Palestinians must use politics to end ‘apartheid regime’

The way forward is likely to be forged by non-violent methods

An Israeli soldier pushes a Palestinian protester during scuffles at a demonstration against Palestinian land confiscation by Israel in the West Bank village of Massara, near Bethlehem. Photograph: Abed Al Hashlamoun/EPA

An Israeli soldier pushes a Palestinian protester during scuffles at a demonstration against Palestinian land confiscation by Israel in the West Bank village of Massara, near Bethlehem. Photograph: Abed Al Hashlamoun/EPA

 

Since armed struggle and negotiations have failed to secure Palestinian statehood, the Palestinians have turned to international political action and boycott, divestment and sanctions to exert pressure on Israel to reach a settlement.

There can be no more intifadas, Israeli peace activist Jeff Halper tells The Irish Times. Since Israel has divided occupied East Jerusalem, Gaza and Palestinian-administered areas in the West Bank into tightly controlled enclaves, Palestinians are physically and politically fragmented.

“The Israeli army is everywhere. Squads posing as Palestinians enter Palestinian towns and villages at will and arrest and shoot Palestinians. Israeli and Palestinian Authority [PA] intelligence and police forces co-operate as neither wants an explosion,” says Halper, a veteran critic of Israeli police.

“Nothing is unknown,” he adds, on account of “surveillance by satellites, drones, and balloons”. He says 43 top intelligence operatives quit because they objected to the fact their work “intruded into the private lives of Palestinians”.

He argues Palestinians do not face South African-style apartheid but “warehousing”, the situation of inmates in US prisons, locked away and excluded from society.

Former PA foreign minister Nabil Shaath says there will be no progress in talks as long as Binyamin Netanyahu heads the Israeli government. “There will be no political peace and no economic peace . . . Oslo [the accords signed between Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organisation in the 1990s] is dead . . . The talks chaperoned by the Americans are dead . . . Oslo was a Trojan horse [that enabled the Israeli takeover] of 62 per cent of the land of the West Bank, 92 per cent of the water, and 100 per cent of its minerals. [Israelis] control all access and movement.

Palestinian vision

“The only option is non-violent resistance modelled on the campaign led by Nelson Mandela” in South Africa, he says. The Palestinian vision “must be an anti-apartheid struggle [that] will put pressure on the Israelis to change their policies and make them think peace is better than occupation”, argues Dr Shaath, who heads the foreign affairs commission of Fatah, the lead party in the Palestinian Authority.

“Our role is to work with political parties in European parliaments to convince them to urge their governments to recognise Palestine and support for the BDS [boycott, divestment and sanctions] campaign,” he says.

“Our closest Irish friend is Sinn Féin and we co-operate with [Ireland Palestine Alliance] Sadaka and other groups.”

Although Ireland voted for the UN resolution to recognise the Palestinian state and parliament has called on the government to take this step, it has not done so. “While some of the ex-Soviet bloc countries have drifted away from strong support for the Palestinians, our closest allies are the Nordic countries. In general Europe is better and free of the US,” where Congress is totally supportive of Israel.

Appeal to diaspora

He admits the Palestinians are not doing enough externally. “We need to make a more serious approach to the diaspora. We have to convince [Palestinians who live abroad] that Palestine is still their homeland and the right of return is still theirs.” He says the diaspora is, unfortunately, divided along party lines between Fath, Hamas, and the Democratic Front.

Bir Zeit University vice-president Ghassan Khatib says the Palestinians are focusing on internationalisation through the UN, the International Criminal Court (ICC), international law and the BDS campaign. “BDS has finally been adopted by the Central Committee of the PLO [Palestinian Liberation Organisation] under grassroots pressure. Israel is not leaving us any choice” by refusing to progress in bilateral negotiations.

“Israel is dependent on the outside world: governments, parliaments and public opinion. BDS [which can involve all three] is the choice of the Palestinians. BDS began here, at Bir Zeit . . . Europe can make changes [in policy]. The problem is with the US.

“The PA is bankrupt, the current leadership has no credibility with the public in the territories or the diaspora,” he says. “We have to dig in our heels and stay put . . . find a way out of our lack of unity, have new faces in our leadership . . . We have no legislative council. Our political system is not healthy at all . . . and there is no peace camp in Israel.

“Both Hamas and Fatah are happy [with the situation]. They use the split to avoid elections. Gaza does not want Hamas [to rule there], the West Bank does not want Fatah.” The resignation or death of president Mahmoud Abbas (80) would be “the end of the era of the PA” as there is no designated successor.

Dr Mahdi Abdel Hadi, who heads an East Jerusalem think-tank, sums up, “There is a crisis of leadership and a crisis of vision. There is no two-state solution and no one state solution. We live under an apartheid regime. There is no challenge” to the Israeli occupation.

First in a series of three. Tomorrow: Michael Jansen reports from Jericho, the first city in the West Bank to be granted autonomy under the 1993 Oslo accords

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