(Swans - August 29, 2011)
Our present age is experiencing a trauma of dislocation, the proportions of which are at least equal to the Copernican Revolution, the Reformation, and the destruction, real or legendary, wrought by Attila the Hun and Genghis Khan. The present and actual political economy of the West, dominated by neoliberal theory and practice led by the USA, has rendered the central political notions, terminology, and institutions of the current Western political reality and discourse bereft of substance and meaning, and therefore obsolete. Both the national and international arenas are witness to a destruction, in fact, if not formally, of the prevailing systems of governance and international relations.
In the national arena, it is no secret that the formally democratic American political system has become an undisguised tool for plutocrats whose influence is wielded through corporate funding and lobbying. In classical terms, the government has become completely corrupt, as it is unresponsive to the general population and does not fulfill the classical duty of serving the population, which is its only claim to legitimacy. This plutocracy has wiped out all traces of democracy, leaving the proverbial "man in the street" powerless to control the allocation of national material and cultural resources through responsive political and social institutions. As a result, the vast and overwhelming majority of the American population is experiencing a real and severe destruction of its social framework in all areas of endeavor: employment, education, health, banking, transportation, and commerce, and all the welfare services for the weaker members of the society. What seems to be most egregious of all, and what holds back change, is that the ordinary citizen does not understand fully, if at all, the dire reality in which he or she is mired, thus preventing any serious and appropriate resistance to its force and power. This, I believe, is the result of the "infotainment" institutions -- television, radio, and movies -- providing an unceasing flow of propaganda, brainwashing the population to such an extent that the capacity to think independently has been severely and deliberately damaged. This issue has been sidestepped in all public discourses. This lack of understanding is expressed in the new election fever surrounding the two-party system that as such, no longer has any substance.
This national politico-economic, social, and cultural corruption and destruction has its parallels in the rest of the world, with the Egyptian and Tunisian uprisings representing the first, albeit inchoate, revolts against neo-liberal corrupt governments. These populations are not subject to the same onslaught of all-encompassing powerful "infotainment" propaganda tools as in the USA, Europe, and Israel which accounts for the fact, I believe, that the populations of the so-called Third World are able to understand the real world and to recognize propaganda. In Egypt and Tunisia there has been a demand for a change of personalities, but not a detailed plan for the overhaul and restructuring of the system, but in both cases the revolutionaries have not laid their hands on the levers of power. The Greek continuing demonstrations in Greece reflect a similar understanding and these demonstrations are spreading across Europe. However, counter-revolutionary forces have already made their appearances that are already lethal. The Western attack against Libya in support of the "rebels" as well as their probable instigation and support of the "rebels" in Syria, both supposedly justified national uprisings, are a clear and unequivocal indication that the Western power-holders of today are not going to let governments unsympathetic to global capital attain office or even remain in office. What these actions indicate is the demise of national independence and sovereignty -- not as a general rule, but rather as a matter of policy of global capital and its institutions of power. But this ad hoc behaviour is in itself, the destruction of law.
The international arena reveals the same breakdown. "Globalization" is the rule of capital all over the globe exercised through the institutional framework of myriad inter-related international or transnational corporations, which dominate governments. The leading institutions are the financial institutions, which includes, but are not confined, to banks. The availability of capital in the form of loans to national governments makes and breaks those governments. National boundaries have been removed effectively for capital, in a word, money and natural resources, but retained for labor, thus permitting the transfer of manufacture, that is production where labour is a primary cost, out of the U.S. and Europe to where labor is cheapest, bringing about a destruction of much of the manufacturing base in the West and a resultant wild spin into financialization to offset the loss of profits from production. In the U.S. this has brought about a real unemployment rate of close to 20%, the consequences of which are increasing poverty and immiseration. Britain is walking in the same path and so is much of Europe. The Third World, or the periphery as it is called by Samir Amin, Andre Gunder Frank, and Giovani Arrighi, that is, the periphery with respect to Western capital, has never been allowed to exercise economic independence, which might affect negatively the capitalist centers and capitalist power. There are today, however, a few national pockets of resistance, mainly in South America, but there are continuing efforts to overthrow these leaders, the chief examples being the successful coup in Honduras and the failed coup in Venezuela -- both instigated and supported by the U.S. for the reasons stated above.
It should therefore not be surprising that this rule of international capital has deliberately brought about the real, if not formal, destruction and obsolescence of the international political system, rendering its terminology, presumptions, apparent values and safeguards ineffective and possibly obsolescent. This system was based on mutual recognition, with diplomatic and economic relations between independent and sovereign nation states, which despite its flaws sought to prevent a descent into the savagery and barbarism that had prevailed in Europe during the First and Second World Wars.
The "War on Terror" and "Humanitarian" Military interventions
The categories of "war on terror" and its counterpart, "humanitarian" military interventions, are the politico-legal tools invented by global capital that work through compliant governments of nation-states utilizing institutions such as the UN, IMF, et al. These categories are used as justifications to bypass and undermine international law and diplomacy for specific interests of monopolistic capital, such as monopolistic control of resources and their distribution for the purposes of both protecting, and when possible, expanding their control and wealth. This need for the protection, control, and expansion of capitalist interests is the only reason for the present wars and attacks in the Middle East, North Africa, and Asia in which the U.S., NATO, and Israel are engaged.
In the international sphere, the "war on terror" and "humanitarian" military inventions constitute the equivalent of declared national emergencies, such as a state of war (Israel is in a permanent state of a national emergency) that qua emergencies permit the "legal" suspension of the application of law and diplomacy, which in itself is subject to fierce controversies. To suspend the application of law and to rule by fiat means effectively to wield power without any limitations. If the U.S. presses for the definition of a movement or country as a "terrorist" organization, which it always succeeds in doing because of its unlimited power, international treaties and conventions concerning political, social, cultural, religious, and human rights and the laws of war are set aside, permitting it and its surrogate institutions to attack those so defined. This has had the effect of turning the victims into the "terrorists" and war criminals, such as the late Slobodan Milosevic, the judicially murdered Saddam Hussein, now Gadhafi, and Assad, Hamas, and other Palestinians, and no doubt many others to come, whilst leaving the Western leaders, Superman saviors, basking in a glow of righteousness and purity. The "war on terror" has been waged against those who either resist global capital's programs or merely hinder it. This is the reason Iran continues to be targeted and Palestinian political rights have not been achieved. The "war on terror" and "humanitarian" military intervention are in absolute contravention of the formal notions of legitimacy and legality, as well as that basic principle governing all exercise of power, which is the absolute prohibition against the killing of civilians. In this respect, a political leader is a civilian and NOT a military man. The assassination of political leaders is illegitimate assassination and the worst crime of all, because it has the capacity to weaken a society and damage the political cohesion necessary for that society to function properly.
The result of this "war on terror," not surprisingly, has destroyed both the notions and corresponding realities of political independence and state sovereignty, exposing ordinary human populations across the globe to a scourge of unparalleled violence and destruction such as the drone war against Pakistan, a Western ally -- operations that completely undermine the notion of ally. By replacing international law and diplomacy with their own modus operandi, Macht ist Recht -- might is right, they have returned mankind to savagery, which the earliest and all subsequent orthodox original religious impulses sought to defray and deflect.
In sum, both on the national level and in the international arena, the power of individual states to act independently, to control their economies, and to protect their citizens has been severely compromised by the praxes of the U.S., NATO, and Israel.
The issue and practicality of Palestinian statehood at the present political conjuncture
It is within this present dispensation of the breakdown of law and order, leaving peoples exposed to real physical dangers besides politico-economic and social ones, in the real sense of these terms, that we are witness to the latest Abbas-led bid for Palestinian statehood. It reflects, I believe, and I write this with great sadness, a total lack of understanding of the balance of power, the forces and the interests that now operate in the region and in the world. In the light of the history of Palestine, I have no doubt in classifying the latest attempt by the Western-backed Palestinian negotiators to achieve Palestinian statehood through a vote at the United Nations as a chimera. It will be another instance of kalaam faadi, as the Arabic expression goes -- which in its Latin version is flatus vocis, or empty words, a meaningless expression about a reality that does not exist! It is, and will be, another example of that oxymoronic term "grinding water." Furthermore, it can only have negative effects and results. This bid takes up enormous human physical and mental energy and material means, requires a huge input of brainpower, concentration, cooperation, coordination, tactical and strategic planning and yet cannot, whatever the outcome, provide anything of value in the real world for the ordinary Palestinians. On the other hand, because of the power players, it can bring about a worsening of their position in that these ruling powers might decide, as is their wont, to "punish" the Palestinians for their uppityness, and to block funding, resources, and opportunities for a long time to come, causing once again, real suffering but inestimable damage.
Arguments or Assertions for Palestinian statehood at this time
Western pro-Palestinian supporters and pro-Western Palestinians are throwing their weight behind this move. But we may ask, and not naïvely, what is meant by making such a bid at this time and could it result in a viable reality? Can anything change on the ground from what prevails at present -- a collection of ghettos or open-air concentration camps in both the West Bank and Gaza? Several arguments, or better still and more accurately, several assertions, have been put forward in support of Palestinian statehood -- why not talk about a Palestinian state -- which includes many beliefs that I shall extrapolate.
The first that seems to be the most compelling is the claim that negotiations with the Israelis are now stalled, and that this is a way of jump-starting them. In other words, this proclamation will provide the trigger to bring the Israelis to the negotiating table. In response, I would argue that this position does not take into account the myriad UN resolutions that have had no effect upon the U.S. and Israel. As the first of the four kushiot, or questions asked by Jews when reclining at the Passover table, mutatis mutandis, what would be different about this resolution from all other previous resolutions? Even I can think of a thousand excuses, justifications, promises (to be broken, of course) that can be utilized in order to deflect any real consequences that such a resolution might entail on paper, at least. With respect to a binding resolution from the Security Council, I believe that in this case not only the U.S. but other permanent members will cast vetoes. On the other hand, a Resolution of the General Assembly is not binding, so how can it act as a trigger? Might it carry the weight of public opinion? Or the opinions of the vast majority of the peoples of the world? This could be the case, but in this present political dispensation what the people want, that is to say, real democracy, does not exist and therefore cannot be practiced. So what will be achieved?
Secondly, for argument's sake, let us consider that following such a Resolution declaring a Palestinian state, the Palestinians will slowly build up this state as the Jews have done with the state of Israel. In other words, the trajectory of the development of the Jewish state is taken as a model for Palestinian prospective development. This position has been forcefully put forward by the Palestinian Representative to the United Nations.
I would contend that there are severe problems with this position. First of all, this position grants legitimacy to a Jewish Zionist state in Palestine. As an Israeli, I beg to question the assumption or presumption of the legitimacy of a Jewish Zionist state in Palestine, particularly as a lawyer who has experience in representing Palestinians confronting Zionist methods of dispossession and destruction of Palestinian rights and Palestinian society. It is a truism that Arabs have no need of a Jewish state in Palestine. However, rejecting a Jewish Zionist state does not mean "driving the Jews into the sea," nor does it mean dismantling the successful social institutions that it has built in the area. What it does mean, is the rejection of Jewish Zionist privilege and power, Jewish Zionist oppression, and Jewish exclusivity in any or all parts of Palestine and the Middle East. This grant of legitimacy derives, I believe, from an implicit assumption that the Jewish state exists and therefore it has a right to exist and ought to exist. This, however, is an application of a logic that David Hume long ago proved to be incorrect. Or, to put it in other words, one cannot derive an "ought" from an "is." Just because a Jewish settler colony exists does not mean that it ought to exist. Furthermore, as a political entity there is nothing necessary about it.
The Jewish State is an integral part of imperialist/capitalist colonialism
The Jewish settler colony/state was created as part of the imperialist capitalist policy of "divide and rule" in the Middle East. It has operated, knowingly and willingly, as both a dividing sword and a poisoned arrow in the heart of the Arabian Moslem world, dividing the Middle East and its hinterland in Iraq and Iran from North Africa, beginning with the isolation of Egypt from Greater Syria and the Hijaz, and continuing with the rest of the Maghreb. These countries are all natural neighbors entitled to benefit from their shared commonalities, shared history, religion, language, culture, and society. The Jewish colony has deliberately destroyed these material ties on the ground. As an expression of the deliberate fragmentation of the Middle East it has remained the overall threat to peace and stability in the region, poisoning all efforts to achieve effective independence and economic growth in the surrounding countries. Its army has, of necessity, created the need for the creation of armies in surrounding countries, thereby wasting precious national resources, and loans, on waste products, rather than on fructifying commodities, institutions, and systems.
The Jewish state is a Jewish settler colony, a fact that Herzl referred to quite clearly in support of Zionism, highlighting that the very foreignness of settler Jews would guarantee their loyalty to the Sultan whilst providing access to finance and expertise that would help in the development of Palestine, which would, by definition, serve capitalist interests. Naturally this reason could not be used to attract Jews to Palestine and therefore for them, it would be presented as a response to European anti-Semitism. It was obviously the service and loyalty of such a colony could provide to a capitalist government that eventually made it attractive to imperialist Britain, after it had defeated the Ottomans in Palestine. The Sultan had rejected the idea on the grounds that he could not transfer Palestine, a Muslim waqf, or trust, out of Muslim control. Thus it was neither a mistake nor an accident that the so-called Balfour Declaration was addressed to the leading banker in England, the paradigmatic capitalist, who happened to be Jewish, Lord Nathaniel Rothschild, and whose family embodied the two-folded significance of a Jewish capitalist colonial venture in Palestine. It should not come as a surprise, therefore, to learn that they subsequently did very well out of Palestine, as did his other confrère bankers and capitalists. The first British High Commissioner, Sir Herbert Samuel, was from a Jewish banking family!
Today the reality is such that this Jewish settler colony, called the State of Israel, exhibits that predicted loyalty to foreign capitalist interests, which arises out of its antagonistic status in the area. It is the enemy because its existence has been and continues to be predicated on the destruction of the local population, the majority of which remains refugees in the surrounding countries. This is the reason for the American foreign aid to Israel and all other aid from Europe.
With respect to the Jewish settler colony as a model for Palestine, it must be obvious that a broken, fragmented Arab Palestine can never fulfill the role of the Jewish state for myriad reasons: Palestinians are first and foremost not foreigners. They do not need to be dependent upon the West to legitimize their presence in Palestine. The vast majority is part of the Muslim wattany that forms the overwhelming majority of inhabitants in the Middle East, North Africa, and Eastern Asia, and shares the language, culture, and religion of the area. They are not Westerners, they do not command Western languages, they do not have the Jewish international commercial and financial skills and networks that serve global capital. In other words, following the logic of the Jewish state, Palestine has nothing to offer the capitalist West. This is the sole reason there still is no Palestinian state!
An Independent Palestinian nation-state -- a possibility?
If one does not agree with my conclusion that the present international political dispensation has brought about the demise of the nation-state as a viable politico-economic social entity, one might bring another argument to bear against the viability of a Palestinian state. This argument would concentrate on the physical conditions necessary for statehood. The territory of Palestine beyond the 1967 borders has been so fragmented by the Jewish settler colony that it cannot be considered either appropriate or practical to call for any self-rule in the confined, bounded, and non-contiguous areas of the West Bank and Gaza, in the hope that this will either be an expression of, or lead to, an exercise of independent sovereignty and the fulfillment of the dream of freedom. Even if Palestinian statehood [sic] were recognized within the 1967 borders, such recognition would only have nominal value. Palestinians have no force nor power to remove the Jewish settlers from anywhere beyond this border, in Jerusalem, or the West Bank. As it is, within the tiny ghettos left over from the Jewish colonies in the occupied West Bank, the Palestinians do not control the water resources, the airspace above, and their exits and entries. And I am not even considering all the lands stolen and dispossessed and the official ports of entry, nor the Judaization of East Jerusalem. There is no viable economy, currency, nor international commercial and industrial relations and, most egregiously, there is no Palestinian army, nor will there be one precisely because of the actual physical conditions. The Palestinian security forces are police forces, created by the demands of the West and supported by them, for the purposes of policing Palestinians and preventing resistance to their oppression and dispossession. They are not there to attack Jewish Israelis.
One of the most ironic aspects of this bid for statehood is that the Palestinians will be required to rely upon the U.S., Israel, and the Western powers to achieve it -- a status that these three entities have done everything to prevent, and undoubtedly, will continue to undermine. Yet there seems to be either the mistaken belief or an unforgivable naïveté amongst the proponents and supporters of this idea that the very entities, which have acted against Palestine and Palestinians, will suddenly change their attitudes and their allegiances. What grounds are there for believing that this is possible?
Because Palestinians have not lain down and died as per Western demands, they have been accused of shooting themselves in the foot all the time, in "never missing an opportunity to miss an opportunity" and are their "own worst enemies" as well as having a corrupt leadership. Ironically, the one leadership that has not been corrupt, the Islamic Resistance Movement, or Hamas, has been declared a "terrorist organization" only because it has refused to go along with Israeli, et al, demands, and give up Palestine and all that that entails. It has continued to resist, even physically, the brutal and murderous Zionist military occupation.
Today's negotiators do not represent the vast majority of the Palestinian people: anyone who is prepared to "negotiate" for twenty years and watch while his homeland is whittled away from under his thumb, or nose, cannot be considered a bona fide negotiator nor leader. However, by following the Western lead, they have definitely served their Western hosts -- but not their own people. They do not suffer as their compatriots do on the ground, and even worse, their interests neither reflect nor coincide with the ordinary Palestinian living under military occupation as a refugee or as an exile.
Counter-proposal to Palestinian statehood
So the famous question arises, "What is to be done?" Unfortunately, there is no replacement for reality. It has never been in the cards in the West that the Palestinians will be given a proper deal. It is my considered opinion that the Jewish Zionist settler colony, also known as the state of Israel, will be supported as long as it remains a viable option for international capital, and the Palestinian question will be kept going on a low flame in order to prevent serious rioting, or an uprising and resistance. Because of the lack of a balance of power in the world today following the collapse of the USSR, unfortunately there is no "happy end" for Palestinians at this time. This means that what is left is only resistance. At the same time, the work of struggle, particularly with respect to information, must continue apace. As part of a program of education and the spreading of information, it is especially important to educate those Western sympathizers of Palestinians that it is their capitalist institutions, their governments and their political frameworks and references that are the cause of the Palestinian catastrophe. It is simply insane to turn to President Obama, as did the leaders of the American Gaza Freedom Flotilla, and ask him for help against Israel. Furthermore, it must be understood by all that references to democracy, non-violence, humanitarian aid, and human rights in the present international context are for the single and sole purpose of distracting attention from, and preventing proper understanding of, the real problems of the Jewish settler colony and its politico-economic power matrix. It must also be understood that the huge and continuing damage and harm, which Palestinians continue to suffer, is a direct result of that power matrix. And it must be understood very clearly that the building of Jewish settlements in occupied territory is an ongoing military conquest of that territory, a violation of all three basic war crimes, and not just "unfortunate" as the quartet is wont to say.
As an instance of resistance, I would add that the BDS movement (boycotts, divestment, and sanctions) must be seen as marginal, because its organizers have not exhibited any serious or deep understanding of the actual political problems facing Palestinians in the manner in which I have described. Furthermore, the sanctions against South Africa, which is the model they have adopted, did not bring the South African apartheid regime to an end. Rather, the acquiescence and agreement of the ANC and the South African Communist party to a continuation of the neoliberal capitalist regime, with no expropriation of assets and land nor their redistribution to black owners and citizens, is what permitted the end of the openly racist regime. No preparation for a transfer of land in the form of agricultural training courses for black farmers, to prevent a reduction in food supply (as happened in Zimbabwe) took place, nor did civil service training take place on a scale demanded in the circumstances. In South Africa today, the class divisions continue as before, without the legal framework of deliberate racism as in apartheid. A black plutocracy serves as a fig leaf for those continuing and profound inequalities of wealth and power that existed under apartheid and that have never been ameliorated. The tragic irony is that the average black person is worse off than he or she was under the hated Afrikaner Nationalist regime. The Palestinian negotiators might well be compared to the black South African plutocracy, for what they have to offer I believe, can be and will be only a continuation of the terrible living conditions in both Gaza and the West Bank, if not worse.
I propose instead, as part of the resistance, a serious attempt to theorize the illegitimacy of the Jewish settler colony in all of Palestine, and not to grant it the status of a legitimate sovereign state in any part. It must be regarded it as an illegitimate political entity that has served to provide privileges for foreign Jews in Palestine at the quite deliberate expense of the native local population.
The governing principle for the future political dispensation in the Middle East must be the principle of unification. It must be understood very clearly that unification must be the struggle of all the local populations against the divisions and fragmentations imposed in the region by foreign imperialist capitalist powers. Unification confronts the imperialist motto "divide and rule" with "unify for strength!" My particular political inclination is to seriously push for an opening up of the political question of "Syria Tabiyya" -- natural Syria, or Balady Shams -- the Semitic/Arab Country. For the sake of the people in the region there should be a return to the unified territory of Greater Syria before its fragmentation by the then-imperialist powers of France and England. The carving up of Greater Syria has had disastrous consequences for the local populations and has most definitely held up its development and overall well being. It has also deprived the region of the richness and interest of its cosmopolitan character as it existed prior to its divisions and most definitely prior to the 1948 carving out of the Jewish state in Palestine. Except for the Jews in the Jewish state, none of the local regional states have flourished as they could have. Lebanon has been fractured by religious divisions (a wonderful Christian idea) and a horrendous civil war, and suffered disastrous military attacks and destruction by Israel. The regime of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan, a very poor state, provides a military base for the West and is its most reliable Arab client, but its economic capacity is extremely limited, and nearly 80% of its population is refugees from Palestine. Palestinians in Israel are second-class citizens living under constant police and security forces surveillance, whilst Palestinians living in the rumpf of Palestine have been in a declining limbo since 1948, and continue to suffer the ravages of military occupation. Truncated Syria has no political center, is very poor, consists of a mosaic of different communities, and is threatened both internally and externally.
Therefore, deriving from the logic of the situation on the ground it would seem that for all the peoples of the Middle East, the solution lies in unification -- in a unified country. It might be a Confederation of cantons, or vilayets, or provinces, in the territorial area of former Greater Syria, composed of what are now artificial nation-states and military-occupied areas. This Confederation can use Switzerland as its model, and must entail real democracy, real egalitarianism, and an economic system that serves the population and not the profiteers. Surely its cultural matrix will be Islamic, which in contrast to both Christianity and Judaism stresses the unity of peoples, the respect for the other and his religion, and a modesty as found in the Prophet himself -- a modesty that is the heart of Islam, in contrast to the excessive luxury of the Arab Emirates, the Saudi ruling family, and the leaders who have pocketed national treasures and resources, the latter being the epitome of capitalist greed.
It goes without saying that this solution will come up against tremendous resistance. What is hopeful, however, is that the ordinary person is no longer without knowledge and, even more importantly, the capitalist system that has been the source of all the misery in the Middle East is itself in a profound crisis and this is apparent and cannot be hidden. This should open up new opportunities on the ground. But the one thing that we must understand is that so-called Realpolitiek, that is, the status quo, must not be allowed to overcome the struggle for a better human and communal existence that is beneficial to all -- and not just the rich and not just the Jews.
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About the Author
Lynda Burstein Brayer, a former human rights lawyer representing Palestinians living under Israeli occupation, lives in Haifa in a "mixed" Arab and Jewish neighborhood as an expression of her hopes and beliefs in a shared Palestine. She can be reached at lyndabrayer AT yahoo.com. (back)