A Palestinian Strategy for Peaceful Coexistence
‘I have come bearing an olive branch and a freedom-fighter’s gun. Do not let the olive branch fall from my hand.’ Yasser Arafat, at the UN General Assembly, 13 November, 1974
We Palestinians believe that the creation of the State of Israel was a grave political error, one which has done grievous harm to the interests of all concerned – the world community, the Great Powers, the Jewish people themselves and, of course, our own Palestinian people. But it was not merely an error, it was also a crime. A crime perpetrated against the natural, fundamental and inalienable rights of the Palestinians. There is really no need to argue this. The facts speak clearly for themselves to anyone who listens with an open mind. And it seems to me that now at last – though far too late – the reality of this error and this crime is fairly well recognized and accepted throughout the world, as the UN debate on Palestine in November 1974 clearly shows – except of course among those whose minds are closed to any facts or arguments which do not suit the demands of political Zionism.
I say ‘Political’ Zionism because it is this that has caused all the trouble in Palestine. With the original objective of providing a refuge for those Jews genuinely in need of one, we Palestinians had no quarrel. It was only our apprehension that this concept was to bc distorted into a political dominion at our expense – an apprehension which was to bc so tragically justified by events – that led us to oppose the Zionist colonization of our homeland and the violence with which it was forced upon us.
Holding as we do this view of the creation of Israel, it is entirely natural that we should wish and hope that one day this interloper state will disappear from the scene in the Middle East. Most of us believe that some day, sooner or later, Israel, as it exists today – a racist, exclusive Zionist state – will indeed disappear. We will rejoice when that happens, but we would prefer it to happen peacefully and by mutual agreement, rather than amid violence and recrimination. Meanwhile we will ,do whatever is in our power to further that happy day – a happy day not only for ourselves and our Arab brothers and for the world at large, but also for the Jewish people throughout the world and, not least, for the poor benighted citizens of Israel who have been so corrupted and misled by their Zionist rulers. Everybody will be better off when this racist, colonialist anachronism has gone.
This does not mean that we, the Palestinians of my generation, are determined to ‘drive into the sea’ the Jews now living in Israel. That is a myth propagated by Israel and the world Zionist movement in order to reinvoke the spectre of genocide and to excite world sympathy for Israel and world antipathy towards Palestinians.
As Yasser Arafat stated in his speech at the UN, we believe that all Jews who are living in Israel must have the right to remain there. And in principle, we are prepared to accept that Jews living abroad who are really in need of a refuge and a new home should continue to be permitted to come and settle in Palestine. There was never any
objection on our part to, the immigration of such bona fide refugees until political Zionism sought to make use of them as the advance guard for the establishment of a settler state. But in practice we would maintain that, on grounds of justice and relative need, the ‘ingathering’ of our exiles, the Palestine refugees, ought to take priority.
We make no apology for our opposition to the Zionist state as it exists today. We have every right and every reason to oppose it and we shall continue to do so, so long as it retains its present Zionist structure and denies to the indigenous Palestinians the rights it confers automatically on Jewish immigrants from anywhere else in the world. Let there be no doubt about this. Whatever settlement may emerge from
Geneva or elsewhere will continue to be criticized and condemned by Palestinians ‘So long as it envisages the continued existence of a racialist state in Israel open to Jews from all over the world but closed to its original Arab inhabitants.
Now, before anyone runs away with the idea that what I am saying is confirmation of Israeli and Zionist allegations about the hopeless intransigence of the Palestinians and their determination to wreck the present hopes of peace in the Middle East, I would like to observe that it is by no means unheard of for a government or a country or a people to have to live with a state of affairs of which it does not approve, while continuing to declare its opposition to that state of affairs and its determination to do what it can to change it. The world cannot expect us to Israel: Apartheid State
approve the maintenance of the prescrit Zionist state of Israel. But we recognize that we may have to live with it for the time being until, ‘inshalallah’, a better basis for co-existence emerges between our people and the Jewish people now settled in our land.
If it is right for Western democracies to look forward to a day when white supremacy in South Africa and Rhodesia will bc replaced by a form of democratic rule under which white, black and coloured people belonging to those countries will live together in peace as equals, it is just as legitimate for us Palestinians to look forward to a day when Zionist supremacy in Israel will bc replaced by a democratic system in which Jews, Moslems and Christians belonging to this land will live together in peace and equality. If we continue to proclaim this as our aim we are not sabotaging peace (as the Israeli government would have everyone believe), any more than the British government and indeed the United Nations are sabotaging peace when they call for an end to white racialist rule in Rhodesia.
Israeli and Zionist propaganda habitually and, I believe, deliberately, confuse principle and practice in this matter and try to convince the world that, because all Palestinians condemn in principle the Zionist state of Israel (as they all undoubtedly do), therefore they are all committed to its destruction by violence and force. Palestinian leaders may speak, as Yasser Arafat did at New York, of ‘living together in a framework of just peace’ and not wishing ‘one drop of either Arab or Jewish blood to bc shed’. But whatever they say is ignored or brushed aside. For Israeli Zionist propagandists it is enough that we are opposed to political Zionism and its manifestation in Israel; that must mean that we are hell bent on its overthrow by violence and conflict and know no other way of achieving our end. But of course the one proposition does not necessarily follow from the other – though the non sequitur may not bc obvious to Israelis, who have more reason than most to fear the truth of the adage that ‘those who live by the sword shall die by the sword’.
To turn now from principle to practice and method, I must first deal with the vexed question of Palestinian ‘terrorism’, as it is usually called in the Western news media, or, as I would prefer to call it ‘counter-terrorism’ since it is in fact the product of and response to the state terrorism which Israel has pursued towards the Palestinians since the Zionist state was first established by violence and terror in 1948.
I am myself a man of peace and I deplore violence in political affairs, particularly when it involves innocent people who are not a party to the conflict. But by the normal and accepted standards of patriotic duty I do not believe that anyone can justly condemn Palestinians for taking up arms against Israeli oppression. One may
economic and social development of the Palestinian state with a view to putting it, in time, on an equal footing with Israel in terms of industrial, technological and educational progress. I have no doubt that ample funds for an intensive programme of development would be readily forthcoming from the Arab world and also, I would hope, from the international community at large.
An essential aspect of this programme of development would be the creation of employment opportunities within the Palestine state with a view to maximizing its capacity to support the population. For our second task would be to promote the progressive ‘ingathering’ of the Palestinian exiles now living in Diaspora and their rehabilitation on their own soil.
Thirdly, we would aim to open and maintain a continuous and developing dialogue with any elements within Israel who were prepared to meet and talk with Palestinians regarding the form of a mutually acceptable co-existence which might in time be developed between the two peoples living in the country to which they both lay claim. We have our own ideas on this subject of course, but we would approach the dialogue with open minds, ready to listen to what Israelis have to suggest as well as to put forward our own suggestions.
To promote confidence and a frank and realistic exchange of ideas, consideration could be given to the maintenance of open frontiers between Israel and the Palestinian state and to permitting, even encouraging, a mutual interpenetration of commerce, industry and cultural activities. Within reasonable limits and having regard to the need to provide for the ingathering of the exiled Palestinians, one need not even exclude the idea of allowing Israeli Jews to live in the Palestinian state (not, of course, in paramilitary settlements, like the existings nahals, but as peaceful private individuals prepared to live in harmony with their neighbours) provided they accepted Palestinian citizenship and provided a corresponding concession were made to enable Palestinians to go and live in Israel. In the Middle East of today, these ideas may sound like a dream. But this is the Palestine of tomorrow which the Palestinians dream of, as Yasser Arafat said at the UN.
All of this will take time and must depend on the maintenance of effective security for the infant Palestinian state. This is a real problem. We have heard so much in the past of Israel’s need for security, but to us Palestinians and to other Arabs living in the countries adjacent to Israel this seems like putting the boot on the wrong foot. We believe, on the basis of our experience over the past twenty-seven years, that we are more in need of protection against Israel than Israel is of protection against Arabs. I know that Western opinion has difficulty in believing this, but the truth is – and this is attested to by international peace-keepers like General E.L.M. Bums and General Carl von Hom, as well as by Israelis themselves – that is has suited the book of Israel’s leaders in the past to have conditions of instability prevailing on her borders so that these could be exploited from time to time to provide pretexts for renewed war and renewed opportunities of expansion. If a limited settlement is to survive and gain time for the two peoples to learn to live together at peace and in mutual tolerance, the first necessity is to provide the most cast-iron safeguards possible against a Ben-Gurion or a Moshe Dayan or an Arik [Ariel] Sharon contriving in future to manufacture a new crisis and a new conflict to upset the settlement if peace seems to be working to the disadvantage of Zionism in Israel. That will be the real risk once a settlement is reached. For our part, we Palestinians would be prepared to accept, and indeed press for, the most stringent and effective international safeguards provided they were directed not less at Israel than at the new Palestinian state and Israel’s other Arab neighbors.
It will not be easy – indeed I would say it is virtually impossible – for Zionist Israel, penned back within the 1967 borders and shom of its dynamic expansionism, to live in peace with its neighbours and still to survive. Once those conditions have been established, either Israel will have to burst out of them and resume its aggressive role or it will have to change internally and shed its Zionist character. I hope the latter will take place and that is why I have placed such stress on the need for safeguards against renewed aggression and expansionism by Israel.
Consider what is likely to happen within Israel if a settlement emerges in Geneva which includes the establishment of a Palestinian state and which can be stabilized, by the introduction of really effective safeguards against future breaches of the peace.
Up to now, the momentum of Zionism has been maintained by the fear of insecurity, by anti-Semitism (real or alleged), by threats of genocide and extermination and so on. Once stability and peace are ensured, the momentum will ‘be lost and the whole idea of political Zionism will lose much of its appeal both for Jews living in Israel and for their supporters outside. In these circumstances there is bound to be a falling-off in the massive flow of external aid into Israel. Even with this aid, Israel has not found it easy to survive and has had constantly to importune its patient supporters for more. Without it, Israel is certainly not viable and would be ,quite unable to support the highly artificial level of economic activity which it has had in the past. As before the 1967 war, unemployment and severe balance-of payments problems are likely to coincide. The level of taxation, already extremely burdensome, will have to be raised even higher. Again as before 1967, it is likely that the rate of emigration will sharply increase and more than offset any new immigration. (The Israeli authorities publish no figures for emigration from Israel,"but reliable sources indicate that it is already almost as large as today’s much reduced level of immigration.) Meanwhile, as a necessary part of the settlement, Israel will have had to withdraw from her 1967 conquests and to accept back at least a substantial number of the Palestinian inhabitants uprooted in 1947 and 1948. This will mark the end of an era for the Israelis, the end of a heady, intoxicating adventure in which their leaders have taught them to expect continuous success.
Already a growing number of Israelis are alive to the need for a new and more ;Constructive attitude towards the Palestinians; they are aware that, without it, the sands are beginning to run out for them. As a result a new wind is blowing within Israel, a wind of truth and disillusionment. The conjunction of all these factors will drive all sensible, thoughtful people within Israel to re-appraise their country’s future and its capacity to survive as an exclusive Zionist enclave – or’ghetto’- in the Arab world.
Meanwhile also, the Palestinians will be sitting on the borders of Israel in our own Palestinian state with its embassies in Washington and London, Paris and Moscow, and its representatives seated (as they should have been long ago) in the United Nations. With the rising power of the Arab world behind us, we shall be disagree with their choice of targets and may reject the violence of some of their actions. But in principle they have every bit as much justification for resorting to armed struggle against the oppressors of their people and the occupiers of their country as had the Maquis in France during World War II. Indeed, Israel’s prolonged cruelty towards the Palestinians and violation of their rights, coupled with the international community’s lamentable failure over so many years to put right the wrongs done to the Palestinians, afford a special justification for the Palestinians to resort to armed struggle. What else were they to do?
As a practical matter, it is often said by Western observers that the Palestinian militants are harming their own cause by their acts of violence, and there is obviously some truth in this in so far as these acts may turn world opinion against them and lose the Palestinians sympathy among their fellow-men. But against this two questions may bc put. First, is there any evidence to show that the Palestinians, have anything very positive to gain from the sympathy of a world which showed itself so indifferent to their plight during the years before they took up arms on any significant scale? What practical value has sympathy, in the face of Israeli intransigence and Zionist manipulation of the news media? And second, is there not ample evidence that it was only when the Palestinians resorted to armed struggle that the rest of the world began taking them seriously? Seven years ago, when the Security Council adopted its famous Resolution 242, the only mention it made of the Palestinians and their rights was a reference to the need to achieve ‘a just settlement of the refugee problem’. C an anyone doubt that, if the Resolution were :’being adopted today, it would make much more specific reference to the Palestinians not as refugees but as a people possessing their own national rights?
However, having now won a hearing from world opinion (primarily, I believe, as a result of militant action), the practical question for our Palestinian leadership in the context of possible peace negotiations is whether a continuation of the armed against Israel is the most effective method to bc pursued. In particular, if we assume that a probable outcome of any peace settlement is likely to bc the of some kind of Palestinian state on territory recovered from Israel, it seems to me that a very necessary and useful subject for discussion is whether we may then hope to pursue our unaltered, ultimate aim of a ‘state in partnership’ covering the whole area of Israel/Palestine by non-violent and evolutionary means rather than by a continuation of armed struggle.
At the outset, let me admit at once that, even if such a strategy were adopted, it might well not bc possible to rule out entirely continued sporadic acts of violence by individuals driven to desperation by continued injustice on the part of Israel under Zionist leadership. I am afraid that this is the penalty which Israel and the Israelis must bc prepared to put up with for having taken another people’s birth-right and having imposed their state on another people’s ancestral land. But the possibility, even the likelihood, of occasional acts of violence by individuals ought not, I suggest, to discourage us from trying to follow a non-violent evolutionary Palestinian approach to a tolerable form of co-existence between Israeli Jews and Palestinian Arabs, following on the establishment of a limited or partial peace settlement.
Basically, the question for the Palestinians is whether they can afford to pursue a wait-and-see policy in the expectation that, sooner or later, the Zionist structure of Israel is bound to disintegrate and give way to some more permanent and more acceptable form of co-existence. This is a speculative field of discussion and no one can bc dogmatic about how the future may develop. But let me outline a possible projection of the future if a Palestinian state were established on a part of the Palestinian homeland and if the Palestinian leadership then decided to pursue an ;’evolutionary strategy towards its ultimate goal of ‘a state in partnership’.
Our first task would then bc to secure a massive injection of external aid for the watching and waiting, developing our human and material resources, gathering strength and drawing in our dispersed people with all their rich talents of industry, intellect and adaptability. And we shall be offering to anyone who cares to listen in Israel the chance to sit down and talk with us like sensible human beings about our future, on the basis not of conflict but of peaceful and mutually advantageous coexistence. We hope that it will be possible before long to work out a form of coexistence which will enable the two peoples to live together within a reunited Palestine, while maintaining through cantonal arrangements and a constitutional division of legislative and administrative powers the distinctive character of each.
Not in our lifetime? Perhaps – though once the process of change begins within Israel it may proceed faster than anyone thinks. But in any case we Palestinians can afford to wait. We have learned to be patient through many painful years. Time, as well as justice, is on our side. And perhaps power also, in the fullness of time. One day men will be reading in their history books about the episode of Zionist Israel and looking back on it, will see that it was, after all, only a passing aberration in the course of history in the Middle East.
[Printed in Uri Davis: Israel, an Apartheid State, Zed Books, London]