When Israel announced its intention to build 1,000 new homes in occupied East Jerusalem, it was admittedly hard to be outraged. Of course, it is an immoral and belligerent move. It totally disregards Palestinian rights and provokes more conflict, the sort of political energy that is to Prime Minister Netanyahu’s overall advantage.
My outrage is dampened by the feeling of deja vu. Each episode in this conflict is actually routine. There is nothing new anymore. Colony expansion is to be expected on Israel’s part. It is enacting a long-term strategy to swallow up Palestine while excluding as many Palestinians as possible.
It is also hardly surprising that a politically compromised United States leadership would only do more of the same. Its self-assigned job is to manage conflict without violating the tenets of the US-Israeli alliance, even under the pretence of being a honest broker. It is consistently inconsistent. We cannot expect anything better from Israel and the US no matter how outside of world opinion they stand.
What is really disappointing is the failure of the Palestinian leadership to propose anything imaginative in response.
Palestinian officialdom in Ramallah is invested in the whole land-for-peace con, a tired, uninspirational and fixed scheme. The absurd formula is based on Palestinians giving Israel peace — really submission — in exchange for getting their own land back. This also means that anything resembling intransigence will cost the Palestinians more of their own land. But for Palestinians to produce this peace, it must tolerate increasing deprivations of its non-land rights by — guess who — the Israelis. The trick is that it is really the Israelis who control both the land and, as the stronger party, the peace.
This dooms Palestinians to a rigged accounting. It is scheme in which Palestinians can only lose. Yet, the Palestinian elite are vested in it, keeping the Palestinians as the party that Israel constantly does things to, whether or not Israel can cite a pretence. Palestinians have only one strategy acceptable in this paradigm: Surrender. Even when they do, Israel expands the colonies. Where is Palestinian agency, inventiveness and action?
Land-for-peace is less a game than a cover for the colonies’ programme. The plan for occupied Jerusalem is an intricate ring strategy to isolate the central city from surrounding Palestinian populations as a way of diminishing their claims to the city. Israel wants to preclude occupied Jerusalem from being part of Palestinian life, which also includes squeezing the Palestinians in occupied Jerusalem.
Its ring approach to surrounding occupied East Jerusalem is matched by a larger administrative machine designed to strain occupied Jerusalem’s Palestinians. The excessive policing and intricate rules around Palestinian residency status are part of a slow motion de-Palestinianisation effort in the city revered by the three monotheistic religions.
The Palestinians of occupied Jerusalem resist this plan by just existing in the face of intense pressure. This is a vital and commendable strategy. The problem is the Palestinian leadership in Ramallah takes the same approach. That is a dereliction of duty.
With the latest announcement of colony-building in occupied East Jerusalem, the Israeli government set off another equally hopeless round of meetings and stern comments by spokespeople. Following a Palestinian request, Jordan called for a UN emergency session last week. A UN spokesman dutifully criticised Israel’s plans, calling on it to take back the decision and to start magically abiding “by its commitment to the international law.”
The US answered with softcore words of criticism. US Ambassador David Pressman warned against “actions that pollute the atmosphere for peace.” Infractions against Palestinians are for American officials rarely framed as anything other than opposed to some abstraction — “peace” or its “process,” or the “international community” — as if these are victimless crimes.
US Secretary of State John Kerry inspired Netanyahu to issue a warm and fuzzy request to the Knesset to temper the provocations on the holy city. Right-wing Member of the Knesset Moshe Feiglin happily defied it by visiting the Al Haram Al Sharif on Sunday. It did not have the immediate impact of former prime minister Ariel Sharon’s 2000 visit with hundreds of riot police in tow, which sparked a new intifada. This only showed the absurdity of asking Netanyahu to do something about provocation. It is like appointing a thief as the chief of police.
Despite the ever-so-slight verbal spanking from the US over the plan, there was some echo chamber panic in the US and Israeli news media over deteriorating US-Israeli relations stemming from an unnamed Obama administration official calling Netanyahu names in confidential comments to Jeffrey Goldberg. If there was any confusion about what impact these insults and hurt feelings have on the state of the special relationship, the US announced it was selling Israel a batch of F-35 stealth fighter jets the same day; a robust sign of business as usual.
For its part, the political council of the Palestine Liberation Organisation said it would be seeking a UN Security Council resolution “to end the Israeli occupation in the [Occupied] Palestinian territories.”
However, every Palestinian can rattle off the litany of UN resolutions that codify her rights and Israel’s obligations. Every Israeli foreign ministry attorney can list the many acrobatic interpretations and loopholes that render them toothless. It is not the legal arguments that leave the resolutions unimplemented. It is the realpolitik calculations of world powers. What would another UNSC resolution really accomplish then?
Even if the Palestinian National Authority finds the nine Security Council members it needs to pass a resolution, the US will either veto it or water down the language to preserve Israeli impunity. The only US veto at the UNSC under President Barack Obama was a 2011 resolution condemning Israeli colony expansion.
PLO Secretary General Yasser Abed Rabbo contemplated this, saying that “If the Americans veto or abort the motion, this would not be the end of the process.” What is the backup plan, the brilliant counter? He said, “We will have another chance to go to the Security Council in January 2015.”
Palestinian leadership should look to the activists who have more imaginative ideas for marshalling public support that press upon Israel’s real pressure points. Their latest victory is getting the carbonated beverage device manufacturer Sodastream to move its factories from the colonies through pressures of economic boycott. If Palestinian officials do not embrace grassroots solidarity tactics, they will find themselves being pushed by Israel and the western powers to obstruct them. It takes a more visionary leadership to act on this potential.
Will Youmans is assistant professor of Media and Public Affairs at George Washington University. You can follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/@wyoumans