Thursday, August 30, 2007

Friend or foe?

John Pilger has written a dreadful piece in the New Statesman, calling for a boycott of Israel. There is an excellent rebuttal at Engage by Jon Pike. I picked the article up through Jim Denham's thoughtful critique and added my own comment. Will's take on it at the Drink-soaked Trots is less delicately phrased, but it is hard to demur from the sentiments expressed.

I do not want to comment on the article itself but to write a very personal take on why I think that this section of the pro-Palestinian left is, in effect, one of the Palestinians' worst enemies. This is because they are not the partisans of peace, but of conflict.

Let me first get this straight. I come from a position sympathetic to the Palestinians. I was a volunteer English teacher on the West Bank in the early eighties. The establishment of the State of Israel did lead to the dispossession of the Palestinians, a bitter experience and a continuing hardship. This was compounded by the occupation following the war of 1967. The reasons for the Palestinian 'catastrophe' was the failure by all parties, including the British and the Arabs, for whatever reasons, to accept and impose the 1947 UN resolution creating both a Jewish and a Palestinian state. This two state solution is still the only practical basis for a just settlement.

However, a one-state settlement remains as a temptation. Far right Zionist nationalism has talked of involuntary population transfers, modelled on the Greek and Turkish population exchanges following on from the Treaty of Lausanne, in order to incorporate the whole of Mandatory Palestine into an enlarged State of Israel. Palestinian rejectionist movements dream of reversing the defeats in successive wars and achieving a final victory over Israel. This has taken several forms from the 'secular democratic state' to the statement in the Hamas Charter that 'the land of Palestine has been an Islamic Waqf throughout the generations and until the Day of Resurrection, no one can renounce it or part of it, or abandon it or part of it' (not very comforting to the significant Palestinian Christian minority). This rejectionism has invariably been accompanied by bloody violence. The latest excrescence of the suicide murder of civilians is the most sickening, squandering the Palestinians' moral and political capital - and that is all they have.

So where does the Pilger inspired pro-Palestinian left go? Do they accept the undeniable legitimacy, or at least the permanence, of Israel and argue for a similar legitimacy for Palestinian national self-determination? To do so would mean engaging with, not boycotting, peace activists on both sides, educationalists and artists, trade unionists and human rights activists. No, they try to define the conflict according to their own lexicon. Zionism becomes racism, it is Apartheid, 'ethnic cleansing', colonialism and an agent of American imperialism. By implication those that struggle against it are the noble heroes of an anti-colonial struggle, regardless of their motivation, actions and purpose. They act as apologists for the partisans of an unwinnable struggle for a single state. And while the dynamics of conflict worsen, they can continue to feel ever more self-righteous in their advocacy.

The Palestine/Israel conflict is not easily reducible to categories, it has a unique and complex history. However, it is not about what this section of the left says it is. It is a struggle over land, self-determination, security and human rights. It is rooted in trauma - for one people genocide, for the other dispossession - and has been mediated by war and terrorism. The choice of peace means a de-escalation of violence, mutual recognition and continuing political engagement. It is hard to see that coming from the rhetoric of the left, as they act as cheerleaders for one side, rather than for the painful, slow and difficult processes that confront violence and seek reconciliation. By apologising for the worst, they betray the best. The Palestinians are ill served by such friends.


Terry Glavin has linked to this post as it appears on the Drink-soaked Trots. He has other links and, in particular, there are two videos that are well worth watching and circulating widely. You can see them here.


Will said...

This post is really marvelous stuff.

Anyone who isn't a 'two stater' is a fucking mental heed-the-ball.

Keep on keeping on Peter!

James Barlow said...

An excellent post.

The “Pro-Palestinian left” could be better described as the "Anti-Israeli" left, since the bulk of their activity is geared toward punishing Israel, not supporting Palestine.

Careful though: Nick Cohen found out the hard way that while not all Anti-Zionists are Anti-Semites, all Anti-Semites are Anti-Zionists.

Larkers said...

Thank you for the links – I particularly recommend the video links.

Pilger is a vain man whose past record contains a truth: After a while you begin to believe your own legend. Somehow, since at least the end of the eighteenth century, in the west to be 'any good' you have had to be a contrarian, especially one opposed to the society which produced you. It never crosses the minds of such people what their prospects would be under the kind of government they wish to impose upon everyone else. Tom Paine got locked up by the revolting French and chased out of revolutionary America; no matter, still a great survivor under the hated autocracies. Latterly, Stalin enjoyed pin up boy status among a million fellow travellers languishing in the gulags of western Universities.

Such people as Tom Wolfe said so cruelly, " ... are not soldiers. They are actors." Personally, I should not like my own prospects determined by the self-love of poseurs.