Tag Archives: occupation

“There will be no Palestinian state” – An interview with Palestine Papers whistleblower Ziyad Clot

On the 45th anniversary of the Naksa, former PLO advisor and Palestine Papers whistleblower Ziyad Clot says a Palestinian state will never be achieved

On the 45th anniversary of the Naksa, former PLO advisor and Palestine Papers whistleblower Ziyad Clot says a Palestinian state existing alongside Israel will never be achieved

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.

Israeli democracy, or the lack thereof: a conversation with Alternet’s Joshua Holland

I recently spoke to Alternet’s Joshua Holland about law and politics in Israel. Our conversation focused on the image of Israel as a Western style democracy coping with legitimate security concerns versus the reality of Israel as an ethnocratic state managing its demographic peril through authoritarian measures approved by the Jewish majority. The discussion can be heard here. Below is a transcript via Alternet:

Joshua Holland: Max, I don’t want to talk about Iran today. I don’t want to talk about the Israeli lobby in the United States, and I don’t want to talk about the Occupation. I want to talk about something I don’t think gets enough attention in this country, which is the sharp rightward turn of the Israeli government.

One of the great non-sequiturs of our political discourse is that Israel is the only democracy in the Middle East. And I say it’s a great non-sequitur because it’s usually used as a response to, for example, criticism of the Occupation. You say this Occupation is terrible, and people say it’s the only democracy in the Middle East.

Anyway, Tzipi Livni, the leader of the opposition Kadima Party, accused Benjamin Netanyahu recently of, “an attempt to transform Israel into a type of dictatorship.” Kadima lawmakers said that recent legislation passed by the Knesset represented, “the gravest challenge to democracy since the establishment of the state in 1948.” Tell me about the sharp rightward lurch. When did this happen, because I remember when I was a kid Israel was almost a socialist country.

Max Blumenthal: Well, by not wanting to talk about Iran you’re an anti-Semite and I condemn that.

JH: Max, I’m a self-loathing Jew — please get this straight.

MB: Part of Netanyahu’s goal in focusing on Iran is taking the Palestinian question off the table, and so it’s good that you’re talking about this. Israel has never been a democracy in the sense that we think about a democracy. It’s a settler, colonial state that privileges the Jewish majority, which it created through violent methods of demographic manipulation over the indigenous Palestinian outclass.

That’s true even inside Israel. So when you hear people like Tzipi Livni — who is for now the head of the Kadima Party but soon to be ousted, and actually came out of the Likud Party and was aide to Ariel Sharon – when you hear liberal Zionists, people on the Zionist left, warning that Israel is turning into a fascist state what they’re talking is the occupation laws creeping back over the green line, and that these right-wing elements are actually starting to crack down on the democratic rights that have been afforded to the Jewish majority inside Israel. So Jews who are left-wingers, who are dissidents and speak out against state policy are actually beginning to feel a slight scintilla of the kind of oppression that Palestinians have felt since the foundation of the state of Israel. That’s where this criticism is coming from.

I think we really need to get beyond the discourse of occupation and the discourse of fascism, and instead to talk about institutional discrimination and apartheid, which is what has been present since the foundation of the state of Israel.

JH: Now I want to talk about some of the specific measures that have been proposed, some of which have passed. There are some things that have been pulled back or tabled temporarily due to international pressure, and other have actually gotten through and become law. Tell be about the crackdown on NGOs.

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J14 and the Calamity of Hope: a response to critics

On August 26, Joseph Dana and I published an article, “Israel’s Exclusive Revolution,” bringing extensive reporting together with an analysis of Israel’s separation principle to describe the July 14 protest movement’s (J14) cognitive dissonance regarding the occupation. So far, no one — not one single person I know of — has responded to our article about the ongoing July 14 protests with facts of their own or anything resembling a reality-based analysis. Instead, our critics have replied with a mixture of personal attacks and emotion-laden, dreamy visions of the way things could be.

Noam Sheizaf wrote in a piece criticizing our article, “The important issue is not where the movement starts but where it leads, and in my view, this is still an open question… So there could, potentially, be mass change. This is the reason for the relative hope I see in this protest.” As with Obama’s 2008 presidential campaign, which has left most of his formerly love-struck liberal supporters feeling angry and abandoned, hope was all you needed.

It is true that there could be mass change (I presume Noam was referring to a mass Israeli movement to end the occupation of Palestine and official discrimination against Palestinian citizens and non-Jewish residents of Israel), but Dana and I did not find very much evidence that it was on the way. So we reported what we learned based on our coverage of events and interviews with key players in the J14 movement, including Palestinians. We aimed to portray J14 — and by extension, Israeli society —  as it was and not as it could be.

Sheizaf, who is not only a friend but one of the better  journalists covering Israeli politics, responded to me and Dana’s article by accusing us of “cherry-picking.” He did not produce any reporting or factual analysis to set us straight, however. Most disappointingly, Sheizaf felt compelled to distort our conclusions, claiming that we said “J14 was some sort of right-wing movement.” I challenge Sheizaf to produce any evidence that we wrote or even suggested that. If he can not, he should immediately retract his false claim.

On August 31, the normally insightful Gabriel Ash published a piece that read like a mimeograph of the criticisms that had already been leveled against Dana and I. After completely concurring with the substance of our analysis, writing, “Everything [Blumenthal and Dana] say about the limitations of the protest movement, I agree [with],” Ash lambasted us for not focusing on the supposed “process” of “changing Israeli consciousness.” He pointed to nothing factual to support his claim that such a process was underway and did not attempt to explain what the process was. He did no reporting and offered very little reality-based analysis. In the end, the thrust of his criticism was that we did too much reporting, and not enough dreaming about the way things could be.

When Ash attacked our reporting, he did not do so by engaging with the substance of what our sources told us, but by complaining that we talked to the wrong sources. Never mind that we interviewed some of J14’s original organizers, or that the mainstream of the protest is based on Tel Aviv’s Rothschild Boulevard. And never mind what anyone actually told us. According to Ash, the people we interviewed were not valid sources because some of them were middle class Ashkenazim. Like other critics, Ash didn’t like what we found, so he attacked us for not looking somewhere else. Then, after proclaiming his distaste for “pop psychology,” Ash accused us without any factual basis of seeking to interview only “people who are like [ourselves].” This was a comical statement considering that we featured long quotes by Palestinian citizens of Israel and based our overarching analysis on countless conversations we had with Palestinians. So was Ash saying that Dana and I are Ashkenazi Palestinians? Or was he just refusing to acknowledge the substance of what our Palestinian sources told us about J14?

For those living in a region consumed with conflict and war, the tendency to cling to irrational hopes and evanescent solutions is completely understandable. But it is also dangerous, especially when utopian aspirations are projected onto a mass movement with deliberately vague politics and clear limitations. Not all social justice movements lead the way to progressive change. In fact, some ultimately produce the reverse effect. Saul Alinsky’s Back of the Yards Neighborhood Council, which transformed into a base of support for the segregationist George Wallace’s 1968 presidential campaign, is but one example of a dramatic social movement that turned reactionary. And after just a month and half of demonstrations, some of J14’s liberal-left activists have revealed an ugly, parochial mentality that has brought the movement’s latent ethno-nationalism closer to the surface.

Just weeks after the Israeli government detained scores of international Palestine solidarity activists at Ben Gurion International Airport for declaring their intention to volunteer in the occupied West Bank, the left-wing Israeli writer Yossi Gurvitz authored an uncharacteristically incoherent screed in which he declared that the “the ad hoc alliance” with “international left-wing activists…should end.” Addressing his rant to me, Dana and Ali Abunimah (though he didn’t mention us, we were the only J14 critics he linked to), Gurvitz claimed that “we’re not dealing with leftist [sic], but Palestinian right-winger. [sic]” Gurvitz’s broadside was an extension of his outbursts on Twitter, where he has attacked Abunimah, a Palestinian whose family was expelled from Lifta in 1948, as a “foreigner inciting natives,” bizarrely comparing him to Avigdor Lieberman. When I informed Gurvitz that Abunimah’s family was ethnically cleansed and that he is not allowed to return to their home, Gurvitz gloated, “If you ask Palestinians to reject moderate positions, you should be ready to pay the consequences.” Then, stepping into the role of the New Jew who had demonstrated his authenticity by “redeeming” the land, Gurvitz tweeted at me that my criticisms were not valid because I was a “tourist.” He thus appropriated the condescending talking point that has become a hallmark of Israeli hasbara: “You have to understand, it’s very, very complicated.”

While several other left-wing Israeli activists revealed ignorant, borderline racist views in Twitter exchanges with diaspora Palestinians, Gurvitz’s outbursts were in a class of their own. Gurvitz has covered the conflict for years, garnering a sizable following of readers who enjoyed his trenchant critiques of Israeli politics and military affairs. He seemed enlightened, informed about the history of the conflict and fully aware of the oppression Israel meted out against Palestinians on a daily basis. But once the “process” of J14 began, another side of Gurvitz emerged. As soon as Abunimah and others reminded Gurvitz that a movement that officially ignored Palestinians living under occupation or in refugee camps could not expect their solidarity, Gurvitz lashed out at them with visceral, almost inexplicable loathing. How long had Gurvitz harbored so much resentment for Palestinians? No one besides him really knows. But what is clear — and utterly tragic — is that his feelings were always there, lurking just beneath the surface. And now the mask is off.

While the “process” J14 initiated may have generated positive results in some areas, it has clearly been painful for Israelis like Gurvitz. Through their interaction with activists from the outside world, Gurvitz and others have been reminded that they are not citizens of a normal society, but players in a system that dominates and oppresses millions of people. They can sense through these exchanges that the discriminatory ideology of the state of Israel is a stain on their identity, and it hurts them. But instead of casting it off and redoubling their efforts against it, they hold on to the ideology and deploy it as a weapon against those “foreign” Palestinians and “tourists” who have denied them the sense of normality they yearn for. They want the occupation to go away for a little while so they can wage their “internal” struggle in the city Gabriel Ash once labeled “Colonial Tel Aviv.” But when Rothschild Boulevard empties out and the tents disappear, it will still be there. And then, they are going to have a whole lot of explaining to do.