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2 Jan

[Prefatory Note: A shorter version of this essay was published on the Middle East Eye website on 31 Dec 2021, as one of six pieces in a section called “Middle East Debate” with thetitle “More Traditional Diplomacy, but no stability.” This is a title conferred that I would not have chosen, and so here where I have autonomy, I use a title that I think is more descriptive.]

What’s Ahead for Palestine in 2022

Even before COVID people everywhere were living at a time of great complexity, uncertainty, and confusion. The future is always opaque when it comes to predictions other than near-term projections of current trends, which often turn out to miss occurrences that shatter mainstream expectations. For the Middle East, even modest predictions are often upset by a sudden swerve of events, and in relation to the Israel/Palestine struggle even more so. Putting aside this disclaimer, there are some expectations about 2022 that are worth expressing and sharing.

To begin with, we will witness a growing awareness that traditional diplomacy will not bring stability, much less peace with justice to this struggle that has gone on for more than a century. 2022 is likely going to experience an overdue funeral that finally pronounces the death of Oslo Diplomacy along with its reliance on direct negotiations between the two sides and supposed to end with the establishment of a sovereign Palestine. Throughout the process the U.S. was cast in the role of neutral intermediary, sometimes half ironically identified as ‘honest broker.’ This might have seemed plausible enough in Netflix TV series, but in the real world Oslo from the outset set a trap for the Palestinians, served as an expansionist opportunity for the Israelis, and continued to allow Washington to persist in its theater role of projecting a false sense of good will to all, a peacemaker rather than a geopolitical manager.  

It has by now dawned on everyone with even half open eyes that the political leaders of Israel don’t want a political compromise of the sort embedded in the Oslo process even, as was assume, its contours would lean heavily in Israel’s favor. Israeli has long shrugged off international pressures to comply with international law or to pretend support for a peace process guided from Washington. It is evident that Israel has for some years felt confident enough to stop pretending that it supports a diplomatically arranged solution. No foreseeable surge of Palestinian armed resistance is perceived as posing much of a threat, especially as neighboring Arab regimes have become distracted or detached from the conflict, with some governments displaying a willingness to accept normal diplomatic relations and join openly with Israel in confronting Iran.

This image of dead-end diplomacy when it comes to Palestine is reinforced by the U.S. posture post-Trump. On the one side, the Biden presidency has signaled that it will not challenge Trump’s signature moves, including relocating the U.S. Embassy in Jerusalem, confirming Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights, endorsing the ‘Normalization Accords’ and even actively promoting their expansion, capped by reassurances to Israel that it will collaborate regionally, especially when it comes to Iran. At the same time, Biden seeks to appear moderate in tone, which explains Washington’s renewal of public avowal of support for a two-state solution and the issuance of mild rebukes when Israel uses excessive violence against Palestinian civilians or moves to expand Jewish settlements in the West Bank. I would suppose that even Biden realizes that the two-state solution has long been a Zombie fix that allows Israel to let the unresolved conflict with the Palestinians continue indefinitely while verbally holding onto a commitment that includes acknowledging a Palestinian right of self-determination. In this sense, the best guess is that when it comes to substance Biden will go along with Trump’s, while adopting a public stance that is less shrilly partisan than was his predecessor in the White House. As matters now stand the Biden presidency is weak, unable to push forward its domestic agenda, which has disappointed the American public, tanking Biden’s approval ratings. Under these circumstances, the last thing Biden wants in 2022 is even the mildest break with Israel of the sort that occurred toward the end of the Obama presidency. The fear of Israeli wrath knows no bounds when it comes to mainstream American politicians.

At the international level, it seems likely that no meaningful additional pressure will be placed on Israel to seek a sustainable peace or even to uphold its obligations under international humanitarian law in the Occupied Palestinian Territories. The UN Human Rights Council will continue to issue reports critical of Israel’s behavior and Israel will continue to disregard the basic human rights of Palestinians living under occupation, and suffer no adverse consequences for doing so, and yet hysterically complain about Israel-bashing at the UN. The General Assembly will pass more resolutions in 2022 condemning Israel’s policies, and calling for censure and possibly an arms embargo, but nothing will happen except that UN will stand further accused, with implications that Jews are once again the victims of anti-Semitism. The only internationalist hope is that the International Criminal Court (ICC) will proceed next year with its investigations of Israeli flagrant violations of international criminal law since 2014, but this is a slender reed. The ICC has a new UK prosecutor who is thought to be receptive to US/Israeli opposition with going forward, and may prove susceptible to strong back channel geopolitical efforts to induce the ICC to drop the case. He has certainly taken his time to announce plans to carry forward the investigatory process. In my view there is less than a 50/50 chance that even should investigation be resumed, it will be allowed to reach the indictment stage despite overwhelming evidence of Israeli criminality. However, if the ICC jumps ship altogether, it will likely provoke widespread outrage, encouraging Palestinian resistance and global solidarity.

In my view, the most notable developments in 2022 will flow from the impacts of disillusionment with any hope that constructive action can follow from the peace diplomacy of the past or new UN pressures. Palestinian resistance will continue to send signals to the world that the struggle goes on no matter how hard Israel works to convince the public opinion that it has prevailed in the struggle, and that the best that the Palestinians can hope for are economic benefits to be bestowed following a Palestinian political surrender in the form of an acceptance of Israel as a Jewish state along with a pledge not to oppose Zionist Ambitions to conquer what remains of the ‘promised land.’ In other words, the year ahead will likely announce to the world that Israel is opting for a one-state unilateral solution based on Jewish supremacy along with a Palestinian refusal to swallow such toxic Kool Aid.

Given this line of thinking, the most encouraging development for the Palestinians in the year ahead is in the symbolic domain of politics, what I have previously called the Legitimacy War dimensions of political conflict. It is here the Palestinians are winning even in America, especially among younger Jews, along with some signs that the bipartisan consensus in the U.S. Congress is splintering, at least at the edges.

We all need to keep reminding ourselves of four salient features of the present context: (1) the Palestinians are fighting an anti-colonial war against an apartheid government in Israel; (2) the major anti-colonial wars have been won, not by the stronger side militarily, but by the winner of the Legitimacy War as the U.S. discovered in Vietnam, and more recently in Iraq and Afghanistan; (3) as Israel is a settler colonial state with racist overtones, such struggles should be understood as the most vicious and pronounced and more difficult to bring to an end that ordinary anti-colonial wars; (4) the Palestinians will be increasing seen by the informed global public and media as winning the Legitimacy War; this impression will  be supported by continued fact-finding at the UN and possibly by further engagement on the part of the ICC.

2022 will in all likelihood not bear witness to any transformative event bearing on Palestinian prospects for achieving their basic rights, but the anticipated shift from investing false hopes in inter-governmental diplomacy to civil society activism will become better understood, giving rise to patterns of stronger non-violent solidarity efforts. The analogies to apartheid South Africa is becoming more widely appreciated. This makes South Africa’s alignment with the Palestinian struggle by its support of BDS, advocacy of an arms embargo, and other initiatives has great symbolic significance during the year ahead in relation to the all-important Legitimacy War. Israel’s attempt of a few months ago to destroy the vitality and funding base of Palestinian civil society by branding six leading human rights NGOs as ‘terrorist’ entities should be seen as not only a severe violation of its obligations as Occupying Power under the Geneva Conventions, but more significantly as a desperate sign of weakness in the ongoing Legitimacy War.

Palestine Horizons: Winning the Long Game

21 Mar

Palestinian Balance Sheet: Normative Victories, Geopolitical Disappointments

Winning the Long Game

In recent weeks the Palestinian people have scored major victories that would havedire consequences for Israel if law and morality governed political destiny. Instead, these successes are offset by adverse geopolitical developments as a result of the Biden presidency embracing some of the worst features of Trump’s hyper-partisanship with respect to Israel/Palestine. Law and morality alter reputations, bear on the legitimacy of contested policies, while geopolitics bear more directly on behavior, the difference is best understood as separating symbolic and substantive politics.

Yet, legitimacy gains should not be dismissed just because nothing that matters on the ground seems to change, and sometimes vindictively changes for the worse. In the long game of social and political change, especially in the course of the last 75 years, the winner of the Legitimacy War waged for the high legal moral ground and competition for intensity of political commitment has much more often than not eventually controlled the outcome of a struggle for national self-determination and sovereign independence, overcoming geopolitical obstructions and military superiority along the way. The anti-colonial wars, it should not be forgotten, were won by the weaker side militarily, although quite often enduring an ordeal of desecration along the way. So far, Israeli leadership, although worried by its setbacks on the battlefields of the Legitimacy War have not departed from the American game plan of devising security through a combination of military capabilities and regional activity, allying against Iran, while subverting the unity and stability of potential hostile neighboring States. 

Relevant is the great unlearnable lesson of the last century that the U.S. dominated the military dimensions of the Vietnam War and yet managed to lose the war. Why unlearnable? Because if learned, the case for a permanent wartime military budget would disappear, and the stubborn mythic belief that ‘our military keeps us safe’ would lose much of its credibility.

With Biden as president, reviving alliance-based confrontational geopolitics, the prospect is for a dangerous and costly worsening of relations among major centers of global wealth and military power, avoiding the kind of reallocation of resources urgently requires to meet the challenges of the Anthropocene. We can bemoan the dysfunctionality of global militarism, but how can we gain the political traction to challenge it? This is the question we should be asking of our politicians without distracting them from addressing the urgencies of the domestic agenda bearing on health, economic recovery, and assaults upon voting rights. 

The Palestinian struggle continues, and offers the template of a colonial war carried on in a post-colonial era, in which a huge national oppressive regime backed by geopolitical support is required to enable Israel to swim against the strong liberation tides of history. Israel has proved to be a resourceful settler colonial state that has carried to completion the Zionist Project by stages, and with the vital help of geopolitical muscle, and has only recently begun to lose control of the normative discourse that earlier had been controlled by dramatizing the saga of persecuted Jews in Europe who deserved sanctuary accompanied by the denialist dismissal of Palestinian national claims to be secure in their own homeland. The Palestinians, having no significant relationship to the history of antisemitism were made to pay some of the humanitarian costs inflicted on Jews by the Holocaust while the liberal West looked on in stony silence. This one-sided discourse was reinforced by claiming the benefits of modernity, an insistence that the replacement of dirty backward Arab stagnancy in Palestine by a dynamic modern and flourishing Jewish hegemony, which later was also valued as a Western foothold in a region coveted for its energy reserves and more recently feared because of its anti-Western extremism and Islamic resurgence. The conflict over the land and the ideological identity of the emergent state, unfolding over a century, has had many phases, and has been affected, almost always adversely, by developments within the region and by geopolitical intervention from outside.

As with other anti-colonial struggles, the fate of the Palestinians will eventually turn on whether the struggles of the victimized people can outlast the combined power of the repressive state when, as here, it is linked to the regional and global strategic interests of geopolitical actors. Can the Palestinian people secure their basic rights through their own struggles wages against a combination of internal/external forces, relying on Palestinian resistance from within, global solidarity campaigns from without? This is the nature of the Palestinian Long Game, and at present its trajectory is hidden among the mystifications and contradictions of unfolding national, regional, and global history.

Palestinian Normative Victories

Five years ago no sensible person would have anticipated that Israel’s most respected human rights NGO, B’tselem, would issues a report declaring that Israel had established a unified apartheid state that governed from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea, that is, encompassing not only Occupied Palestine but Israel itself. [This is Apartheid: A regime of Jewish Supremacy from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea, B’Tselem: The Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in Occupied Territory, 12 Jan 2021] With careful analysis the report showed that Israeli policies and practices with respect to immigration, land rights, residency, and mobility were administered in accordance within an overriding framework of Jewish supremacy, and by this logic, Palestinian (more accurately non-Jewish, including Druze and non-Arabic Christians) subjugation. Such a discriminatory and exploitative political arrangement is descriptive of apartheid, as initially established in South Africa and then generalized as an international crime in the 1973 International Convention on the Suppression and Punishment of the Crime of Apartheid. This idea of apartheid criminality was carried forward in the Rome Statute that provides the framework within which the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague carries on its activities. Article 7 of the Rome Statute, a treaty of the parties, governing the ICC enumerates the various Crimes Against Humanity over which the ICC asserts its jurisdictional authority. Apartheid is classified as such a crime in Article 7(j), although without any accompanying definition, and no investigation by the ICC of apartheid allegations involving Israeli perpetrators has ever occurred. It is notable that regarding ‘apartheid’ as a crime against humanity would reduce the burden of proof as compared to allegations of ‘genocide.’

Only weeks after the B’Tselem Report came the much anticipated decision of the Pre-Trial Chamber of the ICC on February 6, 2021. By a 2-1 vote the Chamber’s decision affirmed the authority of Fatou Bensouda, the ICC Prosecutor, to proceed with an investigation of war crimes committed in the Occupied Palestinian territories since 2014, as geographically defined by its provisional 1967 borders. To reach this outcome the decision had to make two important pronouncements: first, that Palestine, although lacking many of the attributes of statehood as define by international law, did qualify as a State for purposes of this ICC proceeding, having been accepted as a Party to the Rome Statute in 2014 after being recognized by the General Assembly on November 29, 2012 as a ‘non-member Observer State.’; and secondly, that the jurisdiction of ICC to investigate crimes committed on the territory of Palestine was authoritatively identified as the West Bank, East Jerusalem, and Gaza, that is, the territories occupied by Israel during the 1967 War. In a decision that sought to convey impressions of judicial self-restraint it was pointed out that these legal positions were limited to the facts and claims under consideration, and did not purport to prejudge the statehood or territorial claims of either Israel or Palestine in other contexts. The lengthy dissent rejected this reasoning, relying heavily on the continuing relevance of the agreements concluded in accord with Oslo diplomacy that allegedly altered the status of the occupation, and took precedence, concluding that the Prosecutor lacked the legal competence to proceed with the investigation. [As the present Prosecutor’s term expires in June 2021, and a new Prosecutor takes over, Karim Khan, the future of these legal proceeding is uncertain.] 

It should be observed that this Pre-Trial proceeding had attracted unusually widespread interest in the world both because of the identity of the parties and the intriguing character of the issues. Jurists have long been intrigued by defining statehood in relation to different legal settings and by settling jurisdictional disputes addressing issues arising in territories that lack permanently established international borders and clear lines of sovereign authority. An unprecedented number of amicus curiae briefs were submitted to the ICC, including by prominent figures on both sides of the controversy. [I submitted an amicus brief with the collaborative help of the Al Haq researcher, Pearce Clancy. ‘The Situation in Palestine,’ amicus curiae Submissions Pursuant to Rule 103, ICC-01/18, 16 March 2020] Israel was not a Party to the Rome Statute, and declined to participate in the proceedings directly, but its views were well articulated by several of the amicus briefs. [e.g. by Dennis Ross who led the Clinton Era peace negotiations between Israel and Palestine. ‘Observations on Issues Raised by Prosecution for a ruling on the Court’s territorial jurisdiction in Palestine,’ ICC-01/18, 16 March 2020].

This decision was promising from a Palestinian point of view as an exhaustive Preliminary Investigation conducted by the Prosecutor over the prior six years had already concluded that there was ample reason to believe that crimes had been committed by Israel and by Hamas in Palestine, specifically referencing three settings: (1) the massive IDF military operation of 2014 in Gaza, known as Protective Edge; (2) the disproportionate uses of force by the IDF in responding to the Right of Return protests during 2018; (3) settlement activity in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.

The Prosecutor can now go forward has been legally established, including with the identification of individual perpetrators who could be charged and held accountable.

Whether this will happen now depends on the approach adopted by Mr. Khan when heassumes the role of Prosecutor in June, which remains a mystery despite speculation.

A further Palestinian victory is the defection of highly respected and well known liberal Zionists who have, so to speak, not seen the light, but speak openly about it, and command access to mainstream media. Peter Beinert is the most relevant example in an American context, but his announced disbelief in Israeli willingness to reach accommodation with the Palestinians on any reasonable basis is one more victory in the domain of symbolic politics. 

Geopolitical Disappointments

It was reasonable for Palestine and Palestinians to hope that a more moderate Biden presidency would reverse the most damaging moves taken by Trump that seemed to undermine still further Palestinian bargaining power as well as significantly encroached on Palestinian basic rights, and did so in a manner that rejected both the authority of the UN and international law. The Biden Secretary of State, Antony Blinken, sent signals on the most significant issues that seemed to affirm and ratify rather than reverse or modify the Trump diplomacy. Blinken affirmed, what Biden had implied, with respect to shifting the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, and thus joining Trump in defying a UNGA Resolution in 2017 that declared such a move as ‘void’ and without legal effect. Blinken has also indicated support for Israel’s territorial incorporation of the Golan Heights, which again defied international law and the UN, which had stood by a firm principle, earlier endorsed with respect to Israel’s occupation of Palestinian territories after the 1967 War in iconic Security Resolution 242. This text confirmed that foreign territory could not be

acquired by force, and anticipated Israeli withdrawal to 1967 borders (as modified by negotiations about minor border adjustments agreed to between the parties).

And above all, Blinken endorsed the normalization agreements between Israel and four Islamic States (U.A.E., Bahrain, Sudan, Morocco) achieved by bullying tactics of Trump

and the pursuit of self-interest. These were mainly symbolic victories for Israel having to do with regional acceptance and legitimacy credentials as well as regional containment and pushback alignment contra Iran. In many respects they extend prior de facto developments with a minimal impact of Israeli/Palestine dynamics.

Assessing Gains and Losses

So far Israeli fury directed at the ICC outweighs Palestinian geopolitical disappointments, the latter being likely tempered by apparent lingering hopes for a marginally improved relationship between the PA the U.S. and EU countries. And there have been some proper adjustments, including the announced willingness to reopen of PLO information centers in the U.S. and resumed diplomatic contact by Washington with the Palestinian Authority, and some language suggesting a return to diplomacy between in contrast with the Trump effort to dictate the terms of an Israeli victory put forth as ‘the deal of the century.’ Yet Biden’s early efforts in less controversial policy spheres to undo as much of Trump international mischief as possible, from rejoining Paris Climate Change Agreement, the WHO and UN Human Rights Council to expressing the intention to stress global cooperation and a revived internationalism, contrast with leaving as is the worst elements of the Trumpist effort to shatter Palestinian hopes. Whether this can be explained by the strength of bipartisan U.S. support of the Israeli unconditional relationship or by regional strategic factors is a matter of conjecture. Perhaps, the most plausible explanation is Biden’s own pro-Israeli past combined with his proclaimed commitment to unify America, working with Republicans to the extent possible. His totemic slogan seems to be ‘together we can do anything,’ which so far has not

had much encouragement from the other side of the aisle.

What might make the Palestinians somewhat more hopeful is the degree to which these two developments were battleground sites for those defending Israel by all means possible. Even Jimmy Carter was demeaned as an ‘anti-Semite’ because his 2007 book merely suggested in its title that Israel needed to make peace with the Palestinians or risk becoming an apartheid state. Recall that John Kerry’s rather mundane observation that Israel had two years left within the Oslo framework to make peace with Israel to avoid an apartheid future for itself encountered such a hostile reaction that he was led to apologize for the remarks, more or less repudiating what seemed so plausible when articulated.

As recently as 2017 an academic study sponsored by the UN, which I wrote together with Virginia Tilley, confirming apartheid allegations was denounced in the Security Council as a defamatory text unfit to be associated with the UN. The critical statements were accompanied by veiled American threats to withhold funds from the UN unless our report was repudiated, and it was dutifully removed from the UN website by order of the Secretary General. Even most Zionist militants at this point prefer silence in global settings rather than mounting attacks on B’Tselem once most beloved by liberal Zionists as tangible proof that Israel was ‘the only democracy in the Middle East.’

The reaction by Israel to the ICC decision rises to apoplectic levels of intensity. The fuming response of Netanyahu was echoed across the whole spectrum of Israeli politicians. In Netanyahu’s outrageous calumny against the ICC: “When the ICC investigates Israel for fake war crimes, this is pure anti-Semitism.” He added, “We will fight this perversion of justice with all our might.” Intemperate as are these remarks, they do show that Israel cares deeply about legitimacy issues, and rightly so. International law and morality can be defied as Israel has done repeatedly over the years but it is deeply mistaken to suppose that the Israeli leadership does not care. It seems to me that Israeli leaders understand that South African racism collapsed largely because it lost the Legitimacy War. Maybe some Israeli leaders are beginning to grasp the writing on the wall. The ICC decision may turn out to be a turning point not unlike the Sharpeville Massacre of 1965. This may be so even, as is likely, not a single Israeli is ever brought to justice before the ICC.  

The Emergent Palestinian Imaginary

10 Jan


[Prefatory Note: this text is based on my presentation at the conference listed below, which brought together a wide array of scholars, media people, and persons concerned with the future of Palestine] 

 Second Annual Conference of Research Centers in the Arab World, Doha, Qatar, 7-9 December 2013, THE PALESTINIAN CAUSE AND THE FUTURE OF THE PALESTINIAN NATIONAL MOVEMENT







It is a welcome development that the theme of such a major conference as this one should have as its theme ‘the future of the Palestinian movement,’ so well articulated in the opening address by Azmi Bishara.

It is often overlooked that as early as 1988, and possibly earlier, the unified Palestinian leadership has decisively opted for what I would call a ‘sacrificial’ peace. By sacrificial I mean an acceptance of peace and normalization with Israel that is premised upon the relinquishment of significant Palestinian rights under international law. The contours of this image of a resolved conflict consist of two principal elements: a Palestinian sovereign state within the 1967 ‘green line’ borders and a just resolution of the refugee problem. This conception of a durable peace is essentially an application of Security Council Resolution 242, 338, and is the foundation of the initiative formally endorsed by the Palestine National Council is 1988.


It is sacrificial in both dimensions of what was declared in advance to be acceptable: a territorial delimitation that was less than half of what the UN partition plan had offered in 1947 by way of GA Resolution 181, which was reasonably rejected by the Palestinian leadership at the time as well as by the neighboring Arab governments on the grounds that it was imposed in defiance of the will of the Palestinian people and offered the Jewish residents of Palestine 55% of the territory even though its land ownership was only 6% of the total (and its population share estimated to be 31-33% of the total). In effect, the Palestinian acceptance of the 1967 borders overlooked the unlawful acquisition by Israel of territory by forcible means in the 1948 War. It also seemed to signal a readiness to negotiate a solution for the dispossessed Palestinians that fell short of the right of return affirmed by the General Assembly in Resolution 194. From an international law or global justice perspective it can be argued that the rights of the Palestinian people were severely violated in 1917 by the Balfour Declaration promising a Jewish homeland in Palestine to the Zionist Movement without the slightest effort to consult the people then living in Palestine and by the British policies throughout the mandatory period. It would seem that the full implementation of the Palestinian right of self-determination would involve a questioning of this colonialist origin of the state of Israel. For political and prudential reasons, and in view of the acceptance of Israel as a member of the United Nations, these legal and moral arguments have not been officially insisted upon in Palestinian diplomacy. Also ignored, are the rights of the Palestinian minority of 20%, now numbering about 1.7 million, living within pre-1967 Israel, that have not received equal treatment, nor had their human dignity respected, especially to the extent that Israel not only grants Jews throughout the world an unlimited right of return but also insists on being ‘a Jewish state,’ what the Jewish leader, Henry Seigman, has labeled ‘an ethnocracy,’ and no longer entitled to claim to be ‘a democratic state.’


The Arab Peace Initiative of 2002 reaffirms this regional acceptance of such a solution, and the Palestinian Authority in recent years has exhibited a willingness to compromise still further in relation to the Israeli settlement blocs and even the prospect of having the capital of Palestine in East Jerusalem. Israel on its side has never clearly signaled a similar readiness to establish peace on a sustainable basis that included an acknowledgement of Palestinian rights despite the strong indications that such a solution would produce security for the state of Israel, which was always invoked as the primary demand by the governing authorities in Tel Aviv. In effect, over the years, by a series of inter-linked policies, especially the settlement movement,

the separation wall, the annexation and enlargement of the city of Jerusalem, Israel has been unwilling to reach peace on the basis of the 1988 Palestinian offer, and enlarged the concept of security to include its various strategic and national goals. These extravagant security demands that have continuously escalated, and are reinforced by occupation policies in violation of the 4th Geneva Convention that sets forth minimal international humanitarian law, which imposes apartheid structures of administration, illegal interferences with mobility via checkpoints and closures, ethnic cleansing in East Jerusalem, house demolitions, and various devices to subvert Palestinian residence rights.


It is notable and revealing that neither Israel, nor the United States, have never even acknowledged this unilateral expression of willingness on the part of Palestine to accept peace on terms that fall far short of the legal and moral entitlements embedded in international law. What is more, there has no direct or indirect Israeli moves that could qualify as reciprocal gestures. Instead, Israel has persisted with its relentless establishment of ‘facts on the ground’ in violation of international humanitarian law, and has even persuaded the United States, most formally in the 2004 exchange of letters between Ariel Sharon and George W. Bush to accept the core of these facts as establishing a new baseline for devising a formula to fulfill the promise of ‘land for peace.’


Overall, it is best to view this background as constituted by Israel’s continuous inflation of security expectations to be realized by the steady diminution of Palestinian rights. In effect, the nakba associated with the dispossession and dispersal of Palestinians in 1948 should be regarded as a process and not just a catastrophic event. Such a national trauma as has been inflicted on the Palestinian people over such a long interval is unprecedented during this historical era of decolonization and the privileging of the right of self-determination.






For the more than 65 years that Palestinian hopes have languished, there have many efforts to constitute, sustain, and build a national movement with the capacity to achieve liberation and realize fundamental Palestinian rights. The present period is one in which there is a clear effort to find a viable post-Oslo strategy and vision that will help restore Palestinian collective identity, which has been shattered ever since the Oslo framework was adopted in 1993, as reinscribed as the Roadmap of the Quartet in 200? The consensus among Palestinians that the Oslo approach is dead is rejected by governmental actors, above all the United States, which pushed successfully for the resumption of direct negotiations between the Government of Israel and the Palestinian Authority. In contrast, undertaking a reformulation of the Palestinian national movement proceeds from the experience of three disillusionments:


(1) International Law and the Authority of the United Nations


Especially in the early years after the end of the 1948 War, Palestinians put hopes in the authority of international law, and the support that their struggle seemed to gain at the United Nations, especially in the General Assembly. This support is remains important in identifying the contours of a just and sustainable outcome, which needs to reflect a balancing of rights rather than a bargaining mechanism as promoted by Oslo and the Quartet that depends on a balancing of power, including ‘facts on the ground.’ The disillusionment arises because having international law on the side of Palestinian grievances relating to the occupation, borders, Jerusalem, refugees, water, settlements has yielded no results on the level of practice. On the contrary, despite the backing of international law and the organized international society, the position of Palestine in relation to overcoming their grievance has continuously deteriorated, especially with respect to the underlying goal of exercising the inalienable right of self-determination.


(2) Armed Struggle


The Palestinian National Movement, despite its current fragmentation, has for the past seven years or so become generally disillusioned with reliance upon armed struggle as the basis for attaining primary goals of an emancipatory character. Such an abandonment has not involved a principled shift to a politics of nonviolence, and continues to claim the prerogative of relying on force for defensive purposes, as when Israel launches an attack on Gaza or settlers violently attack Palestinians in the West Bank. As Nelson Mandela made so clear in the South African struggle against apartheid, the commitment to nonviolent forms of resistance to an oppressive order allows the oppressed to use whatever instruments they find useful, including violence, although limited by an ethos of respect for civilian innocence. Most of the anti-colonial struggles, legitimated as ‘wars of national liberation,’ relied on violence, but achieved their victories by the effective reliance on soft power means of social mobilization and the unconditional commitment to sustained opposition by popular forces. In effect, this disillusionment is related with an appreciation that recent historical transformations of an emancipatory kind have happened as a result of ‘people power’ rather than through superiority in ‘hard power.’ This historical interpretation of recent trends in relation to conflict has profound tactical and strategic implications for the Palestinian struggle.


(3) Traditional Diplomacy


The learning experience for those supporters of the Palestinian struggle of the last 20 years is that inter-governmental diplomacy is not a pathway to a just peace, but rather a sinkhole for Palestinian rights. The Oslo/Quartet process has facilitated Israeli expansionist designs, confiscating land,  building and expanding settlements, changing the demographics of the occupation, especially in East Jerusalem. Periodic breakdowns of this diplomatic charade helps the Israelis realize their goals at the expense of Palestinian prospects. Time is not neutral under these circumstances, and the long period of gridlock has lowered Palestinian expectations as articulated by its formal representatives in Ramallah. From the outset the process was one-sided and flawed, fragmenting the Palestinian remnant of historic Palestine into areas A, B, and C, relying on the United States as the intermediary despite its undisguised alignment behind Israel, and deeply responsive to inflated Israel security claims while ignoring Palestinian grievances and claims based on international law, not even mentioning the right of self-determination.

Those who insist on special ‘security’ arrangements usually fear losing what is possessed, while those who call for ‘rights’ are normally seeking what is their

entitlement from a position of deprivation and dispossession. From a Palestinian perspective, the framework and process has been biased in Israel’s favor, the substantive promises have been unfulfilled, and despite such disappointments, it is the Palestinians who are given the lion’s share of the blame when the diplomatic negotiations break down periodically.


This disillusionment means that the Palestinian outlook should be by now clearly post-Oslo, that is, what to do given the failure of direct negotiations to produce positive results. This contrasts with the inter-governmental consensus of the United States, Israel, and the Palestinian Authority that insists that such diplomacy is the only road to peace despite its record of failure. This spirit of ‘Oslo is dead, long live Oslo’ is clearly defeatist, and manifests the deficiencies of Palestinian representation via Ramallah.


Israel’s Strategic Posture and Regional Developments


In part, Palestinian disillusionment has been prompted by Israel’s hard power dominance recently reinforced by regional developments. To the extent that such disillusionment is interpreted in a defeatist spirit it ignores Palestinian opportunities to pursue a soft power approach to realize self-determination and other rights so long denied. In effect, interpreting the conflict from a hard power perspective is to indulge in false political consciousness, given recent historical trends, and leads to an unwarranted pessimism about Palestinian prospects. Of course, this is a time to take stock, and reformulate a vision and strategy to guide the Palestinian struggle. As the future is unknowable, such a call for strategic reset is not an occasion for optimism, it is rather a time for the renewal of struggle and for a deepening of solidarity on the part of those of us who seek justice for the Palestinian people. Yet this taking of stock must be as realistic as possible about the elements in the national, regional, and global context that pose challenges to the Palestine National Movement.


Several adverse developments need to be noted. First and foremost, Israel has successfully maintained, perhaps extended, its hard power dominance, including the acquisition of the latest weapons systems (e.g. Iron Dome), and become an arms supplier for many countries around the world ensuring a measure of political spillover. Secondly, Palestinian fragmentation and vulnerability have been accentuated by a series of policies: the split between Fatah and Hamas; the Oslo bisecting of the West Bank; the various divisions between refugees and persons living under occupation; between West Bank and Gaza, between East Jerusalem and West Bank; between those dispossessed in 1948, 1967, and subsequently; between the Palestinian minority within 1967 ‘green line’ and those living either under occupation or in exile. Thirdly, the perpetuation of unconditional support by the U.S. Government, especially Congress, which gives Israel little reason to feel bound by international law, UN authority, and international morality, and has resulted in impunity in relation to Israeli refusals to abide by international criminal law.


In effect, Israel has been able to rely on its capacity to contain Palestinian resistance by employing a mix of hard power capabilities backed up by a range of soft power instruments of control. Such an Israeli approach has included reliance on state terror to crush Palestinian resistance and a sophisticated hasbara campaign of disinformation and propaganda to obscure the structures of violence and oppression that have been constructed to weaken, and if possible destroy, the Palestinian National Movement.


This Israeli approach has been also extended to its relations with the Middle East in general, especially with respect to neighboring countries. Israel has used its hard power dominance and diplomatic skills to encourage fragmentation and to impart a disabling sense of utter vulnerability to any

Leadership in the region that dares challenge or threaten Israel. Iran has been the principal target of this Israeli projection of a tendency to punish disproportionately and violently those that stand in the way or exhibit hostility to the Israeli National Project. Syria is illustrative of the sort of fragmentation that weakens a neighboring country that has been hostile or in a conflictual relationship with Israel. A welcoming of the Egyptian coup that displaced the democratically elected government with an oppressive military leadership is a further disclosure of Israel’s conception of its security interests.


Taking these various elements into account, as understand from a realist perspective that deems hard power as the main agent of history, Israel has achieved a strong sense of security, with little incentive to make concessions relating to Palestinian goals, grievances, and rights. It is the inadequacy of such realism to comprehend the failures of hard power superiority to sustain national security that is the foundation of a hopeful future for the Palestinian people. Hope rests on the commitment to struggle for what is right, not the assurance of victory, which is to embrace an unwarranted optimism about the future.


The Palestinian Shift to Legitimacy War: Acknowledgement and Affirmation


I believe a crucial shift in Palestinian understanding about how to progress toward their goals has been taking place during the last several years, and is being implemented in a variety of venues around the world. Indeed, I view the tenor of contributions at this conference to reflect this shift in the direction of what I call a ‘Legitimacy War’ being waged by the Palestinian people so as to secure their fundamental rights. The essence of this war, waged on a global battlefield, is to gain control over the discourse relating to international law, international morality, and human rights as it relates to the Israel/Palestine conflict. The discourse is embedded also in a revised tactical agenda that relies on two main elements: reliance on nonviolent initiatives of a militant character and the social mobilization of a global solidarity movement committed to achieving self-determination for the Palestinian people. Such tactics range widely from hunger strikes in Israeli prisons to efforts to break the blockade on Gaza to pressures brought to bear from various constituencies on corporations and banks to break commercial connections with unlawful Israeli settlements.


In effect, the Legitimacy War being waged is seeking to rely on soft power instrument to exert mounting pressure on the Israeli government, creating incentives to reassess Israeli interests and policy alternatives.  Such a reassessment would include an acknowledgement that past over-reliance on hard power superiority has brought about new threats to Israel wellbeing, and even to security as understood in a wider sense as encompassing the ingredients of a peaceful and productive life.


Legitimacy Wars shift the emphasis from governments and governing elites to people and civil society as the principal agents of historical change, and at the same time, in this instance, subordinate hard power forms of resistance to soft power tactics. There is no inherent commitment to nonviolence, but rather a matter of seeking an effective strategy in a particular context. This follows the guidance of Nelson Mandela and others that liberation movements should select their tactics on the basis of their perceived effectiveness. Of course, even if it would seem that violence has a part to play, as was certainly the case for the Israeli movement against the British mandate, there is still the legal/ethical questions associated with the selection of appropriate targets and the avoidance of operations directed at civilians, especially women and children. What appears to be the case in relation to Palestine is a definite move toward the adoption of a Legitimacy War conception of how to interpret the Palestinian National Movement at the present time.


It seems important to understand, especially for non-Palestinians, that it is the Palestinians who should retain control over the discourse on their struggle and projection of vision and strategy. It is up to the rest of use, those who side with the Palestinians in the struggle to uphold their rights, that we not encroach on this political space, and appreciate that our role is secondary, to aid and abet, to accept a responsibility to act in solidarity. It is this kind of activist solidarity that will move a victorious trend in the Legitimacy War into the behavioral domain wherein change takes place. This important distinction between resistance and solidarity is a key to a successful embodiment of this shift by the National Palestinian Movement.


In this regard it should be remembered that ever since this encounter originated the Palestinian people have been victimized by outsiders deciding what was in their best interest. If we go back to the Balfour Declaration, the British Mandate, the UN commission that devised the Partition Plan, and the various American formulations of how to resolve the conflict, the Palestinians are the objects not the subjects of the peace process. Beyond this, such parternalism, whether well meaning or not, has contributed to, rather than overcome, or even mitigated, the Palestinian tragedy.


Inter-governmental solidarity is also important for turning success in Legitimacy Wars into appropriate political outcomes. In this regard, it is regrettable that so few governments in the Middle East have exhibited solidarity in concrete and relevant forms in relation to this latest phase of the Palestinian National Movement. It is not in the Palestinian interest to act as

if the Oslo Framework or the Roadmap are any longer credible paths to a sustainable and just peace. The Palestinian people are entitled at this stage to more relevant forms of support in their struggle, and especially the people of Gaza should not be left to languish in an unfolding humanitarian catastrophe while diplomats dither in luxurious venues.


Finally, it is worth noting the historical trends since the end of World War II.

By and large, the militarily superior side has not prevailed. This is true of the major anti-colonial wars. It is also true in the state/society struggles in Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union, and most of all in South Africa where a Legitimacy War strategy was largely responsible for the remarkable outcome that defied all expectations. America military dominance in Vietnam over the course of a decade did not produce victory, but a humiliating political defeat. True in the First Gulf War of 1991, military superiority of coalition forces overwhelmed Saddam Hussein, and produced a political surrender, but that was a conflict in which the defensive response was wrongly rooted in contesting these vastly superior Western and regional forces on a desert battlefield where popular forms of resistance were irrelevant. It is when the people become centrally engaged in a struggle that the political potency of soft power instruments is exhibited.  Even when this involvement is centrally present is does guarantee victory in the political struggle as such cases as Tibet, Chechnya, Kashmir, among many others, illustrate. What the turn toward Legitimacy Wars does achieve is a significant neutralization of hard power advantages in a political struggle involving such fundamental rights as that of self-determination. In this sense, it is most relevant to a reinterpretation of the vision and strategy of the Palestinian National Movement.


This relevance is increasingly acknowledged by Israel itself, which has shifted its concerns from Palestinian armed resistance to what it calls ‘the Delegitimation Project’ or ‘lawfare,’ terms that are given a negative spin as efforts to destroy Israel by relying on law and such challenges to Israeli legitimacy as mounted by the BDS Campaign. In effect, Israel contends that it is being victimized by an illegitimate Legitimacy War, an argument American political leaders have seemed to accept.


There are likely to be many developments in coming years as to the viability and effectiveness of the Palestinian engagement in a Legitimacy War against Israel. As of the end of 2013, it appears to be the one vision capable of restoring collective unity to the Palestinian National Movement, and by doing, bring hope for a brighter Palestinian future.




A line taken from Mahmoud Darwish’s poem, ‘Mahmoud Darwish Bids Edward Said Farewell,’  (translated by Mona Anis) expresses my central intention:

 “There is no tomorrow in yesterday,

             so let us advance”