An Edward Said essay that could have been written today

A 14-year old essay by the late Edward Said speaks with remarkable insight into the problems afflicting the Palestinian national liberation struggle, and the strategies of Israeli colonialism.

The sense of deja vu is there from the opening lines:

For several weeks, Yasser Arafat and members of his Authority have been saying loudly that, on 4 May, 1999, Mr Arafat will declare a Palestinian state. This announcement first emerged as a threat to Israel, and specifically to Binyamin Netanyahu, who has been delaying agreement on a further deployment of Israeli forces from Palestinian territory.

Said goes on to nail the reasoning behind the unilateral statehood ‘threat’ (and of course, Israel’s apartheid regime has only been expanded and consolidated since the late 1990s). But crucially, it’s not just on the basis of Israel’s ‘facts on the ground’ that Said makes his critique.

Most important, a state declared on the autonomous territories would definitively divide the Palestinian population and its cause more or less forever. Residents of Jerusalem, now annexed by Israel, can play no part, nor be, in the state. An equally undeserving fate awaits Palestinian citizens of Israel, who would also be excluded, as would Palestinians in the Diaspora, whose theoretical right of return would practically be annulled.

There is also an excellent observation on the overlap between liberal Zionism’s discourse of separation and Likud’s cruder rejectionism.

To Israelis, Rabin and Peres spoke openly about separation, not as providing Palestinians with the right to self-determination but as a way of marginalising and diminishing them, leaving the land basically to the more powerful Israelis. Separation in this perspective then becomes synonymous with apartheid, not with liberation. To declare a Palestinian state under such circumstances is essentially to accept the idea of separation as apartheid, not equality, and certainly not as self-determination. “Self-rule” is Netanyahu’s euphemism for it.

Read it all. We may continue to miss him, but Edward Said left us with an invaluable legacy of clarity of analysis and vision.

[H/t to Areej for forwarding the link]


Ben White

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Ben White is a freelance journalist, writer and activist, specialising in Palestine/Israel. His articles have been widely published in the likes of The Guardian‘s Comment is free, Al Jazeera, Electronic Intifada, New Statesman, and many others. He is the author of ‘Israeli Apartheid: A Beginner’s Guide’ (2009, Pluto Press) and ‘Palestinians in Israel: Segregation, Discrimination & Democracy’ (2012, Pluto Press). Ben is a researcher/writer for the Journal of Palestine Studies.