One Voice: manufacturing consent for Israeli apartheid

US Middle East envoy George Mitchell meets with Palestine Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah. The American effort, started by the Bush Administration and continued by President Barack Obama to impose an Israeli-friendly Palestinian leadership has failed, according to new surveys of Palestinians. (Thaer Ganaim/MaanImages)

How do Palestinians living under Israeli military occupation and siege see their world, especially after Israel’s massacre of more than 1,400 people, mostly civilians, in the occupied Gaza Strip three months ago?

Two recent surveys shed light on this question, although one — published on 22 April by the pro-Israel organization One Voice — appears intended to influence international opinion in a direction more amenable to Israel, rather than to record faithfully the views of Palestinians or Israelis (“OV Poll: Popular Mandate for Negotiated Two State Solution,” accessed 30 April 2009). The other — a more credible survey — was published in March by the Oslo-based Fafo Institute for Applied International Studies and funded by the Norwegian government (“Surveying Palestinian opinions March 2009,” accessed 30 April 2009).

The One Voice survey (of 500 Israelis and 600 Palestinians conducted from November to February) received considerable media attention. The group’s press release unabashedly spun the results to claim popular legitimacy for the two-state solution and to discredit alternatives: “The results indicate that 74 [percent] of Palestinians and 78 [percent] of Israelis are willing to accept a two state solution (an option rated on a range from ‘tolerable’ to ‘essential’), while 59 [percent] of Palestinians and 66 [percent] of Israelis find a single bi-national state ‘unacceptable.’”

The press release failed to note that 53 percent of Palestinians polled were also willing to embrace or tolerate “one joint state” (as opposed to a federated “bi-national” state) in which “Israelis and Palestinians are equal citizens.” Curiously, Israelis were not asked about this option. The high-level of potential support for a single democratic state (confirmed by Fafo as we shall see) is remarkable given the incessant drumbeat of peace process industry propaganda that there is no solution but the two-state solution. One Voice asserts that a “very conscious effort was made in this poll to cover as wide a range of potential solutions as possible.” But except for the initial question about the type of state, all the other questions assume, and are primarily relevant to, a two-state solution.

Colin Irwin, of the Institute of Irish Studies at the University of Liverpool, who authored the One Voice poll, has written that his techniques were used to help politicians shape political agreements in Northern Ireland and the Balkans. The method consists of using polls to “explore” opinions on each side of a divide and find areas where there is consensus and on which an agreement could be built. Such an approach might have some relevance among two equal communities, but the way he has applied it here merely legitimizes and obscures the radically unequal power relations between Israelis and Palestinians rather than providing a way to transcend them.

It is only through a stretched interpretation that One Voice manages to find a consensus around a “two-state solution” — which looks suspiciously like long-standing Israeli proposals for a Palestinian bantustan. The treatment of refugees is a good example of this questionable approach. The poll finds that 87 percent of Palestinians under occupation consider the “right of return AND compensation” for refugees to be “essential” to a final agreement, but notes that this option was “rejected by 77 [percent] of Israelis as unacceptable.” Therefore, the Palestinian preference is pushed off the table in favor of a proposal where Israel “recognizes the suffering of refugees,” and all but a handful can return only to the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Thus, Israeli bigotry against non-Jewish Palestinian refugees is accorded the status of a “preference” that must not only be respected, but trumps the Palestinians’ universally recognized legal rights.

This special privilege is often granted to Israelis but not to others. In Bosnia and Herzegovina, for example, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees assisted hundreds of thousands of refugees to return to their original homes, many in areas dominated by hostile majority communities. It did not matter if those majorities did not want to see refugees from another group return; rather it was the refugee’s individual right — a universal human right — that trumped appeals to ethno-national purity.

The One Voice survey does confirm that the minimal consensus needed to sustain a two-state solution, were it practicable, is absent. While 78 percent of Palestinian respondents considered a full Israeli withdrawal from the occupied territories to the June 1967 line “essential,” 60 percent of Israelis consider that “unacceptable.” Predictably, the proposed “compromise” is that Israel withdraws partially. Once again 60 percent of Israelis are allowed to outvote 78 percent of Palestinians in order to maintain Israeli control of land occupied, colonized and annexed in violation of international law.

Thus, One Voice’s analysis treats universal rights and international law as having less weight than Israeli prejudices and legitimizes the “facts on the ground” established through criminal behavior in open violation of UN resolutions and the International Court of Justice. It subjects these rights to a popular referendum in which the abusers exercise a permanent veto over the claims of their victims.

One Voice bills itself as “an international mainstream grassroots movement” commanding the support of hundreds of thousands of Palestinians and Israelis. In fact, One Voice has support from no Palestinian grassroots organizations. It is a slick marketing outfit funded, according to its website, by “Israeli, Palestinian and other” sources. Much of its money comes from “major foundations” such as the Ford Foundation, IBM, and the Rockefeller Brothers Fund. One Voice also boasts of receiving money from “businessmen” including Yasser Abbas, the son of Fatah leader Mahmoud Abbas, who has been plagued by allegations of corruption.

Among One Voice board members are State Department Special Advisor Dennis Ross, former Israeli Deputy Defense Minister Efraim Sneh, and former Israeli military ruler of the occupied West Bank General Danny Rothschild, in addition to many American Zionists, some Hollywood celebrities and a few token Palestinians. In October 2007, One Voice canceled a planned “peace concert” in Jericho after the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (PACBI) called on Palestinians to withhold their support. At the time, PACBI asserted that the concert was “being organized to promote a ‘peace’ agreement that is devoid of the minimal requirements of justice,” and was nothing more than a “public relations charade.”

One Voice’s modus operandi is to recruit college students to sign a “Commitments Platform” pledging support for a two-state solution, but as PACBI pointed out, the statement is “without any commitment to international parameters — assumes equal responsibility of ‘both sides’ for the ‘conflict,’ and suspiciously fails to call for Israel’s full compliance with its obligations under international law through ending its illegal military occupation, its denial of Palestinian refugee rights (particularly the right of return), and its system of racial discrimination against its own Palestinian citizens.” It is based on these signatures that One Voice claims to represent the “grassroots.” Oddly, the platform has recently been removed from the official One Voice website.

There is a laudable intent to Irwin’s polling approach. It attempts to identify ideas that could appeal to Israelis and Palestinians. Ultimately any new order must be able to gain consent. But the choice to exclude justice, law and rights from shaping an agreement is not a neutral one; it is in effect an affirmative choice to include, legitimize and endorse the permanence of injustice and inequality. But that is what One Voice’s agenda has been all along.

Two-state solution loses support as Western strategy fails

The Fafo survey of more than 1,800 Palestinians in the Gaza Strip and almost 1,500 in the West Bank offers some real insights into the state of Palestinian public opinion in the Occupied Palestinian Territories (international funders never sponsor surveys of all Palestinians, which would include those inside Israel as well as those in the Diaspora).

Fafo found that just 35 percent of Palestinians still support a two-state solution. One third preferred an Islamic state throughout Palestine, and 20 percent wanted “one state with equal rights for all,” in Palestine/Israel.

Palestinians did not even agree with the common claim that the two-state solution is clearly the more “pragmatic” and “achievable” one. In the West Bank, 64 percent thought the two-state solution was “very” or “somewhat” realistic, as against 55 percent for a single democratic state. In Gaza, 80 percent considered a single democratic state to be “very” or “somewhat” realistic as against 71 percent for a two-state state solution. This is a moment when no vision carries a consensus among Palestinians, underscoring the urgent need for an inclusive debate about all possible democratic outcomes.

The American effort, started by the Bush Administration with European and Arab accomplices, and continued by US President Barack Obama, to impose an Israeli-friendly Palestinian leadership has failed. The Fafo survey indicates that Hamas emerged from Israel’s attack on Gaza with enhanced support and legitimacy.

Palestinian Authority leaders in Ramallah and their Arab, Israeli and Western allies, did all they could to portray the Israeli attack on Gaza as the result of “recklessness” and provocation by Hamas and other resistance factions. This narrative has taken hold among a minority: 19 percent of Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip viewed Hamas as having “great” responsibility for the attack on Gaza (this rose to 40 percent among Fatah supporters). Overall, 51 percent agreed that Hamas had no responsibility at all for the attack (48 percent in the West Bank, 58 percent in Gaza). Just over half of those polled agreed with the statement “All Palestinian factions must stop firing rockets at Israel.”

All the financial, diplomatic and armed support given by the West to Mahmoud Abbas, the Fatah leader whose term as Palestinian Authority president expired in January, has done little to shore up his standing among Palestinians. Only 44 percent of respondents overall (41 percent in the West Bank) considered him the “legitimate” president of the Palestinians, while 56 percent did not.

Near universal dissatisfaction with the Western-backed Palestinian Authority in Ramallah is reflected in the finding that 87 percent of respondents agreed that it was time for Fatah to change its leadership. Unsurprisingly, 93 percent of Hamas supporters wanted change, but so did 78 percent of Fatah supporters.

Palestinians expressed very low confidence in institutions (by far the most trusted were UNRWA — the UN agency for Palestine refugees — and the satellite channel Al-Jazeera). But a plurality in the West Bank and Gaza Strip — 32 percent overall — considered Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh’s Western-boycotted Hamas-led government in Gaza to be the legitimate Palestinian government. Only a quarter overall (31 percent in Gaza, 22 percent in the West Bank) thought the Ramallah-based “emergency” government headed by Abbas’s appointed and US-backed Prime Minister Salam Fayyad was the legitimate one.

Hamas leaders performed well during and after Israel’s attack on Gaza. Haniyeh had an overall positive rating of 58 percent while Abbas’s was only 41 percent. But among Palestinians who said they would vote in an election, 41 percent would support Fatah against 31 percent for Hamas. If that was out of step with the rest of the survey, there is a clear trend: support for Fatah was down sharply from a year earlier and Hamas doubled its support in the West Bank from 16 to 29 percent, according to Fafo.

There were some issues on which there was a strong consensus. Ninety-three percent of respondents wanted to see a “national unity government” formed, and the vast majority (85 percent) rejected maintaining the West Bank and Gaza Strip as “independent regions” if efforts to form one foundered.

Palestinians still overwhelmingly support a negotiated settlement, but the “peace process” and its sponsors have lost all credibility. Just one percent thought the US had a “great deal” of concern for the Palestinian cause, and 77 percent thought it had none at all. The “Quartet,” the self-appointed ad hoc grouping of US, EU, UN and Russian representatives that monopolizes peace efforts earns the trust of just 13 percent of Palestinians.

Post-Gaza, Palestinians hold jaundiced views of all Western countries and the Arab states aligned with them. Iran and Turkey, which took strong public stands in solidarity with Palestinians, have seen support surge.

If the Fafo poll confirms that the Western-backed effort to destroy Hamas, impose quisling leaders, and blockade and punish Palestinians until they submit to Israel’s demands has failed, a useful conclusion from the One Voice survey is that given a free choice, Israelis reject all solutions requiring them to give up their monopoly on power and to respect Palestinian rights and international law.

The right response to such findings is to support the growing international solidarity campaign of boycott, divestment and sanctions to force Israel to abandon its illegal, supremacist and colonial practices, and to build a vision of a democratic future for all the people in the country.

Co-founder of The Electronic Intifada, Ali Abunimah is author of One Country: A Bold Proposal to End the Israeli-Palestinian Impasse (Metropolitan Books, 2006).