Trying again and again

Ulhas Joglekar ulhasj at
Tue Jan 9 18:38:11 MST 2001

DAWN - Opinion

08 January 2001 Monday 12 Shawwal 1421

Trying again and again

By Edward W. Said

THE last-ditch American effort to make Yasser Arafat terminate his own
people's sovereign existence bears the heavy imprint not only of the
US-Israeli lobby but of Bill Clinton's political style. To say of Clinton's
bridging proposals, as they have been euphemistically called, that they are
a sort of fast food peace is to scant and even underestimate their
malevolent sloppiness.

What in their all-purpose catchiness, their anti-historical bullying, and
the egotistical urgency of their manner they most resemble is Clinton at his
desk, one hand holding the telephone to his ear, the other clutching at the
pizza slice he munches away at, even as his various staffers, funders,
fixers, cronies and golf-playing buddies mill around him giving (and
getting) favours, loans, grants, deals, mortgages, gossip.

This is then scarcely a fitting end for a struggle that has cost hundreds of
thousands of lives and untold treasure for well over a century. Put forward
in a language that (speaking myself as a teacher of how language is used and
abused) fairly reeks of a dismissive silliness combined with vagueness,
Clinton proposes what in effect is a warmed-over Israeli intention to
perpetuate control over Palestinian lives and land for the foreseeable

The underlying premise is that Israel needs protection from Palestinians,
not the other way round. And there's the flaw in the whole thing: that
Israel is not only forgiven its 33 year old occupation, its 52 year old
oppression and dispossession of the entire Palestinian people, its countless
brutalizations and dehumanizations of the Palestinians individually and
collectively, but is rewarded with such things as annexation of the best
West Bank land, a long (and doubtless inexpensive)lease of the Jordan
valley, and the terminal annexation of most of East Jerusalem, plus early
warning stations on Palestinian territories, plus control of all Palestinian
borders (which are only to be with Israel, not with any other state), plus
all the roads and water supply, plus the cancellation of all refugee rights
of return and compensation except as Israel sees fit.

As for the famous land swap by which Israel magnanimously gives up a little
bit of the Negev desert for the choicest bits of the West Bank, Clinton
overlooks the fact that that particular Negev area earmarked by Israel just
happens also to have been used by it as a toxic waste dump! Besides, given
the peculiar divisions cutting up East Jerusalem - all of which is illegally
annexed land anyway - and the three (instead of four) cantons into which the
West Bank territory ceded conditionally by Israel will be divided, all of
what has been described as an American breakthrough proposal pretty much
dissolves. What the Palestinians are left with are material sacrifices which
make Israeli "concessions" look like child's play.

The sacrifices demanded by Clinton are, of course, a cancellation of the
Palestinian right of return for refugees, and just as great, a Palestinian
declaration of the end of the conflict with Israel. First of all, the right
of return for refugees (the right to a secure life in a place of one's
choice) is a right guaranteed not just by UN resolutions but by the Charter
of the UN and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Clinton's formula for getting round this little problem reveals the man's
approach to the world: " I believe we need to adopt a formulation on the
right of return that will make clear that there is no specific right of
return to Israel itself but does not negate the aspiration of the
Palestinian people to return to the area." To which area? Iraq, Jordan, and
Syria, for example, can easily be described as belonging to "the area." Who
does Clinton think he is fooling? So then, why purposely and transparently
try to confuse Palestinians with the phrase "the area" if what is actually
meant is not allowing them a right to return to the country from which they
were in fact driven?

As Clinton well knows (he is a lawyer by training) there can be no
negotiation at all when it comes to human rights; according to the very laws
which the US pretends to uphold when it bombs some defenceless country like
Sudan or post-Gulf War Iraq, no one can therefore either modify or negate
any of the major human rights. Moreover it is impossible, for example, to
uphold rights against discrimination or against the right to work, in some
cases and not in others. Basic human rights are not elements of a menu, to
be chosen or rejected at will: they are meant to have the stability of
universal acceptance, especially by charter members of the UN. Granted that
the implementation of rights is always a major problem, but that has nothing
to do with the fact that as rights they exist whether or not they are
implemented, and therefore cannot be abrogated, modified or, as Clinton
seems to think, re-formulated.

Similarly, the right to choose one's place of residence as a refugee: that
too is unalienable and un-negotiable. Neither Arafat, nor Clinton, nor
certainly Barak has any right at all to tamper with the right, nor to
attempt by crude bamboozling to "reformulate" it in a way that suits Israel
or renounces it in any way. Why must Israel always be an exception and why
must Palestinians always be required to accept things that no people have
ever been asked to accept before them? It seems to me indecent for Clinton
to have gone to war, dragging all of NATO with him and destroying Serbia in
the process on behalf of the Kosovo Albanians' right of return, and then ask
Palestinians to renounce theirs.

A second point here is to recall that Israel, which continues with
unremitting obduracy to deny any responsibility for Palestinian
dispossession, maintains an unchallenged Law of Return for any Jew anywhere.
How it can continue to do so and with a kind of ruffianly churlishness
refuse even to discuss a similar Palestinian right defies logic, to say
nothing of elementary fairness. There is also the matter of compensation,
not only for the enormous losses of 1948, but for the thirty three years of
spoliation and exploitation that have come with the ever-present military

Bill Clinton wants all that dropped, as if by not mentioning a word about
reparations the whole subject would disappear. It seems condescending to
tell Palestinians that Israel will mutter a few words about understanding or
even recognizing their suffering and get off without a single mention of
responsibility. Who is that typically l950s style propaganda formula
supposed to placate? Israel, or the Jewish Agency?

But Arafat did indeed come to Washington in response to Clinton's summoning,
and because he is who he is, Arafat will probably not refuse or accept
outright. He will waffle, and manoeuvre, and come and go, will conditionally
accept, as more Palestinians will have sacrificed their lives and, almost as
important, their livelihoods for nought.

Over the past weeks I have tried in every way available to me to get Arafat
for once in his long domination of Palestinian affairs to address his people
honestly, directly, in a straightforward way. But he persists in silence.
And his advisers and associates also flutter around, powerless to influence
him or to come up with anything by way of alternatives. Yet again I want to
say, we need a new kind of leadership, one that can mobilize and inspire the
whole Palestinian nation; we have had enough of flying visits in and out of
Cairo, Rabat and Washington, enough of lies and misleading rhetoric, enough
of corruption and rank incompetence, enough of carrying on at the people's
expense, enough of servility before the Americans, enough of stupid
decisions, enough of criminal incompetence and uncertainty.

It is clear that no matter what happens now, the Palestinians will be
blamed: unabashed Zionist prophets like Thomas Friedman of the New York
Times, who has not one word of criticism for Israeli brutality and keeps
demanding that Arabs must recognize his "organic" connection as a Jew to
Palestine without ever acknowledging that that right was implemented in
conquest and wholesale Palestinian dispossession, will upbraid Palestinians
for wrecking the peace, and continue broadcasting his half-truths in the
American media, but all to no avail. Whether he and his associates like it
or not, Israel can only have peace when the Palestinian right is first
acknowledged to have been violated, and when there is apology and remorse
where there is now arrogance and rhetorical bluster.

Our first duty as Palestinians is to close this Oslo chapter as
expeditiously as possible and return to our main task, which is to provide
ourselves with a strategy of liberation that is clear in its goals and well
defined in practice. For this we must at some point have the partnership of
likeminded Israelis and diaspora Jews who understand that you cannot have
occupation and dispossession as well as peace with the Palestinian people.
South African apartheid was defeated only because blacks as well as whites
fought it.

That the PLO has long thought that it could make peace with Israel and
somehow tolerate occupation is only one of its numerous strategic as well as
tactical mistakes. A new generation is arising now that no longer respects
the old taboos and will not tolerate the lamentable "flexibility" that has
given Palestinian liberation the status of a question mark rather than that
of a beacon of hope.

There are two contradictory realities on the ground on which Clinton's
Washington talks will founder. One is that the energies released by the
intifada are not easily containable in any available form for the
foreseeable future: Palestinian protest at what Oslo has wrought is a
protest against all aspects of the status quo. The second reality is that
whether we like it or not historical Palestine is now a bi-national reality
suffering the devastation of apartheid. That must end and an era of freedom
for Arabs and Jews must soon begin. It falls to us to try now to provide the
signposts for a new era. Otherwise it is easy to foresee years more of
fruitless and costly struggle.- Copyright Edward W. Said, 2000

© The DAWN Group of Newspapers, 2001

More information about the Marxism mailing list