The Palestinian Cause: Still High on the International Agenda
By Hamzi Ali Shah
United States President Donald Trump reversed decade’s worth of foreign policy when in December of 2017, he granted Israel their most coveted prize in negotiations and declared Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and concurrently moved the American embassy there from Tel Aviv.
This effectively ended any prospect of a future Palestinian state and in the process dismissed fundamental Palestinian political issues such as the return of refugees, the question of final borders, the right to self-determination, the removal of illegal Israeli settlers and the unceasing Israeli occupation.
Trump’s son in law and chief negotiator, Jared Kushner, has been given the responsibility of providing a solution for the endless Israel-Palestine issue, which is labelled ‘deal of the century’, and is expected to present the deal soon. Before even being presented, it has received significant vilification, because of suggestions that it totally disregards the aforementioned matters.
Instead, the US is holding an ‘economic workshop’ in Bahrain in June, where Trump hopes to secure financial commitments from wealthy Arab and Gulf states to impel the Palestinians to make political concessions in exchange for economic advancement, in what is a flagrant dismissal of the Palestinian political objectives.
Palestinian officials have already ruled out any Palestinian participation, citing the lack of a political solution, and emphasising that they would not accept the improvement of civilian life and economic incentives whilst the punishing Israeli occupation is upheld.
Yet the lack of a political horizon in the so called deal of the century should not come as a surprise. The Trump administration has boastfully embraced the Israeli right. It is why whilst recognising Jerusalem as the capital, he closed down the Palestinian Liberation Organisation office in Washington, slashed funding to UNRWA, the UN agency dealing with Palestinian refugees, moved to make non-violence protests, such as those practised by the Boycott Divestment Sanctions (BDS) campaign, illegal , and has effectively abandoned dialogue with the Palestinians.
Essentially, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu enjoys unstinting support from the US now and has been given a free pass. It is why Netanyahu, was able to just days before the latest Israeli elections took place, which he won, pledge to annex Jewish settlements in the occupied Palestinian territories, which are illegal under international law, and even explicitly assert his intention to prevent the creation of a Palestinian state – and receive no condemnation.
This could easily have vanquished the Palestinian cause and prompted the Palestinians to concede failure.
However, the Palestinians are not defeated and the Palestinian cause lives on. Their flag is still being waved literally and metaphorically and the energized resistance is just getting started.
At the forefront is a progressive agenda in the US, introduced by Senator Bernie Sanders and upheld by the new wave of elected Democrats such as Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Ilhan Omar. There is a stern focus on liberal progressivism, social justice, equality and human rights, ergo unavoidably prompting conversations regarding Israel and the Palestinians that were hitherto considered taboo.
Resultantly, the Israel-Palestine issue has become a central talking point in the US again. In recent weeks, it has been a fundamental part of the Democratic presidential candidates campaign discourse.
For example, Pete Buttigieg is considered a rising star in the Democratic Party, but when he launched his democratic campaign recently, in which more than 5000 people attended, it was a group of protestors and their slogans which captured everyone’s attention.
‘Open your heart to Palestine and Golan’ was their message. They emphasised that this was a message not just for Pete, but for all Democrats. But their appearances at Buttigieg’s rally was not a coincidence. He has a past of pro-Israel tendencies, including praising Israel for the manner in which they deal with their security threats and rejecting any condemnations of them.
Senator Cory Booker’s campaign kick-off received similar treatment. Booker is a co-sponsor of a Senate bill that would penalize businesses that comply with Israel boycotts, which to members of the party considering backing him, suggests his allegiances lie with Israel on the matter.
As he began his rally in Newark, New Jersey, titled ‘Justice for All’, pro-Palestinian protestors picked up on the theme, shouting ‘Justice for Palestine’.
One of the protestors in an interview, proclaimed, ‘you say ‘Justice For All’ and he named, you know, clean water, housing, affordable health care, freedom but he doesn’t … talk about Palestine. They’re struggling just as much as we are here — even more.’
Thus, a clutch of supporters of the Democratic Party are making it known that there is concern regarding US policy in the Middle East, particularly its devoted pro-Israel approach, and that maybe it is time Israel’s policy is scrutinised. That would explain why it is candidates such as Booker and Buttigieg who are perhaps more pro-Israel than others, who have been targeted by these protests. The message appears to be that a softer and more compassionate approach to the Palestinian cause must be considered if they are to garner significant support.
Interestingly, veering away from the historically strong pro-Israel tendencies in the Democratic Party does not appear to be limited to just the membership. A comprehensive research study by Pew Research Centre illustrated that among Democrats in Congress, two thirds hold negative views of Israel under Netanyahu. 61% of Republicans view Israel’s government favourably in comparison to just 23% of Democrats.
In fact, Democrats are seemingly more critical of Israel now than ever before. Bernie Sanders recently described the Israeli Prime Minister as part of an international alliance of autocratic rulers, while former Congress member Beto O’Rourke labelled him a ‘racist’.
This comes in light in Israel’s brazen shift to the extreme right side of the spectrum, which was embellished in Mr Netnyahu’s latest political alliance that saw him turn to the extremist party Otzma Yehudit, or Jewish Power, whose leaders have a long history of expressing support for violence against Palestinians, expulsion of Arabs from Israel and the occupied territories, and a ban on intermarriage or sex between Jews and Arabs.
Jews have historically spearheaded the battle against fascism and the radical right, and much of the forefathers of leftist thought were of Jewish heritage, and yet now the sole Jewish state in the world, is openly pioneering the global fascistic quest and abundantly employing xenophobic tendencies.
This has alarmed Democrats, as evinced with the voiced disapprovals, but also alienated those with a sturdy pro-Israel ethos, thus stimulating extensive denunciation. Israel’s largest pro-Israel lobby group, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) – who for the course of Netanyahu’s time in power seldom criticised him – were quick to censure and slam Netanyahu’s pact with the ultra-right party, labelling it as ‘racist and reprehensible’.
The American Jewish Committee (AJC) as well as several prominent Jewish members of congress also weighed in with criticism. Even Netanyahu ally Malcolm Hoenlein, the vice chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, said there was ‘a lot of concern’ among American Jews at Netanyahu’s actions.
Therefore, in the US, the issue of Israel’s conduct of late has become a major talking point, even for many historically pro-Israel figures and organisations. Regarding the Democratic Party, the conversation about the Palestinians has crept up the agenda and is now of paramount importance, for members of Congress, supporters and activists alike.
This mirrors the attitude on this matter on the left of the British political system. The Labour Party, now headed by Jeremy Corbyn – who has historically fought for the rights of the Palestinians – is a party committed to justice, so inevitably, the Palestinian cause will hold weight on the schedule.
In Labour’s latest annual conference in Liverpool, members filled the hall with a sea of Palestinians flags, demonstrating where they stand on the matter. In addition, regarding topics to be prioritised for debate, a motion concerning Palestine received 188,019 votes, 4th on the list, and remarkably, amassed more votes than the NHS and Brexit.
In addition, Corbyn emphasised that Labour would swiftly ‘recognise a Palestinian state’ should they get in power, whilst Shadow Foreign Secretary Emily Thornberry at the conference, in a fiery speech, condemned the actions of Netanyahu and the Israeli government. Likewise, in a recent interview, she berated Trump’s decision to recognise Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and accentuated the need to find a solution that considers the Palestinian struggle.
Seemingly, there is a pattern emerging, especially on the left in Britain and in the States, whereby the Palestinian affair is of paramount importance and the consensus is that it requires inspection.
Veritably, the latest polls show Labour holding a 9 point lead over the Conservatives, as they creep ever closer to No.10 Downing Street. Meanwhile, following the latest mid-term elections, the Democrats gained control of the House of Representatives, meaning support from both Labour and the Democrats could soon manifest into tangible action as they get into positions of power.
Captivatingly, the left wing brand of politics practised in Britain and the US is becoming contagious and could soon find a home in parts of Europe. In countries such as Germany, Italy, France, the Netherlands and Austria, there is a real process of soul-searching taking place in light of right-wing nationalist parties that are monopolizing the landscape. “They are looking to Jeremy Corbyn. To some, not to all but to some, he is the example,” professed Rem Korteweg of the prominent Dutch think tank Clingendael, as it becomes clear that core left-wing ideals and policies increase in attractiveness again.
This then opens up the possibility of the emphasis shifting in favour of the Palestinian subject, in not just Britain and across the Atlantic, but in Europe too.
Furthermore, communities in Israel are also incrementing in influence and joining in the resistance. Organisations such as All That’s Left and Ta’ayush have been working tirelessly to support Palestinian communities in their acts of civil resistance.
Recently, the Centre for Jewish Nonviolence, an anti-occupation group which brings Jews to the occupied territories to undertake solidarity work with Palestinian communities, were working alongside Palestinian and Israeli activists to repair a road in the West Bank. In response, the Israeli military was deployed to hinder the work, and 17 people were arrested.
Indications are there is a growing amount of co-resistance work and acts of solidarity taking place between Israelis, Jews and Palestinians, which adds a new interesting dynamic and could prove to be a game changer when it comes to ending the occupation.
The message is ringing loud and clear and Israel know it. There is an unapologetic movement overladen with solidarity for the Palestinian people developing. Netanyahu is enjoying vast support from Trump and the rest of the likeminded nationalists, and is enduring with the punitive treatment of the Palestinians. But their cries are being heard all over the world. The more stringent the occupation, the louder those cries become, the more support will be amassed.
If the Palestinian activists, academics, and the leadership combine and unite effectively, they can build on the advocacy displayed on the international stage, resurrect the Palestinian concern and transform it into concrete results.