must play an active role in
bring it about – it is incumbent upon us to be ready, mobilized and
organized if we are to seize that historic moment, which might be coming
sooner than we expect. Effective and broadly representative Palestinian
agency will be critical. Collapse with agency is the only way to get “there”
from “here.”

Jeff Halper is the Director of the Israeli Committee Against House
Demolitions (ICAHD).

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