Shifting the Conversation on Palestine

Arab states and the world community must counter Israel’s impunity as well as put an end to the profitable occupation enterprise… otherwise it’s another futile ceasefire.

Palestinians look at the remains of a tower building which was destroyed by Israeli air strikes, amid a flare-up of Israeli-Palestinian violence, in Gaza City May 13, 2021. Suhaib Salem/Reuters

As the dust settles following the ceasefire brokered by Egypt and the United States, the sheer enormity of the Israeli onslaught on the besieged Gaza Strip and the rest of the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem, becomes shockingly apparent. 

The human tollthe wholesale trauma to 2 million people packed in one of the most densely populated cities in the world, half of whom are childrenand the extensive damage to infrastructure are all unbearable. So is part of the political discourse, which continues to disregard the very humanity of Palestinians and ignore the reality of a colonial occupation that imposes a daily reality of violence and injustice on the captive Palestinian people. 

Israel has instituted and entrenched a repressive and racist colonial regime that disconnects East Jerusalem from the rest of the occupied West Bank, expands colonial settlements at the expense of Palestinian rights, resources, and property; and lays an illegal siege to the Gaza Strip’s battered population. In parallel, it has instituted a series of racist and discriminatory laws that specifically target the Palestinian citizens of Israel while encouraging and colluding with far-right settler groups set up to overtake Palestinian towns and neighborhoods, especially in major cities like Lydd, Haifa, and others. 

The daily reality for all Palestinians within and beyond the Green Line, even without this latest round of aggression, is one of dispossession, structural violence, discrimination and denial of basic rights. The latest Israeli aggression, just like the previous ones, is about maintaining this unacceptable status quo. 

So, while a ceasefire is now in effect, reverting to the tried-tested-and-failed political formulas will only guarantee its failure. Without a clear and credible vision of how to end the Israeli colonial occupation, this ceasefire will be futile. Focusing political efforts on returning to the status quo ante would be equally counterproductive. These are tried and failed formulas that have outlived their utility. 

Ending the Business of Occupation

Instead, focus must be on countering Israel’s impunity as well as putting an end to the profitable occupation enterprise, politically and economically. Providing Israel with a free pass to crush and destroy at will in order to maintain its grip on Palestine while demanding that Palestinians acquiesce in silence must become a feature of an embarrassing past. The narrative and mindset that equates the oppressed with the  oppressor must also be rejected, as was recently the case in the U.S. Congress and in cities across the United States and around the world

Policymakers must look at the situation with both eyes wide open. They can no longer ignore the daily Israeli incitement against Palestinian rights or the lynch mobs that attacked Palestinian citizens of Israel chanting “death to the Arabs”.  They must recognize and reject Israel’s policies against the Palestinian people, which are based on the denial and attempted erasure of Palestinian national existence and identity; whether by calling Palestinian citizens of Israel “Arabs”, using terms such as “Gazans” and “West Bank Palestinians”, or through racist laws that legitimate discrimination against and dispossession of Palestinians. They have to accept that this dismal reality is at the very least partly a product of their own policies and actions, including the unconditional financial and military support provided to Israel in addition to protecting Israel from any form of accountability or criticism.  

The European Union, Israel’s largest trading partner, cannot continue waiting for the U.S. to act or accept to be hijacked by rightwing governments like that of Hungary in the name of maintaining consensus. At a minimum, Europe must use the leverage it has to compel Israel to respect EU laws, not just Palestinian rights.  

The Biden administration must also come to terms with shifting policy grounds at the popular level, especially among Democrats. Positive developments like the opening of the U.S. Consulate in Jerusalem are a drop in a bottomless bucket. Much more can and should be done for the Biden administration to mend the fences Donald Trump crushed with his destructive policies. That would also require a new approach from Washington that abandons the obsession with managing the conflict and promoting an endless, and futile, political process. 

The latest onslaught has also exposed the morally and politically defunct normalization accords with some Arab countries, which must be recognized for what they are: a failed attempt to sidestep the Palestinian people and their cause for freedom. Normalizing the colonial occupation will not bring peace to the region, much less stop Israeli aggression against our people in Jerusalem, Gaza, or anywhere else in the Occupied Palestinian Territory. It will not change the racist nature of Israel’s laws that, by design, discriminate against Palestinian citizens and ensure their permanent subjugation.   

System Worthy of Palestinians

Despite ongoing Palestinian political division, the past few weeks have shown an extraordinary degree of worldwide mobilization for justice in Palestine. New generations of Palestinians have affirmed that they will not settle for anything less than what is rightfully theirs. They will not yield to attempts at fragmentation, erasure, or censorship; and they have built bridges and bonds across all imaginable divides. 

And while the ceasefire in Gaza has allowed  Palestinians in the besieged territory to rebuild and regroup, the daily reality of Palestinians is far from “quiet” or “peaceful.” The occupation and its brutality continues, as does the Palestinian struggle against its many manifestations. In the absence of a united political Palestinian front, the challenge facing Palestinian activists and emerging political players will be to maintain the momentum and keep eyes and hearts on Palestine. 

But such inspiring dignity and perseverance at the popular level requires a Palestinian system worthy of the Palestinian people. 

A renewal of all Palestinian governing bodies is urgently needed. Following the obstruction of Palestine Legislative Council elections by the PLO leadership in April, a strong push for inclusive dialogue is not a luxury but a national responsibility. It is incumbent upon all Palestinian political and civil society actors to deny Fatah and Hamas the right to maintain efforts to end the current split and achieve unity hostage to their bilateral dialogue. Instead, all effective actors, traditional and emerging ones, must be part of an inclusive and participatory national dialogue that secures a return to elections within the Palestinian National Authority and the Palestine Liberation Organization; and the reformulation of the Palestinian polity in a manner that reflects the aspirations of the Palestinian people and allows their impressive energies to thrive in service of the national cause. 

A new Palestinian direction is required, one that leads to deep and wide change and produces an accountable, representative, and dignified leadership. The current situation of deadlock and undemocratic governance is simply indefensible.

Nour Odeh is an independent media professional and communications consultant with 20 years of experience as a distinguished journalist. In 2012, Ms. Odeh became Palestine’s first female government spokesperson and she served in various capacities as a senior communications and public diplomacy advisor to the Palestinian leadership. Ms. Odeh writes opinion and analysis in English and Arabic and is a regular guest in international news outlets.
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