What’s wrong with “Compromise”?

Compromise does not motivate actors, or encourage them to become engaged. No one gets excited about incremental progress – that’s why activist politics is dominated by revolutionary ideologies, if people are going to commit their time to something, they want not just to remedy the thing that they detest, but overturn it and bring about a new era.

Finkelstein is right that BDS is secretly anti-zionist. Why shouldn’t it be? No international pro-Palestinian movement can sustain its own supporters if it kowtows to liberal zionism, and supports Israel’s supposed right to continue the dispossession of the refugees by military force.

There is a fundamental tension in the ground and application of all political revolutionary movements – they always intend a radical overcoming of the situation they turn their attention towards, but they almost always result in some kind of compromise, the old leaders negotiate with power that exists and the result is a kind of altering of the status quo just enough to pacify the majority of those who demand things are overturned, while not offending too much the old guard to the point where their protest creates total intransigence which inevitably spurs on radicalization of actions on the part of those who oppose the situation.

The apparently mutually exclusive truths are not mutually exclusive but emanations of different but equally real forms of temporality. The radical lives in the temporality of redemption – the historical error of the past must be undone by an overturning of the situation, not necessarily a return to an idyllic past, but an undoing of a crucial wrong from its root upward. The politician, the policy person, they live in the temporality of the eternal now – the time of endless hypocricy, of incremental improvement, of the necessity of evil, of the necessity of forgiveness not based in compensation or redemption but in forgetting.

Abu Iyad once said that what he feared the most was the prospect that treason would become policy and accepted by everyone as patriotism. This statement can be understood in the context of this difference between two experiences of time – when the time of redemption is replaced by the everyday time of normalization and the acceptance of hypocricy, a time underpinned most of all by the experiencing of forgetting and dismissing the past as irrelevant, and of the project of redemption as impossible. And it is impossible within that experience of time.

So we should not be surprised at all by yesterday’s article in the Jerusalem Post by a young Palestinian from Hebron, who claims that the quiet revolution in Palestine today is one of the youth increasingly de-politicized, increasingly un-committed to their right of return, and increasingly peaceful and secure in their belief that today Israel can no more kick them out of their homes than they can kick the Israelis into the sea (never mentioning the fact that Israeli house demolitions of Palestinian homes remain a regular occurrence – including the recent plan to destroy the entire community of Susya, a strange thing to overlook because it’s near Hebron where this Palestinian lives).

A common refrain you hear in the territories is “the good people die, the traitors stay alive, the young people forget”. And so is the way of compromise – not a new way forward, not a new Palestinian aspiration, but the absence of aspiration – the erosion of the Palestinian revolution, the acceptance of submission and unequal rights. We should see this process as part and parcel with the de-politicization process which has been so successful in North America over the past half century. A key question here is – does that mean that the way forward for Palestinian politics includes western style big-tent “occupy” politics, like Israel’s ‘social’ protests? And what would the relationship between “occupy” style politics, which is characterized by the lack of focus, cohesion, common goals, and traditional Palestinian revolutionary politics, characterized by a consensus on revolutionary anti-Zionism. Personally, I don’t believe that a goal-less grassroots politics, a politics which obscures the question about the Palestinian right to the homeland, the rights of refugees to return, which both effectively come down to the right of Palestinians to wrest political control from the Zionists on the land of Palestine. This is no longer a consensus amongst Palestinians, but because their de-politicization is a new rather than old phenomena, I doubt North-American methods for confronting it based on a common disillusionment could be effective.


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