It is one year this week since the Palestinians applied for UN membership. President Mahmoud Abbas’s impassioned plea to the UN General Assembly for support of the We Palestinian case on September 23, 2011, won him much praise — even from his detractors. But it came to nothing.
Abbas, though, has recently threatened to relaunch the application if Israeli colony expansion continues. This time, he would seek non-member observer state status, but it may come to nothing again. Only a bankruptcy of ideas could be driving him towards this move, given the present US acquiescence to regional Israeli hegemony and Israel’s success in diverting world attention from the conflict at its doorstep to Iran’s nonexistent nuclear weapons.
Abbas also faces trouble at home. The economy, dependent on aid, is staggering under a chronic budget deficit and external debt of a billion dollars, nearly a fifth of GDP. Donor funding has declined and the Palestinian National Authority (PNA) has delayed paying 153,000 employees. Mass strikes and demonstrations have rocked the West Bank for days.
The protesters want an amendment to the 1994 Paris protocol, part of the Oslo accord that govern economic relations between Israel and the PNA. Its main effect has been to keep the economy dependent on Israel. It pegs its tax rates to Israel’s much higher ones and lays open its markets to Israel, though the reverse is not true. The resulting poverty and 40 per cent youth unemployment have pushed people on to the streets and they now demand the resignation of the Prime Minister, Salam Fayyad, and of the PNA itself. Abbas has proposed cancelling the whole Oslo accord, including the economic and security agreements. Whether it is yet another empty threat remains to be seen.
Given this situation, should there not be a reassessment of Palestinian strategy? To date, there is no sign that the Palestinian leadership, or indeed any official body, can think beyond the two-state solution. Yet, the facts on the ground point to a very different conclusion. Israel now controls 62 per cent of West Bank land — including the fertile Jordan Valley — and has resisted every call for a settlement based on a two-state solution. Despite this, the West has been extremely reluctant to press Israel.
Few would dispute the Palestinian entitlement to a state, but it was always folly to pursue the two-state solution in a context that militated against it ever happening. Today’s Israel-Palestine is demonstrably one state. But it is a discriminatory state operating an apartheid system against the Palestinians with impunity. Gross economic inequality is one blatant indicator of this system.
This situation demands a new Palestinian strategy, a Plan B that converts the Palestinian struggle into one for equal rights within what is now a unitary state ruled by Israel. The first step requires a dismantlement of the PNA, or at least a change of direction for the leadership. The PNA’s role as a buffer between the occupier and the occupied should end, along with the illusion of a spurious Palestinian autonomy it has fostered.
The PNA’s new relationship with Israel should be restricted to pursuing the rights of its occupied people, including the right to political resistance. Without a middleman to hide behind, the reality of Israel’s occupation will be exposed and the logic of a civil rights struggle will be inarguable. Israel has enjoyed a cost-free occupation, with a Palestinian leadership that does Israel’s administrative and security work and a donor community that picks up the bill. At one stroke, Plan B shreds these fig leaves.
The 2.5 million potential new Arab citizens of Israel would be able to challenge its much-vaunted democracy and upend the old order in the Palestinians’ favour. Will they have the courage to grasp the challenge?
— Guardian News & Media Ltd
Ghada Karmi is a research fellow at the University of Exeter, south-west England.