[Marxism] The end of Palestine?

Marv Gandall marvgand2 at gmail.com
Sat Jan 11 10:56:47 MST 2014

The impending denouement of the Palestine-Israel conflict in the context of the present relationship of forces, as seen by Norman Finkelstein.

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The End of Palestine? An Interview with Norman G. Finkelstein by Jamie Stern-Weiner

US Secretary of State John Kerry was in the Middle East again this week, conducting intensive talks with Israeli and Palestinian officials and other regional actors. His aim, it has been widely reported, is to reach a "framework agreement" as a prelude to a final settlement of the Israel-Palestine conflict. Norman Finkelstein is the co-author, with Mouin Rabbani, of How to Solve the Israel-Palestine Conflict (OR Books, forthcoming). I spoke with him about the significance of the negotiations, as we enter what may be a decisive phase in the Palestinians' long struggle for self-determination.

You’ve been warning for some time now that the Israeli-Palestinian talks being brokered by Secretary of State Kerry might, unlike many prior rounds of negotiations, actually produce a deal to end the conflict. Its content would amount to Israel’s long-standing terms of settlement. What’s your assessment of where the diplomatic process is currently at?

A “framework agreement” will shortly be reached, and a final settlement will probably be signed in the last six months or so of President Obama’s term in office. When the Kerry process was first announced I was virtually alone in predicting that it would actually go somewhere; now, it’s widely assumed. Many respected Israeli commentators now take for granted that an agreement is just a matter of time.

In recent weeks the Kerry talks have apparently focused on Israel’s demands for (i) an enduring military presence in the Jordan Valley and (ii) Palestinian recognition of it as a “Jewish state.” The Palestinians will negotiate some face-saving deal on the Jordan Valley involving a US-Israeli joint presence for a period of time. The Jordan Valley was already essentially resolved at the Annapolis negotiations in 2008. Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu is raising it now only so he can later claim to be making a “heart-wrenching concession”—Israel is adept at “conceding” things to which it has no title in the first place—by allowing for only a temporary US-Israeli presence along the border. It’s been received wisdom for years—even pro-Israel hack Dennis Ross concedes it in The Missing Peace—that the Jordan Valley has no strategic value.

On the “Jewish state,” the agreement will probably resolve on the formula: Israel as the state of the Jewish people and its citizens, Palestine as the state of the Palestinian people and its citizens. It will afford (legal) protection for Israel’s Palestinian citizens, but will negate the right of return for Palestinian refugees, which is what Israel really cares about. Palestinian President Abbas can then claim it as a victory because he secured the rights of Palestinians in Israel.

The whole thing is diabolical. The Israelis—with, of course, active and critical US connivance—have managed to completely shift the debate and shape the agenda. The only issues now being discussed are the Jewish state and the Jordan Valley, which, in terms of the international consensus for resolving the conflict, never figured at all. (Even in prior bilateral negotiations presided over by the US, such as at Annapolis, these were at most peripheral issues.) The key issue (apart from the refugees), in terms of the international consensus and in prior bilateral negotiations, has been the extent of the land swap along the border: Will Israel be allowed to annex the major settlement blocs and consequently abort a Palestinian state? But the debate has completely shifted, because annexing the settlement blocs is a done deal.

The framework agreement will probably just speak of land swaps in terms of percentages, and merely insinuate—as the Clinton Parameters did—Israel’s annexation of the major settlement blocs without divulging the precise details. But it is striking that in all of the discussion over the last several weeks, Ma'ale Adumim—i.e., the largest settlement bloc that effectively bisects the West Bank—has never even come up. Because it’s already been resolved, in Israel’s favour.

And a final deal will follow?

A lot of politicking still has to be done, a lot of marketing, a lot of hysteria in Israel—its usual, Oscar-winning performance. It will take the full three years that remain of Obama’s presidency, climaxing in a Camp David-like summit (Obama also loves drama, speechifying is his forte and he’s probably already contemplating which hip black leather jacket to wear), before the final deal is sealed.

One of the principal obstacles at this point to reaching an agreement, in my opinion, is not the details, because those are basically known: the annexation of the settlement blocs by Israel and the annulment of the right of return. One of the big stumbling blocks, oddly enough, is inertia.

If you date the political origin of the conflict back to the 1917 Balfour Declaration (before then Zionism was basically a self-help operation), you’re talking about a century-long conflict. When a conflict endures for such a protracted period of time, huge numbers of individuals and institutions develop a vested interest not in its resolution but instead in its perpetuation; what’s now called, only half-facetiously, the Peace Industry. Many are now consumed by the dreadful prospect that after a full century, it might actually end. It does send shivers down the spine: the Israel-Palestine conflict might be over. All those UN special sessions and special committees; all those Ramallah-based NGOs, Israeli and Palestinian human rights organizations, and conflict-resolution getaways; all those IMF, World Bank, Crisis Group reports; all those academic programs—Israel Studies, Holocaust Studies—which sprung up to justify Israeli policy (none can lay a claim to intellectual content, and most have been subsidized by wealthy right-wing Jews); all those film festivals, scholarly studies, memoirs and “poetry”; all those Washington-based Israel “think”-tanks; all those Palestine solidarity activists, groups, websites, researchers, and analysts (present company included).... A huge, sprawling superstructure has been built on the Israel-Palestine conflict, and consequently a major obstacle to an agreement is now the fear and trembling across the political divide that it might actually be coming to a denouement. It’s not quite conceivable, is it?



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