Beware of the upcoming struggle for equal rights for Palestinians

A Palestinian child holds a sign that says “Palestine United” during an event to mark Land Day in Beit Hanoun, Gaza Strip, on August 15, 2009. (Jim Fitzgerald/Wikimedia Commons)

The history of the Palestinians has been marked so far by three major revolts. A fourth one is likely coming, and it may be the last. The inability to achieve a two-state solution and the failure to make further attempts may spur a new revolt, and that revolt may have consequences that Israeli opponents of the two-state solution may come to regret.

The first revolt was the revolt in 1834 of farmers, urban elite, and Bedouins against Egyptian rule. Israeli historians Baruch Kimmerling and Joel S. Migdal wrote in their book “The Palestinian People: A History” that this revolt – which took place in Nablus, Hebron, Jerusalem, Jaffa, the Judean Hills, Galilee, and Gaza – was the first major event that brought together the people who would later be called the Palestinians.

The second revolt was the Arab revolt that started in 1936. It was an uprising against the British administration of the Palestine Mandate, with the objective of achieving Palestinian self-determination and ending Jewish immigration and land purchases which were part of the competing Zionist movement aiming to achieve Jewish self-determination.

The third revolt started in December 1987 while Yitzhak Rabin was minister of defense, and it is known as the First Intifada. It was a Palestinian revolt against the Israeli occupation of Gaza and the West Bank. The authors of the book “Shalom, Friend: The Life and Legacy of Yitzhak Rabin” wrote that because of this revolt, Rabin understood that the Palestinians were a separate entity from Jordan and that Israel had to deal with them directly. The Oslo Accords which Rabin, who was by then Prime Minister, signed with the PLO in September 1993 are the result of that realization. Those accords were meant to lead to the fulfillment of the right of the Palestinian people to self-determination through a two-state solution, but 26 years later, that goal has not yet been achieved.

Although each of the three revolts achieved some gains for the Palestinians, all three were ultimately suppressed.

There are indications that Palestinian self-determination may never be realized through a two-state solution. Gregg Carlstrom wrote in Newsweek in August 2017 that this Palestinian dream has “has been largely defeated”. He quotes Mkhaimer Abu Saada, a political analyst in Gaza, who said, “I find it hard to say as a Palestinian, but we haven’t achieved any of our national goals. Our leadership has failed to achieve anything”. Carlstrom observes, “For older Palestinians, the goal is still to create a Palestinian state along the pre-1967 borders. The younger generation sees this idea as hopelessly outdated”. He later quoted Abu Saada again who said, “We’re not in a good position. We don’t have good cards to play against Israel…and we can only hope that the next generation will bring some new ideas.”

So, if the idea of a Palestinian state is dead, what is next? What will be the new ideas? Carlstrom hinted at that as well in his article. He wrote that, “many [Palestinians] now see their struggle as a civil rights movement: ‘Give us Israeli passports,’ they argue, ‘and let us work in Tel Aviv and fly abroad from Ben-Gurion airport.’ Even Palestinians who are committed to two states acknowledge that the idea has an expiration date. ‘The two-state solution is not a Palestinian demand,’ says Husam Zumlot, the Palestinian ambassador in Washington. ‘It’s a Palestinian offer.'”.

If Carlstrom is right, the next Palestinian revolt will not be about self-determination. It will be about obtaining the same rights as Israelis, which practically means Israeli citizenship. This certainly seems to make sense, especially in light of events that took place since the article was written. With the growing number of Israeli settlements in the West bank, the pledge by Israel’s Prime Minister to annex all those settlements, and the growing opposition within Israel to a two-state solution, a one-state solution where all residents have equal rights is the next logical demand for the Palestinians.

A Palestinian struggle for equal rights would make the Palestinian cause look a lot more like the cause against Apartheid South Africa than it currently does. This is an analogy that the pro-Palestinian movement has been using for a long time, but with only limited success because the world sees the Israel-Palestinian conflict as a conflict between two nations, which the South African struggle was not, but once the Palestinian cause is purely about equal rights, the world would look at the conflict differently.

What is already an Israeli uphill battle for world opinion would suddenly become far more difficult. If the world sees Israel as suppressing the rights of part of its population based on their religion, governments would start finding it very difficult to justify having normal trade and diplomatic relations with Israel, and the pressure on Israel to comply with Palestinian demands would become unbearable.

If Israel complies with Palestinian demands, that would hugely increase the electoral base of Arab parties in Israel. It would allow the Palestinians to change Israel from within, bringing Palestinian refugees into Israel, and transforming Israel into an Arab state. By giving up on self-determination through a two-state solution, the Palestinians would achieve something that is pretty close to self-determination through a single-state solution.

From a Palestinian point of view, the fourth major Palestinian revolt would turn out to be the most successful. From an Israeli point of view, it would be the end of Zionism and the return of Jews to minority status everywhere.

About the Author
Fred Maroun is a Canadian of Arab origin who lived in Lebanon until 1984, including during 10 years of civil war. Fred supports Israel's right to exist as a Jewish state, and he supports the Palestinians' right to self-determination in their own state. Fred supports a liberal and democratic Middle East where all religions and nationalities, including Palestinians, can co-exist in peace with each other and with Israel, and where human rights are respected. Fred is an atheist, a social liberal, and an advocate of equal rights for LGBT people everywhere.
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