Rattling the Cage: Two cheers for Palestine

May the Palestinian popular resisters have more success than they’ve had so far, but less than they want.

There’s a way out of this frogmarch to pariahhood. If Binyamin Netanyahu agreed to pick up the negotiations with Mahmoud Abbas where they left off under Ehud Olmert, the Palestinians wouldn’t have us on the run like they do now. If Netanyahu agreed to give up the equivalent of the land we colonized in 1967, the world would cheer, and the wind would go out of the sails of the Palestinian demand to return to the land we rightly fought for in 1948.
If Netanyahu agreed to negotiate on the basis of the 1967 borders, like Olmert did, he would have Barack Obama and everybody else behind him, and Abbas would talk peace with him, like he did with Olmert. Abbas has been saying over and over, publicly, that he prefers to negotiate Palestinian independence rather than unilaterally seek it at the UN. But he doesn’t want to negotiate on Netanyahu’s terms, which amount to “what’s mine is mine, what’s yours is nothing, but if you ask nicely maybe I’ll throw you a bone or two.”
If Netanyahu agreed to the world consensus for peace – two states along the 1967 borders with land swaps, Jerusalem divided into two capitals, international custody of the “Holy Basin,” and a token number of Palestinian refugees returning to Israel – the ball would be in the Palestinians’ court, not Israel’s. Effectively, it would be in Hamas’s court, and if Hamas’s leaders accepted the consensus (unlikely), Israel would be able to talk to them, too, and if they rejected it (more likely), Israel would still be able to talk with Abbas. And if Abbas were overthrown or co-opted by Hamas, at least Netanyahu would no longer be the problem, he’d be the solution.
BUT TALK about unlikely. He gives a speech to the Knesset in which he goes further than he’s ever gone before, suggesting that he just might be willing to give up some settlements – but then at the same time he laments that there’s no one to talk to, that Hamas isn’t a partner. A month ago, before Hamas entered the picture, Netanyahu was saying how much he wanted to negotiate with Abbas. So why didn’t he make his big, generous offer (generous for him) before Hamas came in, when he supposedly wanted so badly to talk peace with the Palestinians?
That’s our leader, God help us. Or, if not God, how about Barack Obama?
Here’s what I’m hoping Obama tells Netanyahu in Washington on Friday: “If you agree to negotiate with Abbas on the basis of the world consensus, which the US is party to, I’ll oppose the Palestinians’ move for UN recognition in September. If you don’t agree, you’re on your own.”
If that were to happen, there would be an earthquake here. Public opinion would immediately come out of its right-wing rut, Tzipi Livni would become the rising power, Labor, Meretz and the peace camp would come back to life – Israel would have a future again.
I doubt that Obama’s going to try to save us, though. With Israel, AIPAC, the Republicans and now Hamas, there’s too much for him to overcome.
I think we’re on our own.
And that’s not good, because our intransigence is the wind beneath the Palestinians’ wings, and they are flying. Abbas may still have his eyes on 1967, but the Palestinians, more and more, have theirs on 1948, on the Nakba, on the right of return, and that is not good for Israel or for peace.
I used to be enthusiastic about the “popular resistance”; I’m less so these days because of this right of return business. Same with the move in the UN coming in September: I used to think it would pressure Israel to end the occupation; now I think it will have a more farreaching effect. It will strengthen the call for the right of return, and it could lead to sanctions and Israelis being summoned to The Hague.
I don’t want to see any of that. And like I said, there’s a way out – for Netanyahu to do what Olmert did, and what Ehud Barak did at the 2001 Taba talks – get serious, make the Palestinians a decent offer, stop jerking everyone around. But I don’t think that’s going to happen. I think Netanyahu and his government are going to fight for the status quo – and there will be no earthquake here. Israel will not change on its own. Unfortunately we are going to have to be dragged into doing the right thing.
So if Obama doesn’t drag us, the only ones left to do it are the Palestinians – and they’ve found a winning strategy with the popular resistance, with unarmed refugees surging the borders, with crowds of young stone-throwing shabab playing David to Israel’s armored Goliath, with September in the UN and whatever comes after.
Do I want this? No. But do I prefer it to the status quo? Yes. The status quo is not static; it keeps getting worse. Israel slides further and further right, the occupation grows more intractable, the next war comes closer. And the war after that.
Sooner or later we’re going to have to be shocked to our senses, so let it be sooner. And – recalling how other nations won their freedom, including the Jewish nation in pre-state Israel – stone-throwing, border surges and UN campaigns are a relatively mild form of shock treatment.
Only relatively, though. This is not going to be pleasant. Still, there will be a way out, the same way out we’ve had all along, the same one every colonial power before us ultimately chose – to leave the colonies. Not the mother country, just the colonies. The only question is how long it’s going to take for us to finally say “enough.”
So I wish the Palestinian popular resisters more success than they’ve had but less than they want, and, above all, Godspeed.