What future for the Palestinian movement? Two debates

I participated in the Palestine Center’s annual conference in Washington, DC on 15 November, with the theme “The Politics of Identity in the Middle East.”

Two panels, the first with me and Bill Quandt, and the second featuring Osamah Khalil and Manal Jamal, focused specifically on the question of Palestine.

Instead of giving presentations, we answered questions posed by the moderator, engaging in lively debate with audience participation – the “Palestinian version of Crossfire,” as one moderator called it.

Here are the videos and my comments.

The “peace process” and its alternatives

In the first encounter, moderated by Dr. Eid Mustafa, William Quandt, professor of politics at the University of Virginia, and I discussed the “peace process” and alternatives to it, including the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement and the growing attention to the “one-state solution.”

Quandt served as a staff member on the National Security Council (1972-1974, 1977-1979) and was actively involved in the negotiations that led to the 1979 Egyptian-Israeli Peace Treaty.

With regard to the current US-sponsored peace talks, we were asked to address whether the US would and could successfully propose a peace plan of its own.

“I can’t imagine that Secretary [of State John] Kerry has invested as much time and energy as he has unless he has in the back of his mind that at some point in the near future, the United States will put forward some kind of bridging proposals,” Quandt said.

Such proposals would most likely resemble the “Clinton parameters” for a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, territories Israel occupied in 1967.

Such proposals usually include an extremely limited right of return for refugees and Israeli annexation of large settlement blocs.

Quandt stressed that despite well-justified doubts and past experience, there was no other party that could do this other than the United States.

I argued that this approach was far past working, regardless of one’s views on the two-state solution.

While the Palestinian Authority would “eagerly grab at a few shreds of the West Bank and call it a state if the Israelis would offer it to them,” there was no prospect of this, I said.

“The Israelis are not looking for a deal along the 1967 lines or anything close to the 1967 lines,” I added. “Israel isn’t interested in borders. Israel is interested in expansion.”

Paraphrasing Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s dictum on Iran-US negotiations that “no deal is better than a bad deal,” I affirmed that:

for the Palestinians, no deal with Israel is better than a bad deal, because a bad deal would irrevocably cancel Palestinian rights. And now, the only thing protecting Palestinians from a bad deal is Israel’s intransigence.

I also noted – in a point Khalil elaborated on later drawing on his deep knowledge of US diplomatic history – that tensions between the United States and Israel over Iran would not necessarily translate into gains for Palestinians.

Rather, the US would most likely seek to appease Israeli anger with further indulgence as Israel colonizes more of the West Bank.

Quandt warned that the alternative to a diplomatic solution would be continued stagnation as Israel builds settlements. The question of Palestine could be relegated to a category which includes the Cyprus and Kashmir conflicts – intractable issues that attract few serious efforts aimed at resolving them.

Future of the Palestinian movement

In a rich discussion, moderated by journalist George Hishmeh, Osamah Khalil and Manal Jamal discussed the past and present role of Arab states in the question of Palestine, the situation of Palestinians in Syria, and the future of the Palestinian national movement.

“Let’s be clear. The PLO [Palestine Liberation Organization] was dismantled after the Oslo accords,” Khalil declared early in the discussion.

“Mahmoud Abbas’ title as chairman of the PLO is an empty title. That organization does not exist. What exists of the PLO – liberation has been pulled out of the Palestine Liberation Organization. What we have instead is a Palestinian Negotiating Authority.”

Khalil is assistant professor of history at Syracuse University and co-founder of Al-Shabaka, the Palestinian Policy Network (http://al-shabaka.org).

Amid such stark analyses, a major topic was how Palestinians could move forward given the multiple immediate crises they face including internal divisions and the dire situations of Palestinians from Gaza to Lebanon to Syria.

In so many places Palestinians are struggling for mere “survival,” said Jamal, assistant professor of political science at James Madison University.

“We have all these crises going on and when people want to organize the next step, how do we look at the overall picture?”

Should we be discussing such issues as “one state or two states” or emphasizing the immediate crises, Jamal asked.

Jamal also affirmed that in light of the latest revelations regarding polonium poisoning, there should be an international investigation into the late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat’s “assassination.”

While Khalil supported this, he suggested that investigations into the corrupt practices of living Palestinian Authority leaders might be more pressing.

No one will be surprised that we could not definitively resolve these issues, but these are thought-provoking discussions that touch on many questions that Palestinians everywhere are asking.

More

Here’s the full schedule for the Palestine Center’s 2013 conference.

It included panels with a broader regional focus, “Sectarianism Spinning Out Of Control” (video) and “A Return To The Cold War?: The foreign policies of great powers and regional players” (video).

Comments

The PLO is the national free aspirations of Palestine's. Until voted out, by Palestinian's.

Lobby to Increase the financial, world wide sanctions against Zio Land. Using the U. N. resolution call outs, as the basis for the sanctions. As Iran is forced to deal. Zio Land will also be forced to withdraw. from stolen lands they have taken by force of arms.

Call for the U N and other countries to help the Palestine People, to hold election, for peace as unified single Governmental voice, through referendum vote on the final peace agreement, based on a road map of called out borders.

Question: Is the Jewish State of Israel, In violation's of the 1948 Legal Agreement's it Signed?

Thank you, Ali, for this article, so valuable for those of us who could not attend in DC. What do you and EI readers think of the following projection: current talks fail, Israel puts finishing touches on what is now effectively one state, the Palestinian movement morphs most promisingly (I think) into a non-violent civil rights movement for "one man one vote" in Greater Israel?

With criminal imperialists and zionazis it is not an issue of negotiation, it is an issue of surrender. Their goal is conquest. How one surrenders is the only matter that concerns them. If one learns that [making sense of] their behavior falls right into place.

The most refreshing and incisive review of the ongoing genocide by the State
of Israel (supported by the US, Obama and many predecessors of both US
parties) is presented in Lawrence Davidson's most recent book, CULTURAL
GENOCIDE (2012).
To argue for "peace" is absurd.
In fact, cultural genocide is ongoing. "Non-violent resistance" may appeal to
some western sensibilities but it is hardly appropriate. The tragedy is that
for the victim (or both victims if Israelis are to be considered victims of their own
evil in a more profound sense). Would one recommend "non-violent resistance"
to a prisoner in solitary confinement awaiting execution? Violent response
is also a counterproductive strategy. --Peter Loeb, Boston MA, USA