By Dr. Abdul Wahid
This week Mahmoud Abbas visited New York to apply to the United Nations for it to recognise the Palestinian authority as a fully-fledged member state.
Well meaning supporters of Palestine have been encouraging people to support a petition demanding statehood; while more seasoned campaigners, who have seen many tricks played by the PLO over the years, are more realistic and consequently more critical of Abbas’s lofty rhetoric.
The ‘state’ Abbas is calling for is less than 20% of historic Palestine, and would effectively concede the remaining land to Israel as well as legitimising and formalising the occupation of its borders. It would be a state that looks more like an archipelago surrounded by zones of hostile occupation instead of clear blue water ; but neutered of all ability to maintain its own security and vital interests. It would be a ‘state’ in which there would no home for the millions of disposed Palestinians living in exile.
Abbas is not unaware of this weak position, which why he and his cronies are viewed at best with suspicion – and at worst as outright traitors. The Palestinian Authority has already said that it is not going to the UN in order to de-legitimise Israel. Yet it and the regimes in the surrounding states are willing to maintain the charade that they are fighting for justice for the Palestinian people. In truth their moves have done little to help the people of Palestine, and in fact are ultimately self-serving. For the Arab states contending increasingly hostile public opinion success at the UN would allow them to wash their hands of an uncomfortable issue. Hence, they are all willing to support an action that seems to do more to help Israel achieve the legitimacy it has craved for 60 years than anything else – even relieving it of having to deal with the difficult issue of ‘right of return’.
Whether a unilateral Palestinian action or the two-state process championed by the United States, the Quartet, the United Nations, the Palestinian Authority, the Arab League, the Arab Regimes and the Turkish government, the result would merely formalise the subjugation of the Palestinian people in a meaningless entity formally recognised as a ‘state’ by the United Nations. It is only Israel that remains sceptical about the conditions of this two-state model.
Why the urgency?
There can scarcely have been a time in sixty that Israel has been in a weaker position. Which begs the question: why the urgency to settle the two-state model? Israel’s main sponsor, the United States, is a diminished power - militarily overstretched, struggling economically. And after sixty years of pressure from external powers, trade agreements, favoured aid status, and the suppression of public opinion, the people in the region remain unconvinced that they should accept the Israeli occupation of Palestine. The region has to contend with Arab public opinion. The escalating anti-Israel feeling venting itself in Cairo is proving difficult for the regime to keep up with – and has become infectious with people in Jordan and Turkey also wishing to express their deep seated antipathy to the Zionist occupation.
It has been against this background that Western powers have been struggling unsuccessfully to get Israel to concede on settlement building over the past few years so that negotiations towards a two-state solution could proceed. With George Mitchell, Joe Biden and Barack Obama all rebuffed, the move to raise the issue to the UN maybe something the United States will formally veto – but it is still something that will assist in its endeavors to secure a settlement – something Obama is desperate to achieve to offset growing public opinion in the west that Palestine is an unsolved problem that has geopolitical implications.
That aim of Obama’s seems further away than ever with increasing vocal opposition to Israel across the Middle East.
Settlement, statehood and justice
However, as stated before the settlement that is being pursued is not a just settlement – and that is one of several reasons why this issue will not go away, and why Israel’s position will remain untenable.
What is clear is that over sixty years – despite attempts to make this a “Palestinian” issue or an “Arab” issue, it remains an Islamic issue. The constant interest within Turkey is a proof of this. But go further to Pakistan, Bangladesh, Indonesia or elsewhere, and what can be seen is that Muslims who have a modicum of understanding about Islam’s views on occupation of land – and the blessed land of Al -Quds [Jerusalem] at that – know that anything short of liberating the region from occupation [that is the 1948 occupation] and unifying the land to pre-1917 borders is the standard that is needs to be eventually achieved. To resist occupation is a general principle founded in Islamic law, but it is shared (unsurprisingly) by other people in the world who refer to other values systems – whether post-Westphalia ‘international’ law, or the liberation theology of the Catholic church. However, in today’s world, if such as call for resisting occupation conflicts with Western interests it is labelled ‘terrorism’.
Yet beyond the Islamic sentiments of the people, the historic injustice of the usurpation of the land, the dispossession of 750 000 people at the end of the British Mandate, and the increasing levels of injustice and oppression from Israel have been clear for all to see. Within the past few weeks alone we have heard about the killing of Egyptian security personnel by Israel,; more killings by Israeli air strikes in Gaza and a UN report that confirmed Israel had used unreasonable force against the Marvi Marmara .
Israel’s supporters outside the region say it is an island of democracy in the region. It is a democracy that has produced an arrogant ‘state’ that justifies indefensible actions ; a fundamentally racist state, that was once a close ally of apartheid South Africa; a system that has persistently escalating internal political corruption across all political factions ; a democracy that boasts growing levels of organised crime. It appears in several aspects to carry all the same rotten features of its protector and major ally in the international arena, the United States (the foremost “democratic” nation today).
The supporters of Israel maintain that its legitimacy comes from a United Nations mandate – a mandate that was created by the victorious powers in World War Two. But there was far from an overwhelming opinion that Zionists had a right to the land at that time; or that the Balfour declaration was a result political calculations by Britain World War 1 for its own interests.
All of these factors and more mean that the Israel project is and always was unsustainable. Which is why the question: What can work in the region in order to bring much needed stability and peace for all people?
Palestine needs liberation, not only resistance.
The resistance by the varying groups within the occupied region has been immensely important – and has gone a long way to preventing a normalisation of the occupation. The military rebuffs of Israel in Lebanon and Gaza have proved that this is by no means an invincible power. But resistance does not equate to liberation. Indeed, resistance groups in Palestine are subject to the political will of state’s like Syria and Iran that have – until now – not been willing to offer sustained support to allow these groups to continue resisting indefinitely. Instead, we have become used to seeing the resistance start and stop in waves according to the political dictates of these regimes. And resistance by ill-equipped people with limited organisational structure could not expect to succeed against a powerful army, with the latest military hardware, where virtually every Israeli has to be a soldier, and additional recruits are shipped in from an overseas diaspora to bolster numbers.
Liberation could only hope to succeed when the occupying force was met by some degree of equivalence – and requires either political will from the existing regimes (which will not be forthcoming) or the evolution of the Arab revolutions until a government does emerge that is willing to commit its troops to defending the people of Palestine.
Smearing calls for liberation
Any calls for liberation and the abolition of the Zionist occupation are always portrayed in the most negative terms by the defenders of Israel. They exploit Europe’s criminal history towards the Jewish people, where Zionist political propaganda equates any such calls for supporting the people, liberating the land and changing the system that is established over the region, with a second holocaust.
The Islamic vision for the region does not equate to this. It equates to removing a military occupation so that the people who live in the region can live in peace. And the qualification for living in peace is not based on race or religion – but on rightful citizenship versus occupation.
The reality of Israel and the need for an alternative vision
Those who exclude an Islamic solution are ignoring Islam’s jurisprudence and history. The only period in which the region know as the ‘Holy Land’ has seen prolonged periods of peace and harmony was under the Islamic system. Moreover, the Islamic rules on how non Muslim citizens are to be protected and given rights are very clear. Indeed, it is a well recognised fact of history that many Jews who were persecuted over the centuries were given refuge in the Ottoman Caliphate, and some migrated within the borders of that state to find their way to their historic holy city.
If it is peace people want regardless of religion and race, then the status quo is not merely unsustainable – it is undesirable. And if it is justice and security and security that is needed, then no solutions on the table should be ignored, caricatured or demonised – no matter how radical they sound.
That is an uncomfortable situation for Zionists. But for everyone else – Muslim, Christian or Jew – it should be the starting point when looking at an alternative future.
Dr. Abdul Wahid is a regular contributor to New Civilisation. He is currently the Chairman of the UK-Executive Committee of Hizb ut-Tahrir in Britain. He has been published in The Times Higher Educational Supplement and on the websites of Foreign Affairs, Open Democracy and Prospect magazine. He can be followed on Twitter @abdulwahidht or emailed at [email protected]