Palestine: The History of Peacemaking & the Need for a Game-Changer

By: Omar Baddar

**********************************************************************************************************Editor’s Note: Omar is focusing on the particular issue of Palestine, which will be discussed at a joint event held by the Network of Arab American Professionals-DC Chapter panel cosponsored by PITAPOLICY. On September 29th, at 6:30pm, the NAAP-DC/PITAPOLICY Media Roundtable will be held in Washington, DC at 1025 5th Street, NW: Busboys & Poets Restaurant. Kabobfest.com blog founder, Will Youmans, will examine how the role of social media impacts the discourse of Palestine. Ahmed Shihab-Eldin will relate how Al Jazeera English’s (AJE) program “The Stream” participates in the media discourse of the Arab Spring. Dr. Sahar Khamis will explore the broader role of social media in communication strategy. Anar Virji will highlight the behind the scenes efforts at AJE.
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18 years ago this month, Palestinians kicked off the “peace process” with Israel in pursuit of a two-state solution for the decades-long conflict. Palestinians recognized Israel proper, renouncing any territorial right to 78% of historic Palestine, with the idea that Israel would gradually withdraw from the remaining 22% (the West Bank, Gaza, and East Jerusalem) to facilitate the creation of a Palestinian state on those territories. But rather than withdrawing from the occupied territories during the peace process, Israel did the opposite; wildly accelerating settlement expansion on those territories, demolishing homes, driving many Palestinians out of Jerusalem, and pursuing a wide range of atrocious policies that can collectively be summed up as the illegal and brutal military occupation of Palestine.

11 years ago today (another September anniversary for Palestinians), the 2nd Palestinian intifada (uprising) ignited when 7 protesters were killed on Temple Mount during a provocative visit by Ariel Sharon, surrounded by hundreds of armed guards. While Sharon’s visit was the spark that lit up the intifada, the gas barrel it ignited was the frustration of 7 years of supposed “peace process” which, in reality, did nothing but entrench the occupation. Despite initiating, provoking, and using disproportionate violence of its own, Israel used Palestinians’ violent reaction as an excuse to rob them of further rights, most notably by building the annexation barrier (disguised as a “security barrier”) cutting off Palestinian access to more and more of their own lands and further restricting their movement.

President Obama’s unprecedented rhetoric in his Cairo speech 2 years ago, coupled with the very public confrontation with Netanyahu over settlements, raised the hopes of many that he was a different kind of President; one that will bring pressure to bear on Israel and compel it to abide by its obligations and come to a sensible peace agreement with the Palestinians. After backtracking on settlements, vetoing a U.N. resolution condemning them, and lobbying against the Palestinian bid for U.N. membership, it is clear now that Obama has capitulated. Of course, the political calculus behind Obama’s capitulation is obvious, especially after Republicans (presidential contenders and in Congress) have falsely charged him with throwing Israel under the bus. While the charge is completely baseless (Obama overseas the tightest military/strategic relationship between the US & Israel), it nevertheless stuck and did some damage, as evident by the campaigning & result of the congressional special election in New York’s 9th district.

Whether Obama would be any better if he were to win a 2nd term is an interesting question to debate, but not one that we have time for right now. We can’t just sit and wait for 14 months to see if Obama will win, if he will be better, and if better will be good enough to change the game (too many “ifs”); we have to deal with the current situation, which looks as bleak as ever with regard to any U.S.-led diplomatic process. Palestinians and Palestine-solidarity activists understand the need for a game-changer better than anyone else, which is why they are pushing forward with two efforts: international activists are escalating the BDS campaign which has clearly gotten the attention of the Israeli government, and the Palestinian leadership is pursuing the internationalization of the process of resolving the conflict by taking Palestine back to the U.N. through this membership bid.

Both efforts (BDS & U.N. membership bid) have been widely criticized, including by many within the movement fighting for Palestinian rights. But much of the criticism from within the movement has completely missed the point. Yes, the critics are right in that statehood recognition and U.N. membership will not end the occupation anymore than some flash mob to boycott products made in some settlement will end the suffering of Palestinian refugees. But these efforts are first and foremost about reshaping the public discourse in order to lay the groundwork for the restoration of Palestinian rights.

After 2000, pro-Israel propagandists repeated the mantra that Israel offered the Palestinians a viable state at Camp David II which was turned down in favor of violence by the Palestinians. The burden was on us to get into the weeds of the issue about settlements, military zones and Jerusalem to explain that what was offered to the Palestinians was not viable. After this U.N. bid, whatever happens to it (including a U.S. veto), it will finally be obvious to all observers (including the least informed) that the Palestinians sought a state on the occupied territories and that Israel denied them that state. Understanding who constitutes the real obstacle to the two-state solution will no longer be a privilege restricted to the informed, it will be common knowledge. This is a low-hanging PR opportunity that we must capitalize on regardless of whether we believe in a one-state or a two-state solution (or a 15-state solution for all I care). Whether the outcome of the U.N. bid will translate into an immediate turning point on the diplomatic front or on the ground is far from certain, but what is certain is that we will be entering a whole new phase in the public discourse battle to elucidate the reality of the situation while the other side tries to divert attention from the core issues. The Israeli government is literally readying its twitter army for this battle. What are you doing to wage it?

Omar Baddar is a political analyst, human rights activist, and Huffington Post blogger. You can follow him on Twitter @omarbaddar.

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