Last month, thousands of Jewish Israelis celebrated Yom Yerushalayim, or Jerusalem Day. It was the 45th anniversary of what many Israelis consider the “reunification” of Jerusalem, an occasion for right-wing revelers to sing nationalistic songs, chant anti-Muslim slogans, and cheer for the mass murdering Jewish extremist Baruch Goldstein while marching triumphantly through the Muslim Quarter of the Old City. Today, Palestinians will observe Naksa Day, marking “the Setback” of 1967. It is the 45th anniversary of Israel’s ongoing military occupation, an ignominious date that inspires angry demonstrations across the West Bank, the Gaza Strip, the Palestinian refugee camps, and in cities around the world.
As the occupation grinds on, propelling rapid Israeli settlement expansion and the consolidation of apartheid rule, the concept of a sovereign Palestinian state seems like just that — a fantastical idea that belies the oppressive reality on the ground. The Palestinian Authority that was created to administer the future state today serves little purpose besides doling out paychecks to a long roll of dependents while providing Israel with a convenient occupation subcontractor that routinely arrests non-compliant Palestinians and internal critics of its authoritarian rule. Having been fragmented through generations of dispossession and colonization, then physically separated from one another by the separation wall and the siege of Gaza, Palestinians face an increasingly limited array of options for resisting Israel’s settler-colonial predations. With hopes for a viable, independent state all but dashed, questions about short term tactics and long term goals are being debated with renewed intensity.
While Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza prepared to commemorate Naksa Day, I met in a cafe in Washington DC with an author and former PLO legal advisor named Ziyad Clot. In January 2008, Clot was recruited to advise the Negotiations Support Unit of the PLO, which was tasked with overseeing the Palestinian refugee file. Until he resigned in dismay 11 months later, Clot said he witnessed “a cruel enterprise” that “deepened Israeli segregationist policies” and “excluded for the most part the vast majority of the Palestinian people.” In 2010, with images of Israel’s grisly assault on the Gaza Strip still singed in his memory, Clot published a provocatively titled polemic in his home country of France that has not yet been translated into English: “Il n’y aura pas d’Etat Palestinian,” or, “There will not be a Palestinian state.”
Soon after the book’s release, Clot leaked hundreds of documents relating to the so-called peace process to Al Jazeera, leading to the release of the Palestine Papers. Greeted with fury by PA officials, met with eerie silence by the Israeli government and quickly overshadowed by the Egyptian revolution, the Palestine Papers confirmed the peace process as a cruel farce that pitted an unrelenting occupier against an unrepresentative Palestinian entity beholden to antagonistic outside forces.
In our discussion, Clot went beyond his critique of the peace process, offering prescriptions for moving the Palestinian struggle past the drive for statehood and the failed experiment of the PA. According to Clot, the first priority of the struggle should be to ensure the full representation of the more than 10 million Palestinians living around the world by the PLO, a goal that can be achieved by allowing them to vote in Palestinian National Council elections. Once Palestinian exiles and refugees become convinced that they have a stake in the future of Palestine, Clot claimed their financial and cultural contributions would enable the PA to wean itself off of its onerous Western benefactors. Considering that only 8 percent of the Palestinians driven from the homes by the fighting in 1967 were allowed to return to Palestine, bringing them back into the political fray seems like an appropriate way to redress the crisis of the Naksa.
My interview with Ziyad Clot follows:
MB: Explain the title of your book. What caused you to conclude that there will never be a sovereign Palestinian state?
ZC: The big question today is whether after 45 years of occupation why there has been no sovereign state. The only advice I’d give to someone interested in this is to look at a map and ignore what will be the hypothetical borders of a future Palestinian state and recognize the fact that the two populations are intermingled in Israel and West Bank. Because of the colonization and the fact that no one has been able to stop it since 1967 we now reach a situation where in the West Bank there is not a single hill without a settlement or an outpost. How do you create a viable Palestinian state in that situation, and where this is not enough land or water to create that state? You can’t. Therefore all the attributes of the state aren’t there anymore. Jerusalem has become a de facto unified capital of Israel and what really struck me when I was there was the extraordinary gap between the facts on the ground and what is still being negotiated in this parallel world which has totally lost touch with reality.
MB: The Palestine Papers provide a portrait of a Palestinian Authority that is out of touch to say the least. Not only were they willing to negotiate away most of East Jerusalem, they seemed psychologically disjointed from the entire refugee situation. How can you account for the disconnect?
ZC: They [PA officials] live and negotiate under a situation of occupation. It’s easy for us to say they’re giving up and are ready for any compromise and that all the red lines have been crossed — and this is my personal belief — but they have to cope with so many constraints and obstacles that along the years that they lost touch with the exiles, then the refugees, then Gaza, and now East Jerusalem because of the wall, so they are left in this small enclave that they try to administer without full sovereignty. So along the years they have internalized these constraints and became accustomed to the discourse that is acceptable to the West. Because of the PA’s structure and how it is financed they are more accountable to the international donors than the Palestinian people. So this explains why the bridges between Palestinians don’t exist anymore. If there is one area where Palestinians should focus it’s on the issue of representation. Because the peace process has become irrelevant the question of who represents the Palestinians and how they are represented is most important at this point.
MB: Recently the Israeli politician and peace process fixture Yossi Beilin urged Mahmoud Abbas to shut down the Palestinian Authority. He even used the same language as you, calling the peace process a “farce.” Do you agree that the PA should be disbanded and if so, what comes next?
ZC: Dismantling the PA is a tough call because there are so many interests involved. If you dismantle it tomorrow a large proportion of the West Bank will be left without income. So it’s an extraordinary political decision to make. You also have to consider that the Israeli occupation is more brutal than what the Palestinians are facing with the PA so do we really want to face the occupation directly? If the long term goal is the achievement of Palestinian rights and self-determination, then it’s preferable. In the short term, this will probably mean a lot of suffering. Are the Palestinians prepared for that? I don’t think so. So to put it simply: These critical issues have to be decided by the Palestinians. It’s up to them to decide whether this state is achievable. If not, the different options should be submitted to them. Unfortunately, because of this lack of representation, this is impossible. That’s why I think the first priority should be to restructure the PLO. In the near term, the second priority should be to preserve the humanity of Palestinians who are experiencing massive suffering — especially the people in Gaza — because a political solution might be a long way off.
MB: What specific measures can be employed to offer the whole Palestinian people representation?
ZC: All Palestinians should be allowed to vote in the Palestinian National Council elections — all 10 million Palestinians should be involved and each voice should be heard. This is a very strong asset for the Palestinians. There are strong communities of Palestinians outside the territories. If you want to use them as an asset, either financially, politically, or culturally, you have to give them representation. The problem with the PA is not a lack of financial resources — there are a lot of wealthy Palestinians out there. So then we have to ask why the West is writing the checks without holding the Israelis accountable for anything. Wealthy Palestinians would be more than happy to contribute but unfortunately they don’t recognize themselves as actors who have representation in Palestine. Despite all the internal differences, we have to establish a structure to allow all these voices to be heard.
This piece originally appeared at Al Akhbar English.