Palestine: a global rethink
By Ruth Tenne
The historic nuclear deal between Iran and the West is bound to have a major impact on the entrenched conflict between Israel and the Palestinians, especially at the time when the strong opposition of Israel to the deal and the planned expansion of Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank appear to intensify the standoff between the US administration and the Israeli government.
Moreover, the recent failed attempt by the Palestinian Authority and the French government to push for a Security Council’s resolution that “will set out an 18-month timetable for the completion of final status talks, based on the creation of a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza Strip that includes land swaps to enable Israel’s annexation of some settlements” also seems to suggest that a fresh rethinking of the current stalemate is much needed.
There is no doubt that Israel’s intransigence is the crux of problem, yet the fact is that any future solution has to involve a reconciliation between Fatah and Hamas under the umbrella of the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO). Put simply, there are three sides to the resolution of the present conflict: Israel, Fatah and Hamas.
Thus, in order to confront the immense political power of the Israeli state and its lobbies, there is an urgent need to establish a united Palestinian front, and a proactive movement for Palestine which would go beyond the confines of mere protest, solidarity and the piecemeal boycott, divestment and sanctions, and become a powerful political force.
A united Palestinian front
Any reconciliation between Fatah and Hamas must begin with new, internationally-monitored elections in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. This must be followed by the formation of a genuine national unity government under the umbrella of a revived PLO and a re-elected Palestine National Council and Palestinian Legislative Council. The national unity government and the newly-elected Palestinian Legislative Council should then draft a modern constitution and bill of rights, paving the way for global recognition of the Palestinian state and accession to the United Nations as a full member-state.
Undoubtedly, many obstructions stand in the way of going through the above-stated political process. First and foremost, the suffocating blockade of the Gaza Strip would make it extremely difficult to pursue a general election there, especially as the 1.8 million residents still have to struggle with the total destruction and loss of life caused by Israel’s 2014 onslaught on Gaza strip.
Furthermore, owing to the destruction inflicted by Israel in the 2014 onslaught, an accurate register of eligible voters may be unattainable, and Israel (and possibly Egypt) may prevent the access of any election observers, especially since Hamas is regarded as a terrorist organisation by many Western countries and some Middle East states.
Despite these problems, recent developments indicate a growing united front on Palestine among Arab and Muslim nations which could help to promote a Palestinian national unity government based on free and fair elections.
The Arab League recently decided to back a Palestinian resolution at the UN Security Council calling for the setting of a timeline for ending Israeli occupation.
Similarly, the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) decided to hold an “extraordinary summit” on Palestine. Yet, the focus of the summit will be on Jerusalem and Islamic holy sites rather than on a future contiguous and sovereign Palestinian state formed of the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
Global movement for Palestine
So far, the global Palestine solidarity movement has not managed to go beyond the confines of a diffuse protest movement. It is based mainly on the actions of members of civil society rather than on a united global force capable of influencing the deeply-entrenched Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) appear to be the main tool of the Palestine solidarity movement.
A recent report in the Times of Israel outlined different scenarios of an escalating BDS and its possible effects on Israel’s economy, arguing that:
If the diplomatic boycott of Israel sees moderate growth – leading to voluntary boycotts by European countries, chain stores or consumer organisations of goods produced in West Bank settlements – the damage to the market could reach some half a billion [Israeli ] shekels per year, and approximately 430 people could subsequently lose their jobs.
On the other hand, a stronger boycott of all West Bank products by all EU states could also affect products made inside the Green Line. This could lead to a boycott of about 1 per cent of Israeli products, and hurt the market to the tune of NIS 2 billion and 1,800 job losses.
In an extreme scenario, where the EU boycotts all Israeli products and stops foreign investments in the country – sanctions similar to those imposed on Apartheid South Africa – 36,500 people would be jobless and Israel would lose NIS 40 billion in revenue annually.
Finance Ministry economists define the last scenario as the most extreme, but warn extreme scenarios have often arisen due to hard-to-predict developments, and local and limited boycott initiatives could quickly escalate to far-reaching, official sanctions.
Regrettably, BDS is currently based on piecemeal actions and is a long way from reaching the extreme scenario the Israeli economists fear. As I pointed out in an article in Palestine News Network:
In order to achieve BDS ultimate goals the boycott has to reach a “critical mass”. That means an active support of both the Western and the Muslim words – including Middle East and Muslim states and Palestinians in the West Bank and Israel (where Palestinian citizens amount to 20 per cent of the population).
The boycott campaign has to be backed by an active support of leading organisations such as PLO and the Arab League. Indeed, on 14 July 2012 a fresh campaign was launched by the Palestine National Initiative. In previous campaigns, General-Secretary of the PNI Dr Mustafa Barghouti has reiterated that the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement should be taken up from within the occupied territories as a tactic to not only emphasise the atrocious Israeli occupation policies, but also to absolve the Palestinians from unwittingly perpetuating these same policies against themselves.
“It has been recorded that Israel sells nearly three billion dollars’ worth of goods in the occupied Palestinian territories,” Dr Barghouti once stated in a press release. This means Palestinians constitute the second largest market in the world for Israel. The Israeli profits that we contribute to inevitably are used to further suppress Palestinians and expand the illegal settlements in the West Bank and Jerusalem”.
However, recent report by the Rand Cooperation, quoted by The Times of Israel, argued that
The lion’s share of BDS’s economic damage… would result from “investment flows” – decisions by capital funds, banks and so on to restrict the amount of money flowing to Israel. “Relatively little of that 8.7 billion would be actually from trade boycotts directly, because while they get a lot of publicity they actually don’t have as much effect as the impact on the capital count.”
In my article in the Palestine News Network I argued that although the BDS campaign has had some notable achievements it,
ought to take some lessons from the global Occupy movement by organising ‘name and shame’ rallies/picketing in financial centres/stock exchanges around the world. This will inevitably attract much needed media attention and affect the financial standing of those companies (e.g. significant drop in share values). It is vital for The BDS movement to have a fresh look at its present tactics and learn from recent effective campaigns across the world. That calls for achieving active cooperation with human rights and campaigning bodies – such as trade unions, charities, church and faith organisations, the ecological and Greenpeace movements, Stop the War Coalition and the Campaign for Nuclear disarmament( CND).
Sadly, neither the PLO nor the Arab League have publicly endorsed BDS. Nor does the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation appear to offer support to BDS actions. SO far, those actions are based mainly on consumer boycott by members of civil society rather than on a strategic lobbying of political bodies and major corporations such as the EU and companies involved in the arms trade.
An effective global lobbying ought to be undertaken in collaboration with the Campaign Against Arms Trade, War on Want and Amnesty International, imposing constant pressure rather than occasional petitions, parliamentary Early Day Motions, or letters to cabinet members and members of the national and European parliaments, which may carry the danger of being perceived as mere grandstanding.
In the same vein, grassroots rallies and demonstration may offer a self-gratifying sense of solidarity and identification with the Palestinian cause, but they have a limited impact on the policies and actions of those in government, as the mass rallies against Israel’s onslaught on Gaza and against the war on Iraq have demonstrated.
The growing turmoil and redrawing of the geopolitical landscape in the Middle East call for fresh thinking involving the Palestinian people and the Palestine solidarity movement.
A global proactive approach which goes beyond mere protests or resistance to Israel’s policies is essential for achieving the national aspirations of the Palestinians for an independent, sovereign and contiguous state comprising Gaza and the West Bank.
It requires that the Palestinian Authority and Hamas hold free and fair elections under the umbrella of the PLO, leading to a national unity government based on a modern constitution and in line with the international conventions and treaties signed by President Mahmoud Abbas.
Such steps need to be supported by the Arab League and Muslim states, forming a united front and effective political lobby.
The Palestine solidarity movement needs to adopt a strategic global approach to BDS, one that is publicly endorsed by the PLO and the Arab League, and get the support of human rights organisations, trade unions, and Arab and Muslim countries (including Palestinians in the West Bank and Israe).
The global movement for Palestine should also join the call for Hamas and Fatah to hold general elections without any further delay.
Moreover, the solidarity movement ought to campaign for official recognition of the state of Palestine by Western states, and for acceding to full membership of the UN as a state. The accession of Palestine to the UN as a full member state will, in consequence, lead to a political recognition of it being a state which, in terms of international law, is illegally occupied and besieged by another state, Israel. This would generate pressure on Israel to lift the unlawful blockade on Gaza and to withdraw its army from the occupied Palestinian territories, in accordance with international law and in line with the UN peacekeeping operations.
A preliminary stage which may expedite the withdrawal of the Israeli army from the West Bank may require a staged repealing of the Oslo agreement and its protocols – initially revoking the joint security arrangements between the Israeli state and Fatah.
A reconciliation between Fatah and Hamas, under the PLO umbrella, is vital for reinstating Palestine on the political arena and establishing a globally-recognised sovereign state.
There is no other conceivable way of fulfilling the Palestinians’ decades-long aspiration to self-determination.