Israelis for Palestine

 
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By Dana Moss

Left-wing Israelis do not buy Netanyahu’s scare tactics and look forward to living side by side with an independent Palestine.

Tuesday 4 October 2011

When Israel’s prime minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, landed in New York to attend the UN General Assembly, he promised the Israeli public that he would ”defend a people under assault from those who oppose [Israel's] very existence”.

The government’s sound bites are sending the average Israeli into panic wondering about the exact nature of the existential threat, which Netanyahu alludes to, posed by the Palestinian quest to join the UN.

Yet behind the smoke and mirrors, Netanyahu is trying to prevent the very step that would save Israel – the recognition of a Palestinian state on the borders of 4 June, 1967.

The current government bluster about the implications of the Palestinian UN bid is partly intended to distract mainstream Israeli society from recognising that this a line that the Israeli left has been pushing for the past few decades.

The left – composed of various political parties and a small, though active, civil society scene – encompasses a  spectrum of opinion that is both Zionist and non-Zionist. At bottom, however, it possesses the belief that a two-state solution and a division of the land is necessary to enable Israel to live up to its claims of having a demographic Jewish majority and adhering to a democratic system in which one people do not rule over another.

While it is true that, in the past, left-wing governments contributed to settlement building, in recent years this constellation of left-wing Israeli groupings have taken active steps to oppose such policies.

As a member of the left wing of Israeli society, I want to say loud and clear that we do not buy into Netanyahu’s scare tactics. A Palestinian state next to Israel will be a win-win situation for both our peoples. The lengthy occupation has harmed Israel, endangered its future as a homeland for the Jewish people and eroded the fabric of its society – it is time for it to end.

While opinions are divided as to the real-life utility of the UN bid in effecting change on the ground, it is clear that this Palestinian attempt to seize the initiative is an innovative step to break the current apathy over negotiations which have lasted over 18 years but have not yet culminated in an independent Palestinian state.

The specifics of the current Israeli government’s opposition to Abu Mazen’s initiative smacks of hypocrisy. At bottom, the Palestinian initiative mirrors Israel’s own history and its own attempts to gain recognition at the very same arena in 1948. Much like the Jewish people, the Palestinian are a people with a culture and a history, and they deserve their own state – this should not be patronisingly bestowed by Israel, but is an inherent right.

Moreover, other than the specific arena in which this Palestinian bid is being aired, nothing suggested therein is new. This initiative asks the UN to focus on the territorial aspects of the conflict according to parameters that have, in theory, been agreed to by previous Israeli governments.

The intangibles of the conflict, its more complicated and emotional aspects – the future of Jerusalem and the status of Palestinian refugees – will, as Mahmoud Abbas made clear, be dealt with in direct negotiations. The UN bid will not replace these negotiations.

As a result, this initiative is not intended to demonise Israel as a whole, but, in the words of Abbas, to delegitimise Israel’s occupation. There is little divergence here with the stance of the Israeli left, which has long viewed the occupation as illegitimate.

Netanyahu’s stated opposition to the Palestinian UN bid is based on the straw man argument that it is a unilateral step that bypasses bilateral negotiations. Yet the Israeli left has spent the past two years of Netanyahu’s reign as prime minister opposing his various initiatives to expand settlements, or create facts on the ground – for how can negotiations take place when, simultaneously, the Israeli government continues to expand settlements in East Jerusalem, which has been ear-marked as Palestine’s future capital?

 It is clear to a vocal sector of Israel’s society that Netanyahu is not sincere about reaching a peaceful resolution with our neighbours. Were a different government in place, Israel could have built on the momentum of this declaration to thresh out the remaining issues with the Palestinian Authority. Instead, Netanyahu is busy undermining Abu Mazen – with grave consequences for Israel’s security, as Israel is unlikely to find a more willing partner.

Instead of securing Israel’s future, Netanyahu would rather maintain the support of his own domestic right-wing base and prevent his own political eclipse by Avigdor Lieberman, Israel’s racist and reckless foreign minister. Yet this right-wing base does not represent the whole country.

Other voices are speaking up. These voices strongly oppose foolhardy steps by the US congress to block funds to the Palestinian Authority should it succeed in its bid for UN recognition of a Palestinian state.

That is why, instead of greeting this initiative with the doom and gloom heralded by the government, some Israelis chose to welcome this event with joint celebrations. These include the Israeli-Palestinian group Combatants for Peace and the Israeli branch of the One Voice movement.

Earlier in September, demonstrations took place in front of the prime minister’s residence in Jerusalem, held by the Meretz Political party. Meanwhile, demonstratons took place at major traffic intersections across the country on the day of the UN speeches. 

Veteran Israeli political analysts are speaking up in the Israeli media, with voices such as Zvi Barel proposing further steps for the international community, such as establishing embassies in the West Bank and recognising Palestinian passports.

Polls continuously show that mainstream Israeli society does, at bottom, believe in a two-state solution to the conflict. Netanyahu’s legacy at the UN will be to blind the silent Israeli majority to the reality that Palestine’s bid for recognition at the UN could bring closer those wishes.

As the government won’t say it, I will say it instead: Palestine, alf mabrouk, congratulations. I look forward to living side by side with you.

 

This article is part of a special Chronikler report on the Palestinian quest to seek United Nations recognition.

An Arabic version of this article appeared in al-Sharq al-Awsat on 2 October 2011. Published here with the author’s consent.

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Walking on the moon in Ramallah

 
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By Ben Hartman

As an Israeli and a Jew, Ramallah once seemed to be as distant as outer space. So joining the crowds celebrating the Palestinian UN bid was like a small step for a man but a giant leap for my mind.

Friday 30 September 2011

The scene in al-Manara Square in Ramallah last Friday night was electrifying and fascinating, mainly for the feeling that you were witnessing history, even if it is history that may turn out to be of no consequence whatsoever.

The Palestinian Authority-orchestrated celebrations before and after Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’s speech at the UN went off without a hitch, and for the most part there appeared to be a rather restrained and harmless celebratory mood.

Ramallah first entered my lexicon following the October 2000 lynching of IDF reservists Vadim Nurzhitz and Yossi Avrahami in a police station in the city. The images from that day are still among the most iconic of the second intifada: a Palestinian man brandishing his blood-soaked hands to the mobs below, the battered dead body of a reservist being tossed out of the station window and instantly swarmed, beaten, and mutilated.

Even though that incident was followed by scores of bombings and shooting attacks with much higher death tolls, the lynching remains for Israelis one of the most traumatic events of the second intifada, and for many, a “where were you when you heard” moment.

The fact that the two soldiers died such horrible deaths simply for taking a wrong turn seared into my mind the lethal danger of finding yourself in the wrong place at the wrong time in Israel and the West Bank, and the realisation that such a mistake could result in cruel and certain death in an instant.

Back then, walking on the moon seemed more likely than strolling through Ramallah. The entire West Bank was for me a black hole, no-go zone populated only by settlers, the Israeli army, and Palestinians, all of whom could have been located in outer space for all that they affected my life.
Today, I still wouldn’t walk around Ramallah or any other Palestinian city and say I am Israeli or Jewish, and would make sure no Hebrew passed over my lips. Nonetheless, there seems to be some psychic barrier that has lifted and Ramallah, East Jerusalem, and other Palestinian areas no longer seem to be the sum of all fears 11 years later.

In addition to the almost complete cessation of Palestinian terrorism in the West Bank and within the Green Line, much of my sense of security has come with working in journalism. When I’m working I tend to feel a certain sense of impunity, and that I have an ironclad excuse to be where I’m not known and not wanted. A press card doesn’t make you bulletproof or invisible, but having one does seem to have helped me break down the barrier of fear in my own mind and allow me to walk (somewhat) more freely in places I never ventured before. Along the way, I’ve found myself filling in dozens of my blind spots between the river and the sea, most of them Palestinian, but also Israeli.

At the risk of sounding like an Orientalist, I’ve learned in the past couple years that there is something strangely seductive and fascinating to me about visiting or passing through Palestinian towns and villages in the West Bank. Even the remote and thoroughly boring areas of the West Bank bear an attraction.

It is the realisation that you can drive such a short distance from Tel Aviv and enter what is, with or without the statehood bid, a thoroughly foreign entity, an area that is so completely Palestinian and so entirely not us. It’s also the very real awareness that regardless of how much you may or may not support Israel or identify as a Zionist, that there is, to some extent, a foreign nation within the area we control. In Ramallah, Palestine’s largest and most lively city (other than East Jerusalem) the awareness of this foreign nationality is even more apparent.

I don’t know what I make of the Palestinian statehood bid, and I’d rather not express any sort of opinion whatsoever about who is more to blame for the current impasse. Still, even though Mahmoud Abbas couldn’t bring himself to mention Jewish ties to the Holy Land in his speech before the UN and the Palestinian people, and without being able to predict how the statehood bid will turn out, I’m encouraged by the fact that the Palestinian leadership is pursuing the diplomatic path over violence.

When I think of last Friday, I’ll be able to say I witnessed this particular chapter of the world’s most intractable conflict, a conflict that has left nearly everyone involved almost completely jaded by its routine cycle of violence and failed peace talks. Whatever happens as a result of this chapter, it’s one of the rare international media events dealing with this conflict that (so far) did not include violence or failed negotiations in Maryland.

Last Friday, it felt good to walk on the moon in Ramallah and return to earth in Tel Aviv later that same night.

 

Read more in the special Chronikler report on the Palestinian quest to seek United Nations recognition.

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A civil compromise to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict

 
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By Khaled Diab

With the Palestinian bid to join the UN likely to get them nowhere, there is a more civil way out of the impasse that will give both Israelis and Palestinians what they want.

Thursday 29 September 2011

Is it possible to have statehood without a state? This is the puzzling question raised by the dramatic Palestinian bid to seek United Nations membership which Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas launched with a rousing speech to the General Assembly last Friday.

However, for the Palestinian plan to work requires not only that the Palestinians succeed in acquiring UN membership, but also in mobilising the international community, despite its dismal track record over the past two decades, to bring pressure to bear on Israel.

The likelihood of either happening is highly questionable, as the US threat to veto any possible resolution at the Security Council amply demonstrates. This underlines the fact that the UN bid is unlikely to change the Israeli-Palestinian dynamic on the ground and could even make matters worse.

So, with the two-state solution caught between the rock of Israeli-Palestinian deadlock and the hard place of international dithering, what can be done?

In my view, the space to create two states on the pre-1967 borders has largely disappeared. The upshot of this is that Israelis and Palestinians are effectively living in a single state, albeit one that is largely segregated and in which millions are disenfranchised.

Since questions of statehood seem irreconcilable for the foreseeable future, it is best to focus on tangible ”bread and butter” issues until the situation improves enough to enable an honest and broad public debate on the bigger picture. In short, the Palestinian national struggle should be transformed into a civil rights movement for equal rights. Activists on both sides should join forces to demand full citizenship, the right to vote and full mobility for both Palestinians and Israelis to live and work where they please.

For different reasons, this course terrifies many Israelis and Palestinians. Such worries reflect historical and psychological anxieties, heightened by the maximalist visions of extremists on both sides, more than they do real future possibilities.

Most Israelis currently worry that a single-state resolution would spell the end of Israel as a Jewish state. However the demographic trend – a growing Palestinian population – underpinning Jewish fears will not go away regardless of the outcome. So the question is whether to handle this growing segment of the population justly or unjustly.

With a secular democracy guaranteeing the rights of all, the millions of Jewish Israelis will give the future state an unmistakable Jewish character, albeit one that is part of a melting pot of other identities.

Though the single state is more popular among Palestinians, many are apprehensive that by choosing this path, they will be legitimising the occupation and surrendering their rights. But this process will act as the final nail in the coffin of the occupation as everywhere in mandate Palestine becomes open to Israelis and Palestinians alike, and the future army – drawn from both sides – redefines its role as the protector of all.

Once everyone in Israel-Palestine has become enfranchised, the groundwork will be laid for a truly democratic, grassroots resolution to this conflict. Although the de facto single state may act as only a stepping stone on the path to two independent nations, Israelis and Palestinians may, after years of intense collaboration, decide that their future is best served by continuing to live closely together in one bi-national, democratic, secular country.

Or they may opt for a looser union. In that case, the state can adopt a federated model which affords Jews and Arabs the bells and whistles of statehood, such as separate flags and national anthems. Non-territorial community governments would represent them wherever they live on the land, while issues common to both sides, such as defence and foreign policy, would be decided in a federal parliament.

Or, instead, the equal citizens of this future state may ultimately opt for a magnanimous divorce, though the intertwined nature of their existence on this tiny land may mean that their independent countries are effectively a one-state “light”.

A single democratic state could well be the best option because it ensures that both Israelis and Palestinians, individually and collectively, enjoy unhindered access to the entire land, including the crown jewel for both: Jerusalem. More pragmatically, in Israel-Palestine’s diversity, and the creative energy this promises, lies its most unsung and under-utilised strength.

This article is part of a special Chronikler report on the Palestinian quest to seek United Nations recognition.

This article was first published by The Common Ground News Service on 27 September 2011.

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Egyptian in the holy land

 
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By Khaled Diab

As a rare Egyptian in Jerusalem, I have felt something akin to being a B-list celebrity.

Tuesday 27 September 2011

The Dome of the Rock. ©Khaled Diab.

Loathe thy neighbour is the unwritten rule which, despite exceptions, generally governs the relationship between Arabs and Israelis. Despite living together on the same land, few Israelis and Palestinians interact on a personal level. And with travel restrictions and the political baggage of mutual hatred, fear and distrust, there is little traffic between Israel and the rest of the Arab world.

Even between my native Egypt and Israel, which have had a peace treaty for almost as long as I’ve been alive that, at least in principle, allows mutual travel, few venture across the border in either direction.

So, what made us decide to come here?

In 2007, I visited Israel and Palestine to express solidarity with the Palestinians and extend a hand of understanding and empathy to Israelis, and partly to learn more about the socio-cultural reality behind the geopolitical situation which I’d been interested in and writing about for years.

Since then, I’ve toyed with the idea of returning to spend a longer sojourn. My wife, too, has a profound interest in the country – not only is she an Arabist, she has also researched creative ways of breaking the deadlock in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. So when my wife was offered a job in Jerusalem, and with the portable nature of my profession, we jumped at the chance.

Despite the outright opposition or reluctance of most Egyptians to travel here, family, friends and acquaintances have been generally positive about our move, even in light of worsening bilateral ties, especially following the deadly terror attack launched from Sinai and Israel’s violent, sovereignty-defying retaliation which sparked anger on the streets of Cairo, culminating in the trashing of the Israeli embassy.

“I admire what you’re doing,” a good Egyptian friend said. “But personally I couldn’t do it. I have too many moral objections and I don’t think I could cope with the occupation.”

Nevertheless, some Egyptian friends have expressed excitement.

“Damn, spring in that greenish, dynamic city. Sounds like a wow to me. Cuisine, lingos, music… and tension,” another close Egyptian friend enthused, though he did express concern about the “anti-Arab, anti-Muslim or anti-Egyptian” sentiments that I might encounter.

Fortunately, until now, my main experiences of discrimination have been at the hands of officialdom, the army and the police, but rarely on the individual level, at least explicitly. In fact, in places where Israelis and Palestinians are thrown together by accident, such as the controversial light railway in Jerusalem, they tend to be polite and respectful to each other.

When paths cross in Jerusalem. Photo: ©Khaled Diab

“Wow” is perhaps not the word that first crops up in my mind when describing Jerusalem – “surreal” seems more appropriate. For an agnostic whose only interest in religion is social, political and historical, the spirituality – and fundamentalism – of the city holy to the three Abrahamic faiths is somewhat lost on me. Although I’m of a Muslim background, the Dome of the Rock complex fails to shake my soul, even during the intense spirituality of Ramadan. That said, its architectural grace is sublime, as is the artistic beauty within the Church of the Holy Sepulchre – while, to the unspiritual eye, the Western Wall is, as its name suggests, just a wall.

But it’s not just the historical and spiritual backdrop; there are also the conflicting realities of one’s mundane domestic routines carried out in a bubble of relative tranquillity amid the wider context of tension caused by decades of conflict and a rapidly changing geopolitical situation.

Although my previous visit had already convinced me that Israeli society has so much in common with the rest of the Middle East, despite its greater individualism and non-conformism, the Egyptian in me still cannot fully overcome the sense of strangeness of the experience. And, even in my short sojourn here, I have encountered such a diverse array of the weird, wonderful and eccentric – including Palestinians who expressed qualified admiration of Theodor Herzl, the founding father of Zionism, and Israelis who criticised him harshly – as well as the good of heart, not to mention the bad and the ugly of intent and action.

Here the political encroaches on the personal with sobering regularity. For example, choosing where to live, shop or hang out raises constant ethical conundrums. The neighbourhood we live in is surrounded by settlements, which, if you lack knowledge of the political topography, you might mistake for well-off suburbs, while the nearby refugee camps resemble the popular quarters of many Middle Eastern cities, though they are walled in on all sides.

With the movement restrictions they must endure, it is often hard to meet up with Palestinian friends and acquaintances. Given the segregated nature of the city, many Jewish friends and acquaintances are reluctant – or even fearful – to come to east Jerusalem, though some do, while those from Tel Aviv and other more secular parts of Israel really don’t like visiting because of the city’s increasingly theocratic vibe.

An Orthodox neighbourhood of Jerusalem. Photo: ©Khaled Diab

Ever since we arrived in the unholy mess of the Holy Land, we have felt quite conspicuous, with our particular Middle Eastern-European blend drawing speculative glances from Israelis and Palestinians alike, obviously trying to work out whether we’re one of them or the other side or just tourists. Also, our toddler son, with his blond curls and his mother’s delicate features, disarming smile and socialite swagger, is treated like a rock star wherever we go.

As an Egyptian, I have felt something akin to being a B-list celebrity myself – you know the type whose name no one knows but they’re certain they’ve seen before. Given that so few Egyptians travel to Israel or Palestine, most of the Egyptians Palestinians “meet” are through films, pop music, soaps and talk shows – which seems to endow their more mortal compatriots with a certain glamour and mystique, even if they can’t act, sing or dance.

Despite the criticism my presence here elicits from some Egyptians, Palestinians themselves usually express pleasure that a fellow Arab has come, and they are always eager to know what I think of their society and my take on the situation.

In trouble spots in particular, I am made to feel especially welcome. For instance, quite a few people in Hebron, and especially the shopkeepers, where over 1,000 shops have been shut down in the Old City to accommodate 400 or 500 settlers, told me, “We’re so glad that an Egyptian has come to see for himself what we have to endure.”

In fact, the uprising in Egypt has enhanced the “street cred” of all Egyptians in the eyes of Palestinians. Since we arrived, I have received endless congratulations for the revolution. Even while out researching an article in a tiny Palestinian village effectively cut off from the outside world by settlements, the locals I met got sidetracked from talking about their own plight to wax enthusiastic about the achievements of the Egyptian people.

“You Egyptians have raised the head of every Arab,” Mohammed Barakat, a local lawyer, told me.

Quite a few Israelis have also been inspired by events in Egypt, despite the fears elicited by Mubarak’s downfall among politicians and in mainstream society. “[The Arab Spring] has made me more eager to dream that the borders will open one day,” Mati Shemoelof, an Israeli journalist, poet and activist told me over drinks. “And I feel that we can only learn from this fabulous, new, brave movement.”

And as if to confirm his point, Israel has subsequently been gripped by protests over soaring housing prices, centred on Tel Aviv’s Rothschild’s Avenue, which has been described by some commentators as the country’s own “Tahrir Square”. I recently headed to the Israeli Tahrir to attend the largest demo so far – and probably the largest in Israel’s history – and was impressed by the vibrancy, creativity, diversity and good-naturedness of the crowd. An Israeli I know was keen to find out if I thought the protests compared favourably to those in Egypt.

 Generally, being Egyptian carries a different significance for Israelis, who tend to feel isolated and rejected in the region. And so, when they find out that I’m from Egypt, they are often pleasantly surprised even confounded, such as during the protest in Tel Aviv where I was perhaps the only Egyptian in the crowd.

 “But why do Egyptians never come here?” is a common question I get. “We were so hopeful after the peace treaty that we would become normal neighbours,” a leftist artist once said regretfully.

After explaining the reasons, I often turn the question around and ask Israelis why so few of them go to Egypt, despite the desire of many Israelis I have met to be accepted as normal citizens of the Middle East.

Israelis not only fear the intermittent terrorist attacks that target tourists, they are also unsure of the reception they will receive from Egyptians, with many apprehensive that they will face such indiscriminate hostility that they may simply be mobbed on the street by angry crowds.

However, Israelis I have encountered who have actually been to Egypt have returned with generally positive stories to tell. For example, Ofir Winter, a post-graduate student specialising in Egyptian politics at Tel Aviv university, attended the annual Cairo book fair and not only thoroughly enjoyed the debates and seminars, but was also pleasantly surprised by how Egyptians reacted to him.

“I recall that the warmest welcome I got was in a Salafi book store,” he told me. In fact, so enthusiastic was the welcome that one of the workers tried to convert him, “but in such a tolerant, delicate and kind manner that I could not dislike him,” Winter explained.

And if an Islamist and an Israeli can hit it off so well together, there is hope for the future yet. In fact, I am whole-heartedly convinced that the most under-utlised yet powerful weapon in the peace arsenal is dialogue and joint action across enemy lines that mobilises the massive “silent” majority.

This is demonstrated by the fact that, despite the bickering of their leaders, not only do 80% of Palestinians support the Palestine’s controversial application for UN membership but, surprisingly, so do 70% of Israelis, a recent joint poll found. That said, few Palestinians or Israelis I meet hold out much hope that this latest “game changer” will change the game for the better.

But walls of suspicion stand in the way of greater joint action. “We don’t feel the majority of Israelis care enough or are interested in our plight to do anything about it. Besides, there isn’t enough mutual trust,” one young Palestinian activist told me.

“The Arabs I deal with in my activism are both sympathetic and suspicious of Israelis,” Shemoelof says, noting that the anti-normalisation movement is a great hindrance to joint action.

Although I agree that Arabs should not normalise their economic ties with Israel until a just resolution has been reached, I believe that there is much to be gained for the cause of peace if like-minded Arabs and Israelis come out of their trenches and join forces to build some common ground in the no-man’s land which separates them.

This essay was first published by The Institute for War and Peace Reporting on 26 September 2011.

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Palestine@UN: From national to civil rights

 
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By Rachel Lever

As the two-state solution enters its final death throes, it is time for campaigners to switch their demands to equal rights in a single democratic state.

Thursday 8 September 2011

Mark Twain once asked, on hearing news of the death of a less-than-dynamic American politician, “How did they know he was dead?” What we are now asking about the two-state solution is: how will we know it is dead?

The formula of two states for two peoples has been so dead for so long that it has been dubbed the “undead”. Nevertheless, the powers-that-be will never declare the death of the two-state solution.  

Israel’s establishment will not do it because it has been a brilliant cover for the acquisition of the West Bank and the throttling of Gaza. The Palestinian Authority will not do it because their status and salaries depend on it. Washington will not do it because they think their votes depend on it. Israel’s “peace camp” will not do it because their illusions depend on it. And most Palestinians will not do it because they feel that a state, however limited and nominal, is their only hope of getting some control over their destiny.

UN tactic to resurrect the undead 

As for the UN recognition tactic intended to resurrect the two-state option, it might gain Palestinians a better bargaining position for a separate state. But this bargain would cost the Palestinian refugees the right to return to their homes, and leave Palestinians inside Israel open to further ethnic cleansing. 

And how many of the countries that will vote for recognition have committed themselves to supporting Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) to isolate Israel until it ends its military rule over the new “state” they’ve just voted to recognise and until it fulfils the provisions of various UN resolutions? Has the PA even asked them to apply such sanctions? 

Kick-start without the kick 

The UN bid did seem to promise a bit of a departure from the tired old business-as-usual negotiations. It was still a two-state compromise, but its highlight was to insist, and get it voted on at the UN, that Palestine’s territory consisted of nothing less than the pre-1967 borders with East Jerusalem (as it stood pre-1967) as its capital. 

 Israel was, of course, dead set against this, and also hated the short-circuiting of negotiations and the bad behaviour of its prisoner appealing to the UN over its head. 

Now this has apparently been junked, Haaretz reported, and the whole concept drastically watered down in a new draft “crafted” by the Fatah leadership. Now, instead of recognising Palestine within the 1967 borders, it will say that the permanent borders will be determined by, yes, you guessed, negotiations with Israel “based on” the borders of 4 June, 1967. This is the position the negotiations were at five years ago. 

The idea is to make the resolution so feeble that even the United States and Israel could vote for it. So after all the excitement, what is the point of it at all? 

Another revealing comment from the Haaretz report noted that: “This approach made it possible to enlist the support of leading moderates in Hamas, who claim that recognition of the 1967 borders before the signing of a final-status deal means waiving the claim to the right of return.” So their only worry was that it would be given away cheaply at the start of the process rather than sold for a price at the “final status” point.

The two-state roadblock

This dead, useless and hazardous project to repartition historic Palestine stands four-square in the way of a perfectly feasible political solution that reunites the country based on universal human rights, an equal democracy, multicultural tolerance, and reconciliation. All of which could add up to real and lasting peace. 

This whole, complete and single state would have no internal borders. It would need no high-profile evictions of dangerous, armed and militant settlers (who have just vandalised an IDF base as a “price-tag” for losing three houses); no security arrangements, and no “population transfers” or land swaps. Palestinian refugees could be welcomed back to help build a new society. Jerusalem would be a united city, liberated from shameful ethnic cleansing and the racist rewriting of its history – house by house and street by street. 

Those who say this is impossible because of racial or communal hatred are simply pandering to such hatred. All evidence shows that separation, and unjust separation especially, serve to inflate fear and hatred.

A constitution created jointly would guarantee the most beneficial rights, and respect and nurture of the variety of identities, because its joint authors will insist on them on behalf of those they represent. Equality means what’s “good for the gander is good for the goose” – no exceptions, no double standards. 

The new country would no longer be a Jewish state. But it will still remain a very Jewish country in the best sense, finally able to reclaim Judaism’s core values that command us to respect “the other”. 

To ensure that the state will treat all cultures and faiths equally, there has to be strict separation of “church and state”. This principle has been tried and tested over hundreds of years in secular democracies, and withstood strong organised religion, even where one faith is dominant. 

A country with two strong faiths would have cast-iron defences for its constitution. In Israel and Palestine and among potential incomers, exiles, and expats, only a small minority is known to favour any state-enforced religion. It is not credible that such a constitution could be overturned if it required a massive, popular, across-the-board majority of all communities in a referendum. 

By far the strongest guarantee is that all the people would have an equal stake in the new state, and an equal interest in making it work and isolating rejectionists and extremists on either side. And a one-state solution is fast: work to create a merged society could start very quickly, transforming the political landscape from day one. Many joint projects will have been created as part of the struggle and ahead of formal transition. Some exist now, already forging strong bonds.

Anyone can see that the two-state train has been sitting up against the buffers for decades now, with the one-state express stuck behind it. The big problem has been opening up the line to let the fast train through.

A common scenario outlined by a number of historians, politicians (including Israel’s former prime minister Ehud Olmert) and Israel’s own leading think-tank Reut is that once the two-state option is closed off, Palestinians will start to demand civil rights in one country. 

Ethnocracy or democracy?

Israel calls itself Jewish and democratic, and obsessively seeks to maintain this strange hybrid by fiddling the franchise so that it will always have a massive ethnic majority. Its  complicated and flexible “apartheid” system, helped by the zones set up in the Oslo “peace process”  allowed it to take the West Bank land but leave the Palestinians there without a vote, which means they effectively live in a military dictatorship.

But if the zones and borders are taken away, all this will be in full view, and Israel will be left with the choice of Jewishness (by openly denying the franchise to people who share the country) or democracy, which will end the present guaranteed ethnocracy, whose establishment and maintenance have called forth massive and continuing ethnic cleansing. Already, the issue is up for debate, as a new quasi-constitutional Basic Law has been tabled under which, if there is a choice, democracy must lose out. 

Choosing democracy

A grassroots Palestinian movement demanding an end to zones and borders, and waving the banner of equality under one law and universal franchise, could drive a wedge into Israeli thinking, separating those who choose democracy from those who prioritise Zionism. 

The universalism of this demand makes it far more powerful than national demands which are, after all, stuck behind their national boundaries. Civil rights slogans can penetrate into the liberal hearts of the majority ofIsrael’s Democrat-voting American Jewish outriders, weakening Israel’s lifeline lobby in Washington. 

Civil rights demands can get under the skin of the fervent old Zionist peace campaigners who thought the two-state solution would return Israel to its supposed days of innocence before 1967. And they can make big inroads into Israel’s mass movement that is campaigning for social justice – but only on its side of the Green Line. 

Switching the points: from statehood to rights

In any other context, a demand for the right to vote would be obvious. But here it is a demand to vote in national elections for the Knesset, in what amounts to de facto (if, hopefully, temporary and transitional) acceptance of Israel in its current form.

So switching the points and turning the struggle around from demanding statehood (however nominal and symbolic) to demanding votes in the occupier’s state will not be easy.

Israel’s adamant and threatening opposition to the UN vote has made the compromise of 22% of historic Palestine look like a great act of defiance. Whereas the truly radical demand, for an equal share in and equal right to all of Israel-Palestine, looks uncomfortably like the ultra-Zionist demand for annexation. 

 A civil rights movement could also help to create a new, elected and accountable Palestinian leadership that stands its ground and speaks with one voice, and which might appeal across the national divide not by compromising and cringing but by expressing the inclusive and anti-racist values that are already gaining ground in the grassroots struggles. 

There may not be a better time than the September UN vote to declare that with the blocking of statehood comes the final death of the two-state solution, and to start the turn from a national territorial struggle to a fight for  one person, one vote, one law, for no borders and no more barriers.

At a time when a brave minority of Israel’s J14 protests, such as Tent No.1948, are trying to connect the “social justice” demands and concerns with the Palestinian struggle, what better way to start a one-country civil rights movement or party than to raise the same demands for social justice from the other side?

Ideally, the organisations that have questioned the value of the UN bid will now get together with others and put out a joint call immediately after the vote, titled, in the words of Palestinian lawyer Noura Erakat, “Statehood blocked: equality struggle ahead”.

This article is part of a special Chronikler report on the Palestinian quest to seek United Nations recognition.

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Palestine@UN: Too few cooks spoil the peace

 
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By Maryam Darwich

The asymmetry in power between Israelis and Palestinians and the exclusion of key players mean that the quest for UN recognition of an independent Palestine is like the icing on an uncooked cake.

Thursday 8 September 2011

September 1993 marked what many at the time described as a revolutionary breakthrough in Israeli-Palestinian negotiations. It was the month that saw the sealing of the Declaration of Principles – commonly known as the Oslo Accords – between the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO), represented by Yasser Arafat, and the Israeli state.

On the 18th anniversary of the failed accords, analysis has focused on the role of the potentially significant United Nations recognition of an independent Palestinian state. The real question, for those interested in conflict resolution, is not whether the UN recognises Palestine but to what extent have things changed since Oslo? Have the ‘spoilers’ of the peace process learnt from the lessons of Oslo? Has the environment in anyway changed to create a context that is more conducive to resolving the conflict?

Essentially, has the situation really changed to allow for the current diplomatic initiative to transcend legal rhetoric and elite jubilance and deliver significant change for those living, day in and day out, this conflict?

Looking at peace processes broadly, especially seemingly successful ones, such as the Northern Ireland case, the essential elements for success are inclusiveness, accountability and an environment that limits spoiler success. Spoilers are actors who attempt to derail the peace process for their own interests.

So did the Oslo recipe include these vital ingredients?

Oslo could in no way be described as inclusive. An elected Israeli government representative could be described as representative of the Israeli people but on the other side of the negotiating table sat Arafat and his clique. Despite it being described as a negotiation with the PLO, the umbrella group representing Palestinian factions, the reality was far from the case. 

The Palestinian side was Arafat-centric and, despite claims that the PLO was a representative of the Palestinians, the context in which they came to the negotiating table was one of a bedraggled, increasingly irrelevant group of people who not only physically but mentally were moving away from those whose cause they were representing.

The condition in which the PLO went into negotiation has been described as one of desperate need. Booted out of Lebanon, pushed into Yemen and Tunisia, lacking significant Arab state support following the PLO’s backing of Saddam Hussein during the 1990 Gulf war, not to mention the collapse of the Soviet Union, one of its major funders, all contributed to the organisation feeling very alone and isolated.

In addition, within the occupied territories, groups such as Hamas and Islamic Jihad, later to become some of the key external spoilers to the conflict, had begun to gain ground. Islamic Jihad formed as a radical splinter group of the Muslim Brotherhood and, alongside Hamas, played a role in igniting the first intifada. Yet, the two groups were excluded from the Israeli-Palestinian talks.

 This dismissive attitude towards militant groups was a hindrance to the peace process. And it is this continued ostracisation of important, even if controversial and questionable, groups that limits any future chance of effective conflict resolution. That said, the recent Fatah-Hamas unity deal in Cairo, although labelled as a setback for peace by the Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, certainly forces an important, even if undesired, extra actor to any future negotiating table.

By comparison, the Good Friday agreement in Northern Ireland ensured inclusiveness from the outset through the participation – later democratic – of extremely opposing groups and potentially militant movements who were offered a non-violent platform to express their grievances and work towards democratic mobilisation of the masses.

Oslo, on the other hand, not only closed opportunities for participation in the early days but also failed to open up the spectrum for participation gradually. By centring the Palestinian side of the negotiations on an individual and his tightly knit group, it left no room for others to get involved. In addition, the responsibility and title the Oslo process bestowed on the PLO representatives encouraged them to close off the political system to other players. This has not only led to the rise of Hamas in the Gaza Strip, but also the clear creation of an authoritarian regime, in the guise of the Palestinian Authority, led by Fatah.

As the late Edward Said once put it: “After years of being the victims of Arab and Israeli repression, Palestinians have finally earned the right of a repressive system of their own.”

Israel’s insistence on only negotiating with one party has closed the system off to the development of a more representative group of Palestinian negotiators. To this day, negotiations do not take place with those that the Palestinians feel represent them but rather the group, or more commonly the individual, that Israel and the United States deem should represent them. With such a chasm between the masses and the elite, the perfect gap is created for spoilers to do what they do best: spoil the process.

Essentially, a successful attempt at resolution of this conflict would see the Palestinians experiencing improvement in their daily lives and Israelis feeling more secure in their own homes. Unfortunately, Oslo set the tone for an environment of very little positive change, which gave the spoilers on both sides the perfect opportunity to wreak havoc with very little accountability.

The extremely violent, uncompromising, fervent settler communities of the occupied territories are never going to be satisfied with any compromise with the Palestinians on the issue of the land that they feel is rightfully theirs. An example of the actions of their most extreme fringe was the attack carried out by Baruch Goldstein, a resident of the Hebron settlement, who walked into the Ibrahimi mosque and shot 29 Palestinians as they prayed. The reaction from the Israeli state was to increase the number of IDF troops on the ground and impose a curfew on Palestinians to protect the settler community.

This incident continues to reverberate in the minds of Palestinians to this day. Hebron itself has come to be remembered as one of the biggest tragedies of the Oslo agreement. “For the sake of the 500 Jewish settlers, everyday life for the 35,000 Palestinians, who resided in the same area, became a living nightmare”, according to Ghada Karmi(???), and continues to be so.

What became clear after Oslo is that “the Israelis with all their military power cannot extinguish Palestinian aspirations and the Palestinians with all their anger [...] will not force the Israelis to submit,” Dennis Ross, Bill Clinton’s special Middle East coordinator, once noted.

What was needed to contribute to a more peaceful coexistence was an understanding of leadership constraints. It is the case that both the Israeli and Palestinian leadership today fail to understand key traits of leadership, especially since they feel their position to be extremely vulnerable. Leaders make decisions, which sometimes anger or disappoint their constituency, and so they sometimes must pay the price with their own career. But no leaders on either side show that level of daring.

The desire for many Palestinian political actors to act as the symbol of Palestine makes the political elite lack a clear strategy, something which is desperately needed. Israeli leaders also lack a clear vision for peace, while the current leadership has a clear anti-peace agenda.

Binyamin Netanyahu, during the Oslo years and now, “showed hatred and bitter animosity towards the Palestinians”, according to the British-Israeli historian Avi Shlaim. This meant, in the words of Ron Pundak of the Peres Centre for Peace, that Netanyahu “sabotaged the peace process relentlessly and made every effort to de-legitimise his Palestinian partners”. The re-election of a leader with such a track record indicates that few lessons have been learnt.

Finally, whilst the Israeli-Palestinian conflict certainly fits the bill of being an intractable conflict, it is not one based on an equal stalemate. The reality of the asymmetrical nature of the conflict makes any negotiations, in themselves, a paradox, as the actors are unlikely to feel the harm of the conflict equally.

Asymmetry is evident in the nature of the relationship between the two sides: the relationship of the occupied to the occupier based on a history of power and military successes for Israel in the face of one loss after the other in the eyes of the Palestinians.

In such an environment, “when a peace process is being conducted between two utterly unequal parties in the context of a deeply asymmetric power relationship, the role of the third party becomes critical”, argues Sumantra Bose of the London School of Economics. Essentially the issue of asymmetry can only been resolved if a neutral third party is present, one that would balance the negotiating table.

The involvement of the United States in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has been largely unsuccessful and Washington has taken no steps to change the conflict into some mutually beneficial arrangement. Whilst the United States appeared to act as a neutral party in brokering peace in Northern Ireland, it has traditionally been biased towards the Israelis.

The perception among Palestinians and their supporters is that the US just provides Israel with a cover for its violations on the ground. Washington’s approach is perhaps unsurprising, given that Israel is the largest beneficiary of American military aid, a strategic Middle Eastern ally and the protégé of the influential pro-Israel lobby. This leads to Palestinian resentment to brew against the foundations and the hypocrisy of the entire process.

So whilst reactions have been positive rhetorically, it is understandable why many in Palestinian society are sceptical about what positive changes a UN vote would actually bring.

In the case of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, not only are common external spoilers a threat, but those heralding peace and compromise have had a destructive impact. There is little intent from the Israeli government to follow through with promises and no one to hold it to account. Moreover, the blatant asymmetry between the Palestinians and Israelis is exacerbated by a biased broker and a self-interested approach to conflict resolution that, unfortunately, lead to any confidence-building efforts to become mutually destructive.

Combined, these factors make any potential UN recognition just the icing on an uncooked cake.

This article is part of a special Chronikler report on the Palestinian quest to seek United Nations recognition.

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Palestine@UN: Last chance for the two-state solution

 
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By Labeeb Baransi

If the UN bid fails to resurrect the peace process, Israelis and Palestinians will be left with no choice but to find other ways to live together.

Tuesday 6 September 2011

The Palestinian Authority’s unilateral decision to go the United Nations is, in my opinion, one of the last available means of keeping the two-state solution alive. If this bid fails and perhaps even if it succeeds, the PA will be left with little choice but to disband itself.

This may sound like political suicide. But what other options are there? Since the Oslo accords were agreed, both parties have tried numerous times and ways to keep the peace process on track but to no avail. It is true that some were more interested in a process rather than an end result. Nevertheless, the current deadlock is one that was anticipated by many right from the start due to the complexity of this unrealistic two-state solution.

What the PA can achieve by going to the UN – apart from, at worst, a US veto or, at best, a General Assembly vote similar to resolutions 181 and 242 – is still very much unclear. Even if the General Assembly recognises a Palestinian state, the reality on the ground, based on experience, is unlikely to shift beyond the status quo.

Doubtlessly, a positive vote will be considered to be a victory, by both the PA and the Palestinian people. However, in my opinion, this will be the start of yet more hardships for the Palestinians. UN recognition would, once again, highlight the illegality of Israel’s presence in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, which would be seen as a major political setback by the Israeli PR machine. This may lead Israel to punish the Palestinians collectively for the political decision that the PA has taken by, for example, withholding wages and tax revenues, and more.

And it is then that the PA will really have no choice but to dissolve itself. By this stage, it would have literary tried all the possibilities in and out of the book, yet still ended up in the same situation, that of basically helping to run the occupied territories on behalf of Israel, but much more cheaply and conveniently than Israel could do directly.

As the saying goes, it takes two to tango, and so both Israelis and Palestinians have to understand that unilateral moves only create complications. However, this one-sided move will almost certainly be the last card to be played by the PA and so, despite my reservations about unilateralism, I find my self agreeing to it.

Palestinians have tried armed resistance under Yasser Arafat’s leadership and unlimited compromise under Mahmoud Abbas’s. Yet both approaches have had the same net result: the same limitations hampering the Palestinian people from living normal lives. Hence, it is becoming clearer to a growing number of Palestinians and Israelis alike that a two-state solution is one that will be impossible to reach a compromise on.

Now it has become a matter of waiting: we will wait until this UN move succeeds in changing nothing. After which, we will wait again for the PA to take the courageous step of ending its respected-yet-failed project of providing the Palestinians with their long-deserved right to live as full citizens in a state of their own.

Looking ahead and beyond September, I believe that the true political process will only begin with the end of the PA. This is when reality will hit back and tell both people: “Hey, you have nowhere else to go and nothing else to do but to live together in peace”. This will push both parties to educate their populace about this unavoidable fact.

With time, and yes it will take time, people will finally grasp the idea that neither side is going to drive the other into the sea or the desert, and that we are not going to kill one another till the last man is down. And so let us live and let live.

This article is part of a special Chronikler report on the Palestinian quest to seek United Nations recognition.

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Palestine@UN: a Palestinian Masada?

 
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By Sohair Mohidin

Are Palestinian plans to go to the United Nations a case of passing the political hot potato, reinventing the Oslo process or a hopeless last stand?

Tuesday 6 September 2011

The Palestinian initiative has succeeded in one thing so far: it has stirred up controversy and grabbed the world’s attention despite the intensive media coverage of the ongoing Arab revolutions in Libya, Syria and Yemen. An intensive battle is now taking place in the media because Palestinian plans to seek UN recognition are of political and symbolic value more than anything else – which is fitting since the Palestinian Authority has no capacity to influence reality under occupation anymore. 

Palestinian officials seem to have no real strategy behind this call except the vague hope of reviving or reinventing the Oslo process, as illustrated by a document prepared by the former chief Palestinian negotiator, Saeb Erekat, which expressed the hope that this move would facilitate future dialouge with Washington. 

However, on the ground, UN recognition will not free Palestine from the occupation and will not restore or honour the historical rights of Palestinians. Nevertheless, with the situation in deadlock, the Palestinians are not left with much other choice but to pass the hot potato of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to the international community in another form. 

But is it about passing the hot potato again to its cook or is it about exposing, before the mirror of global public opinion, the naked ineffectiveness of the international community, especially the US administration, to broker a just peace deal? Is the Palestinian initiative a symptom of impotence or is designed to question impotence? 

It could simply be a way for Palestinians to reject the “siege” Israel has been inflicting on them through a series of measures aimed at aborting the peace process and making the world believe that Israel has no “partner for peace”. This siege in all it forms – whether through hindering negotiations, increased settlement activities, the “apartheid” separation wall, or the daily humiliation the Palestinian people are subjected to by the Israeli occupation – could be likened to a “new Masada” in which Palestinians are pushed into a suicidal last stand in September, in their only remaining “fortress”, the United Nations. 

But why is going to the United Nations suicidal? Because so far there’s no clear vision of what kind of state or lack of awaits the Palestinians the day after. There are also questions about the legitimacy of this state. “Who, though, is the state, and what are the democratic links between those who will represent the state at the UN and the people of Palestine? An abstract entity – a state – is proposed, but where are the people?” is the alarming question posed by Guy Goodwin-Gill, a professor of public international law at Oxford University, in an interview with al-Jazeera.

 So why go there? Perhaps it is an attempt to win the media battle.

In February 2010, the images of young Palestinians disguised as characters from the film Avatar during a protest against the separation wall in Bilin caught the attention of the international media and spread virally via the social media platforms. In the world of modern mass communication, the image speaks, provokes and can act as a mobilisation multiplier, as is being demonstrated by the ongoing Arab revolutions.

The current “tent protests”, which have brought together Israelis of almost all political stripes, have effectively acted as another way to force the “siege” on the Palestinians and contribute to their state of despair. Not only do Palestinians lack a peace partner in most Israeli governments of the past 18 years, but they were also disappointed to realise that the Israeli civil society protesting against the socio-economic policies of their state – which Dan Senor glorified in his book The Start-Up Nation – managed to exclude their rights, especially in the early days of the movement.

Why did the largest social movement in Israel’s history succeed in ignoring Palestinian rights including those of Palestinian-Israelis? It also failed to include the least criticism of Israel’s occupation policy, and even announced clearly from the beginning that there was no room for politics in these demonstrations.

However, one political party, the Democratic Front for Peace and Equality, which represents a large number of leftist Palestinian-Israelis and Israeli-Jews, took the wise step of joining the movement when they realised the risk of being excluded. Tents were pitched in some Arab villages and cities, such as Nazareth and Haifa, where Arabs and Jews came together to campaign for equal rights, justice and peace for all. This was the first time that Arabs were included in the mobilisation.

Perhaps successive Israeli governments succeeded in dehumanising the Palestinians in the Israeli collective mind. Nevertheless, there are voices of dissent, such as Akiva Orr who considers the tent demonstrations are only the beginning of the end of young Israelis being “political fodder”, as he put it in a recent commentary he made on J14. “Give them time and many will become anti-Zionist. One cannot be weaned in a week from what one embraced uncritically for many years at home, in nursery and school.”

But can the Palestinians afford this “time” for Israelis to wake up? Can Palestinians continue to afford the impotence of the international community while they continue to live under siege and in deadlock?

Whether or not Palestinian can afford the time, they do possess an abundant supply of hope. As late Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish put it in his poem, State of Siege, Palestinians are affected by an incurable “disease called hope”:

We do what prisoners do
We do what the jobless do
We sow hope

Nevertheless, Israelis, together with the international community, should realise that, under these circumstances of change in Israel and the energising regional context of Arab revolutions, the Palestinians can no longer afford to sit idly by and watch their boat of hope sink, day after day, in the maelstrom of the status quo.

This article is part of a special Chronikler report on the Palestinian quest to seek United Nations recognition.

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Special report: Palestine@UN

 
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Photo: ©Khaled Diab

In September 2011, the Palestinian leadership plans to go to the United Nations to seek recognition for an independent Palestine on the pre-1967 borders in the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem. What will this bid mean for Palestinians, Israelis and the international community? Will this diplomatic initiative succeed or fail? Will this unilateral move serve the cause of peace or fan the flames of conflict? Will it improve the situation on the ground or make it worse? Where should happen post-September and where do we go from here?

Throughout the month of September and beyond, The Chronikler’s Palestine@UN special report features Palestinian, Israeli and other interested and knowledgeable voices who air their views on the significance and ramifications of the Palestinian quest to seek UN recognition.

This page will be regularly updated with the latest articles on the subject, so do check back regularly.

Articles:

Israelis for Palestine

4 October 2011 – Left-wing Israelis do not buy Netanyahu’s scare tactics and look forward to living side by side with an independent Palestine.

Walking on the moon in Ramallah

30 September 2011 – As an Israeli and a Jew, Ramallah once seemed to be as distant as outer space. So joining the crowds celebrating the Palestinian UN bid was like a small step for a man but a giant leap for my mind.

A civil compromise to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict

29 September 2011 – With the Palestinian bid to join the UN likely to get them nowhere, there is a more civil way out of the impasse that will give both Israelis and Palestinians what they want.

From national to civil rights

8 September 2011 – As the two-state solution enters its final death throes, it is time for campaigners to switch their demands to equal rights in a single democratic state.

Too few cooks spoil the peace

8 September 2011 – The asymmetry in power between Israelis and Palestinians and the exclusion of key players mean that the quest for UN recognition of an independent Palestine is like the icing on an uncooked cake.

A Palestinian Masada

6 September 2011 – Are Palestinian plans to go to the United Nations a case of passing the political hot potato, reinventing the Oslo process or a hopeless last stand?

Last chance for the two-state solution

6 September 2011 – If the UN bid fails to resurrect the peace process, Israelis and Palestinians will be left with no choice but to find other ways to live together.

From the archives

Egypt and Israel: cold peace or cold war?

Egypt, Israel and Palestine: towards the promised land of peace?

Race against space

Which comes first: Palestine or the Palestinians?

Reinventing the Palestinian struggle

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