Adam Shatz: Is Palestine next?

In the latest London Review of Books:

American disapproval would once have counted against these strategies, but America is no longer seen by the leadership to hold the keys to liberation. ‘Obama, the poor man, he got into the ring with Netanyahu and he got a bloody nose while the whole world was watching,’ Zomlot said. ‘Should we wait for America to come around? We’ve been waiting for 20 years. The depressing fact is that America is impotent.’ But the Arabs, at last, are not. ‘The region has changed irreversibly,’ Zomlot said, ‘but Israel still has the manual of 1948. The removal of the Arab regimes that stood in the way of the Palestinians is neutralising Israel’s machine. If the Israelis don’t change, they will end up as a tiny minority in a sea of Arab democracies. I hope they will come back to their senses before it’s too late.’ But it may already be too late for partition. ‘I’m afraid we’re beyond the two states,’ he said. ‘Drive to Nablus. It’s Israel – all the roads to Nablus. Look at the map: the settlements are the core, they have the highways and the infrastructure, while Palestinian cities are the periphery, connected by bypass roads.’

When we met, Zomlot had just returned from Washington after a failed mission to persuade senior officials in the State Department and National Security Council to support the Palestinian declaration of statehood. I asked him why he was devoting time to a project he no longer thought feasible. Statehood, he explained, was a tactic, not a goal. ‘The struggle to end injustice is cumulative,’ he said. ‘You don’t waste all the diplomatic gains that you’ve achieved in the last 40 years. If the two-state solution materialises, Palestinians will accept it. If it doesn’t, we move to a different strategy. In any case, our strategic objective isn’t two states or one state, but to end the occupation, to ensure that the right of return is implemented, and to establish equal rights for the Palestinian citizens of Israel. Whether these objectives are achieved in one state, or two states, or a hundred states, doesn’t matter to most Palestinians.’ Palestinians may not be strong enough yet to achieve their objectives, but at least they can block the Israelis from achieving theirs. ‘We have options. The apocalyptic option is to dissolve the PA, but we can also withdraw security co-operation, or transform the PA into a resistance authority. What’s happened in the last 20 years is not set in stone. It could be undone.’

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Issandr El Amrani

Issandr El Amrani is a Cairo-based writer and consultant. His reporting and commentary on the Middle East and North Africa has appeared in The Economist, London Review of Books, Financial Times, The National, The Guardian, Time and other publications. He also publishes one of the longest-running blog in the region, www.arabist.net.