Saturday, September 03, 2011

Visions of the Future

As the Palestinian Authority prepares to ask the United Nations for recognition of an independent Palestinian state this month, most of the UN member countries (with the notable exception of the U.S. and Israel) are ready to endorse the bid as a largely symbolic, yet positive step on the road to Palestinian independence.

Even within Israel, some applaud this initiative on the part of Palestinian (or West Bank) President Mahmoud Abbas. Gush Shalom, the Israeli Peace Bloc, says in an advertisement in Ha'aretz (9-2-2011):


The great majority
Of the world's nations
Are about to
Vote for recognizing
The State of Palestine

If you can't beat them,
Why not join them?

But the Netanyahu government seems to be trying its best to spread fear and panic. Israeli columnist Uri Avnery says that in the minds of the government coalition, dominated as it is by settlers and their allies:

"September is not just the name of a month, the seventh in the old Roman calendar. It is the symbol of a terrible danger, an unspeakable existential menace. In the next few weeks, the Palestinians will ask the UN to recognize the State of Palestine. They have already mustered a large majority in the General Assembly. After that, according to the official assessment of our army, all hell will break loose. Multitudes of Palestinians will rise, attack the “Separation” Wall, storm the settlements, confront the army, create chaos."

To combat the "barbarians at the gates," the Israeli army is training settlers in violent self-defense, which can easily spill over into aggressive offense against peaceful protesters. And since Palestinians will surely continue their nonviolent protests, more tragedy is sure to result.

Avnery suggests that the government's fear-mongering serves not only to block the formation of an independent Palestinian state, but to divert the public from the huge social protests against Israeli living conditions that have taken place over the past few months. The Israeli education system, the health system, and the social services are all in dire need of reform. The billions of dollars that would fund such efforts can only come from the military budget and from the massive economic support the government provides the settlements. Israel cannot build a humane social welfare system for its own people and block a Palestinian state at the same time. How better to resolve this paradox than whipping up fear and paranoia?

Meanwhile, in Gaza, there is widespread skepticism that the PA's bid for independence will bring positive change. Mohammed Rabah Suliman, a 21 year old Palestinian student and blogger, writes eloquently from Gaza that his generation, especially, "does not seek more UN resolutions and international declarations. Not even a declaration of a state. A state itself is rather what we desire. A state that we can touch, see and live in. We long for the reunification of the more than 11 million Palestinians living in the world. We want to see facts on the ground and tangible results. We crave for the land which has been relentlessly ripped apart in flagrant violation of dozens of resolutions already passed — and then promptly ignored — by the very same UN to which the PA now turns."

Palestinian Americans, too, have called on their allies everywhere to reject the PA's plan. "In recent months, a consensus has emerged among Palestinian experts and organizations that the UN statehood bid is useless at best, and highly damaging to Palestinian rights at worst":

Controversy and dissent are to be expected around such a central issue of peace and human rights. But when both supporters and deniers of justice for Palestinians agree for opposite reasons, how should Friends respond?

Certainly we must speak out. But rather than responding with exasperation, confusion, worry, or worst-case scenarios, what if we focused solely on the positive? If you're in favor of UN recognition of a Palestinian state, what good things might come from that -- for both sides? Are you passionate about a one-state solution? What could that look like for all its new citizens? What positive changes in the larger, global order would address the suffering of Palestinians as well as the concerns of Israelis whose social system is collapsing around them? What could the region look like in ten or fifteen years if the peace you envision were achieved?

Focus on the light,

Helen Fox
Convener, Palestine Israel Action Group
Ann Arbor Friends Meeting

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