Thursday, 17 February 2011

LSE & Kings College: Palestine Papers - End of the Peace Process?

By Zachariah Sammour

On Friday 11th February, the LSE and Kings College Palestine Societies held a joint event entitled "The Palestine Papers: End of the Peace Process?"
The talk was delivered by a panel of speakers: Jody McIntyre - political activist and journalist for The Independent, Dr. Dahlia Wasfi - an international renowned public speaker and political activist, and Zachariah Sammour - President of the LSE Palestine Society. 
Below is an excerpt of Sammour's speech. 

I do not intend in this speech to engage in any close analysis of the revelations disclosed in the Palestine Papers, but I intend instead to examine the strategic opportunity that these papers present to Palestine Rights activists and to examine two possible arguments that I believe individuals like myself, student-activists involved in the campaign for justice in Palestine, can construct.

Before we embark upon an analysis of what the Palestine Papers mean for the so-called ‘peace process’ we must first define our terms- we must be clear in our heads as to what we expect the peace process to consist of, what we expect it to achieve or purport to achieve. In order to assess what the Palestine Papers truly show us about the peace process, we must clearly define, on our own terms and according to our own conceptions of the word, what peace entails.

Zachariah Sammour giving his speech

The operative word in this phrase is clearly ‘peace’- process has no real meaning except to suggest that this is an ongoing series of interrelated functions and events that are aimed at bringing about ‘peace’. But what is ‘peace’, and particularly what is ‘peace’ within the context of a popular struggle for liberation and self-determination by a stateless people? The US sponsored peace process is based around the conception that peace is concerned primarily with the cessation of hostilities between conflicting states or governments. I will refer to this view of peace, for the remainder of the evening, as the state-centred peace paradigm; it is a way of thinking about peace in which the primary actors are the states involved in the conflict. We think of the states as autonomous legal persons, capable of engaging and ceasing from a range of activities, including armed hostility.  

If we accept this definition and work within the state-centred paradigm then we must assess the implications of the Palestine papers accordingly. We must use the insight provided by the Palestine Papers to assess whether or not this process is truly capable of, or even concerned with, ending the open period of hostilities between the state of government and the de-facto government of the Palestinians, the PA.  The central question is then do these papers show that the negotiations have the capacity or potential to bring about an end in the open hostilities between Palestinian factions represented in the negotiations and the state of Israel?

However, I would argue that the dominant conception of peace is certainly not the only one available to us, and that, particularly in the context of a national struggle for self-determination carried out by a stateless people, the state-centred paradigm is inadequate. If we accept that the conflict is not between two states, as is clearly the case, then the analysis of peace arising out of the cessation of hostilities between those states becomes inadmissible. Peace, in such circumstances, must be reached between two peoples, or at least between a state and a people. It is possible to argue that in such circumstances a different paradigm exists, and this is one in which peace must be considered in a far broader context and to include other integral social goods such as justice and equality. 

A people struggles for its self-determination because without it they are not at peace; a people living under occupation, oppression and brutality cannot be considered to be at peace even if they are not in a position to fight back against those injustices and accordingly are not engaged in open hostilities with their oppressor. A ‘people-centred peace paradigm’ is therefore an approach to peace that focuses on the position of the people, as a collective group, as opposed to the state or quasi state-authority which may be engaged in negotiations on behalf of that people.

Dr. Dahlia Wasfi

We can see then, that a people-centred peace paradigm, which focuses on an end of injustice against the people fighting for their self-determination as an integral part of the ‘peace’ that is to be achieved, may have a greater bearing for the Palestine-Israel conflict than the approach internalised by the US-led peace process. Thus, if we were to accept the second conception of peace, then we would expect a peace process to work towards a just and equitable solution to the ongoing conflict, and we would examine the Palestine Papers to find the evidence, or lack thereof, of such trends within the negotiations.

So, we can see that there are two possible conceptions of peace that I’d like us to think about- the state-centred approach and the people-centred approach. The practical implications of the approach that we take will become clear once we examine the different arguments that are likely to be made by Palestinian activists up and down the country in the wake of these papers.

The first argument, which is an entirely valid and sensible argument to make, relies upon the first conception of peace. It works within the existing US-Israeli framework and attempts to show that, in light of the revelations in the Palestine Papers regarding the refusal of the Israelis to accept the extremely generous offer in relation to land, Jerusalem and the issue of the right of return, the peace process can be seen as failing. The peace process, which we are accepting is concerned only with creating an agreement between the two governments, or quasi-governments, is failing because the Israeli’s are so reluctant to accept generous Palestinian proposals that they make any agreement impossible. The peace process is failing because Israel doesn’t want peace; Israel wants more land, more settlements, greater concessions.
We can see the appeal of this argument to a Palestine activist- the opportunity to work within the largely US-Israeli defined parameters of peace and to still show that Israel does not want peace is clearly constructive as far as the Palestinian cause is concerned. It acts to counter the long held and frequently forwarded proposition that Israel is desperate for peace and has constantly been refuted by the greedy Arabs despite its magnanimous and generous attempts to make peace. From this perspective the argument has strong appeal; we can show that the Palestinians want peace, that they are willing to make concessions to reach it and that the true obstacle to peace is actually Israel. We can, relying upon this argument, seek to reverse the conceptions so deeply held by many that it is the Palestinians who are to blame for the stalled peace process, and thus increase pressure on the state of Israel to come to its senses and end the hostilities.

However, I would strongly recommend that anybody who considering employing this argument and the state-centred peace paradigm upon which it relies to consider its implications carefully before doing so. If you argue that the peace process is only failing because Israel will not accept the generous offers being proposed by the PA, then you, as a corollary, accept that had Israel accepted that proposal there would have been peace. It is at this stage where the flaws in the state-centred paradigm in relation to Palestine can be seen most evidently. We would be arguing that the peace process is, in itself, capable of finding peace so long as the two parties can come to an agreement, and we would be accepting that the outcome of those negotiations would be a form of ‘peace’ so long as it led to a cessation in violence between the PA and Israel. How many of us would consider a solution in which 5000 out of 6 million Palestinian refugees would have been eligible to return to their homes a peaceful solution to the conflict? Would those 5 million, nine hundred and ninety five thousand Palestinian refugees denied the right to ever return to their homes and lands be living in peace? Would those Palestinians who lost their land to the settlements be considered to be at peace? Would those Palestinians transferred into the sovereignty of a state which openly considers them a fifth column, and in which top politicians openly discuss the possibility of expelling them into the future state of Palestine, have been living in peace? If the answer to those questions is yes, then peace is a vacuous goal which the Palestinian people should not be pursuing
And so we turn to the second possible argument which is based on the people-centred paradigm, in which the peace process must deliver a cessation to hostility and end the oppression of the people fighting in pursuit of their self-determination in order to be properly considered as such. If we are to accept this approach, then the analysis of the Palestine papers becomes radically different. From this perspective, the answer to the question ‘is the peace process dead’ becomes ‘the peace process was never born’. We can see, from the earlier analysis, that the offers being made through these negotiations, the concessions being offered and the agreements being sought have absolutely nothing to do with peace, on this understanding of the word. Clearly the negotiations are concerned with an end to the hostilities between the PA, and those under its control, and Israel- but this cannot be considered as an attempt to establish peace when the process in no way attempts to remedy and end the oppression, brutality and suffering that the Palestinians endure. If we understand peace to entail aspects of justice and the alleviation of oppression for a collective people, then the Palestine papers show us very clearly that the peace process is not concerned in any way with establishing peace- but rather it is an endeavour in political power distribution.

Jody McIntyre

The PA negotiators demonstrate, time and time again within these leaked documents, a total disregard for the plight of their people and show that there primary focus is to successfully engineer a fiefdom within the west bank. The negotiations are essentially a meeting of two political factions, neither with the democratic legitimacy to decide how the land of Palestine is to be parcelled out, deciding, under the auspices of the world hegemon, how power and land is to be distributed amongst them. Issues of the right of return, of the importance of Jerusalem to the Palestinian people, of the plight of Palestinians left inside Israel are all ignored or conceded by the PA in order to allow them to pursue their true ambition in these negotiations.

It is clear then, that if we are to think on a more analytical level about what peace is, and what this process actually seems to be aimed at achieving, we are able to construct a far more convincing and advantageous argument in relation to advocating a just end to the occupation and oppression of the Palestinians. Whilst it is indeed tempting to attack Israel as an obstacle to peace, this approach suggests that the path they are obtruding does indeed lead to peace- and this is an implication that I cannot bring myself to make. Israel is frustrating the PA’s attempts to establish a fiefdom inside historic Palestine and in the name of the Palestinians- they are not obstructing peace as neither party is close enough to that path to possibly block it. Rather, each party has hidden that trail so well that the rest of the world cannot even locate it, let alone pursue it.

If the revolutions in Egypt and Tunisia over the past few weeks have taught us anything, it must be to challenge the paradigm, challenge the structure and create our own solutions. I think the Palestine papers give us the ability to do that and I hope that we seize that opportunity with both hands, reshape the discourse surrounding the peace process and attempt to shape it in such a way as it meets our understanding of peace for the Palestinians.

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