Friday, May 29, 2009

Palestine: is it time for Hello or Farewell?

Palestine is the place to go to if you're an avid natural pessimist like I am. But you always want to find hope and be an optimist if you are to survive. So what should we be now: optimistic or pessimistic?

I posted an innocuous Quick Update after reading David's blog (look right on this page ->) about a Freudian slip by the Israeli Ministry of Tourism in an advertisement in the London subway (see the BBC news report here). In the poster (see picture), the Palestinian Territories, which could become Palestine tomorrow, are simply wiped off the map ("oops, sorry, we forgot" was the heartfelt apology from the Embassy). At the same time, the chief of the Arab League restates what everyone knows, that peace is impossible with the settlements. Of course, Israel (and by that I mean the State of Israel and its traditional advocates in the US) strongly resists the newly rising US statements (not quite pressure yet) to, at least, freeze settlement activities. At the same time, Israel and supporters (the neo-cons are not dead, just "badly badly wounded") continue to suggest that Palestinians might just have to move or be integrated into Jordan (for the West Bank) or Egypt (for Gaza). Not that either party (Palestinians, Jordanians or Egyptians) is interested, but that doesn't stop Israel and US politicians from promoting the idea.

Informed voices keep saying louder and louder that "time is running out" for a peace agreement based on a two-state solution (while of course the one-state solution is further away than ever). What prompted my opening about pessimism and optimism is that even such high power players as Saeb Erekat (the Palestinian chief negotiator) don't seem to know which way to blow. In this Haaretz article, Erekat is presented as being "encouraged" by the meeting between Presidents Oabama (US, in case you missed that) and Abbas (president of the Palestinian non-state). I can't find it now, but I could swear I just saw an article covering the same interview, but emphasizing his statement that the chance for a negotiated agreement on a two-state settlement is "running out." Not so encouraged it seemed...

So are we on the edge of abysmal failure and disaster? Nakba, 2. Or are we at the dawn of new opportunities? Finally peace.

Ahmed Qureia (former Palestinian Prime Minister, known as Abu Ala, and chief negotiator for the PLO) even goes as far as proposing solutions in the event of the establishment of Palestine behind internationally recognized borders (Green Line) for Jewish settlers who don't want to leave their homes. These suggestions are not new (I heard Michael (Ala) Tarazi present them back in 2004); they are self-evident if you think people are people; and they are terrifying if you are naturally scared of any Arab institution, say nothing of living under Palestinian rule.

It seems we are on the edge of our seats and many things depend on what the United States will do and decide. And this hinges probably in part on what President Obama actually wants to do, but also on what his advisers and Cabinet members will help him achieve and negotiate with a US Congress, which is more supportive of Israeli policies than Israel itself.

I don't know which way we will go, and predicting failure is always a surer bet in the Middle East than putting one's own money on hope. But I will go with this Malysian writer who borrows from Obamesque litterature to speak of 'the audacity of hope in Palestine.' The reason I lean this way is because of analyses I've already made in the past: either we find a path to peace, or the alternative scenarios--a farewell to the idea of Palestine--will lead nowhere but to more chaos and destruction. (Read here on suicidal policies and here on a simple argument for the two state solution.)

If we--"we"--don't find the courage for a drastic turn in current policies (and in my view this includes both dialogue with Hamas and harsh choices for Israel--not an easy plan to sell) it won't just be "farewell Palestine," it will be "hello" to chaos and to more suffering. More suffering than we've seen so far, if we can imagine that. Probably not just for Palestinians.

Optimist? Pessimist?
Trying to be a "person of faith", I will pray as if I were an optimist. Sabah el-kheir ya Philistiin! Shalom wa Salaam for Israelis and Palestinians. We hope.


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