Cutting through the bullshit.

Sunday 10 December 2006

A beacon of hope?

On Tuesday, Virginia Tilley had a brilliant article on CounterPunch. In this paragraph, she elegantly draws together a number of crucial issues that seldom even rate a mention,

Israel excuses its treatment of the Palestinians on grounds that they are, in fact, aliens. The world has accepted this formula, viewing the territory's native people as citizens of some other country that exists only in the future, in territory that no one can find. Israel is understood to be "at war" with this nonexistent country, represented by these aliens. (That the native people have no weapons worthy of the term "war" is an inconvenient fact very poorly veiled by nuclear Israel's thumping accusations that the impoverished Palestinians, with their automatic rifles and hand-painted homemade rockets, still stubbornly want to "destroy Israel".)

Her central concern is to argue that in reality, Israel has already effectively annexed the West Bank and Gaza, since it exercises a form of sovereignty over those occupied territories – Israel has successfully claimed ‘the monopoly of the legitimate use of physical force within a given territory’ and has at least de facto international recognition. Formal recognition of this obvious situation would enable the Palestinians in the Occupied Territories to claim the same democratic rights as anyone else in the area under Israeli sovereignty.

Estimates differ, but the non Jewish population in this area either already equals the Jewish population, or soon will. Now ‘a Jewish and democratic state’ has never been anything other than an oxymoron. But with a non Jewish majority, it becomes an impossibility – if the non Jewish majority don’t want to live in a Jewish state, they can change it, if it is democratic in any meaningful sense. And there lies the problem. The ‘international community’ is virtually univocal in accepting that there ought to be a sectarian Jewish state, and Israel is it.

The main issue is not whether a one state solution is preferable to partition on any basis. It is whether it is possible, and if so, how to achieve it. I hasten to add, as I argued in the article on Carter earlier, that there is no just two state ‘solution’, either. Apartheid South Africa provides a kind of precedent for the kind of reconciliation that would be a necessary prerequisite. But the circumstances there were significantly different in several crucial respects:

· The victims of South African apartheid formed the vast majority (80%) of the population, while the total Palestinian population, even including the refugees, would form a bare majority.

· There is a large Jewish diaspora which overwhelmingly does not question the necessity of a sectarian Jewish state in Palestine.

· Due to continuing Holocaust guilt and millenarian Christian dogma, among other factors, there is a large constituency of non Jews outside Israel who also support the necessity of a sectarian Jewish state in all or part of Palestine.

· A very significant proportion of the international support for Palestinian rights comes from those committed to the continued existence of a sectarian Jewish state in part of Palestine.

· The United Nations recognizes a sectarian Jewish state, but did not recognize apartheid South Africa. By the time apartheid was finally defeated in 1994, South Africa had been subject to widely supported sanctions and had been an international pariah for decades.

· As Moshe Machover pointed out a couple of years ago, apartheid South Africa regarded the indigenous population as a valuable source of labour and a market. The indigenous population of Palestine is widely regarded among Israeli Jews as a nuisance best dispensed with.

Appeals to international law, reason, and morality are not a viable strategy for bringing peace and justice to Palestine, or anywhere, and I think it’s important to be honest about that.

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