Thursday, April 10, 2008

Bush's Last Gunboat?

Palestine and the Crisis in US Middle East Policy

It appears that the United States is still relatively successful in blocking any real progress on the Israeli-Palestinian track. If the Palestinian question seems deadlocked for the moment, the Middle East is like a seething cauldron for the United States. Hamas ascendency in Gaza, the parliamentary stalemate in Lebanon, the failure to isolate Syria, the continuation of the lost war in Iraq and plans for US-Israel aggression against Iran suggest that the region is on the brink. These circumstances, as dangerous as they are, suggest the possibility that as volatility in the region develops, the Palestinian question will be less subject to exclusive US considerations.

As the United States tries to empty the two-state concept of any real meaning, one hears more voices which demand that we proceed without delay to a one-state solution. One of the more specious arguments in favor of a one-state solution is the sorry state of negotiations in and around the two-state solution. This situation appears as a golden chance for the supporters of the one-state solution to prove that the two-state option is long dead. This argument is premised, of course, on the assumption that the disappearance of the two-state option is a sure-fire indication that things are moving more rapidly in the direction of a one-state solution. This premise is illogical and delusionary. The inability of the international community to overcome the sabotage of progress on the creation of a Palestinian state alongside Israel is an expression of a specific balance of forces. Thus, the current US exclusive domination of the main political processes prevents recognition of any of the genuine rights of the Palestinians. One can only wonder at the logic that suggests that a one-state solution is now more likely because the two-state solution has been successfully frustrated up till now by the US and Israel. Are we to understand that the US will now force Israel into accepting a single democratic state? Or are we to understand that Israel has been waiting till now to confess that it opposed a Palestinian state because it really wants a single democratic state between the sea and Jordan? Or can we use a bit of our old Talmudic learning to the effect that says if the two- state proposal is a tough proposition, then the one-state alternative is a simple impossibility.

The option of a two-state solution is the almost universally recognized formula for ending the horrific suffering of the Palestinian people. It is almost consensual among governments and the media all over the world. This is so clear that one can say that if any solution is possible in the foreseeable future, it is clear that it is the two-state solution. It is equally clear what the contours of such a settlement will be: return to the June 1967 borders; a shared Jerusalem as the capital of the Palestinian national state and Israel; and a fair and just solution of the Palestinian refugee problem.

Just last week the Arab League and the summit of the Arab countries reaffirmed their support for the two-state solution. They were joined, in what appeared a surprising step, but which was really not, by Hamas.

The sense of paralysis and frustration over the possibilities of a two-state solution are understandable. The frustration is especially acute in the light of the Annapolis farce which continues to pay lip service to two states while actually preventing any progress in that direction. The name of the game is simple – ongoing collusion between Israel and the US.

It is not an accident that opposition to US policy and Israeli-US collusion is urgent on the other important fronts in the area. The US has stationed an aircraft carrier near Lebanon to signal the US-Israeli plans for intervention in Lebanon and to remind us about how Washington likes to settle conflicts if things are not going its way. Lebanon, important in itself, takes on added importance as a springboard for war with Tehran. In Palestine, In Iraq, in Lebanon, in Syria and in Iran - the decisive challenge is overcoming US policy and blocking the danger of a new round of aggression. Meeting this challenge should be the main objective of all practical political endeavors in the region and everywhere else as a matter of fact.

We cannot know if and when the US will be forced to revise its dangerous war aims in the region. But we can say that the struggle on this front is far from hopeless and the chances for success are far from negligible. Why would any force with a minimum of political maturity abandon the obligation to create the strongest united force against US policy in order to plunge into a campaign centering on the blurry and remote intricacies of a one-state solution to the conflict?

There are two main approaches among the recent spate of calls for a one-state solution. Firstly, there are thousands of devoted advocates of peace who wish to express their justified wrath over Israeli policy. Israel’s role has been so abominable as to even encourage honest questioning of Israel’s right to exist. Facing understandable frustration over the lack of progress for peace, some of our friends are shopping for an ideal solution that will punish the Israeli establishment and, at the same time, secure the rights of both peoples in a free and democratic Palestine. The one-state solution might satisfy this psychological need, but it is totally bereft of any connection to given realities.

There is another grouping in the one-state camp that is there because it rejects the existence of two states, in principle. The one-state option is completely nebulous in every respect save one: it contemplates the dismantling of Israel. This has been and is still in many quarters the goal of traditional Palestinian-Arab militant nationalism. From this point of view the two-state solution is not so much impossible as undesirable.

Certainly, Palestinian nationalists have just as much right as Israeli nationalists to put off negotiations and suffer through the continuation of the conflict, with its horrendous costs, until a radical transformation in the balance of forces will create new possibilities for realizing the uncompromised national dream. Of course, the Palestinians are more justified in hanging on to their illusions because the international community has betrayed them again and again and ignored their willingness for a far reaching compromise. But even so Lenin’s dictum that the rights of an oppressed people should be recognized only up to the point where these demands infringe on the rights of the oppressing nation, is valuable here.

Without being in the least sarcastic, the one-state solution bears a family resemblance to the “united democratic secular state” that was for quite a while the official policy of the PLO. Those on the left were wont to add the important adjective “socialist.” These ideals are still morally relevant and shared by all democrats. The difficulty is that there are no serious political forces among the Palestinians or among the Israelis which believe that there are minimal political conditions for even discussing this perspective. Simply said, the proposal for a united democratic state for two peoples still locked in deadly conflict after decades of hostility is absent from the agenda because it cannot be taken seriously by any of the participants in the current circumstances. It cannot be a path to peace. The best thing that can be said about it is that it is a conceivable path for two sovereign peoples who living in conditions of relative calm opt for a deeper and closer relationship. Today, at this point, in present conditions it may serve, more than anything else, as a serious distraction.

The distractive element is the one that appears in real life when the one-state solution is presented as the exclusive incarnation of solidarity with the Palestinians. When everything possible must be done to build the broadest coalition to expose and condemn Israel’s policies and actions, there is a pronounced tendency among the “one-staters” to promote hyper maximalist demands. These demands have the practical results of upstaging all Palestinian leaderships and denouncing them for agreement in principle to a compromise. These accusations also have a deleterious effect on unity in that they suggest that the elimination of Israel as a sovereign country is the sine qua non of any reasonable solution.

The peace movement is involved in a very serious struggle against the Israeli lobbies and other pro-Zionist elements. The “trump card” of these forces is that the peace movement is really demanding the elimination of Israel and this is its condition for peace. But the truth is that the unanimous position of all sections of the Palestinian leadership is a willingness to accept a far reaching compromise. The Palestinians and the entire world have clearly declared that Israel can live in peace in the Middle East.

The international community, the Arab world, and the Palestinian leadership – including its two main factions are willing to negotiate a two-state solution. The support for this solution is so overwhelming that the US and Israel must play act as if they were doing just this – supporting a real peace process. This being so, the next logical and most effective step on our part is to condemn the hypocrisy of the United States on one hand, and the timidity of those, such as the moderate Arab states and Europe, who refuse to confront Bush. This can and must be done by exposing the wide gap between the professed policies of many fainthearted friends of the Palestinians and their actions on the ground. Instead of demanding that support for Palestine be translated into effective and militant opposition to the US and Israel should the Palestinians and their supporters accept the advice of those who want to wait and to tell the world that this is all a sad mistake – since no peace was or is possible? Isn’t this a rather nice way of letting Bush and his accomplices off the hook?

Any intelligent observer knows that the international community can let severe problems fester for a long time. In the light of this sad state of affairs, no one in the peace camp is saying that a two-state solution is just around the corner. Nor is it inevitable. However, the contrary thesis that the United States and Israel are invincible or that their collusion will always succeed against international pressure and sentiment is just as wrong. Moreover, it reflects the kind of thinking that ignores a clear and present crisis in US policies in the region. The development and strengthening of a broad alignment of consistent progressive forces against US aggression in the region is a realistic goal and a vital contribution to the struggle for a just peace for Palestine.