All eyes were on Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu this past weekend. Would he rise up to President Obama’s level and accept a Palestinian state, or would he pander to his right-wing settler allies and reject a just peace? Unfortunately, he has chosen the latter.
Netanyahu, however, bought himself some time and cover when he uttered for the first time the phrase ‘Palestinian state.’ This ‘acceptance,’ as touted by friendly journalists, is deeply misleading. Netanyahu’s idea of a Palestinian state is a misnomer. It is the one outlined by the Likud platform, to be located as he said in “Judea and Samaria,” terms that carry specific meaning for the settlers.
There was nothing new in Natanyahu’s speech, for the “Palestinian state” he referred to is no different from a colonial protectorate — a throwback to 19th century imperialism — as outlined in the Likud party’s platform:
(a) “Settlement …The Likud will continue to strengthen and develop these communities and will prevent their uprooting….”
(b) “The Palestinians can run their lives freely in the framework of self-rule, but not as an independent and sovereign state. Thus, for example, in matters of foreign affairs, security, immigration and ecology, their activity shall be limited in accordance with imperatives of Israel’s existence, security and national needs….”
(3) “Jerusalem is the eternal, united capital of the State of Israel and only of Israel …”
Rejection of a Palestinian sovereign state is however not an exclusive policy of the Likud party. Labour takes the same stand, but a more sophisticated approach and politically correct language has blurred the reality. Sometimes the truth comes out, as when Foreign Minister Peres said on American television that a full statehood for the Palestinians is a dream (September 29, 1995); or when, during an interview by CNN, Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin explained that the negotiations will lead to “…a Palestinian entity, less than a state, that runs the life of Palestinians. It is not ruled by Israel. It is ruled by the Palestinians. This is my goal, not to return to the pre-Six Day War lines but to create two entities, a separation between Israel and the Palestinians who reside in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. And they will be different entity that rules itself.” (Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs, September 30, 1995).
Even this subordinate non-state Palestinian state seems too much for extremist settlers who are now well organized into a vocal and military force in Israel, and count many supporters abroad including in Canada. Settlements are considered illegal and viewed as obstacles to peace by the International community. They represent the most conspicuous element of the military occupation, the reason for so many of the measures that control Palestinian lives and cripple their economy.
Obama’s number one request to stop the settlement expansion in the Occupied Palestinian Territory has been ignored by Netanyahu; rather he promised to continue growing the illegal colonies. Netanyahu’s stance demonstrates that there is currently no Israeli partner for peace, not only because of his recent words but also because of ongoing actions by Israel including:
*the closure of the Gaza Strip as well as the ongoing, paralyzing access and movement restrictions that hamper economic and social life for Palestinians in the West Bank;
*house demolitions that threaten 300,000 Palestinians with homelessness;
*torture or ill-treatment of Palestinians in Israeli interrogations;
*human rights violations, including those committed during the most recent offensive in Gaza;
*lack of cooperation with the UN Fact-finding mission on Gaza headed by Justice Richard Goldstone.
In case Palestinians would accept the unacceptable, and pandering to the right-wingers, Netanyahu added a condition that goes even beyond the Likud platform: Palestinians must recognize Israel as a “Jewish state,” as if the character of a state should be decided not by its citizens — assumedly Jewish but also Christian, Muslim, Atheist, Deist etc. — but by outsiders.
In ‘Why do we insist on a ‘Jewish’ state?’ A.B. Yehoshua challenges the use of “Jewish” in the context of the Israeli state: “… even if there was not one non-Jew within Israel’s territory in 1948, it would not have occurred to anyone to name the new state “Jewland, or Judea, and certainly not Zion (another name for Jerusalem). Furthermore, the name “Jew” comes from the tribe of Judah, which pertains to one of twelve sections of the land that was populated by Jews during the time of the second temple, but for some reason this partial name came to describe the entire people.” (Haaretz, June 10, 2009)
Furthermore, Yehoshua finds: “the phrase ‘Jewish state’ and the religious association it evokes forces the non-Jewish citizens to emphasize their own religion in protest, be it Islam or Christianity, in order to establish their own separate identity. While the name ‘Israeli state’, whether accompanied by the word “democratic” or not, evokes a closeness and partnership with this country.”
In his Cairo speech on June 4, 2009, President Obama stated that action be taken on “principles of justice and progress.” This assumes a legal framework as expressed in international law, something that is sorely needed in the region. For Israeli settlers and their supporters, the sheer mention of applying the rule of law to the conflict is deemed dangerous for Israel. Posters calling Obama “Anti-Semitic Jew-hater” have made frontpage news recently.
In fact, attacks on Obama started even before he was elected President, accusing him of not supporting Israel enough, of being Muslim — outrageously, a slur for some – anti-semite and more. These vicious and personal attacks have become louder and unrelenting in right-wing and settler quarters ever since he took the position that settlements must be frozen, with a U.S. rabbi stating that “Obama Breeds Climate of Hate Against Jews” (June 10, 2009).
Will Obama’s commitment to bring peace to the region survive the pro-settler orchestrated attacks and translate into a change of the current landscape where accepted norms of behaviour actually become the norm; where the conflict is seen through a comprehensive prism that includes Palestinians and other Arabs, and not one where Israeli needs have exclusivity?
Will the Canadian government and political leaders look through this Obama-created new prism and start promoting “human rights for all” vs. “security for Israel only” –- a policy that not only fails all the people of the region but is also not aligned with Canadians’ keen sense of all-round justice and fair-play?
Bahija Réghaï is a well-known human rights activist, former president of the National Council on Canada-Arab Relatons (NCCAR).