ODVV interview: Israel will only change its...
The Israeli-Palestinian conflict has endured for over seven decades, through numerous failed peace attempts and negotiations, violent encounters and deadly sectarian clashes. No conflict in the modern world has incited as much controversy as the conflict between the Israelis and Palestinians that was born in 1948 and has been raging on ever since. The UN Under-Secretary-General for Political and Peacebuilding Affairs Rosemary DiCarlo told a recent Security Council meeting that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is “locked in a dangerous paralysis that is fueling extremism and exacerbating tensions” as the prospects for peace seem to bleaker than ever.
The April legislative elections in Israel saw a victory for the right-wing Likud Party and its chairman Benjamin Netanyahu, who is the Prime Minister. However, Netanyahu failed to form a governing coalition, the first such failure in Israel’s history, and as a result, snap elections were scheduled for 17 September. Many observers are of the view that Netanyahu is a major obstacle to the achievement of a two-state solution that ends the 50-year occupation and recognizes both Israeli and Palestinian national rights.
Israel’s continued domination of the West Bank is viewed by several world countries and the UN as an unlawful military occupation. Moreover, its settlement constructions in “Palestinian territories occupied since 1967, including East Jerusalem” were censured by the Security Council 2334, which labeled these activities as a “flagrant violation” of international law that have “no legal validity.” The settlements are also believed to violate the Fourth Geneva Convention.
Consecutive US Presidents have tried, and often failed, to settle the disputes between Israel and Palestine. President Donald Trump, for his part, has come up with the notion of a “deal of the century” to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The economic dimensions of President Trump’s plan were unveiled during a workshop in Manama earlier in June. The big deal disproportionately prioritizes Israel’s interests over Palestinian rights and ignores fundamental principles of international law, and it’s no surprise that different Palestinian parties have dismissed it.
Greg Shupak is the author of The Wrong Story: Palestine, Israel, and the Media. He has a PhD in Literary Studies and teaches English and Media Studies at the University of Guelph in Toronto. His fiction has appeared in a wide range of literary journals and he regularly writes analysis of politics and media for a variety of outlets including: Electronic Intifada, Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting, The Guardian, In These Times, Jacobin and Salon.
Organization for Defending Victims of Violence has arranged an interview with Dr. Greg Shupak to discuss the details of the United States’ deal of the century, Israel’s efforts to normalize its relations with the Arab nations, debate surrounding the BDS movement in Europe and North America and the future of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The following is the text of the interview.
Q: Manama, the capital of Bahrain, hosted the two-day “Peace to Prosperity” workshop on June 25 and 26 organized by the United States. The economic aspects of President Donald Trump’s “deal of the century” were discussed during the event. The Palestinian parties, however, boycotted the conference. Do you think the Trump administration will be able to successfully deliver this deal, given that different Palestinians factions have not shown any interest in it?
A: The Trump administration absolutely will not be able to win the consent of the Palestinian people to the so-called “deal of the century.” The Palestinians have maintained a steadfast commitment to their liberation and right of return for over seventy years and they’re not about to surrender all of that in exchange for a bit of cash. At most, the Trump government might be able to buy off a handful of extremely rich people in the Palestinian business class but thus far even that has not happened. While the Palestinian masses initially had some optimism about the Oslo Accords, the population came to see them for what they were – “the Palestinian Versailles” in Edward Said’s memorable phrase – and the Second Intifada was partially about resisting Oslo. Expect an even swifter rejection of the “deal of the century” if the US and Israel eventually find some pliable members of the Palestinian elite to try and impose it on the population though, as you say, thus far they haven’t been able to find even that.
Q: Israel has embarked on efforts to normalize its relations with Arab and Muslim governments. What is behind Israel’s diplomatic endeavors to forge closer ties with Arab states, most notably Saudi Arabia and the UAE? Do they have any incentives to maintain friendly relations with Israel?
A: Israel’s aim is to, as The New Yorker reports, “diminish the Palestinian cause as a focus of world attention and to form a coalition with Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates to combat Iran, which had long supported Hizballah in Lebanon and Hamas in Gaza.” Saudi Arabia no doubt regards Iran as responsible for the apparent victory of the Syrian government and its allies in the war in Syria and in fact the Iranian-Syrian partnership is a key reason that the Saudis supported armed anti-government groups in Syria. The Saudis and UAE—alongside the US, Canada, and UK—are also doing their best to eviscerate Yemen and see Iran as responsible for the Yemeni resistance to the outside aggression. Saudi Arabia’s proxy in Bahrain was almost lost and they see Iran as having been an important part of that. The Saudis want a compliant government in Lebanon but view Iran as getting in the way of that through its strengthening of Hizballah. Furthermore, Saudi Arabia brutally oppresses its Shia population and regards Iran as a force that emboldens Saudi Shias.
Yet the Israel-[Persian] Gulf friendship is not only about politics but also an economic system in which the ruling classes of each country enrich themselves at the expense of the Palestinians, Yemenis, and exploited peoples across the region. The UAE is understood to have bought military equipment from Israel and Israeli-manufactured ordnance has been used in the attacks on Yemen. The prospect of further lucrative ties to Israel helps explain why the undemocratic governments of the [Persian] Gulf are racing to embrace Israel without regard for Palestinian liberation.
This all takes place under the auspices of US leadership and must be understood accordingly. After all, the US is the world’s sole superpower and it’s the US that is the patron of Israel, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE, and not vice versa.
Q: West Bank and the Gaza Strip are gravely suffering from deep economic crises and unemployment. In 2018, the unemployment rate in Gaza reached 52 percent. What is the responsibility of the international community regarding the undesirable situation of these regions? Will the occupation of the West Bank and the siege of the Gaza Strip make the economic growth in these regions possible?
A: I assume that by “international community” you mean states, NGOs, and international governance bodies – typically those operating within the US-led empire of capital – as this is how the term is typically used, so I will answer on that basis. UN agencies routinely issue scathing condemnations of Israeli practices so these are useful because they document Israeli crimes and can help dent the Orientalist and anti-Palestinian propaganda narratives that are so pervasive in the West. Organs of the UN such as UNRWA also help keep Palestinians alive and provide some social support. However, UNRWA, and the UN generally, are not liberation movements so they don’t aim to provide Palestinians much more than basic humanitarian support.
Most of the states generally understood to make up the core of the “international community” – the US, Canada, Britain, Germany, the rest of EU – are directly responsible for the problems facing Palestinians. Israel could not do what it has done and is doing to Palestinians without the outside economic and political support it receives, especially from the US. In that respect, I don’t think that asking about the responsibility of the “international community” is the right question; it is a central cause of the Palestinians’ problems so I have hard time imagining that the “international community” could be part of the solution.
The states that are agents of Palestine’s destruction, as well as the institutions that either serve as their soft power organs or lack a mandate to do anything more than provide Palestinians with bare life, are incredibly unlikely to play a meaningful part in improving conditions in Palestine. I say this because, to answer the second part of this question, the occupation and colonization of the West Bank and siege of Gaza are the reasons for the economic problems in these territories. Those challenges can only be surmounted by addressing their root causes, which are colonialism and imperialism and, to put it mildly, undoing colonialism and imperialism isn’t the object of this so-called “international community.”
Q: Palestinians have raised different demands on different occasions as their preconditions for agreement with Israel. These demands include the independence of the Palestinian state, recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of the Palestinian state and the right of return for the Palestinian refugees. Do you think the peace plan put forward by the US government can fulfill these expectations? Will Israel ever agree to granting Palestinians such rights?
A: The US’ “deal of the century” does not offer the Palestinians any of these things. In fact, reports suggest that it will give huge sections of the West Bank to Israel. This is a logical conclusion of past US-brokered “peace” initiatives that have denied Palestinians their legally protected right of return and never offered them a viable state. Israel certainly will not decide on its own to grant Palestinians these or any other important rights because the Israeli ruling class has long seen Israel’s existential purpose as securing the maximum possible amount of land inhabited by the minimal possible number of Arabs. Israel will only change its approach to the Palestinians if it is forced to do so by a combination of Palestinian resistance and external pressure, crucially in the United States because without the US’ lavish support Israel would not be able to do what it does.
Q: How has the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement (BDS), which has gained momentum in some countries and is also being debated in the United States, practically affected the policies of Israel with regard to the Palestinian people? Federal laws in 26 US states punish companies boycotting Israel. Do you think such legislature are compatible with the principles of the US constitution on freedom of speech?
A: I think it’s hard to concretely measure BDS’ practical effects on Israeli policies towards Palestinians. However, Israel spends exorbitant amounts of money trying to combat the movement, which strongly suggests that it is having an effect or is likely to have one. Cracking down on BDS quite plainly violates the right to free speech. The United States’ constitution, as well as many of its courts’ rulings, protect free speech even for those who advocate abhorrent things, for example, neo-Nazis who advocate murderous racist tyranny, whereas BDS does the opposite in that its premise is a refusal to participate in murderous, racist tyranny. Countries such as Canada, where I live, take less of a free speech absolutist position and have laws against hate speech. By that criteria, BDS is also perfectly sound as it is speech explicitly against hate, namely that which is entailed in violently oppressing and dispossessing a people, in this case the Palestinians.
Q: Before coming to power in 2017, President Donald Trump had pledged to secure an ultimate agreement between the Israelis and Palestinians. For this purpose, he picked his son-in-law and adviser Jared Kushner, who has no experience in diplomacy and Middle East affairs. Kushner was in charge of running the Manama event. Do you think the United States is currently capable of functioning as an effective and independent intermediary in establishing peace between Israel and Palestine or is it better that another government or international organization such as the European Union takes charge of it?
A: The US is not some neutral arbiter on Palestine-Israel. Rather, it is a party to the conflict in that it is Israel’s sponsor. However, the EU is not a suitable mediator either. It has rarely offered more than mild criticism of Israel’s extraordinary human rights violations and many EU states have extensive ties to Israel; Israel is an associated state of the EU while Palestinians do not have equivalent status. The EU exists to serve capitalism and imperialism and these are the very systems that have allowed the colonization, repression, and murder of Palestinians to take place, so I cannot conceive of how the EU or any comparable existing institution will resolve the question of Palestine. That task falls to peoples’ movements inside and outside of Palestine.
Q: What will be the elements of an all-encompassing solution or agreement that settles the dispute between Israel and the Palestinians and removes the specter of this seven-decade-old conflict from the Middle East?
A: I can’t predict the future but I can tell you what I think is most likely to create peace with emancipation and that’s a single binational, democratic state across all of historic Palestine based on a principal of one person, one vote for everyone regardless of their ethnicity or religion. Ethnic partitions rarely lead to durable, just solutions to political problems. I hesitate to be too prescriptive here since I do not live in historic Palestine and have no familial ties there so I am not about to tell the many Palestinians who support a two state solution that they are wrong. However, I cannot conceive of a settlement of Palestine-Israel that doesn’t include realization of the Palestinians’ right to return, equal rights for Palestinians living in what is currently the Israeli-held side of the green line, an end to the siege of Gaza, an end to Israel’s military occupation of Gaza, the West Bank, and East Jerusalem, as well as an end to Israeli land theft and housing demolitions in each of these territories.
Q: In December 2017, the US President Donald Trump announced the US recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. Trump’s announcement was repudiated by a majority of world leaders. How do you think this decision will affect the balance of power between the Israelis and the Palestinians?
A: Recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital was an attempt to further institutionalize Israeli domination of the entirety of historic Palestine and to grant it legitimacy. It was a way of signaling to the Palestinians that they better accept that crumbs offered to them in the “deal of the century” because the US is dropping even the pretense of being an honest broker. In this sense, the move helps Israel’s positon but I am not sure that it significantly changes the power imbalance since that has already been completely asymmetrical for a long time. Israel, a nuclear armed state unwaveringly backed by the global hegemon, controlled all of historic Palestine for decades before the US declared that Jerusalem is Israel’s capital. What the Jerusalem gambit does is make unambiguous that the US, and hence also its junior partners around the world, regard Israel as a valuable component of their empire and thus cannot be counted on to achieve justice for the Palestinians. Fortunately, the Palestinian struggle and those in solidarity with it around the world have the capacity to shape an alternate future.
By: Kourosh Ziabari