Forget the peace process (part II)

Posted: September 27th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: In the News, The Left, The Right | Tags: , , , , , , | 8 Comments »

There were interesting comments to my previous post, regarding the future of the struggle to end the occupation. My basic point was that though the two state solution remains the most popular – and even most likely – idea on the table, we might have reached some dead end, at least as far as the Israeli public is concerned (and to be honest, right now the Palestinians don’t seem too enthusiastic about restarting negotiations as well). My point was that maybe we should stop thinking, at least for some time, about the desired political structure (one state? Two states?), and go back to dealing with the basic human and civil rights problems which are at the heart of the matter. I think that with time, this approach might even lead us out of the political deadlock.

There was one issue, raised in the comments by Aviv and Judy, which I like to answer here. Judy writes: “isn’t there such a body as the Palestinian Authority that the Palestinians of the West Bank vote for?” And Aviv adds:

That the Palestinian’s internal national institutions are less than democratic is not Israel’s problem – civil rights have to be earned in hard work of Palestinian nation building. (In this case it would have to be the first Arab civil society, which is even harder).

This argument – that the Palestinian got their civil and human rights within the PA so that the international criticism on the matter should not be directed at Israel – is very popular with the Israeli right and among Israel’s supporters in the world. The irony is that these are the same people – Netanyahu, Bennie Begin, etc. – who rejected the idea of a Palestinian autonomy during the 90′s, and now they use the autonomy to support their claim that “there is no occupation”.

The problems is that as my right-wing Professor Martin Sherman use to say, sovereignty’s main characteristic is that it cannot be divided. You can divide authorities or jurisdictions, but at the end, in the current international system, there isn’t but one sovereign. In most cases it is the state apparatus, which represents – even in undemocratic regimes – the people. And it is within this sovereignty that civil rights are given.

Now, who’s the sovereign in the West Bank? I don’t really think there is any question. Last month I gave some examples from my own experience, but here is something from today’s paper:

Tensions are mounting between Israel and the Palestinian Authority following Ramallah’s call on the International Court at The Hague to examine claims of “war crimes” that the IDF allegedly committed during Operation Cast Lead in the Gaza Strip… Israel has warned the Palestinian Authority that it would condition permission for a second cellular telephone provider to operate in the West Bank – an economic issue of critical importance to the PA leadership – on the Palestinians withdrawing their request at the International Court.

The Palestinian “authority” can’t even decide over the deployment of a cellular provider without an Israeli approval – which comes with very specific, and not at all related, conditions – let alone issues such as air and ground travel, export and import, construction and commerce, and much more. Even more important is the fact that for more than forty years, Palestinians are tried in Israeli army courts, were suspects’ rights are considerably reduced. A fight for civil rights for the Palestinians could start with the demand to incorporate them into the Israeli civilian system.

I can give many more examples, but I don’t think that’s really necessary to make my point. One should spend but a few hours in the West Bank to know that Israel is still in control there, and that the occupation is more present than ever (some might claim it’s justified, but the point is that it’s there).

The fact that the Palestinians vote in elections within the Palestinian autonomy has to do with the issue of civil and human rights no more than me voting for my building’s tenant’s comity. Yes, the PA has some administrative authorities, but they start and end where Israel decides, and can be withdrawn at any minute, as we have seen many times in the last decade.

So, like another comment said, it’s back to square one. To what sovereign body do the Palestinians belong?

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Thanks again for all the comments. I won’t be moderating or answering comments during Yom Kippur (I have to admit that disconnecting from the net is sometimes much harder for me that fasting), but I’d love to continue the debate after.


8 Comments on “Forget the peace process (part II)”

  1. 1 tamar said at 6:34 am on September 27th, 2009:

    Have an easy fast (food, drink, Internet). And, I wasn’t kidding or merely flattering when I suggested submitting your idea to the NY Times (or other major paper) for an op-ed.

  2. 2 Aviv said at 10:05 am on September 28th, 2009:

    Would you say the PA was sovereign between Oslo and Protective Shield (חומת מגן)? If not, why?

  3. 3 noam said at 10:35 am on September 28th, 2009:

    I don’t think that the PA was never sovereign, not in the real sense of the word. It is evident enough that the Palestinians continued to carry the documents Israel and the IDF issued them, to show that everybody understood who is really in charge.

    It is true, however, that until 2002 the PA had much more authorities, to a degree that you could actually imagine it becoming a real state one day. But that didn’t happen, and many would argue that’s it’s the Palestinians fault. This is by far the dominant view in Israel. My point is that instead of arguing with this claim, the Palestinians, and all those trying to end the occupation, should answer: ‘Ok, you say the P can’t have their state. So just give them their individual rights immediately’. I think this kind of call can move the process forward.

  4. 4 Aviv said at 1:51 pm on September 28th, 2009:

    My point is that instead of arguing with this claim, the Palestinians, and all those trying to end the occupation, should answer: ‘Ok, you say the P can’t have their state. So just give them their individual rights immediately’.

    Logic leap #1. This may be their answer, but that doesn’t mean it’s a good one. If they can demand individual civil rights from Israel, they can demand them from their own. Elected. Government. That the freedom of the press is limited under Abbas is not. Israel’s. Problem.

    I think this kind of call can move the process forward.

    I think your mindset allows Israel to do nothing right and the Palestinian leadership to do no wrong. Where’s the tough love for the Palestinians, Noam? I think just a little bit can go a long way.

  5. 5 noam said at 2:48 am on September 29th, 2009:

    If they can demand individual civil rights from Israel, they can demand them from their own. Elected. Government. That the freedom of the press is limited under Abbas is not. Israel’s. Problem.

    Can they demand a civil trail instead of a military one from the PA? Can they demand the freedom to travel between Palestinian cities, not to mention to other countries? It’s all in Israel’s hands! But your point is a good example to what’s so great about the rights discourse: when you demand a specific right, you always know who can hand it to you – exactly like in the free press example you gave. This is the reason I think Israel will find it much harder to defend itself in against this kind of political action.

    And again, the procedural fact that Palestinians get to vote in their elections is meaningless. It’s not even a new thing: Palestinian voted since 1967 regularly – to the Jordanian Parliament or in local elections, and nobody claimed that “there is no occupation”.

  6. 6 Judy said at 10:47 am on September 29th, 2009:

    This argument – that the Palestinian got their civil and human rights within the PA so that the international criticism on the matter should not be directed at Israel – is very popular with the Israeli right and among Israel’s supporters in the world. The irony is that these are the same people – Netanyahu, Bennie Begin, etc. – who rejected the idea of a Palestinian autonomy during the 90’s, and now they use the autonomy to support their claim that “there is no occupation”.

    I always intensely dislike “these people” arguments, especially when they’re directed at comments I’ve made, and when they’re extrapolated to comments I’ve certainly neither made nor supported.

    My original comment on your previous post was in relation to your statements that “the Palestinians have no rights” and that they have “no right to representation”, despite by your own admission that you believe most Palestinians want a two-state solution.

    My comments pointed out that (a) as far as East Jerusalem is concerned those who define themselves as Palestinians living there have the same voting rights as the rest of the pop. of Jerusalem, but most refuse to use them (and incidentally are under some pressure and threat from their own compatriots if they do want to do so) and (b) that there is an externally recognised voting and representation system for the Palestinians in the occupied territories for the Palestinian Authority, which was agreed under the Oslo terms by the then “sole legitimate reps. of the Palestinian people” as the first of the steps towards a fully independent Palestinian state.

    You assert that the Palestinians’ vote under their elections is “meaningless”. This seems to be an assertion for which you offer no evidence other than your own rhetoric.

    The contrary evidence is of course the presence of the Hamas regime in Gaza, plus the development of the rather different outcome of the Fatah elected regime in the West Bank, particularly in terms of economic development and consequences.

    If the vote were meaningless, there would not be such very different situations in the two Palestinian areas. But you seem determined to attribute all power and agency exclusively to Israel.

    In terms of both (a) and (b) your statements are therefore incorrect. I strongly object to your then extrapolating that to your attempts to say that I am arguing “there is no occupation” tout court.

    My view is that there is de facto no Israeli occupation of Gaza, but borders closed with both Israel and Egypt. A not uncommon situation in a war situation, which is what we have where the Hamas regime declares itself to be in a state of “armed struggle” with Israel.

    It isn’t an all-or-nothing zero sum situation. And nor is everyone who supports this point of view a supporter of Netanyahu or any other Israeli politician, and nor are all supporters of Israel who don’t live there predictable supporters of any single political line.

  7. 7 noam said at 2:41 pm on September 30th, 2009:

    Judy – I respect your desire not to be referred to as part of certain group. You should note however that on your first comment (on the previous post) you did just the same, rushing to make me part of what you probably see as the Israeli-bashers crowd of the Guardian.

    To the point: it was Israel that announced that “the Oslo agreement is dead”, failed to meet all its deadlines and ended up invading and occupying whole the WB, so there is very little point in referring to this agreement as a proof of Palestinian sovereignty.

    The post was about the WB, not East Jerusalem or Gaza. You take Gaza as a proof that the Palestinian can (a) elect whoever they want and therefore (b) control their destiny. First, A doesn’t necessary lead to B. Second, the Hamas could take over Gaza only because Israel left the area. If the elections’ results were truly respected, it would have taken over the WB too, after winning in the polls. So your claim, if anything, proves my point.

    You assert that the Palestinians’ vote under their elections is “meaningless”. This seems to be an assertion for which you offer no evidence other than your own rhetoric.

    I suggested that the Palestinian civil rights movement will demand form Israel things that are unarguably in its hands – such as the right not to be tried in military courts (something the Palestinian didn’t enjoy since 67′), freedom of movement (the major WB highways are off-limit for Palestinians), academic freedom, and many other issues that has nothing to do with security or even politics, such as the approval of a second cellular provider, which I gave as an example on this post (in short, I think they should demand an Israeli ID). I think that’s enough “evidence other than my own rhetoric”.

  8. 8 William Burns said at 12:04 pm on October 2nd, 2009:

    In the last free election, the Palestinians voted for a Hamas government. They didn’t get one because Israel didn’t want it. Their vote was meaningless. This is true whatever you think of Hamas.