Friday, 27 August 2010

Can the United States Prevent the Next Intifada?

In one month, we will reach the decade anniversary of the start of the last intifada. Shortly after the collapse of talks, and in the face of Israeli settler-colonialism, it only took a provocation from an ambitious politician, aspiring leader Ariel Sharon, who visited the Haram Al-Sharif with a legion of armed guards in tow, to launch a spate of fighting that left thousands, mostly Palestinians, dead. Ten years later, the pressure of Israel's occupation on the Palestinian population is greater, and the hope of a two state solution is still dim.

Israel's Program

The slow movement of Israel's long-term project to change the "facts on the ground" through geo-demographic engineering has created a high pressure situation that can explode at any minute. If the United States is serious about engaging in peace talks, it must find ways to check Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s agenda. It would have to surpass the current settlement freeze, which has done little to prevent escalating tensions. However, the United States has not shown an ability to conjure nor use political leverage against Israel where it is needed most - at severely scaling back the occupation. This calls into question the potential for a positive outcome in talks and only highlights a troubling context that can very easily cascade into something far worse.

This Netanyahu government is more than glad to use overt and latent force to further settler-colonial aims via expansion into Palestinian areas. Israel's use of construction of Jewish areas, and the building of roads, walls and even a train to further separate them, and extract more territory, from the Palestinians, is one menacing dynamic. The other is the destruction of Palestinian residences and further seclusion of what Israel treats as its expendable non-Jewish, occupied subjects. In tandem, these complementary patterns of Israeli policies and practices are building up a reservoir of rage amongst a people long overdue a solution.

Besides the machinations of the state, Palestinians suffer from the rise of a militant and aggressive class of settlers who employ violent self-help, such as armed intimidation, to assert their proprietorship over land in the occupied territories. Their anti-Palestinian violence is often tolerated by complicit Israeli authorities who are sympathetic to their ideological aims and consider them brethren.

The weight of state policies and rabid settlers has only barely been relieved by token gestures of goodwill by the occupation authorities. For example, in the past year, Israel removed roughly 20% of the West Bank checkpoints that obstruct internal Palestinian mobility. Still, more than 500 remain.

Each announcement of Israeli goodwill gestures involving checkpoint removals may ease life for some and boost an economy already ravaged by Israel’s policies, but they are a grim reminder of remaining Israeli prohibitions faced by Palestinians everywhere. Thus when Israel, in 2009, made a US-induced effort to remove large checkpoints and roadblocks between Ramallah and Nablus, near Jericho, and Tulkarem, it only begged the question about why any Israeli restrictions on Palestinian internal movement exists.

The geography of these restrictions, which fall in every shrinking pieces of the West Bank, are also testament to the ghettoization of Palestinians into pockets of their own land.

That so fundamental a right as the freedom of movement is granted as a goodwill gesture speaks to the general state of depravity that typifies Israel’s occupation. Can Palestinians really be expected to translate incremental compliance with basic human rights standards into a greater tolerance for the Israeli occupation or a belief in Israel's willingness to part with the occupation? In other words, the steam keeps building up, and the concessions won by the United States will prove to be less than adequate drivers of the Obama administration’s political agenda. At this point, the big idea of two states side-by-side as a solution outcome requires much bigger moves than the United States can muster,

Other Factors and the Imminent Spark

The divided and increasingly repressive Palestinian leadership in Gaza and the West Bank is matched by the obvious futility of outside actors such as the United States, Europe and Arab states to reign in Israeli excesses. Palestinian Authority affiliates broke up a meeting of Palestinian dissidents critical of the direct talks. That such a silencing campaign is undertaken to defend a process few have faith in and many question the legitimacy of, only adds to the mounting frustration and anger.

With such a tinderbox matched by systematic political inaction, it only takes one small spark to ignite a seemingly exhausted Palestinian population. There are daily incidents of Israeli abuses. Any one of them could send the population off against the occupation forces.

Today saw just one of the many potential sparks. The Israeli border police fired rubber-coated bullets and tear gas canisters at rioting Palestinians in the Silwan neighborhood of East Jerusalem. The site of Israeli home demolitions and protests in June, Silwan’s tensions were this time lit by settlers who stormed Al-Ein mosque. The settlers denied they entered the mosque. Palestinians have been worried since four Palestinians mosques have been vandalized or attacked in the past year. This did not grow into a larger fight, but the next incident could very easily.

The previous intifada, which began only 13 years prior, was sparked when an Israeli army tank vehicle ran into a group of Palestinians, killing four and injuring more. Systematic frustrations at the very same policies Israel carries out today were at the root.

Uprisings are the natural and logical human response to any externally imposed system of domination. It is far more necessary to address as the root cause this legacy of domination, rather than the rebellion against it. Otherwise, we are doomed to a never-ending sequence of attacks, arrests and dispossessions, and an almost as aggravating cycle of poisonous talks.

The Big Picture

Sadly, the United States cannot or will not induce Israel to take the necessary step of ending its settler-colonial agenda, a deeply ingrained ideological impetus. The main reason is that it has been a project taken-for-granted by Israeli policymakers and influential American thinkers and officials. Thus a demilitarized semi-sovereign “state” is the best outcome up for grabs in the current framework. Perhaps such an agreement would temporarily halt the growing pressure cooker. Only later it would become clear that imbalanced negotiations produced an only wishful statehood. Palestine would be an appendage state. But even this type of outcome, as unsustainable as it would be, is still politically miles away.

Overarching Israeli power and its alliance with the mediator of the talks, the United States, have given way to a cynical and hopelessly repetitive industry of negotiations. In the skewed universe of “direct talks,” simple adjustments to Israel’s authoritarian administration of the Palestinian people are really considered acts of goodwill, as compromise, while the obvious patterns of Israeli encroachment are left to be endlessly negotiated for.

Token goodwill measures are meant to curry favor in a bombarded Palestinian public opinion which has for over two decades seen little, and grown to expect little, of negotiations. They are meant to show the United States can mediate and provide “deliverables” against the Israeli agenda. They also are meant to show the United States means business when it comes to the Israel-Arab conflict, as it’s termed. Of course, the United States is hyper-sensitive to the Israeli side, no matter how far it transgresses neutral standards such as international law. Merely tinkering with the occupation, an inherent evil, rather beginning to disassemble it is indicative of the superficiality and inherent partisanship of the United States. And this is why failure, and more uprisings, are imminent.

When this round of talks eventually ends, and violence and bloodshed descend again, Israel and its settlers will continue on their violent way, hoping to blame the occupied. The United States will nod and help manufacture such fictions as Palestinians rejecting the “most generous offers.” This will conveniently deny the fundamental flaw of American custodianship on this issue: its inability to really halt the project of Zionism or even erode the occupation.

The starting point for the United States, if it really means business, is to form a global coalition of states and forces who will root out the occupation first. At this stage, any other approach will be more of the same. Given the problem of domestic politics, it is not likely the United States can even accomplish what it needs to do in order to reach its own stated objectives of a two-state solution.

One positive consequence is that the inconsequential collapse of these talks will further embolden organic forces for peace among Israelis, Palestinians and foreigners who have alternative future visions based on higher ideals than separatism and inequality. When states fail to correct injustices or only make matters worse through flawed interventions, people power can emerge with the solution, even if this only happens rarely. This particular conflict is ripe for a new framework and is well-suited to be such a historical example of non-state resolution. It's a geographically, religiously and politically central global issue. People from all over the world are learning about it and taking action. This holds more promise than do these talks

River to Sea Uprooted Palestinian

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