Can We Imagine a Just Peace for Palestine?

28 Feb



Can We Imagine a Just Peace for Palestine?


While waiting without even a glimmer of hope for the Trump ‘deal of the century’ the Palestinian ordeal unfolds day by day. Many Israelis would like us to believe that the Palestinian struggle to achieve self-determination has been defeated, and that it is time to admit that Israel is the victor and Palestine the loser. All that needs to be done is to force feed a bitter pill of defeat to the Palestinians, and all talk from Trump or otherwise about a deal will become irrelevant.


Recent events paint a different picture than this premature Israel triumphalism. Every Friday since the end of March 2018 the Great March of Return has confronted Israel at the Gaza fence. Israel has responded with lethal force killing more than 250 Palestinians and injuring over 18,000, repeatedly using grossly excessive force to deal with almost completely nonviolent demonstrations protesting the denial by Israel of fundamental human rights belonging to the Palestinian people. 


 The political organs of the UN have remained awkwardly silent for a year. Yet finally on February 28, 2019 the report of the UN Independent Commission of Inquiry on the 2018 Gaza Protests was released. The Commission established by the Human Rights Council in Geneva to examine allegations of excessive force used by Israel in response to the Gaza weekly demonstrations of the Great March initiative during 2018. The Report based on extensive factual documentation reached the principal conclusion that Israel had “no justification to shoot protesters with live ammunition.” The implication of such a finding is that criminal violations of international humanitarian law, as set forth in the Fourth Geneva Convention of 1949, had been massively, flagrantly, and repeatedly violated by Israel’s response to the Gaza protests.


It is unlikely that prosecutions will follow either in Israel or internationally, but it is at the very least a major victory for the Palestinians in the ongoing Legitimacy War to gain the high moral and legal ground with respect to world public opinion. Whether the Report causes enough of a public stir to prompt the UN to take some further action in the General Assembly or the Security Council remains to be seen. As the Great March protests have continued on Fridays so far in 2019, increasing the casualty levels, there are already calls for an extension of the Commission’s mandate so at least a complete documentary record of the continuing Israeli abuses will be available.


It would seem that there is a feeling in international circles that nothing much can be done to bring about a peaceful and just solution at this stage. Such a conclusion might explain the various recent moves in the Arab world toward an acceptance of Israel as a legitimate state, which has included steps toward diplomatic normalization. Beyond these developments, Israel has joined with Saudi Arabia and the United States in a war mongering dangerous escalation of an already unwarranted and provocative confrontation with Iran. In addition, Israel and Egypt are collaborating on security issues at the border and in the Sinai, as well as in the joint development of off shore oil and gas projects. It should be noted that this warming of the Arab world to Israel has been occurring at the very time during which abuses of the Palestinian people has achieved their highest level of harshness ever.


This puzzling recent background make this an opportune moment for stocktaking with respect to this conflict that has gone on for more than a century, and assessing what would be the best way forward. The assumption here is that the only acceptable objective remains what it has long been—namely, a sustainable and just peaceful coexistence between the two peoples.


The most daunting challenge given present realities, is how peace might be made in a manner that realizes the fundamental right of the Palestinian people to achieve self-determination in a territorial space that was for centuries their place of residence, their own homeland. The prevailing international consensus had been that a solution would be achieved by geopolitically framed negotiations between Israel and accepted governmental representatives of the Palestinian people. The authoritative framing of such an approach was entrusted to the United States, which itself unavoidably insinuated a fatal flaw into the diplomatic process if the goal was to achieve a peaceful compromise that was fair to both sides and juridically sensitive to Palestinian claims of right under international law. It is reasonable to ask, ‘How possibly could such a compromise emerge if the stronger party had the unconditional backing of the geopolitical intermediary and the weaker party was not even clearly the legitimate representative of large sectors of the Palestinian people?’ Another unacknowledged obstacles to this Oslo approach was the degree to which its presuppositions collided with the true agenda of the Zionist Project, which was to gain sovereign control of all of the biblically promised land, a goal that was glaringly inconsistent with maintaining political space for some reasonable expression of the Palestinian right of self-determination.


Additionally, this already flawed framework was further abused by subordinating the so-called peace process to Zionist expansionist goals, expressed by annexing Jerusalem, denying refugee rights of return, and expanding unlawful settlements in occupied Palestine. These anomalies were accentuated by the American insistence that Palestinian objections to such unlawful Israeli moves be deferred until the last stage of negotiations on the supposed grounds that such objections would disrupt the peace process. In retrospect, it is clear that these patterns of violation by Israel were, on the contrary, themselves intended to prevent the peace process from ever reaching ‘final status negotiations,’ much less actually achieving a negotiated peace. This disrupted diplomacy is exactly what transpired, perhaps disappointed some naïve Palestinians, but not at all surprising the Likud leadership, which always expected, and worked to achieve, such an outcome.


This geopolitical framework, as resulted from the faulty implementation of the Oslo Framework of Principles, as adopted in 1993, has by now been widely discredited by most objective observers as well as by the participating governments. This abandonment of Oslo did not occur, however, before Israel had used the past 25 years to pursue unimpeded their expansionist goals. In this process, Israel succeeded in making the establishment of an independent Palestinian state a political impossibility, with the secondary desired effect of putting the Palestinians in a far weaker position than before the Oslo approach was adopted.


The perverse failure of the top down approach to reach a sustainable outcome has led to a public attitude of defeatism when it comes to achieving a peaceful compromise. The residual post-Oslo top down option is the coercive imposition of ‘peace’ by declaring an Israeli victory and a Palestinian defeat. In other words, if diplomacy fails, the winner/loser calculus of war is all that is left over other than an indefinite continuation of a simmering status quo.



Peace from Above versus Peace from Below


Such thinking, although prevalent in elite circles, overlooks the historical agency of people, both those resisting injustice and those mobilized throughout the world in solidarity with the Palestinian struggle. It is these bottom up kinds of political dynamics that were responsible for the most momentous changes in the history of the last century. It was national mass movements that challenged successfully, although at heavy human costs, the unjust structures of colonialism and South African apartheid, and eventually prevailed despite their military inferiority and the fierce geopolitical resistance they encountered. In other words, people manifested and exercised superior historical agency despite inferior capabilities on the battlefield and diplomatically. This potency of popular movements is a reality with a potential to subvert the established order and for this very reason is treated as irrelevant by mainstream thinking and policy planners.


It is precisely on the basis of this deconstruction of power and change that hope for a brighter Palestinian future lies. The strength of the Palestinian national movement is, and always has been, on the level of people as fortified by the growing international moral consensus that Israeli apartheid colonialism is wrong, indeed a crime against humanity according to international criminal law [see Article 7 of the Rome Statute governing the International Criminal Court and the International Apartheid Convention of 1973 on the Suppression and Punishment of the Crime of Apartheid] It is this bottom up process of struggle, spearheaded by Palestinian resistance and given leverage by global solidarity initiatives such as the BDS [Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions] Campaign as it gains momentum and heightens pressure. Historical outcomes are never certain, but the flow of history has been against this Israeli/Zionist combination of colonial appropriation of Palestine and the apartheid structures relied upon to ensure the subjugation of the Palestinian people.


On this basis, some general observations follow.



The Two State Solution should be pronounced ‘Dead.’ For several years, at least since the de facto abandonment of the Oslo diplomacy in 2014, the two-state solution cannot reasonably be continued to be put forward internationally and in liberal Zionist circles as a viable political option. Yet it continues to be affirmed by many governments and at the UN. This is not because there is any informed belief that it might finally happen, but rather because every other outcome seemed impossible, too horrible to contemplate, or calls upon Israel to give up its claim to be an exclusivist Jewish state. In other words, many leading political figures and opinion leaders hold onto the two-state approach as an alternative to what they viewed to be zero. This reflects an impoverishment of the political and moral imagination, only capable of conceiving a solution to prolonged struggle of this type as deriving from top down approaches; bottom up approaches are not even considered, and if mentioned, are derided as irrelevant.


It seems far more realistic, and hence honest, to admit the defeat of two-state diplomacy and take account of the existing situation confronting Palestinians and Israelis so as to consider alternatives. To come to this point, it might be helpful to explain why the two-state solution has become so irrelevant. Above all, it seems evident that the Likud, which has been long in political control of Israeli never wanted an independent Palestinian state to be established, yet recognized the public relations advantages of not acknowledging this in public or even in private diplomatic communication. Netanyahu let the cat out of the bag when he pledged during his 2015 electoral campaign in Israel that a Palestinian state would never come into existence as long as he was Israel’s leader. This pledge ratified for those Israelis in doubt what was in any event Israeli policy, hoping that making if official only in Hebrew internal discourse would minimize any international backlash. This enabled Netanyahu after the 2015 election to reiterate cynically his receptivity to negotiations within the two-state mantra while continuing to engage in behavior that confirmed for Israelis that such an outcome would never occur.


Perhaps, more fundamental, the settler movement has long passed a point of no return. There are currently in excess of 600,000 Israeli settlers living in more than 130 settlements spread all over the West Bank and East Jerusalem. Settler leaders believe that the settlements have so changed the map of Israel to exclude any possibility of an independent Palestine. Their leaders are now so confident that they openly envisage the settler population becoming 2,000,000. This should finally drive the point home to Palestinian two-staters as well as to world that Israel no longer pretends to be willing to allow a Palestinian state to be established.


True, the Palestinian Authority has long seemed ready to accept even a territorially abridged state, ceding sovereignty over the settlement blocs near the border, although continuing to insist that a the capital of a Palestinian state must be located within Jerusalem. A broad spectrum of Israeli political leaders agree that the future of Jerusalem is non-negotiable, and that the city will remain forever unified under sole Israeli sovereignty and administration. Under these conditions it can be safely concluded that it is no longer plausible for even the PA to continue to support the position that the two-state path to peace between the two peoples can somehow still be revived as the basis of a negotiated resolution of the conflict.



The Arab Accommodation is Tenuous. Israel feels little pressure to seek a political compromise given present conditions. With Trump in the White House and Arab governments scrambling toward normalization and accommodation, Israeli leaders and public opinion seem ill-disposed to make concessions for the sake of peace. As such keeping the two-state non-solution alive as a Zombie scenario is a way to proceed with Israel’s continuing efforts to expand further the settlements while in actuality implementing its coercive version of a one-state solution.


There are strong reasons to feel that this Israeli confidence that the Palestinian demand for rights can be indefinitely ignored is premature and likely to be undermined by events in the near future. For one thing, the Arab moves toward normalization are unstable as is the entire region. If there is a renewal of Arab uprisings, in the spirit of 2011, it is quite possible that support for Palestinian self-determination would abruptly surge to the top of the regional political agenda, likely in a more militant form than ever before. The Arab people, as distinct from the governments, continue to feel deep bonds of solidarity with their Palestinian brothers and sisters, and at some point are almost certain to make their weight felt. As argued earlier, it is people and soft power, not governments, elites, and hard power, that have eventually prevailed since 1945, especially in struggles against colonialism. The Palestinian struggle is the one remaining unfinished colonial war, and there is no reason to believe that it will contradict the pattern of victory for the anti-colonial movement of national empowerment.


Beyond this, should the Trump presidency be defeated in 2020, there is likely to be an Israeli reevaluation of their interests. Such a prospect is heightened by signs that Jewish unconditional support for Israel is dramatically weakening, including in the United States. Furthermore, the global solidarity movement supportive of the Palestinian national movement is spreading, deepening, and growing. It is becoming more militant, engaging moderate global public opinion, and has the symbolic benefit of strong backing in South Africa, which sees the fight for Palestinian rights as analogous to, and even in some ways a continuation of their own anti-apartheid campaign.


What Next?. Two conclusions emerge from this analysis: first, a continued reliance on the two-state diplomacy within a framework that relies on the United States as an intermediary or peace broker is long overdue to being regarded as irrelevant and discredited. Its continued endorsement serves only as a distraction from what might be both possible and desirable. Secondly, despite Israel’s recent gains in acceptance within the Middle East and its absurdly one-sided support in Trump’s Washington, the Palestinian national movement persists, and under certain conditions, could mount a serious challenge to Israel’s colonialism and apartheid structures of governance.


In light of these conclusions, what Is the best course of action? It would seem that only a democratic and secular single state could uphold self-determination for both peoples, holding out a promise of sustainable peace. It would need to be carefully envisioned and promoted with international safeguards along the path toward realization. It does not seem a practical possibility at present, but putting it forward as a reasonable and responsible outcome that can be regarded as just avoids despair and holds out hopes for a humane peace when the time is right. It is helpful to recall that opinion was united in South Africa that the governing elites would never voluntarily abandon their reliance on apartheid, until they did. For such an outcome to happen presupposes a major modification of Israeli identity, above all the acceptance of a secular state implying the abandonment of the statist dimension of the Zionist project.


In such a binational (one state, two nations) situation, the newly created single state could offer national homelands to Jews and Palestinians, while finding a name for the new state that is congenial to both peoples. Maybe this will never happen, but it is the most just and sustainable vision of a peaceful future that responds to decades of diplomatic failure, massive Palestinian suffering and abuse. Above all, such a solution recognizes that is people that possess the moral authority and fulfill political promise of national resistance and global solidarity. Such an understanding would be tantamount to a legislative victory by that still unacknowledged, yet powerful, Parliament of Humanity.  



















15 Responses to “Can We Imagine a Just Peace for Palestine?”

  1. QCPal February 28, 2019 at 5:55 am #

    Reblogged this on QCpal.

  2. Paul Wapner March 1, 2019 at 5:32 am #

    Wow, the whole issue in a nutshell! I love your continued faith in people power. I so want you to be right. Yes, the two-state solution has been a distraction while realities change ‘on the ground.’ Yet, I’m unsure if a one-state (two-nations) solution could prove less of a distraction. Many may uphold it as the ideal and excuse progress toward it based on the need for secular, compassionate values to take hold and shared parliamentary arrangements to be worked out. These seem even more distant than Palestinian sovereignty. I wish I could be less cynical. I admire your persistent search for light. I’ll keep peering through your lens hoping it might become my own. For now, it is awfully cloudy.

    • Richard Falk March 2, 2019 at 3:00 am #

      Thanks, Paul, as always for your warmth and understandably mixed reaction to what I
      have written about the Palestinian struggle. Warmest greetings from Geneva.

  3. Fred Skolnik March 3, 2019 at 10:30 pm #

    Running away again?

    You’re repeating yourself, that is, reciting a mantra, though its fallacies have been pointed out to you more than once, whether it concerns the apartheid nonsense or the Gaza riots. Your logic seems to be that since all your assertions belong to the realm of “interpretation,” nothing you say can be called false. This is a species of reasoning that I have not yet encountered.

    You would do very well to contemplate Kant’s categorical imperative, which advised us to act as if our actions would become universal principles, meaning, in effect, as if our wishes could come true. But that means facing the consequences as well, which you are of course not prepared to do. You say: don’t shoot back, they have bad aim; or lift the blockade, they won’t import missiles – and if as a consequence my children are killed – where exactly will you be? Will you step up and say: “I am the guilty party. I gave you bad advice and as a consequence your children were killed. I should be punished accordingly”? I think it’s safe to say that nothing could be further from your mind. That is why I call you irresponsible. All this without going into the bloodbath your Syrianized binational state would invite.

    There is a sharp rise in antisemitic incidents throughout Europe and in the United States. It is not hard to see where Jew haters find their inspiration. By continuously and maliciously vilifying Jews (and the Israelis you are talking about are after all Jews, including myself as an army reservist who fought terrorism for 20 years) you and people like you are providing the perfect pretext for the haters to go after them. Think about that too when you read your Kant or begin “crafting” your arguments.

    • Richard Falk March 3, 2019 at 11:19 pm #

      If I was more literary I would entitle this last post ‘The Chutzpah of the Eternal Troll.’

      Remember Kant works both way. We each have our own ‘truths’ that do not gain traction for either
      of us by their repetition. At the same time, what we believe to be true, or closer to what is true,
      bears repeating as often as it is relevant.

      You attribute the rise of anti-Semitism mainly to those who criticize Israel’s behavior. I attribute it
      to Israeli cruelty toward the Palestinian people, and a leadership that is as dishonest as it is corrupt.
      And on and on with respect to all the main issues in contention, including Gaza border violence and settlement

      The only difference between our approaches is this: you seem to claim authority not only to put forward your
      views, which I find extremist, and also to denigrate those who do not agree. This is polemics not dialogue.

      • Fred Skolnik March 3, 2019 at 11:41 pm #

        So you really think that the kind of people who pick out Jews to attack in the streets are “humanists” like yourself who can’t bear Israel’s cruelty. Who do you think you’re kidding? And talk about “authority” and polemics. Are you really not aware of what you are doing here?

        I will also repeat myself with your permission:

        The conceit that you can slander and defame entire peoples and nations and then claim academic immunity in order to avoid personal scrutiny as to motives, biases and qualifications is, I think, unique to self-styled “public intellectuals” who have abandoned scholarship to become polemicists targeting others. If they wish to step into the arena and go on the attack, they are going to be attacked in return.

        As for the substantive issues, you blithely slide around them. A truth has to have a basis in fact. Yours are not surprisingly always grounded in “interpretation.” When the facts are on the table, you simply run away.

      • Richard Falk March 4, 2019 at 1:41 am #

        You have your own facts that are not shared by others. For instance, the recent report of the UN Commission
        of Inquiry on the Gaza fence protests has amassed 300+ pages of facts to substantiate its conclusion that Israel
        unnecessarily used lethal violence in the form of live ammunition to kill unarmed Palestinian protesters.

        On those that engage in true anti-Semitism, sociopathic extremists encouraged by the overall atmosphere, which included
        Israeli arrogance, Jewish lobbying influence, and the sort of criticism made by public intellectuals. Such a causal chain
        would be broken if the Israeli government upheld international criminal law and treated Palestinian grievances in a responsible

        You might be instructed by the rise of White Supremist crimes in the US as responsive to Trump’s aid and comfort to racism, what
        are being described as ‘dog whistle’ signals.

    • Gene Schulman March 5, 2019 at 12:40 am #

      Re any sharp rise of anti-Semitism in Europe and the US, it is caused by those who most complain about it. I repeat what I published at last week. If you want anti-Semitism to disappear, make Zionism disappear.

      • Fred Skolnik March 5, 2019 at 2:08 am #

        You’ve got to be kidding, or do you really not understand what antisemitism is? Do you really think Jew haters give a crap about the Palestinians?

      • Richard Falk March 5, 2019 at 3:34 am #

        This is not Gene’s point. The way the Zionist Project is being implemented gives Jews a bad name in some circles,
        and this agitates extremists. We observe the same phenomenon in Trump’s America, which has seen a rise in racist
        crimes by White Supremacists. It is what I described as ‘the dog whistle’ phenomenon.

        And incidentally, some who have been victimized by Israeli apartheid structures do turn their frustrations and fury
        into what you call Jew hatred, and these include many who care deeply about Palestinians, including having relatives
        who have been killed or imprisoned. I have met such people.

      • Fred Skolnik March 5, 2019 at 4:24 am #

        Victimized? They started and lost a war. You might just as well talk about the Germans being victimized by the Allies. The consequence of losing a war is having your country occupied. The consequence of engaging in acts of terrorism is to face antiterrorist measures. But that is not the issue. Violent hatred of Jews among Arabs is to be expected. The issue of antisemitism in its classic European (and American) form is an entirely different matter and has nothing to do with Zionism or the Arab-Israel conflict at such, other than finding in it a rationalization for violent acts, which people ike yourself provide in abundance (and Trump too if you like).

        Maybe this will help you understand antisemitism a little better, in a long and short version. (Don’t think human nature was transformed the moment Israel was established.):

  4. Fred Skolnik March 4, 2019 at 5:11 am #

    Your 300+ pages of facts apparently neglect to mention that Hamas itself confessed (or rather boasted) that 80% of those killed were its own “militants,” or that these militants, of which there were thousands, were armed and using these arms, or that the rioters were attempting to overrun the border and murder or kidnap Israelis as instructed. If these trivial matters are mentioned in your report, why don’t you quote them for us.

    Israel certainly acts in accordance with the law. It returns fire when it is fired upon and makes every effort to avoid civilian casualties. If it didin’t there would be tens of thousands dead after every engagement. It furthermore institutes legitimate security measures to prevent terrorist incursions, or would you be happier if the terrorists again succeeded in blowing up Israeli women and children in buses and restaurants (or are they still freedom fighters in your eyes)?

    As for the antisemites, try to imagine one of the sociopaths or violent haters reading your blog or something by your Gilad Atzmon and how he might respond to it. Try to imagine what goes on in his mind. You can be sure that it isn’t any feeling of empathy with the Palestinians.

  5. Kata Fisher March 5, 2019 at 1:07 pm #

    Dear Professor Falk,

    Its really difficult to go about impacting accursed conscience of the wicked. Some have more difficult then the others.

    In today’s hardships, if God would just change the conscience of the wicked – the life on the earth would be so much easier, and their children would not be accursed.

    But the beauty of the human experience and awareness is that Babylon is Fallen – O’ has it been Fallen, and has been accused. It’s a spiritual place of the all wicked.

    When one battle for something that belongs to the devil, and servants of him – you just lose your purpose.

    So, it is a blessed hope is to remain in promise – as we let all wicked have their way, and way of filthy birds that is among them.

    Terrible chaos of the wicked is upon the human race. Can it stop like it did before in the human history? Not among devils-incarnate.

    I know thi is just a bit too overwhelming description of the state of the contemporary peoples and history.

    However, it’s how I see it in my conscience.

    I am hated every day, and ask God to show me just how much I am hated – with his contrary works!

    To understand purpose of hate, it’s absolutely out of our conscience, just impossible!

    But, when we understand it, we are like Wow, wow, wow – I am so much more in a better place – as God removes all wicked from my presence by all means. And, I am thankful. From the wicked, in devil incarnate – there is nothing but hate.

    It’s good to enjoy this day.

    Thank you for the posting of that letter.


  6. Beau Oolayforos March 9, 2019 at 12:02 pm #

    There will be peace in Palestine, eventually, but not before some impasses are broken. A peace-broker can’t be someone who gives billions in military aid to one side. Our 3 ladies in Congress have, at least, started the conversation, and sent their colleagues fluttering in mercenary, mendacious consternation. They must free themselves from their addiction to Jewish, and to Saudi money…drain the swamp, in short.


  1. Can We Imagine a Just Peace for Palestine? | 4 Change - March 2, 2019

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