ZNet November 14, 2004
With Arafat dies the Two-State Solution
by Omar Barghouti
As the pictures of the human waves have shown, not only his supporters
grieved over his death. The more than 100,000 who converged in the Ramallah
funeral included many who opposed his political line to various degrees.
Even those who categorically opposed his idiosyncratic policy of "la-am," or
yes-no, found themselves sharing in this communal sense of loss and sorrow.
Arafat was more than just a leader. He was beyond doubt an emblematic
Palestinian phenomenon that will not be replaced anytime soon.
Beyond the typical veneration of symbols, Arafat had another attribute that
gave him his revered status in the minds and hearts of a majority of
Palestinians: his assumption of the role of the political frame of
reference. What Arafat did was, more often than not, perceived as somehow
linked to a plan to achieve liberation and justice. People joked about, even
derided his tactics at times, but he was the lowest common denominator among
the diverse Palestinian political parties. He was the closest to the average
person's analysis of the situation: emotive, not always rational, indulging
in an exaggerated, but widely popular sense of autonomy. One Palestinian
refugee once put it as such: "He speaks like us, without those big words
that meant absolutely nothing to us. He is truly one of us."
And when you are the reference point, you can afford to shift your position
at will. More or less. That's why only Arafat was able to shake hands and
sign less-than-just interim deals with Israeli leaders of all convictions --
including accused war criminals -- without being seriously accused of
treason. He always commanded the popular benefit of the doubt. This is
precisely why only Yasser Arafat could deliver the two-state solution
mentioned in numerous peace initiatives. Such a solution, by its very
nature, falls far short of the minimal requirements of justice for
Palestinians. Besides having passed its expiry date, it was never a moral
solution to start with. In the best-case scenario, if UN resolution 242 were
meticulously implemented, it would have addressed most of the legitimate
rights of less than a third of the Palestinian people over less than a fifth
of their ancestral land. More than two thirds of the Palestinians, refugees
plus the Palestinian citizens of Israel, have been dubiously and
shortsightedly expunged out of the definition of the Palestinians to make
this happen. Such exclusion can only guarantee the perpetuation of conflict.
Even that was not on offer from anyone. Israel, with full and unflinching
backing from the US, insisted on bantustanizing Palestinian territories,
feverishly expanding Jewish colonies, stubbornly denying any responsibility
for the Nakba (1948 catastrophe of dispossession) and along with it the
right of Palestinian refugees to return, even refusing to recognize the Gaza
strip and the West Bank (including East Jerusalem) as occupied territories,
as stipulated in international law. What Israel demanded was capitulation.
Nothing less. Arafat was not ready to sign on the dotted line, so he was
severely punished. He went under with the memorable legacy of refusing to
surrender. Thus the outpouring of sincere emotions by the mass of distraught
Palestinians biding him farewell. "He preferred to die than to submit," many
Any future replacement of Arafat will have far less tolerance from a
battered, impoverished and yet determined constituency. By definition, he
will lack Arafat's unique historic clout, will garner less political support
and will command far less popular backing; therefore, he will be quite
vulnerable to public wrath in case he decides to even match Arafat's
compromises, not to mention offer more concessions to Israel, as required to
become "relevant" in the Israel-US club. Who would dare?
After Israel wakes up from its delusional euphoria over Arafat's death it
will realize that it has lost its very last opportunity to impose on the
Palestinians its own peace. Rather than accepting any settlement with the
hope that their trusted leader will use it as a launching pad to achieve
more far-reaching successes, now Palestinians will start recognizing any
peace decoupled from justice for what it is: morally reprehensible and
politically unacceptable. As a result, it will be pragmatically unwise as
well. It may survive for a while, but only after it has been stripped of its
essence, becoming a mere stabilization of an oppressive order, or what I
call the master-slave peace, where the slave has no power and/or will to
resist and therefore submits to the dictates of the master, passively,
obediently, without a semblance of human dignity. This last so long as the
slave has no power or will to resist. But only until then.
With Arafat's burial, the two-state solution will bite the dust. No one will
dare break this piece of news, as too many have too much to lose if they
admit it. But Israel will soon have to reckon with more and more
Palestinians calling for a democratic, unitary state where Israeli-Jews and
Palestinian-Arabs share equal rights and duties, after doing away with
colonial oppression, ethnic supremacy and apartheid, and after the refugees
are allowed to return. And if South Africa is any guide, such a struggle may
exclude armed resistance, favoring non-violent means instead. How will
Israel start to counter such a call on the world stage? Insisting on Jewish
ethno-religious exclusivity will further entrench in the world public
opinion the image of Israel as an anachronistic, pariah state, a new form of
apartheid. Evoking the Holocaust may help Israel deflect any serious
consideration of this democratic alternative for a while, but this is bound
to crack under pressure from many parties interested in reaching an enduring
and just peace in this troubled region.
Palestinians realize that a transient phase of chaos, indecisiveness and
perhaps internal strife may descend upon them after Arafat's departure from
the scene, but no birth comes without contractions. Those may well be the
first signs of the next era: the struggle towards a democratic, secular
state in historic Palestine.
Omar Barghouti is an independent political analyst based in Palestine.