The Palestine Solidarity Campaign and the two-state vs one-state solution
By Blake Alcott*
The Palestine Solidarity Campaign (PSC) is the perfect go-to place for newcomers, like myself seven years ago, who decide to do something for justice for the Palestinians.
The PSC’s factsheets on 14 basic topics, from the Nakba to political prisoners, are excellent. Its eagle-eye efforts to keep the press honest are precise, on time and indispensable. Its focused actions on apartheid, Jerusalem and Gaza, among other things, are well-researched and reach a wide public.
After some foot-dragging it came around to support Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS). It organises large demonstrations. Its branches are places where good people get together to be a public face of Palestinian rights and to continue educating both themselves and the public.
Although the PSC claims neutrality on the issue, its focus is consistent with the two-state solution but inconsistent with the one-democratic-state solution. It is not consistent with the goal of achieving all the rights of all the Palestinians.
Unfortunately, however, perhaps because it is not Palestinian-led, the PSC tends to ignore the approximately two-thirds of Palestinians living outside the West Bank and Gaza Strip. It tends to focus on these two areas, which came under Israeli control in 1967, at the expense of the Palestinians in Israel and the refugees and their descendants.
At an all-day PSC event, “Lessons from Gaza” at SOAS in April 1913, two female Palestinian speakers, one from the West Bank and one from the Galilee, urged the PSC in no uncertain words to shift its focus towards all Palestinians, away from “1967”. Despite the subsequent assurances of the PSC chair that the message had been heard, no such change has taken place.
Although the PSC claims neutrality on the issue, its focus is consistent with the two-state solution but inconsistent with the one-democratic-state solution. It is not consistent with the goal of achieving all the rights of all the Palestinians. The PSC’s solidarity usually and unfortunately ends at the Green Line.
Evidence of the PSC’s tendency to exclude those Palestinians outside the so-called “occupied territories” can be found in small places such as at the Annual General Meeting of January 2015, where in the afternoon a woman who had worked in Lebanese refugee camps expressed at the microphone her frustration that during the entire AGM not a single word had been heard about the refugees.
A larger place showing this bias is the PSC’s thrice-yearly publication Palestine News. I analysed page-by-page 11 issues, most of them 28 pages in length, between Spring 2011 and Spring 2015, putting each half-page into one of four categories: General, West Bank/Gaza, Israel and Refugees.
The spreadsheet with the results can be found here.
General articles – for instance on Palestinian history, Zionism, arming Israel, or international politics – took up 29 per cent of the space. Of the remaining 71 per cent (194.5 pages), 81.5 per cent (158.5 pages) was devoted exclusively to the West Bank and Gaza, 12.3 per cent (24 pages) concerned the Palestinians in Israel and 6.2 per cent (12 pages) to the majority of Palestinians, namely those in the diaspora.
Palestinians speak separately of “the land occupied in 1948’ (الأراضي المحتلة عام 1948) and “the land occupied in 1967” (الأراضي المحتلة عام 1967). When the PSC uses the word “occupation”, however, it means only the latter.
Indeed, the PSC constitution avoids regarding what is now Israel as occupied Palestinian land. Section 3 (c) states that the PSC is established to campaign “for the immediate withdrawal of the Israeli state from the occupied territories”. The Israeli state, after all, cannot withdraw from itself.
An email to members of 22 October 2015 six times used the phrases “occupation forces”, “end the occupation”, “complicity in Israel’s occupation” and so on, referring to the West Bank and Gaza Strip. The A PSC advertisement in the Guardian in April 2016 made it clear that the “Palestine” it claimed was being “built out of existence” by “settlements” is the West Bank.
Palestinians have the right, after decades of draining and deadly resistance, to shrink their country to the West Bank and Gaza Strip, but no solidarity movement should even come close to such language.
This language of course merely conforms to the international, Zionist-led discourse, where even BDS leaders limit the “occupation” to 1967, newspapers like the Guardian write of the “OPT” [occupied Palestinian territories], and a solidarity group can name itself “The US Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation”. The assumption seems to be that if the West Bank and Gaza were de-occupied, all would be well.
The same applies to the term “settlements”. Except for perhaps a few thousand hectares in Jerusalem, Tel Aviv and the eastern Galilee, aren’t all Jewish-immigrant villages and towns colonial “settlements”? The PSC after all routinely and correctly speaks of Zionism/Israel as a “colonial-settler” project, but is apparently unaware of the consequences of this for its discourse.
Using “occupation” and (illegal) “settlement” this way enables the PSC to avoid Israel’s beginnings (1917-47) and thus avoid questioning its legitimacy. Usually, it explicitly challenges only Israel’s actions, mainly occupying/annexing rump Palestine, not the Jewish state in Palestine itself, i.e. not Zionism itself.
As with the focus in Palestine News, limiting occupation and colonial settlement to 1967 is of service to preserving the Jewish state “inside the Green Line”, i.e. on the 78 per cent of Palestine delineated in the armistice agreements of 1949.
The least one can expect of solidarity movements is to bring their discourse into line with that of Palestinians: The major occupation occurred in 1948, echoing the earlier British and Ottoman occupations, and it in fact enabled the second occupation of 1967.
Two states vs one democratic state
It has become fashionable to prefer a “rights-based approach” over an allegedly fruitless discussion of solutions. Aside from the logical absurdity of not looking at both rights and solutions, in practice the PSC does consider solutions. And it tends to side with the two-state solution.
The PSC’s Annual Plan 2015 draft stated under Objective 4: “To work with unions and party members, MPs and others to develop and implement Labour Party policy.” The Annual Plan 2015 and the Action Plan 2015 contain no fewer than six references to working with trade unions, the Labour Party and sympathetic (mostly Labour) MPs. A fringe event at the Labour Party conference of 2015 brought together the PSC chairman, a PSC patron, three Labour parliamentarians and the heads of two trade unions affiliated both to PSC and the Labour Party.
Unfortunately for PSC’s intended neutrality, Labour Party policy is firmly two-state. The party’s 2015 election manifesto says: “We remain committed to a comprehensive two-state solution – a secure Israel alongside a viable and independent state of Palestine.” The website of Labour Friends of Palestine and the Middle East reveals that it “supports a viable two-state solution that delivers justice and freedom for the Palestinian people as called for by the overwhelming international consensus…”
This consensus includes not only the Tories, Liberal Democrats, Scottish National Party and US Secretary of State John Kerry, but also the Labour Friends of Israel, whose approximately 50 Blairite members “support a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, with Israel recognised and secure within its borders and the establishment of a viable Palestinian state”. Former Labour Shadow Foreign Secretary Douglas Alexander blogged that “Labour fully supports two states living side by side in peace, and recognised by all of their neighbours”.
Thus, while part of the Labour Party still resists recognition of any self-determination for Palestinians, its two organised “pro-Palestinian” and “pro-Israeli” groups agree on the two-state solution. As recently as 2015 this is the policy the PSC would help “implement”.
There emerges a direct question to the PSC Executive Committee: Is the PSC neutral on this issue, or does it support the two-state solution?
Recognising the state of Palestine
The House of Commons voted on 13 October 2014 in favour of a motion put by Labour MP Grahame Morris: “This House believes that the government should recognise the state of Palestine alongside the state of Israel as a contribution to securing a negotiated two-state solution.” All Labour MPs who voted did so in favour, as did the overwhelming majority of Conservatives and Liberal Democrats.
The PSC, as well, supports this move for Palestinian statehood, the state being roughly defined along the Green Line and including recognition of and security guarantees for the Jewish state. On 26 September 2014 it urged its members to lobby their MPs to vote for the state-recognition motion and repeatedly praised Palestine’s elevation to state status at the UN.
Caveat: I support recognition of the state of Palestine if it does not rule out defining its borders as those of historic Palestine and no other strings are attached. John Quigley, Professor of Law at the Moritz College of Law, Ohio State University, has eloquently argued this position, and of course statehood is not the same as UN recognition of a state.
The PSC is seemingly unaware that these real-life motions, in the UK as well as other European countries, are contested within the Palestinian and solidarity communities. Ali Abunimah, Mazin Qumsiyeh and Miko Peled publicly flagged up the pitfalls, as did Hamas, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, the Netherlands Palestine Committee and the Boycott National Committee, the steering group of BDS.
But the PSC chose to follow a small segment of Palestinian opinion, namely that of the Palestinian Authority (PA), rather than remain neutral out of respect for the diversity of Palestinian opinion. It often refers to its “partners” in Palestine, but who are they, and where is its Palestine?
The main pitfall of course is that the motions cement the Jewish state and ignore the refugees – in line with all great-power’s two-state proposals. That is, this PSC choice, like its closeness to the Labour Party’s two-state position, is all the more dubious as one of the two states is our old friend, the racist, apartheid, colonial settler-state of Israel.
No one can argue with a Palestinian who is tired, maimed, bereaved or stripped of his or her dignity and would thus settle for the rump Palestine. But in the absence of any evidence that a majority of Palestinians support this Zionist solution, solidarity groups who even consider it are out of line.
Right of return
The PSC is formally pledged to campaign “for the right of return of the Palestinian people”. By embracing BDS it supports the boycott movement’s demand that Israel “respect, protect and promote the rights of Palestinian refugees to return to their homes and properties as stipulated in UN Resolution 194”. (To their homes, not just to Israel in general – a strong demand.)
Omar Barghouti, in a Skype talk from Akko to Stanford University on 27 April 2016, first describes BDS’s demands for ending the occupation of 1967 and equality for Palestinians in Israel, then lists “third and foremost the right of Palestinians to return to their homes of origin from which they were ethnically cleansed”.
What for Barghouti is “foremost” among the BDS conditions, as we have seen, receives almost no attention from the PSC. One searches the PSC website in vain to find a single picture or drawing of an awda (return) key. To support right of return I must turn to other organisations.
Another direct question emerges: would the PSC Executive Committee accept a motion at its 2017 AGM to devote say one-third of its efforts during the “Balfour year” to the Palestinians in Jordan, Syria, Turkey, Lebanon, the Gulf, Europe, Australia and the Americas?
There are more questions. One that is topical during Britain’s present storm over the conflation of anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism is: would the Executive Committee accept an AGM motion affirming that the PSC is an anti-Zionist organisation? Many of its members and ex-members are, Zionism being the ideology that a Jewish state (yes, one not just with a Star of David flag but with legal privileges for Jews and ongoing exclusion of the ethnically-cleansed) has the right to be in Palestine – in a land whose people had nothing to do with the persecution of Jews in Europe.
Even the debate over such a motion would clear the air. Does our organisation believe that the Jewish people have a collective claim on Palestinian land, or not? Does it accept, or reject, the implied parity of two “national” groups, or does it award priority to the colonised and displaced people wherever they live?
The PSC is so valuable that instead of quitting it or grumbling about it we should try to change it. In my opinion, the PSC focuses far too much on symptoms – horrible as they are – and too little on the cause, namely the state of Israel itself, as it defines itself and with its necessary, unavoidable apartheid and murder.
The PSC has embraced BDS but without realising that BDS and a two-state solution are contradictory. Fulfilment of BDS’s three conditions is plainly the end of the Jewish state. The Green Line would disappear, and one democratic Palestine with a Palestinian majority would emerge. BDS rigorously entails this, so the PSC cannot simultaneously support BDS and a two-state solution.
The discourse is changing anyway, as Awad Abdel Fattah, Secretary-General of the National Democratic Assembly party (Al-Tajamoa in Arabic, and Balad in Hebrew), demonstrated in numerous talks in May. The first priority is to always deal with all Palestinians, implying the revival of the Palestinian national discourse and solidarity with the refugees. The next priority is that anybody supporting justice for Palestinians can no longer get around the issue of the delegitimisation of Israel. As Omar Barghouti recently said: “If freedom, justice and equality would ‘destroy’ Israel, what does that say about Israel?”
It is time to show some spine.