What are the choices left for Palestinians if there is to be a two-state solution?
In the aftermath of Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian president’s successful bid at the UN in November 2012, one must ask how the UN recognising Palestine as an observer member is getting us closer to the main issues of peace for the Palestinians. And what are the choices left for the Palestinians if there is to be a two-state solution?
It seems that Palestinians must accept
- 22% or less of the territory of Palestinian Mandate (1967 borders)
- Land in desert along Gaza Strip in exchange for losing land in West Bank settlements.
- ‘Right of return’ to Palestinian state and not the original homes now in Israel.
And this is exactly what Mahmoud Abbas went the UN for. The question is why now?
One interpretation is that Abbas is hoping to keep Oslo Accords alive in order to remain relevant. Meanwhile, in Gaza it seems that Hamas is in full control. While some Hamas leaders such as the exiled Khalid Mash’al welcomed Abbas’s moves, other Hamas leaders such as As’ad Abu Haniah have called for the continued armed struggle against Israel. Meanwhile Hamas and Israel have just come out of a deadly exchange, in which Hamas claimed victory, as it forced Israel to negotiate with it a ceasefire. In addition, Khalid Mash’al visiting Gaza just after the UN Resolution was welcomed by thousands of people on the streets with green flags rather than the Palestinian flag.
One must also take into consideration the change of guards in the surrounding Arab countries. Hamas is getting closer to its mother movement, the Moslem Brotherhood in Egypt, with the Egyptians working as mediators between Hamas and Israel on the one hand, and Hamas and the PLO on the other. In that light, the recent visit of Jordan’s king to Ramallah seems dull and uneventful. On the other hand, the Emir of Qatar just visited Gaza and promised to send aid, bypassing Abbas and the Palestinian Authority.
The last point is: is Abbas talking on behalf of all Palestinians? Who is left out?
Needless to say, the Palestinian refugees are left out. Abbas has conceded even his own personal right of return to his town, Safad, which he was forced out of in Northern Israel.
The people of Gaza don’t seem particularly happy, or particularly unhappy about the international recognition. At best, their reaction invokes Emile Habibi’s ‘The Secret Life of Saeed, the Pessoptimist’. In this satirical piece, Habibi, describes the fate of the Palestinian state of being in the aftermath of 1948 through his protagonist, Saeed, an ordinary man who had to live with, and make sense of all the political decisions made on behalf of his people. Saeed was never particularly optimistic or particularly pessimistic, as his life slides through the complex maze of events pertaining to the Palestinians.
Most notably left out are the Palestinians inside Israel (whom Habibi was describing in his satire): they did not go out on the streets happy about the UN Resolution. Following their local press it seems that there is apprehension in the air. They understand very well the implications of a Palestinian state in the 22% or so of historic Palestine. The Pan-Arab and the international media are silent in this regard, even though we are talking about roughly 20% of Israel’s population who may be facing dispossession sooner or later. Following the second intifada in 2000, the Israeli Knesset, supported by uncritical media, has been quietly proposing bills that will ultimately lead to changes in Israel’s laws of citizenship.
Some of these bills seem to legally support sectarian distinctions among the Palestinian holders of Israeli citizenship. For example, numerically speaking, the Christian minority in Israel does not present a demographic threat whereas, the Moslem does. This can easily be tied to the sectarian tensions which are present all over the Arab World. The status of the Christians is hotly debated in the Middle East where there are substantive Christian minorities. What does it mean today to be a Christian in the Middle East? And inevitably, what does it mean to be a Palestinian Christian in this very Land of Revelation, not only to a Moslem majority, but also to a devout American public and a wider global Christian population?
And finally, what does it mean to me personally, a Palestinian with an Israeli citizenship, whose family goes back in Nazareth to at least 300 years, with land ownership in Nazareth that goes back that deep, but has been registered in the family’s name soon after the first wave of Tanzimat in the Ottoman Empire in the nineteenth’s century? What does that mean to me? Is it now anomalous to be a Moslem native of Nazareth, in the absence of any other historic and geographic sense of belonging? ‘I am from here, and here I am, and here is here, and I am I’ professed Mahmoud Darwish. ■
Camelia Suleiman is the author of Language and Identity in the Israel-Palestine Conflict and Assistant Professor and Director of Arabic Flagship Program at Michigan State University. She has taught a wide range of courses in Arabic Language and Middle East History and Culture and holds a PhD from the Department of Linguistics at Georgetown University.
Image courtesy of ArabStands.