Pictured: Israeli settlers make fun of a Palestinian woman evicted from her home in Sheikh Jarrah. Via Reddit.
Nelson Mandela was released from prison in 1990, heralding the end of apartheid in South Africa. On November 29 that year, the UN Security Council adopted Resolution 678, empowering states to use “all necessary means” to force Iraq out of Kuwait. The Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, giving rise to 15 newly independent states. A thus far successful compromise ended hostilities in Northern Ireland in 1998. East Timor (Timor-Leste) won its independence from Indonesia in 2002.
But the Palestinian struggle is moving backwards. More Palestinian homes and villages are destroyed to make room for more Jewish settlers. A new “Basic Law” makes Jewish dominance in Israel explicit. The Palestinian leadership is increasingly fragmented. And we’ve seen much improved relations between Israel and its Arab neighbours.
On the positive side: 138 UN members have recognized Palestine as a state. Major human rights organizations now agree Israel practises apartheid. Several university departments and a few trade unions have endorsed a boycott of Israel. Ireland is thinking of boycotting settlement products. And Ben & Jerry’s has stopped selling ice cream in settlements.
In contrast, South Africa, having proclaimed apartheid in 1948, was forced out of the Commonwealth in 1961, barred from the Olympics in 1964 and suspended from the UN in 1974.
On the face of it, Palestinians should have made progress. Every country in the world agrees that, as international law stipulates, the settlements are illegal. Various countries, especially the United States, have put effort into peace negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians, though these have come to naught. Supporters of Israel will say Palestinians have been offered several excellent deals, but this is nonsense. The most promising deal, the Oslo Accords, died soon after Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin was murdered by a Jewish fanatic — though Oslo really died on the day Foreign Minister Shimon Peres convinced Rabin to allow ongoing Jewish settlement of the West Bank.
Here are reasons for the Palestinians’ failure:
- Israel is a relentless foe with powerful and loyal friends. It has built an informal but effective coalition of liberals and premillennial dispensationalists. If there ever were Israeli leaders who were genuinely willing to accept partition and abandon the Zionist dream of “Israel from the river to the sea,” they’re long dead. Political forces in Israel opposed to the two-state solution have steadily gained strength.
- Palestinian concessions and moderation went unrewarded and were thus discouraged.
- With a lack of success, the Palestinian leadership lost support. We now have the moribund Palestinian Authority and the militant Hamas. “Militant” is the nicest thing one could possibly say about Hamas. If the goal is military victory over Israel, Hamas is a cruel joke. If the goal is building international support for the Palestinian cause, only a Palestinian branch of the Islamic State would be less successful.
- With the vacuum of political leadership in Palestine, effective leadership has moved to radical academics and activists abroad, whose signature policy is the “single democratic state.” I doubt that any significant organization in the world supports the single democratic state, though one could argue over the word “significant.”
My experience of pro-Palestinian radicals in North America is this: (a) If moderate demands fail, make more extreme demands. (b) If 500 examples of Israeli brutality don’t do the trick, go for 10,000. (c) If accusing Israel of oppression, racism and occupation doesn’t work, throw in apartheid, cultural genocide, genocide, ethnic cleansing and settler-colonialism.
Some very legitimate organizations — B’Tselem, Human Rights Watch, Amnesty — have issued careful and thorough reports accusing Israel of apartheid. But these are human rights groups, not Palestinian political organizations charged with developing a practical strategy. The reports received little media coverage and, in any case, no sooner were they issued than radical critics of Israel announced they didn’t go far enough. The problem is: the harsher the criticism of Israel, the easier it is for Israel’s defenders to make accusations of antisemitism stick.
My recommendations to Palestinians and their supporters:
- The opinions of supporters of Palestinian rights who live outside of Palestine and Israel (like me) should be ignored.
- Palestinians have for the most part based their struggle on winning the support of liberal Westerners. If you believe there is an alternative to this strategy, spell it out. Otherwise, Palestinians will have to gain international support, which means they will be dependent on winning the support of liberals and liberal countries, just as was done in South Africa and as is being done, let us hope, in Ukraine.
- Keep in the very front of your mind that Palestinians are fighting Israel, i.e., Jews. Palestinians, the late French sociologist Pierre Bourdieu noted, are “the victims of the victims”: their tragedy is that their oppressors are the victims of Europe.¹ Liberal Westerners care more about Jews than about Arabs. Let me repeat that. Liberal Westerners care more about Jews than about Arabs.
This will strike many as odd if not totally absurd. It is true that for many woke radicals, White Jews are simply privileged White people while Arabs are people of colour and therefore oppressed. But outside of a few university departments (where such views can make life unpleasant for Jews) and certain media, such views are rare. When I say “Liberal Westerners care more about Jews than about Arabs,” I am referring to the liberal mainstream.²
There are many reasons for this, but prevalent among them are: Liberal Westerners feel guilty about the Holocaust and the centuries of Christian antisemitism that preceded it, and they believe Jews remain vulnerable and need protection. Liberal Westerners did not feel that way about Afrikaners, Russians or Indonesians. My experience is that a major part of liberal identity is to be protective of Jews. Many of us who support Palestinian rights have worked to get our colleagues to treat Jews and Israel like ordinary people and an ordinary country. Many radicals would like to treat Israel as a full, or at least junior, partner of the Global Hegemon – the United States. But it won’t work. Quite simply, liberal Westerners believe it is more progressive to care about Jews than about Arabs.
- Israel will call its critics antisemitic at every opportunity. When Israel is accused of apartheid, genocide etc., more damage is done to the accuser than to Israel. As a result, radical critics of Israel spend a great deal of time defending themselves against charges of antisemitism, which is Israel’s preferred terrain. The pattern is similar when critics of Israel announce they are “anti-Zionist.” Much ink flows defending anti-Zionists against charges of antisemitism.
- Forget about a single democratic state. The Israelis will paint it as – and believe it is – an attempt to eradicate “the only Jewish state.” Do you actually believe Israel will accept being outnumbered by Palestinians in a democracy? Do you actually believe Western liberals will force Israel to put itself in that position?
- For the same reasons, Israel will not be forced to accept an extensive Palestinian right of return.
- The Palestine Liberation Organization is on record as having endorsed the 2002 Arab Peace Initiative,³ which calls for Israel’s “complete withdrawal from the occupied Arab territories, including the Syrian Golan Heights, … and the territories still occupied in southern Lebanon” along with “a just solution to the problem of Palestinian refugees to be agreed upon in accordance with the UN General Assembly Resolution No 194” and “the establishment of an independent and sovereign Palestinian state … in the West Bank and Gaza Strip with East Jerusalem as its capital. In return the Arab states will … establish normal relations with Israel.”
The Palestinian Authority, then led by Yasser Arafat, immediately embraced the initiative. Support continued under Arafat’s successor, Mahmoud Abbas, who asked U.S. President Barack Obama to adopt it as part of his Middle East policy. In 2013 the Arab league re-endorsed the Arab Peace Initiative, with the possibility of minor swaps of the land between Israel and Palestine.
The Arab Peace Initiative is a perfectly reasonable compromise. It does not give Israel what it wants and Israel will not accept it unless forced. But the initiative does not endanger “the Jewish State,” and it could be the basis for building a coalition with liberals and liberal countries around forcing Israel to end the occupation.
It is up to the Palestinian leadership to decide what it will demand, and accept, of Israel. Palestinians will need a unified, consistent and legitimate leadership. Elections will be needed. It will be difficult. It is hoped that foreign radicals who have spent years slagging the Palestinian leadership (less so Hamas) will shut up.
Finally, it’s a mystery to me why leftist radicals believe Jews and Palestinians must live together in a single state whether they want to or not. (Perhaps they could pick on the Koreas, or Slovakia and Czechia.) When I consider the prospects for a peaceful, democratic, single state in Israel/Palestine, I look at the accompanying photo.⁴
¹ Joseph Massad, Jewish Suffering, Palestinian Suffering, Al Jazeera, December 3, 2013.
² Helen Pluckrose and James Lindsay describe liberalism as “political democracy, limitations on the powers of government, the development of universal human rights, legal equality for all adult citizens, freedom of expression, respect for the value of viewpoint diversity and honest debate, respect for evidence and reason, the separation of church and state, and freedom of religion” (Cynical Theories: How Activist Scholarship Made
³ Everything about Race, Gender and Identity – and Why This Harms Everybody , p. 12). They note that liberalism is compatible with what “Americans call ‘liberal’ (and Europeans call ‘social-democratic’) and moderate forms of what people in all countries call ‘conservative.’” That is what I mean by “liberal.”
⁴ Arab Peace Initiative, Wikipedia.