I would like to address the oft-discussed interplay between the local and global, specifically within the context of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Many of us view this conflict as constituting one of the central frontlines of the neo-conservative war of colonization, or re-colonization, and negation of the social gains attained by so many following the defeat of Fascism in WWII.
I’ll focus on two interrelated aspects of the global war that are particularly relevant at this time in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
One is the stunning success of the United States, and its frontline soldier Israel, in creating a theoretical and physical superstructure of walls, separation, and war categories. It is within this superstructure that world leaders, the media, and large swathes of the public think and act.
Secondly, and directly related to the first point, is the upcoming Annapolis summit at the end of this month. Given the crucial role played by the Middle East in perpetuating the global war, it is important to analyze this summit—its context, composition and possible outcomes—in order to more fully understand and strategize for ramifications in other areas of the world.
Undoubtedly, one of the most visible and tangible expressions of the neoconservative division of the world is the Separation—or, Apartheid—Wall, being built by Israel in the West Bank and around the city of Jerusalem. This wall is, amongst other things, a concrete expression of Israel’s refusal to recognize Palestinians and their right to self-determination. What can be said about a society that builds a wall to make problems go away?
Moreover, this wall serves as an ideological borderline of international separation between the cultured West and the wild East, between the civilized world—which is now being dubbed the Judeo-Christian world—and the uncivilized world of Muslims and Islam.
Despite the 2004 ruling of the International Court of Justice concerning the illegality of the Wall, and the requirement to dismantle it and compensate the hundreds of thousands of Palestinian families devastated by it, the Wall is accepted as a fact by the international community of the West. Israel continues to build the wall, and this “fact” is taken as a given. To date, the Wall is not on the agenda of the upcoming Annapolis summit, or in the diplomatic exchanges of Western nations.
Additionally, the concept of physical and conceptual walls between peoples and communities is being copied throughout the world. Most devastatingly is the American-Israeli success in equating the term Islam with terrorism, and Muslim with terrorist. This crusader-like definition of the enemy is not bounded by time or space—a pre-emptive never-ending enemy for a pre-emptive, never-ending war. This has horrific implications for the Palestinians, particularly in making it possible to dehumanize the 1.5 million Palestinian women, men and children of the Gaza Strip and declare them and the area as a “hostile entity.” To cut off electricity, the basic necessities of life such as food supplies and medicines, and to do so with complete impunity. And to do so at the expense, and thus tacit acceptance, of the Western international community, which responds to this political disaster with depoliticized humanitarian aid
It is absolutely essential to resist together. To resist this superstructure of separation and categorization. To continue demanding and acting for solutions through the prism of internationalism, justice and rights, not parochialism and surrender to the construct of a racist and warring world.
Perhaps this sounds obvious and easy. Yet in the donor-driven world of NGOs in Palestine-Israel, it is specialization, professionalization and the legal and self-declared apolitical language of human rights that is supported. Grassroots initiatives that respond to the political Israeli-Palestinian conflict with political and comprehensive attempts to build solutions, are not.
Mere weeks before the summit, we have no clear date, although the 26th and 27th of November have been mentioned, or idea of how long it will last—one or two days—or even who will be attending.
What we do know, however, is not encouraging. The summit is a gathering of pro-American forces in the Middle East—Hamas, the democratically elected party in the Occupied Palestinian Territories, Hezbollah and Iran, and likely Syria as well, will be excluded. The Palestinian people are not all relegated to the infamous axis of evil, but divided into “good”—i.e. those attending the summit—and “bad” Palestinians. Some analysts are warning that this peace gathering is thus actually a war summit, where US-Israeli dictates must be accepted or recalcitrant nations—first and foremost the Palestinian people and later those who support them—will be dubbed radicals and made to pay a price.
To entice the participation of Arab states, Israel has announced a freeze on West Bank settlement construction and the dismantlement of “outposts,” settlements that are illegal even by Israel’s standards. This “freeze,” if it does indeed occur, does not apply to settlements in Jerusalem. By numerous accounts, it will also not apply to the large settlement blocs around Jerusalem, blocs that divide the West Bank into two and make a mockery of any talk of a viable and territorially contiguous Palestinian state. Needless to say, the ‘freeze’ could be lifted at any moment following the summit.
To be judged a success, the Annapolis summit must resolve the key issues in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. To do this, Israel would have to end its occupation of 1967, a Palestinian state must be established and a fair and just solution to the issue of Palestinian refugees must be agreed upon.
Although the Annapolis agenda is still in flux, current outlines clearly demonstrate a depressingly predictable failure. The core issues—permanent borders, Jerusalem, security arrangements, Palestinian refugees and water sources—will be mentioned in the joint Israeli-Palestinian Annapolis declaration. However, Israel refuses to include, and thus commit, to core principles (such as an end to the occupation) toward their resolution. More than fifteen years after the start of the Oslo process, Israel will not talk about the bottom line.
This week, the Israeli parliament passed a preliminary bill stating that any change to the status of Jerusalem requires 80 of the 120 parliamentary votes. This bill, promulgated by the rightwing and Jewish religious parties, sends a strong message to the weak Israeli government. In addition, this week, Israeli Prime Minister Olmert announced that following the summit, he will demand that Israel be recognized as a Jewish state. This perpetuates the second-class status of Israel’s Palestinian citizens, already erased from the peace process, and threatens the search for solutions for the Palestinian refugees.
Finally, the October 2007 Peace Index Study of Israeli society indicated that a majority of Israelis support a peace process because they view the Palestinians as a security threat. No more and no less. Accordingly, Israel will continue to halt the “peace process” when it judges that the Palestinian National Authority is not living up to its end of the bargain and “stopping terrorism.”
So what will happen when the Annapolis Summit ends in failure? I am very interested to hear ideas on this. On a local level, growing discontent within the Fatah party may explode as party leaders return home empty handed, and voices within the party calling for national unity with Hamas will grow stronger. Fatah leadership will be directly threatened. The chances for a new Palestinian uprising will initially be slim, as Palestinian forces focus on internal divisions.
On the Israeli front, the ineffectual Israeli government cannot be further weakened and another failure will be perceived by politically disaffected Israelis as further proof that ‘there is no partner for peace’. Only a successful summit can topple the current Israeli government.
American Secretary of State Rice said last week that a two-state solution for Israelis and Palestinians was more urgent than ever, due to the threat from “violent extremists in the Middle East.” She was referring specifically to Hamas, Lebanese Hezbollah guerrillas and Iran. If Palestinians do not accept this delusion of self-determination offered by Americans and Israel on 45 percent of the West Bank, they may very well be added to this list. It is our responsibility to resist this distorted reality. Another world is possible and necessary.