The Palestinians’ last option: A struggle for equal rights Palestinians must shed the illusion of the current peace process and at least push for equitable rights.


Palestinians must dissolve the PA and demand the same rights as Israeli citizens, writes Ghada Karmi [Getty]
Once upon a time, Palestine was the Arab world’s unifying cause. Justice for the Palestinians was considered a basic pre-requisite for regional stability and peace, and it was an idea that had global resonance. Today, the picture is different and the Palestinian cause has been falling off the political agenda ever since the onset of the Arab Spring, the Syrian conflict, and Israel’s success in placing Iran’s nuclear programme at the centre stage.

This month, a study by the Arab Centre for Research and Policy Studies confirms this slide. A survey of over 20,000 respondents in 14 Arab countries revealed a widespread engagement, not with Palestine, but with the Arab revolutions and their future, with Syria and the need for democratic systems of government. Only a third cited Israel as the greatest regional threat, about the same percentage as Iran amongst those living in Iraq and the Gulf.

This change comes on top of a gradual loss of Palestinian unity due to the fragmentation of Palestinian society into those under occupation, divided between the West Bank, Gaza and Jerusalem, those in Israel, those in refugee camps and the rest in exile. The result has been increasingly to replace the national cause with local causes. For example, in November 2012 and again last week demonstrations against economic hardship erupted in the West Bank. The Palestinian Authority has a $4.2 billion debt and a World Bank report in March found an economic slowdown, with low exports and long term unemployment; Gaza is isolated and besieged and survives largely on a tunnel smuggling economy. In such circumstances it is hardly surprising that people’s top priority should be how to feed their families, and Palestinian communities elsewhere will have likewise developed their own local priorities.

Palestinians will need to act urgently if their cause is not to be finally buried. The fact that the West is still engaged in trying to solve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is not a cause for optimism. It does not signify a revival of the Palestine cause’s centrality, but a push for an end to the conflict on terms most favourable to Israel. The US and Europe, with the recent addition of China, have been urging a renewal of peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians. The US Secretary of State, John Kerry, has visited the region half a dozen times in this endeavour, and has pledged $4 billion in aid to encourage the PA. In April, an Arab delegation was in Washington to present a revised Arab Peace Plan which offered Israel a land swap with the Palestinians, hoping to draw it into peace talks. More recently Sweden, with the same aim, decided to punish the Palestinians for failing to negotiate with Israel by possibly reducing their aid by 200 million kronor ($30 million).

What these parties are pushing for is the two-state solution which has dominated the political discourse for decades and has never, even partially, been realised. Nevertheless, the international consensus still holds that this solution is the only way forward. Yet a glance at the map will show that no such solution is possible.

Currently, the West Bank and East Jerusalem house some 500,000 Jewish settlers living in more than 130 settlements dispersed throughout these areas. In Jerusalem, many settler groups have infiltrated the Old City and the Arab neighbourhoods still left unoccupied by Israel. Another thousand settler homes are planned for June. Gaza, an essential part of any future Palestinian state, is besieged and cut off from the West Bank, and is governed by a Hamas government split off from the Fatah-dominated PA in the West Bank and likely to remain so.

Two-state solution unlikely

Since the reality on the ground precludes a two-state solution as envisaged in the Arab peace plan – a Palestinian state on the 1967 territories with East Jerusalem as its capital – what is the basis for the continued push towards this solution? It can only be that a variation that suits Israel better is the real plan. This would allow for Israel to keep Area C, 62 percentof the West Bank, as repeatedly advocated by Israel’s trade minister, Naftalie Bennett, leaving a Palestinian “state” of West Bank enclaves separated by Israeli-held territory, to which Gaza might possibly be connected.

The present situation could not be better for Israel and its allies: a docile Palestinian leadership which creates an illusion of equivalence between occupier and occupied.

Since these West Bank enclaves could not be viable on their own, their economic and social ties and their access to the outside world would be with Jordan. Gaza’s extension would be towards Egypt, as Israel has always wanted, and Jerusalem would remain under Israel’s total control. Many reports have quoted such ideas, vigorously repudiated by Jordan and Egypt. But one must assume that the US is pushing for a way to appease Israel and yet offer the Palestinians something, hoping thereby to wrap up the Palestine issue for good. No other land permutation is possible if Israeli settlements remain and no pressure is applied to make Israel remove them.

The fear many Palestinian have is that their leadership, currently unelected and unrepresentative, and they suspect only wishes to stay in power whatever the cost to the national cause, might agree to a version of such a plan whatever their patriotic utterances. In such circumstances, Palestinians must realise that time is not on their side and doing nothing in the face of these plots is not an option for them. The present situation could not be better for Israel and its allies: a docile Palestinian leadership which creates an illusion of equivalence between occupier and occupied, relieving Israel of its legal responsibilities as an occupying power; an endless peace process that gives cover for Israel’s colonisation; international inaction; and a fragmented Palestinian people unable to resist. They are the big losers in this arrangement, and they must be the ones to bring it down. What should they do?

An apartheid state

Israel/Palestine is today one state. But it is an apartheid state which discriminates against non-Jews in favour of Jews. The Palestinian task now is to fight against this apartheid and mount a struggle, not for an impossible Palestinian state, but for equal rights under Israeli rule. They would need to dismantle the Palestinian Authority, which is now a liability that only camouflages the true situation, and then confront Israel, their actual ruler, directly. As stateless people under military occupation, they must demand equal civil and political rights with Israeli citizens, and apply for Israeli citizenship if necessary. That puts the onus on Israel to respond: either to ignore the five million Palestinians it rules, or vacate their land, or grant them equal rights.

Israel will reject all of these, but whatever it does will be against its own interests. And Palestinians at one stroke will have broken up Israel’s hegemonic hold on the political discourse and changed the rules of the lethal game being played against them.

This strategy will not be popular amongst Palestinians, nor will they want to become second-class Israeli citizens. But are their lives now under occupation any better? And is there another option given the present conditions? I would argue that by adopting this plan, they will lose nothing but their illusions, and at this serious juncture in Palestinian history, it may be the only way to avert the annihilation of their cause. It will be a hard road, but the one chance to build a democratic state that replaces apartheid Israel and eventually enables the refugees to return to their ancestral homeland.

Dr Ghada Karmi is the author of Married to Another Man: Israel’s Dilemma in Palestine.

Follow her on Twitter: @ghadakarmi

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial policy.

11 replies

  1. The map is highly dishonest in that it purposely ignores the Jordanian Arab takeover of the West Bank which ended with the 1967 war. Whatever you need for propaganda.

    There is a Palestinian country – Jordan. There is a solution to this whole problem – pay to resettle Palestinian Arabs there and in other Arab nations. This will never occur because the West Bank and Gaza Arabs are merely pawns for the Arab states to use against Israel, in spite of the fact that the Arab states already control 99% of the land in the Middle East.

    “Equal Rights” for Palestinian Arabs is a non-starter. It would be suicide by the Jewish state and that will happen right about the time Saudi Arabia is no longer a theocracy.

    • Dave: what is a non starter is the premise that their can be something like a “Jewish” State. If you live in America, and consider its constitution worthy of respect, as a US citizen, you must stand up against the idea of a theocracy. Your founding fathers laid the basis of a great nation based on the separation of state and Chruch. You have the prevelige and the right to be an atheist based on that very idea. Just stand up for those principles and you will see the absurdity that you are advocating for.

  2. Dear Dave, Thank you very much for your contribution. Your opinion shows exactly what the Palestinians are up against, when they are seeking a free and democratic – non Apartheid – state. We do not know who you really are, as Wikipedia states that “David “Dave” Lister, (both Sr. & Jr.), commonly referred to simply as Lister, is a fictional character from the British science fiction situation comedy Red Dwarf, portrayed by Craig Charles”. If you are Jewish the chances are that most likely you immigrated from some other state, where it is you that should return to.

  3. Dear Rafiq, other than a paragraph wondering about my ancestry, you don’t refute what I said in the slightest. Why is that?

    By the way, I am from Montana in the USA, and as far as I know, not that I would care, there are no Jews in my family tree. I’m also an atheist.

    Do try sticking to the subject.

  4. Well, strange that from far away you would like that the Palestinians start a civil war in Jordan now. Remember when King Hussain kicked out the armed Palestinian groups? I am in fact residing in Jordan these days and I can tell you that both the (original) Jordanians and the (new) Palestinian Jordanians do not consider Jordan to be a Palestine state nor do the Palestinians residing here want Jordan to be Palestine.

  5. Funny how a little river separates the same people into two completely different groups of Arabs – mostly due to European border drawing again after the fall of the Ottoman Empire.

    As far as theocratic states are concerned, when the Arabs clean up their act in the 99% of the Middle East I’ll worry about the few square kilometers of the Jewish state. You want them to commit suicide with millions of square kms of hostile Islamic states surrounding them. When the KSA is free and has freedom of religion for all I’ll withdraw my objections.

    • So you will continue to take a bigoted stand just in the animosity of Arabs. well said. by the way Iraq, Libya, Syria were all strictly secular, destroyed and now turned into theocracies, courtesy western powers including the big brother. Hamas has been elected democractically (that is what westereners wanted). Egypt was a CIA aided democracy until Islamic brotherhood was democractically elected. Saudi Arabia is Saud’s Arabia created by the British and one of the most critical and strategic allies of your dear homeland. The day Americans stop supporting the royal family and wahabis it can turn into a democracy. You have been fed too much of the jewish propaganda to look straight. Clean up your home and your act and then talk. Take care my friend.

  6. You raise good points about the “whys” of certain Arab states, Abdul, and I agree that the western powers have done atrocious things (I’m going to include Iran in as well). I especially agree with what you say about the KSA but my fear is that it might get worse if the US stopped supporting the current government, as it may in other places of the Arab spring. It seems that the response of the voting population in these states to an overthrow of secular repression is to elect an Islamic religious oppression in its place.

    The “jewish propaganda” line however is tired. Once thing is for sure: Muslims are freer to practice their religion in Israel than anyone else is in many Arab states.

  7. If “equal rights are a no starter,” then a reasonable person could conclude that the state of Israel is illegitimate. I believe that it is only a matter of time before Israel becomes a greater, free and equal international state, where all people are protected under the rule of law; with the realization of the separation of church and state. Racist exceptionalism will not be tolerated by the world, as has been repeatedly demonstrated throughout history.

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