When Yasir Arafat took over the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) in 1969 he changed it from a tool of the Egyptian government to a dynamic united front seeking national liberation for the Palestinian people. What sort of national liberation? Arafat's initial hope was to transform Palestine/Israel from an exclusive religious-ethnic state designed for Jews to an inclusive democratic secular state with equality for all its citizens. One could hardly imagine a more progressive political goal. However, because of a series of distorting factors such as guilt felt over the Holocaust, Zionist lobby pressure operating within many governments, and the racism still operating against Arabs and Muslims, neither Palestinians nor their healthy political goal of a secular democracy got fair hearings in the West.
That being the case, history unfolded in its now familiar fashion. The West turned a blind eye while Israel grew into an ever more discriminatory society. Its Arab-Israeli minority was ever more segregated, relatively impoverished and despised. So we have the tragic irony that even as the West fought the Cold War in the name of democracy they shut the door to it in Palestine. Israel also grew ever more belligerent and aggressive, driven on by that part of its myth based manifest destiny that envisioned all the land from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea for the Zionists. Such delusions of power were, unfortunately, encouraged by a steady supply of ever more sophisticated weaponry first from France and then from the United States.
The growing power of Zionist Israel soon made Arafat realize that the Palestinian resistance movement could not achieve a democratic secular state. This being so, the PLO adapted to reality and, in the mid-1970s, switched the goal to what is known as the Two State Solution. This aim had a long pedigree. It had first been put forward by the Peel Commission in 1937 and then, of course, it was the solution envisioned by the UN partition plan of 1947—two states, Israel and Palestine living side by side. By the 1970s the PLO ended up restricting the dream of Palestinian statehood to the West Bank and Gaza Strip. It was a hard decision for the Palestinian leadership for it meant relinquishing two-thirds of their ancestral homeland. Yet the power relations appeared to make this compromise inevitable.
But there was an added problem. Even before this decision was taken by the PLO, the Six Day War was fought. Israel overwhelmed opposing Arab forces and captured Gaza and the West Bank. The story that was put out right after the war was that the Israelis would hold the occupied territories as “bargaining chips.” But it was a sham from the start. Almost immediately the colonizing process began (concentrated on the West Bank after 2005) paralleled with continuous delaying tactics and duplicity whenever the Israelis found themselves having to negotiate. There are now over half a million Israeli settlers in the West Bank, all of whom are there in violation of international law. Gaza, on the other hand, has been purposely reduced to an impoverished open prison by an Israeli blockade that is also criminal in nature. All of this has been done with the familiar if infamous open support of the United States. As a consequence, the two state solution also has become an unachievable dream.
It was a foreign set of historical events that would ultimately suggest a way out of the apparent dead end facing the Palestinian struggle. In 2005 apartheid ended in South Africa. What brought down that country's racist regime was a combined internal/external struggle. Internal resistance, sometimes violent and sometimes non-violent, combined with an international boycott of the country at all levels. This boycott was a prolonged and massive act of civil society that ultimately forced the Western political elites to abandon support for the white regime in Pretoria.
What happened in South Africa took a long time and it defied the power relations that appeared set in stone. The apartheid laws were officially introduced in 1948 and internal resistance began about a year later. The international boycott started to grow in the 1950s. Thus it took nearly sixty years of struggle to change that apartheid state into something resembling—a democratic secular state with equality for all its citizens. This history of resistance and struggle, as long and hard as it was, has now emerged as an inspiration and a model for the evolving character of the Palestinian liberation struggle.
It is against this historical background that 200 activists came to Stuttgart Germany on November 26 to 28, 2010. The aim of the gathering was to “shift the paradigm” as Israeli historian Ilan Pappe suggested, from a struggle for a two state solution back to a struggle for a single democratic secular state in Palestine/Israel. As the conference declaration explains, the two state solution has always suffered from fatal inherent flaws. Thus, “the adherence to a 2-State Solution condemns Palestinians with Israeli citizenship to live as second class citizens in their historic country....Furthermore, the continuance of the Zionist state on the land of the Palestinian refugees denies these refugees the internationally recognized right of return.” On the one hand, the Zionists have decided to forestall the two state solution so as to create Greater Israel. On the other, the Stuttgart activists have decided that a sustainable solution for both Palestinians and Israelis requires a Greater Palestine.
Thus, once more, proponents of Palestinian liberation have adapted their struggle to the reality of the historical moment. And parallels with the struggle against South African apartheid have shown them the way to do so. The result is a growing alliance between a worldwide anti-apartheid movement of civil society and progressive Palestinians and Israelis. The alliance expresses itself through a growing boycott, divestment and sanctions effort against Israel.
If the Israelis find this alliance increasingly frightening they have only themselves to blame. Over the years they have continuously and seriously misjudged their situation. They have been led to do so by hubris and greed. The hubris comes from having too much power for their own good, and in this the West is certainly complicit. The imbalance of power between the Israelis and the Palestinians is presented in stark terms by the Stuttgart Declaration. “Our initiatives must avoid giving the impression that this is a conflict between two equally powerful adversaries. In truth, the Israeli military has absolute superiority over a practically defenseless Palestinian people.” On the ground this imbalance has translated into a disdain for serious compromise on the part of Israel. The recent release of leaked documents http://english.aljazeera.net/palestinepapers/ by Al-Jazeera reveals that the Palestine National Authority under the control of Mahmud Abbas recently offered Israel almost all of East Jerusalem as part of a peace plan land swap. It was an outrageously generous compromise offer that will probably earn Abbas the hatred of a large number of his countrymen. Nonetheless, the Israelis failed to take up the offer. Why not? Because their leaders believe it is unnecessary to compromise and, in addition, they feel that there is no outside party that can force them to do so. Why make compromises when you can simply take what you want? This is the hubris that has encouraged Israel to pursue territorial expansion that much of the world now interprets, quite correctly, as a public display of colonial greed.
And so it is Israel, acting out its alleged Zionist destiny, that has brought us to a new, and perhaps final stage of the struggle. Israel's leaders think they are protected by the influence of their allied lobbies in the powerful nations of the West. But these lobbies are already being aggressively challenged both by counter lobbies and by the same sort of mass campaign that isolated and eventually brought down the apartheid system of South Africa. It will of course take time. There will be ups and downs. The Zionist fanatics in the U.S. might very well try to make the entire effort illegal and thus undermine the very constitutional rights of Americas. And there is a good chance that in the last phases of this struggle there will be ever greater violence in Israel. Not only against the Palestinians, but violence of Israeli Jew against Israeli Jew. The assassination of Yitzhak Rabin http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Assassination_of_Yitzhak_Rabin in 1995 strongly suggests this possibility. There will be a last stand by the religious fanatics in Israel. They will go down fighting their own government.
In the end, I believe that the 200 people who came together at Stuttgart in November 2010 will be vindicated. Eventually there will be a democratic secular state in Palestine/Israel. At that juncture the spirit of Yasir Arafat can rest in peace and the world can give a sigh of relief. Most Muslims will find this outcome acceptable given what went before it. And, along with the Palestinian refugees, Christians too will start returning to the “Holy Land.” As for the Jews, they can then begin reconstructing their religion, for it will certainly need it after the long dark night during which it was tied to a racist political ideology.