David Rovics a long time supporter of Palestine, performs in Nablus
Play his song 'Jenin'
Dedicated to Ending the Occupation
The current negative approach is damaging and can’t be justified.
THE arguments against recognition of a Palestinian state seem to rest on the simple proposition that agreement must be reached through negotiation and that a resolution granting statehood would set that process back.
If that argument was valid it would have been true in 1948 when the United Nations recognised Israel as an independent state. People should then have argued the Israelis must negotiate with the Palestinians, the people who were being pushed out, and once they had come to an agreement, we could recognise Israel.
If the argument is so thin, why are some Western powers so strongly against recognition of a Palestinian state? I suggest it is because of the lock that Israel has over the policies of too many Western countries. There is an Israeli lobby that governments are not prepared to offend.
There have been two major stumbling blocks to peace. The first is the expansion of illegal settlements in the West Bank, the daily diminution of what might become Palestine. President Barack Obama, to his credit, tried to get Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to stop the expansions. He did not succeed. If other Western countries had supported President Obama at the time, that result may have been better.
The second problem concerns the divisions between Fatah and Hamas, and here both Israel and the West have played their part in perpetuating that division. Hamas won a legitimate election. Nobody claimed it was fraudulent. Indeed, people working in Palestine had predicted a Hamas victory because, in small communities across the territory, if people had needed help it was Hamas which would provide it and not Fatah, which was seen as self-serving and corrupt.
After Hamas’s election victory, much of the West, led by Israel and the US, said: ”Well, you are going to have to change your policy before we will talk to you. You must now accept the existence of the Israeli state.” That stand forced Hamas back to the weapons it had known for too long, most of which were psychological. Its rocket attacks on Israel caused little damage relative to the retribution exacted by the Israeli army against the people of Gaza. The main effect of those rockets has been, and remains, the propaganda weapon that it provides Israel.
The ineffective use of power by Hamas has been regarded as totally illegitimate, while Israel has used its official forces time and again in provocation or retribution. The violence is endless and who is responsible for cause and effect will depend very much on who you are talking to. There is no absolute truth.
If the West had said to Hamas, ”we will talk with you, we will negotiate with you, but we oppose absolutely your failure to recognise the state of Israel”, it could have done much to heal the wounds between Hamas and Fatah and provide a strong Palestinian entity that could negotiate with Israel. The West could also have said very clearly to Hamas, and I believe Hamas would have accepted this, ”while you do not recognise the existence of Israel now, once there are agreed boundaries of a Palestinian state, from that moment on you must recognise the existence and permanence of the Jewish state of Israel”.
Many would regard that as a fair bargain. Why should Palestinians recognise Israel when Israel refuses to talk substantively about realistic boundaries to a Palestinian state and while Israeli settlers are diminishing what might be and should be a Palestinian state?
One could almost argue that Israel, the US and Fatah are in an unholy alliance to destroy Hamas. They have not done so. To talk of negotiations leading to peace while ignoring the reality of Hamas is to talk nonsense. So Prime Minister Abbas is correct in pressing for United Nations recognition.
There are other reasons a new approach is needed urgently. The power of the US under current policies is diminishing in the Middle East. Its capacity to influence events in future will be less than it has been. Turkey has changed the substance of its relationship with Israel in major ways. It will never return to the old subservience to Israeli and American wishes. Likewise in Egypt. Whether the generals allow a true democratic state to emerge may be doubtful, but it is clear that the pro-Israeli policies followed by former president Hosni Mubarak are not now being followed by Egypt. As time passes without progress, Egypt’s stand is likely to become stronger and more effective. Saudi Arabia has also pressed the US very hard on this issue.
Recognition by the United Nations could give greater weight to Palestinian arguments and would put pressure on Israel of a new kind to end the policy of settlements on the West Bank and in East Jerusalem. That is an essential part of an ultimate settlement.
The lack of progress over 18 years is due not so much to Palestinian division or to the ineffective rocketry of Hamas, but to the determination of Israel and its closest friends to make sure that nothing is done that Israel does not support. The changes in the Middle East, not only in Turkey, Egypt and Saudi Arabia but across North Africa, will end in greater support for the Palestinian cause. These important relationships for the West may be irretrievably damaged if the West persists in its negative approach to the question of Palestinian statehood.
Malcolm Fraser was prime minister of Australia from 1975 to 1982.
Source: The Age