Robin Yassin-Kassab

Hope? – Obama, Abbas, Abunimah and Morrisons

with 5 comments

Bell on Obama

Steve Bell

The hope invested by many in Barack Obama has dissolved. Dare I sing ‘I told you so’? I do. The audacious hope of Obamamania was always faith-based, founded on the believer’s premise that the handsome candidate didn’t mean what he actually said, that we should read his words esoterically, as code for profound radicalism. Now reality bites, and we discover that his promises to AIPAC and the military were solid and literal.

It’s certainly something that a black man has become president of a country built by African slaves, although we must place this in the context of the fierce racist backlash since his election (would those guardians of the constitution raving about the tree of liberty being watered by the blood of tyrants be quite so eager to wear their guns on their sleeves if the president were white and not a jumped-up negro? I doubt it). But that’s the achievement of Obama’s skin colour, not his policy; in fact it’s the achievement of the people who voted for him. Another achievement is that – in the company of war criminals such as Shimon Peres, Yitzhak Rabin and Henry Kissinger – Obama has already won the Nobel peace prize. Hooray!

But let’s get back to reality, the reality of blood and tears as suffered in the arc of American-led or funded conflict. As promised, Obama has escalated the wars in Afghanistan and Pakistan and put no pressure at all on apartheid Israel as it gobbles up the few remaining slivers of Palestine. His address to the Muslims in Cairo was sweeter in tone than what we had become accustomed to, but remained an offensive imperialist lecture. He pontificated about hijabs (he called them hajibs) and the education of women, and repeated the Bernard Lewis-Dick Cheney orientalist line about “a self-defeating focus on the past”, instead of addressing American occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan and backing for assaults on Lebanon and Somalia in the present. He mocked Palestinian resistance and misrepresented the history of black resistance in America while he was about it. He failed entirely to mention the enormous violence meted out to the Palestinians by Zionism. But he won applause for this: “The United States does not accept the legitimacy of continued Israeli settlements. This construction violates previous agreements and undermines efforts to achieve peace.”

The applause was undeserved. The key words here are “continued” and “construction.” It quickly became clear that the policy was to call for a freeze on settlement building, but not to dismantle any of the ‘facts on the ground’ illegally established since 1967. In return for the freeze, Palestinians were to give up their right of return to the 78% of their country from which they were ethnically cleansed in 1948. Obama quickly assured Israelis that no pressure would be brought to bear if they refused to freeze settlement construction; and indeed, when Netanyahu said that he might think about freezing a little, but didn’t actually freeze anything, Hillary Clinton praised Israeli flexibility. Dollars and weapons continue to flow to the apartheid state, while mini-kristallnachts continue in Jerusalem. Of course, if the aim were really a two-state solution, Obama would call not for a freeze on new building but for settlers to either be removed from the West Bank and Jerusalem or to agree to live under Palestinian rule. But there won’t be a two-state solution, just the constant theatre of a process towards one.

As this becomes more glaringly evident, Mahmoud Abbas’s collaboration with the occupation becomes ever more impossible to justify. Therefore Abbas has made the dramatic gesture of announcing that he won’t stand for election again. If this is truly the end of him, it’s great news. Saree Makdisi summarises why here. But sadly, it’s probably just more theatrics. Those Israeli and Western leaders who enjoy the ‘peace process’ – which has dispossessed and caged the Palestinians as effectively as any war – make public and private calls for Abbas to reconsider. In a tragic echo of the Arab police states, Fatah-organised demonstrations in Ramallah limply repeat the slogans they’ve been told to repeat, to the tune ‘Come back Abbas.’ But Abbas never went away. His term of office ran out in January while he was suppressing genuine demonstrations in support of Gaza, yet he’s still in his seat. There may never be real elections in Palestine again, and Abbas may heroically refuse to stand in these phantom elections, but he will still consider himself president.

Hemmed in and exhausted, suffering for lack of intelligent leadership, the Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza seem to have few options. It is certain, however, that any illusions they may have invested in the Oslo process (or the Road Map, or whatever the latest irrelevant formula is) have long ago dissolved. The best that can be hoped for at this stage is an honest admission that this is the case, and the dissolution of the Palestinian Authority whose only purpose is to manage the occupation. More than half of the Palestinian people live as refugees in neighbouring countries. These people need to be brought back into the debate, as do the Palestinian Israelis. Then a new leadership may emerge to demand a one state solution.

The one state already exists. The problem is that it’s an apartheid state, in which half the people are citizens without nationality (the Palestinian Israelis), or residents whose residency can be revoked at any time (east Jerusalem), or subjects of military occupation (the West Bank and Gaza). The Palestinian question is a question of human and civil rights, of equality. Two-state dream talk takes the focus away from this.

But the vast majority of Israeli Jews oppose equal rights for the natives of Palestine, preferring the status quo or some other permutation of the bantustan model. As a result, many liberal ‘realists’ in the West tell the Palestinians they must forget equality in one state. In a typically excellent article, Ali Abunimah points out that until the final years of apartheid in South Africa, the vast majority of South African whites, including many opponents of apartheid, refused to countenance one man – one vote. But minds were changed by the positive vision of an inclusive future offered by the ANC and by an international campaign of boycott, divestment and sanctions.

A reconstituted PLO to represent all the Palestinians wherever they are and a final abandonment of the two-state illusion would allow for the formulation of an inclusive vision. As for us in the West, the best way to work for justice and peace is BDS. Israel like white South Africa considers itself to be part of the West, and is dependent on the West for trade and political support. It is therefore very vulnerable indeed to the BDS weapon. It is to be hoped that a popular boycott will lead to corporate disenchantment with apartheid, and finally to governmental sanctions.

One of the beauties of BDS is that you can take a small step towards justice each time you go shopping. My mother and I worked gently and steadily on our local grocer until he stopped stocking Israeli produce. Supermarket chains are bigger fish. Any time you’re in you can ask to see the manager. Then very politely, very reasonably, explain why you won’t be buying Israeli goods and why their presence on the shelves is so disturbing. Ask for your comments to be registered and passed upwards. The Co-op is to be congratulated for not stocking produce from West Bank settlements but must be encouraged to extend this ban to all Israeli goods. Morrisons (customer service: 0845 611 6111 / head office: 0845 611 5000) and Waitrose (customer service: 0800 188 884) stock anything Israeli they can, including from settlements. So I phoned Morrisons yesterday and registered my complaint with a flustered lady who said “we’re being subjected to a campaign today.” I said my piece, but worried afterwards about ‘today’. We should be calling them tomorrow, next week and next month too. More ideas and contact information is available here).

Hope is a good thing. More important than Obama is the popular energy unleashed by his electoral campaign. I hope that instead of despairing those whose hopes have been shattered will learn a lesson. The lesson is this: nothing positive can ever come of the empire changing its top face. Power is very clever at theatrics. We mustn’t allow ourselves to be taken in. If we want to make the world a little better we have hard work ahead, not to encourage our neighbours to vote for the bright new guy, but to expose lobbies (like the Zionist lobby) and cultural discourses (like the racism, orientalism, and Christian Zionism which perpetuate Zionist successes), and to encourage our neighbours, markets and business partners to do the right thing.

Written by Robin Yassin-Kassab

November 12, 2009 at 9:51 pm

5 Responses

Subscribe to comments with RSS.

  1. While BDS can be effective it can also create great damage. If it is used surgically it can be useful but it also requires a mass support that is not yet ready in the United States and much of Europe. Is it possible to clearly discern a piece of fruit grown by a Palestinian versus one grown by an Israeli settler?

    Economic and institutional growth within Palestine is a major aim for Salam Fayyad who I personally have a lot of respect for. While he has no real political legitimacy or resistance background he is the one Palestinian that has Israel really worried. His plan for a de facto state in two years is reachable and supported in Europe and the United States. While it certainly is not a perfect plan its beats Hamas throwing stones at tanks.

    Robert Sutcliffe

    November 12, 2009 at 10:40 pm

    • Thanks for your comment, Robert. The thing is, as well as Fatah and Hamas, the Palestinians now have a coalition of civil society groups which have called for BDS, just as the ANC in South Africa did. I’m afraid I don’t share your optimism concerning Fayyad, whose group won 2% support in Palestinian elections. Didn’t stop him being appointed prime minister by Fayyad. Neither do I agree that he has Israel worried. The ‘state’ has been announced or threatened on numerous occasions (going back to the Arafat days), and nothing has changed. As for the Fayyad-Tony Blair idea of developing the Palestinian economy so long as the Palestinians are well-behaved, I think this is a non-starter. The problem in Plaestine is ultimately not economic but political. So long as there is apartheid, a wall, stolen water resources, etc, economic development happens at the whim of Israel. I’vve written (in a post called Four Solutions and elsewhere) of my reasons for thinking that the Palestinian state (which isn’t going to happen anyway) won’t solve the Palestinians’ problems.


      November 13, 2009 at 12:15 am

  2. Excellent article; agree with everything.

    Robert: The whole point of BDS is to isolate Israel politically and and economically. In this sense, it is meant to be damaging. But no one is calling for starving Israeli chilren or denying medical supplies to the country the way the US and Europe sadisically tortured the people of Iraq for may years. I suggest you read the plan of the Palestinians themselves: http://www.bdsmovement.net/?q=node/73

    Fayyad – seriously? Really? As Robin says, Arafat already “declared a state” (in 1988 I think it was). What a joke. Fayyad is just a Palesinian Buthelezi — but with even less popular support (2% was actually for his entire electoral list, which he shared with Hanan Asrawi, who at least is a notable person — even though she’s sold out now).


    November 13, 2009 at 3:30 pm

  3. When I say declare a state I mean international recognition of a state from what would probably be at least 150 countries and obviously a Security Council vote. Most SC countries should be on board and Obama hasn’t ruled that option out. Any idiot can declare some rinky dink state, I could right now. At least Fayyad has proposed a plan to create the organs of a state.

    Israel didn’t grow out the sand, the structure of a state was already in place before the U.N. vote. I don’t think Fayyad is the saviour, the only thing he has going is a semblance of respect in international institutions. There is unfortunately not a long list of awesome Palestinian leaders to pick from. Hamas is now a joke and don’t have the support of the Palestinian people in the West Bank or Gaza anymore.

    I understand BDS, I grew up in South Africa. Some stuff works, some doesn’t. What you need first is something at least approaching a consensus. If I choose not to buy an avocado pear from Israel who cares? Its meaningless. It takes a massive consensus and that is not in place. The States, many European countries and many other countries for that matter will not place sanctions on Israel. Until there is a real consensus it won’t be very effective unless you want to use it as a PR tool. Stuff like hey these guys refuse to speak to Israeli professors because of such an such can create awareness but actually pressure on Israel. I doubt it.

    If the PLO disbands and there is some kind of governable framework to replace it then there is a chance of taking the moment and declaring a state and having it recognised. It hinges on the foreign recognition, that will not be achieved by refusing to buy Intel processors etc. Salam Fayyad is basically just a civil servant doing the less ‘glamorous’ drudge work of building a state. It’s not ideological and high minded, it’s not martyrs and tear gas, his plan is just what it takes to build a state.

    Robert Sutcliffe

    November 13, 2009 at 8:13 pm

  4. I don’t know if you’re still there, Robert, but in the very brief time since we talked, Fayyad has withdrawn the ‘declaring a state’ idea. Because Israel told him to. So there we go. The man and his mutterings are irrelevant.

    Hamas may have lost support and direction, but it still has a lot more of either than Abbas-Fayyad-Dahlan. What has growing support is the civil society call for BDS and grassroots rights-based protest. Nobody is calling for the PLO to be disbanded, but for the PA to be dissolved. The PLO should be reenergised.

    Israel is uniquely vulnerable to boycott because like apartheid South Africa it considers itself to be part of the Western world. Its biggest trade partner is Europe. When European supermarkets cut orders from Israel during the Gaza massacre, Israeli farmers and the farmers union panicked and made representations to government. Years of grassroots work to popularise the boycott had to happen before Western governments came on board to sanction South Africa. And yes, in Israel’s case the struggle will be even harder. But the alternative (which may well happen) is continuous war until the Arabs and Muslims sort the situation out. The two state solution ISN’T going to happen, and if it did it would be no more meaningful that the bantustan solution in South Africa.
    see the above on why.


    November 28, 2009 at 11:02 am

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: