Abbas, the Last Patriot of Peace

The Palestinian statehood bid is a necessary step in the only direction that is not violent.

Avraham Burg
Avraham Burg
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Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas speaks during a press conference on October 8, 2014 in the West Bank City of Ramallah.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas speaks during a press conference on October 8, 2014 in the West Bank City of Ramallah.Credit: AFP
Avraham Burg
Avraham Burg

The reports about how the British parliament is about to hold a session on recognizing Palestine as a state stayed on the margins of the news in Israel. Among other things, it was reported by Haaretz’s Barak Ravid that MK Hilik Bar of Israel’s Labor Party sent a letter to his counterparts in the British Labour Party, reading in part:

“I understand why many of you will want to vote for anything which claims to be a contribution to peace. But immediate and unilateral recognition of Palestinian statehood does nothing to advance this vital cause. In fact, precisely the opposite. ... Unfortunately, unilateral moves simply play into the hands of those on Israel’s hard right, which wants to suggest that we have no partner for peace, and that the Palestinians do not want to sit down and negotiate with us. ... To counter such arguments and get the peace process moving again, we in the Israeli Labor party need your help, which is why I urge you to stick to your party’s long-standing policy of a negotiated two-state solution, and oppose any unilateral moves which threaten that goal.”

This fascinating letter contains so many psychological characteristics of the Labor Party’s weakness. It supports the right wing even when it kills innocent Palestinians, as in the recent war in Gaza, is an accomplice in stopping any chance for peace and hope, and keeps non-violent measures whose purpose is to promote the peace process, even slightly, from taking place.

Unlike the respected letter writer, who says for some reason that he belongs to the left wing, I would like to express a different position here. I hope that the entire British parliament, including the members of Labour, will vote in favor of recognizing Palestine immediately as the state of the Palestinian people.

The reasons are spread out across the entire spectrum of responsibility. From the British government’s problematic legacy to the terrible results of the British Mandate in 1948, to the international conservative hypocrisy that embraces the Palestinians with words and fears to be branded immediately by Israel as anti-Semitic, to the simple answer to the complex question of what is the right thing to do.

The Palestinian reality has been bound up with international alignments since its first days. From the UN resolution in 1947 to the international norms that allow Israel to think of itself as "the only democracy in the Middle East" though it is the one in the West that is still colonialist in the full sense of the term. An ethnic democracy that is responsible for the bad situation of all the people who live in the hostile space between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea.

The truth must be told: We have been living for decades in a de facto reality of one state for two peoples. A state that has no common space of equal rights for all its citizens and subjects. The opposite is true: Discrimination here has an obviously ethnic character – supremacy and far-reaching benefits for anyone whose genetics are Jewish, and attacks and worsening conditions for anyone who is Palestinian.

Very few legitimate options are left for the Palestinian fighters for hope. It appears that terrorism has at least three weaknesses: It is ineffective, it is no longer legitimate and it is damaging to Palestinian society. After terrorism comes the boycott. But every effort to boycott Israel is doomed to failure at present because it is characterized immediately as anti-Semitism, even though it is a legitimate act of non-violent civil disobedience.

In the meantime, right-wing Israel (and for several decades, political Israel has become more and more right-wing, and I include the Labor Party on the right) is doing all it can to weaken the moderate political powers with which it is still possible to reach an agreement. How very simple, how very cynical. Netanyahu prefers a strong Hamas to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas as an equal partner in rights and responsibilities. This is because he needs to give Hamas only a few economic crumbs and humanitarian gestures – but he needs to give Abbas recognition, legitimacy, a state and equal status with Israel between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea.

So what is left for Abbas to do? Join with Hamas? Or fight for the two-state solution with what remains of his strength? The Palestinian measure is by no means a unilateral one. It is not even a small attempt to respond to the unilateral reality of the Palestinian people. It is not as significant as a violent annexation of land, armed checkpoints, harassment on the roads, nighttime infiltrations by security forces and false arrests.

The proposed peace process is much more than bilateral. It is a dramatic transition from Israeli unilateral reality to international multilateral reality. The idea is a simple one: first of all, the state of Palestine will be declared according to the accepted international norms that established the State of Israel. Then the rest of the challenges will be settled – refugees, Jerusalem, territories, economy, power, authority and infrastructure. This is a proper and necessary step in the only direction that is not violent. And when we think about it that way, it appears that President Abbas is the last patriot of peace in the field.

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