Longtime activist Norman Finkelstein is alarmingly pessimistic about the situation of the Palestinians.
In a recent article in the Newleft project (and in a series of speeches at UK universities), Finkelstein argues that if there is a Kerry mediated peace deal, it is likely to be a catastrophe for the Palestinians.
He thinks the current Palestinian leadership and the international movement to support Palestinian human rights are sleepwalking towards the cliff, drunk with their own rhetoric about how the campaign to isolate Israel is gaining strength. In fact, he argues, it is Palestine that is weaker, more divided and more isolated than ever.
“It’s possible (but still far from certain) that US Secretary of State John Kerry will inflict a historic defeat on the Palestinians. Yet, as disaster looms, Palestinian negotiators praise Kerry as an honest broker and pray for his success, while the Palestine solidarity movement proclaims one victory after another in its campaign to isolate Israel. What’s going on? How did it come to pass that we now stand at such a perplexing juncture?” Norman Finkelstein
To read Finkelstein’s complete article.
Finkelstein is very knowledgeable and has paid a heavy personal price for his unstinting support of the Palestinians over the years.
There are many things in his thoughtful analysis that I completely agree with, including the prediction that if there is a deal, it will be one that is extremely unfavourable to the Palestinians.
But I think he is wrong on 2 basic points.
Finkelstein argues that the main reason Kerry is pushing so hard for a deal is to protect the Obama/Kerry “legacy”. In order to get their place in the history books, he argues, Kerry and the USA are willing to use their enormous resources to push the PA to accept any deal, and are frustrated that the Israelis are making this difficult.
Legacy may well be the personal motive for Kerry/Obama, but if a deal is signed, it will cost the USA billions, and will have to be approved by Congress, which will not approve it in order to pretty up Obama’s legacy. If Congress approves the deal, it will be because a majority of Congressmen feel it is in America’s interest to do so.
In my view, a much more convincing argument is that the USA is increasingly anxious to get out of its position of being seen as the hypocritical supporter of Israel. This is both a political and a military problem for the USA, and they want to be rid of it.
Secondly, I think Finkelstein’s panicky pessimism is misplaced. It does reflect the increasing pessimism of many supporters of Palestinian human rights who still hope that a ‘good’ two state solution would be good in itself, (and could even be a stepping stone for resolving future issues.)
- the PA, and the thousands of Palestinians who depend on the PA for jobs
- the liberal Zionists, because as the chances of an independent Palestinian state evaporates, automatically the chances of a Jewish State also evaporate
- Many Palestinian human rights supporters in Canada and the USA who mistakenly believe that the biggest problem between Israel and the Palestinians is the occupation (it is a problem, but not the biggest one by far.)
(One example of this pessimistic view was reflected in a recent article in “Rabble.ca”, claiming that the Palestinians are approaching “extinction”.)
Danger yes – but pessimism no
In summary, I think the situation is actually very positive.
The Palestinians are not nearing extinction. And Israel is increasingly isolated.
The USA, which has been Israel’s key supporter since 1967, is finding that supporting Israel is costing it more and more diplomatically (e.g. all the UN votes on this question in which the USA is increasingly isolated) and getting the USA less and less. And at a time when its key strategic interests are moving ito Eastern Europe and the Pacific, supporting
Today there are more Palestinians than ever before in history living in historic Palestine. At the moment of the Nakba there were about 1 million Palestinians. Today there are more than 8 million Palestinians living inside Israel, in the West Bank, in Gaza and in the refugee camps less than 100 km from Jerusalem. They speak Arabic, they eat Palestinian food, they sing Palestinian songs and dance Palestinian dances. They are not nearing extinction.
If the PA signs a peace deal, give the massive pressures it faces, it will no doubt be a poor deal indeed. It is unlikely to bring any justice to the Palestinias. It could bring about the end of the PA, and the so called “peace process” but will not be the end of Palestine.
Comments are most welcome. Especially from those who disagree.
Peter, thanks for this. The occupation not the biggest problem? Then what is? The refugee numbers? Or …?
The occupation is certainly very bad. And we should oppose it absolutely. But in terms of “severity” and in terms of “volume”, the situation of the Palestinian refugees is much worse, and nobody is speaking for them.
There are about 2.4 million Palestinians in the WB. There are over 5 million refugees. Bad as the conditions are in Nablus or Hebron, they are arguably worse in Syria, Lebanon and Gaza.
I think that the Canadian movement to support Palestinian human rights is unwisely focussed on “ending the occupation” while all but ignoring the situation of the refugees.
For more on this, you might want to take a look at my earlier blog post “is the BDS movement being sidetracked?
Peter, I believe that Finkelstein’s analysis did not talk about the danger of cultural or political extinction of Palestinians. As I understand, this was in the second article that you mentioned. He talked about a specific political defeat that likely to happen as a result of a potential “framework agreement”. He defined it mainly as: “on all the “permanent-status” issues—borders, East Jerusalem, settlements, refugees—Palestinians lose, Israel wins.” He presented his reasons and one of them is the US support, but he focused on other reasons as well that you did not discuss in your comments. These are: Palestinian isolation in Arab world and the region, weak Palestinian economy, and internal divisions. Let me just take the isolation in a regional context. I believe the change in Syria and Egypt from one side, and the growing relations between Israel and Saudi Arabia from the other, in addition to negotiations between US and Iran, has a strong impact on the balance of power in the region. Finkelstein’s analysis is an alarm for Palestinians to consider their alternatives if they are serious about resisting this defeat. It is an alarm for human rights activists in the solidarity movement that they should be realistic about their accomplishments and challenges. I agree with you that the framework agreement may lead to the collapse of the PA. However, we are not sure what would be the situation after that. This is a Palestinian question and only Palestinians can shape the answer. I hope that the Palestinian national movement will rise united with a new political program and a new form of resistance: popular, peaceful, with an Israeli and international partners and support.
As a follow up to this post, I would like to mention 2 things:
1- Finkelstein’s analysis proves that Kerry’s plan is about “historic defeat” for Palestinian rights. On this basis, any genuine human rights activist should NOT see this plan as a reasonable hope!
2- Even if this “defeat” happens, the Palestinian people will remain, and a new struggle for equality and rights will begin! This time in a different context, and the “historic defeat” may become a “historic opportunity” to reach in the long term a solution that works: truth, reconciliation and equality for everyone!
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