Statehood and Decolonization

There are two different ways to think about the bid for Palestinian statehood, which correspond to two different ways to think about the project of Palestinian national self-determination. One is the way the statehood project has historically been presented to Palestinians, and the other is the way that same project has been presented to Israel and to the rest of the world. Only one of these ways pursues goals of decolonization and return.

When speaking to Israelis and the international community, Palestinian leaders speak of their desire to stand side by side in “peace and security” with the Israelis. Palestinian leaders tell Israelis that by accepting a solution based on the ’67 borders, the Palestinians will end all of their claims to the ’48 lands, and respect Israeli sovereignty within its pre 1967 borders. Behind closed doors at Taba, and sometimes more recently in public on Israeli TV, Palestinian leaders cede the Right of Return and recognize that any return of Palestinian refugees to the State of Israel is subject to Israeli approval.

However, when speaking to their own people, and especially to the party faithful, the settlement based on the ’67 border is separated from the issue of the refugees. The right of return is called a “sacred” right, a right which can not be negotiated away. This return would end the Jewish majority in a democratic Israel, enabling Palestinian self-determination on all of their traditional lands not by revolution but election. Founding member of Fatah and Palestinian intellectual Sakher Habash confirmed this view in a lecture given at Al-Najah University in Nablus in 1998 when he called the refugee issue the “the winning card which means the end of the Israeli state”.

It is not easy to tell which of these two ways is actually being pursued at any one time. In fact, since actions of groups can’t be reduced to subjective intentionalities, there is probably no answer as to which is the “real” program.

If we take sides on the Palestinian-Zionist conflict, then we will prefer one of these interpretations to the other, we might even undertake political actions to support one interpretation becoming true. For example, solidarity action and support of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions program against Israeli Apartheid supports the second interpretation, by creating an international movement supporting the rights of individual Palestinian refugees to return. For example, prominent activist in the BDS movement, Ali Abunimah, has taken sides on the question of whether the PLO has a right to negotiate away the right of return.

The domestic Palestinian interpretation of statehood should not be dismissed quickly as internal propaganda. It is based on an interpretation of Zionism as a constant tension, as gaining strength from its conflict with the Arab states and the Palestinian people. This interpretation is similar to Daoist thinking which states that the best way to fight your enemy is to stop treating them as your enemy. The idea in its simplest form is simply this: that if Israel gains peace it will lose its national mind, its racist colonial ideology, and will not be able to resist in the long term the return of the refugees once the issue of the refugees no longer presents it with a threat to its existence as a state.

However, we should not uncritically accept the interpretation of Zionism as a tension. Zionism is after all not only a program for racist ideas but a racist construction – the building of settlements all over historic Palestine is an architectural way to institute the domination of Jewish Israelis in every place of the land. The fact that barely a single Arab town has been founded inside the state of Israel since 1948, while hundreds of new Jewish towns have been created, speaks to the reality that the idea of Zionism is not only existing in people’s heads. Zionism, for Israelis, is not only in their fears, in their ideas, but also in their streets and walls and monuments. Peace with Israel does not mean necessarily the end of Zionism anymore than peace with the indigenous people of Canada means the end of racist Canadian nationalism.

Another reason to critique the view of Zionism as a tension is the material benefit that the so called “Peace Process” brings to the Palestinian political elites who perpetuate it. It is absolutely in the financial interest of the Palestinian national bourgeoisie to cede the right of return and create good economic relations with Israel. They do not need to worry about the refugees – to them the refugees remain a cheap labour pool who guarantee the large size of the reserve army of the unemployed which ensures that wages will remain low.

In the end, which version of the statehood comes true depends on work done by Palestinians and Palestinian solidarity activists around the world. It also depends on the UNRWA and whether the Palestinian “state” will mean the dismantling of Palestinian refugee camps across the region. Perhaps most importantly it depends on the establishment of an anti-colonial discourse which allows us to talk about Palestine not as a problem of competing nationalisms but as a settler-colonial problem.

Even if a Palestinian state is created, Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza strip will most likely continue, except in the nearly unimaginable scenario of Palestinians gaining rights over borders, airspace, and the right to militarize. Without an effective military deterrent, Israel will effectively be able to bomb Palestinians into submission every time any conflict erupts between them. And given the number of radical Israeli settlers and the intensity of their motivation, it would be very foolish to assume that border skirmishes between Israel and a newly formed “Palestinian State” could only be started by Palestinian militants.

This means that even after the creation of the Palestinian state, a struggle for equal rights for all Palestinians under the occupying power could continue. But it is hard to imagine this taking place unless the Palestinian citizens of ’48 and the Palestinian Refugees come together with citizens of the new Palestinian state in a new or renewed organization that sees their liberation as its ultimate goal.

But we should be honest – the struggle does not always continue, especially if the institutions that embody it are co-opted or disbanded. To pursue the goal of decolonization, the ongoing strategy must be to strengthen the liberators and weaken the oppressor, and this means to work on all levels to strengthen the anti-colonial strategy of the Palestinian nationalist movement, while at the same time working to undermine the racist ideology of the state of Israel.

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7 thoughts on “Statehood and Decolonization

  1. Zionism is not an extreme ideology. It simply asserts that just as
    France is a French state rightfully inhabited by the French people
    China is a Chinese state rightfully inhabited by the Chinese people
    Argentina is a Argentinian state rightfully inhabited by the Argentine people
    Israel is a Israeli state rightfully inhabited by the Israeli people

    There is nothing extreme or unusual about Zionists claims. There is no question that when the Huns pushed the Franks from Germany into what is now France, and the Franks pushed the Visigoths into what is now Spain that Spain became the new Visigoth homeland and France the new home of the Franks. We don’t demand that the Spanish return to France, the French return to Germany and the Germans return to Russia. Once a mass migration happens it is dealt with, not lamented and reversed. All Zionism asks is that the mass migration that happened after the Holocaust be treated no differently than the thousands of other mass migration that constructed our current planet.

    What is frankly extreme is the claim that Jewish should be put into a separate category totally unlike any other mass migration, forever. Every human being is the product of hundreds of millions of dispositions going back to the time we were all slime in the ocean. There are no rightfully owners of anything. The closest thing we have to rightful owners left on this planet are the pink anaerobic bacteria you see in stagnant water that are killed by oxygen, or those bacteria two miles under the surface that like salt water saturated rocks. Everyone else has a far worse claim to any land they live on than those bacteria. If you want to return land to its rightful owners, you can’t but that’s the best you are going to do.

    _____

    Of course Zionist “crimes” are necessary. There is a group of millions and millions of people who are unhappy there has been a mass migration into what was their territory and want alter the balance that has been established. Fighting over land is the most common form of warfare in human history for all time. The Israelis are firmly convinced, with good reason, they lose they die. That’s why the Israeli people support a militarized state because they cannot survive the loss of a war.

    In the end the Palestinian people and the Jewish people are going to do what every other group of people after a mass migration does. Decide on how they want to live together. One may exterminate the other, one may push the other out, they may split the land, they may start to freely interbreed and become a single people… That is nothing magical about Jews and Palestinians and this constantly trying to pretend there is something special about this migration is what prolongs everyone’s suffering.

    1. ” One may exterminate the other, one may push the other out, they may split the land, they may start to freely interbreed and become a single people… ”

      So do you think all of these options are equally acceptable? I think you are adopting a form of moral nihilism. Of course there are many possibilities for the future of the Israeli and Palestinian peoples – I hope and act to support the possibility of one based on justice and equal rights. If you argue for withdrawal and not paying attention or trying to improve the situation, you are supporting the one with the most power – and we all know who that is.

      1. No. I don’t think the are all equally desirable. I also absolutely support justice and equal rights and Israel has that (more or less).

        But you are changing the topic. Your claim was that Zionism was some sort of extreme ideology that was committing crimes totally outside the norms of what human societies generally do. That the “crimes” of Israel were unnecessary. Those charges are either true or false. If my position is correct and those “crimes” are in fact fairly typical behavior after a mass migration; far from being especially cruel Israel has been rather ethnical by historical norms in how it is going about trying to replace a deeply hostile population with one that is enthusiastic for the state project. That is a question of historical fact, and what you or I do or do not desire has nothing to do with that objective claim.

        One can still believe that and disagree that Israel should exist, which you evidently do. One can believe for example that while virtually every other group on the planet is entitled to national rights (not just individual rights since you support indigenous group rights for example) such rights should be forever denied Jews. It is perfectly morally legitimate for the Frankish people to have formed France, but illegitimate for the Jews to go through a similar process.

        But believing that Jews are not to be uniquely cursed with no national rights is not the Israelis holding an extreme position. That’s you holding an extreme position. I very much support and hope for the Palestinians to have their human rights, but that in no way means that I believe Jews alone should be prevented from going through the process of forming a state. Zionists aren’t the ones holding an extreme position. Their position is the same as every other nation state on the planet. They will do what they need to defend their territory against enemies who seek to undermine and destroy their nation state.

        _____

        To be honest I think the #1 cause of Palestinian suffering is the fact that they continue to be enemies of Israel. Many of the difficulties of this situation would disappear if they accepted Israel as fact and not something like the near future Israel will cease to exist. Israel has over 100 year period of growing more powerful at an incredible rate, with no apparent serious threats on the horizon. So their is no rational reason for this belief, but to be honest I think by encouraging Palestinian delusions you aren’t helping them.

        Aquitaine was a wonderful country with possibly the most liberal desirable culture in all of Western Europe. Aquitaine does not exist anymore as a country and is just a provence in France. The people of Aquitaine live as French with only a few cultural artifacts of their wonderful state that is no more. They have all their human rights, and they don’t have wars and terrorism with the French because they accept the fact that they are now and forever French.

      2. Actually, the extreme position is to say that Jews are uniquely to be endowed with national rights, while no other religious group is to receive said rights. A standard zionist position is that Jews are the “only” religion which is also a nation.

        Zionism is no more extreme an ideology than many other religious or nationally based instances of violent colonization. The colonization of Canada was much more brutal and destructive of the indigenous people here. But colonization has been recognized correctly as a wrong, and we can stand with those who oppose it and fight for its reversal. In Canada this means a fair deal with first nations, allotting them far greater rights over their resources and beginning to recognize ourselves as the outsiders, as the tenants. In Israel/Palestine, it means recognizing that someone who’s grandfather was born in Haifa has just as much right to live there as anyone in the world who is Jewish or who converts to Judaism. A decent settlement to the conflict must be predicated on rights, otherwise what you are fighting for is the institutionalization of oppression.

  2. Actually, the extreme position is to say that Jews are uniquely to be endowed with national rights, while no other religious group is to receive said rights.

    I know of 0 people who argue that. I’ve never once heard that argued at all by any Zionist ever.

    A standard zionist position is that Jews are the “only” religion which is also a nation.

    I’ve never heard Zionism make this claim. Certainly there are other nations which have nations and states associated with them. The Greek church is a similar situation where there are Greeks living outside of Greece that are a member of the church while inside Greece most people are members of the church.

    But colonization has been recognized correctly as a wrong, and we can stand with those who oppose it and fight for its reversal

    I don’t like the idea of uniting settler colonialism and exploitation colonialism. I think they are two entirely different relationships with separate issues.That being said, I think settler colonialism is a word for migrations that the left doesn’t agree with. I’m not opposed to migrations and don’t think they are wrong. I don’t think Hispanics moving up from Mexico to live in California are committing a grave wrong. I don’t think Muslims moving to Europe are committing a grave wrong. So no I don’t agree settler colonialism is anything more than human migrations and I think human migrations are by and large a good thing.

    I live in the North East of the United States where every neighborhood is characterized by migrations. French and the Dutch moved in, then the English people. They brought over Scots. Then the Germans moved in. Then the Irish. Then the Italians the Poles. Then hispanics and asians. I think these waves of migration are what give America its character, the fact that each group expects their position on the bottom of the socio economic latter to be replaced by another ethnic group as they move up. In my parent’s neighborhood Welsh were replaced by IItalians were replaced by Jews who were replaced by Blacks who were replaced by Hispanics. It is frankly a wonderful sign of hope. I don’t see anything wrong with it, quite the opposite.

    But even if I did grant that migrations are wrong, that certainly wouldn’t mean I’d fight for their reversal. Many wrongs are irreversible after a period of time, migrations being a particularly good example. I don’t like the invasion of the Huns, nor how they pushed out the Franks who pushed out the Visigoths. That doesn’t mean I think we should reverse it and have all the Spanish move to France, the French move to Germany and the Germans move to Russia. What possible good could reversing this sort of migration accomplish that would outweigh the trauma such an event would cause?

    it means recognizing that someone who’s grandfather was born in Haifa has just as much right to live there as anyone in the world who is Jewish or who converts to Judaism.

    Why? My grandfather was born in Odessa. I don’t think I have just as much right to move there as Ukrainian. It is a Ukrainian city and I’m an American. I have the right to move to Chicago or Saint Louis or Cleveland, even though racially I had nothing to do with those cities. I don’t have the right to move to Odessa, even though racially I do have a tie to that city. I don’t believe in racial rights. Ethnic Palestinians born in Jordan or Syria or Iraq are Jordanians, Syrians and Iraqis. And they should be thought of that way.

    Do you really want to try and unscramble all the planet’s races and create racially homogenous homelands for people’s? Why? How far back to we go? Should everyone being living in East Africa since that’s where we all came from if we go back far enough?

    A decent settlement to the conflict must be predicated on rights, otherwise what you are fighting for is the institutionalization of oppression.

    I agree. No one disagrees with that. But the rights you are talking about are rights that I don’t think you actually believe in. We’ll see based on your responses above.

    1. “I know of 0 people who argue that.”

      Ithamar Handelman Smith argues exactly that in the recent documentary “Shalom Belfast”, and it is not the first time I’ve heard it. I know left-wing zionists who say the same thing.

      “I don’t like the idea of uniting settler colonialism and exploitation colonialism.”

      I don’t like the idea of separating these two ideas. See Albert Memi’s “The Colonizer and the Colonized”, or anything by Fanon, or anything by pretty much any Arab or French-leftist on settler colonialism in North Africa.

      “My grandfather was born in Odessa.”

      Was your grandfather ethnically cleansed from Odessa as part of a project of mass transfer of one population to be replaced by another? If so, I would advocate for your right to return to the land from which he was expelled.

      ” I don’t believe in racial rights.”

      Me neither – the idea of a refugee is not a racial descriptor.

  3. I’m going to outdent since I need more than one response post.

    Ithamar Handelman Smith argues exactly that in the recent documentary “Shalom Belfast”, and it is not the first time I’ve heard it. I know left-wing zionists who say the same thing.

    Shalom Belfast is no longer on Youtube, I missed it. Can you give me some sort of Zionist leader? A well known post…? Your claim was this was a general Zionist belief. If this is some fringe belief then it shouldn’t be attributed as an Israeli / Zionist belief.

    I don’t like the idea of separating these two ideas. See Albert Memi’s “The Colonizer and the Colonized”,

    OK first off Memmi doesn’t even use discuss settler colonialism in the sense I was using it above. Colonizer and Colonized is strictly about relationships of exploitation. Memmi is clear that the colonizer is being primarily motivated by economic advantage. The Israelis don’t want Palestinians labor they want them to leave. This is what makes the Palestinian situation so precarious that the Israelis want something that requires so little cooperation from the Palestinians. Totally unlike the situations Memmi was discussing.

    I happen to have a good source for this belief since, Memmi himself was in the 1950s and throughout his life so far is an ardent Zionist. Memi himself in 1973 criticized the PLO in misapplying his ideas and failing to understand his book. His later Decolonization and the Decolonized talks about Israel as well. Memmi’s position was that Arabian Jews were a colonized people, the power relationships he describes, and he talks about in the book, are hostile to Jews. The 1947-9 war for him was a colonial liberation war against a primarily British power that had always had a colonial relationship with the European and later the Arabian Jewish population. The PLO / Palestinians were Arab recolonizers to Memmi.

    So Memmi doesn’t help your case.

    Was your grandfather ethnically cleansed from Odessa as part of a project of mass transfer of one population to be replaced by another?

    Yes. The Russians wanted to get rid of their Jewish population from the time of Catherine the Great, when after the Partition of Poland they picked up a large Jewish population.

    Me neither – the idea of a refugee is not a racial descriptor.

    It is in the case of Palestinians. They are arguing that refugee status is biologically inherited. A belief that is rather unique.

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