The ongoing Palestinian protests over Jerusalem come on the 30th anniversary of the First Intifada and amid declarations that the “peace process” that followed it is dead. We speak to human rights attorney Noura Erakat.
AARON MATÉ: It’s The Real News. I’m Aaron Maté. Palestinians have launched a new wave of protest in their struggle for freedom after President Trump recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. Now, the current round of protests are taking place on the 30th anniversary of the First Intifada, which broke out December 9th, 1987. What can this history of Palestinian struggle tell us about the ongoing struggle today, and should the so-called peace process, which many say is dead, be salvaged? Well, to discuss these issues, I spoke earlier to Noura Erakat, a Palestinian human rights attorney and assistant professor at George Mason University. Many people are saying, as you said, that the peace process is dead, the two-state solution is dead. My question is, I’m wondering if it’s a mistake to conflate the two-state solution with the peace process because, as I understand the history, the peace process from the beginning was designed to undermine an actual two-state solution, which holds that Israel has no right to any part of the occupied territories, and that a Palestinian state should be created there. The peace process, the so-called peace process, helped crush that by giving Israel control of the parts of the territories that it wants, and trying to force Palestinians to accept a Bantustan solution, where they’re fragmented and ruling over tiny little scraps of the West Bank and Gaza totally sealed off. I’m wondering if your thoughts on whether or not we should be also declaring the two-state solution dead as opposed to, I think, rightfully declaring the peace process dead because it was a sham from the beginning. NOURA ERAKAT: That’s an excellent point, and actually one of the things that I say, you know, because I fully support a one-state solution for many, many, many reasons. I’m happy to discuss that, but I also say that I’m not opposed to a two-state solution necessarily, but the just solution and also affords Palestinian citizens of Israel meaningful equality and affords Palestinian refugees the choice of return, and if not compensation for their lands that were confiscated without any confiscation or due process. It’s not the issue about the two-solution, and you’re right that they’re not the same thing. What I say to enthusiasts of the two-state solution is that it’s not the same thing as the peace process, right? That if you want a two-state solution, you, too, should be opposed to the peace process as described and framed by the Oslo Peace Accords. What happens in 1993, with the Declaration of Principles also known as Oslo, is that that document basically sets us up with interim arrangements that in no place, in no place ever guarantee that the outcome of this will be a Palestinian state. All it does is consolidate a vision of Palestinian autonomy that was first articulated by Menachem Begin and Anwar Sadat in 1978 during the Egyptian-Israeli peace negotiations when they set out the parameters of Middle East peace for the Palestinians. There they articulate the exact same framework that was later agreed upon in 1993, which promises that Palestinians will be able to govern themselves under self-autonomy, but that they shouldn’t have the rights of independent sovereignty and self-determination of what otherwise should be guaranteed to a people. Oslo enshrines that. Oslo basically says that there also will be no influence of international law on the matter, so whereas the United Nations and the PLO itself has created a number of precedents in terms of international law, how to resolve this issue with regard to the distribution of water, with regard to the compensation of land, with regard to the return of refugees, with regard to the national rights of Palestinians, all of those are swept to the side during Oslo where the negotiators agree that rather than let international law guide the ultimate negotiations, instead, if the negotiators can agree to a political outcome, that should suffice as satisfying international law. This is completely ludicrous because it means the spirit of international law will be upheld if we can agree politically, but that what international law actually guides us to do in terms of a framework will be dismissed. Now put that together with the fact of Israel’s status as a military power in the Middle East and the most unique ally of the United States against a stateless people with zero negotiating leverage, and you have the devastating document that is Oslo. It was supposed to be an interim arrangement for five years that then ushers us into final status negotiations. What I think people don’t realize is we are still in the interim arrangements. Interim by definition means temporary. If interim is now permanent, we are in a permanent condition of being in limbo, and that limbo is what has been described as a peace process, and why the peace process has always been a farce, and this was the final nail in the coffin to reveal why it was never real. Now on your other question, that about the two-state solution? Even those are two completely distinct things, on the ground Israel has torpedoed the idea of a Palestinian state because of the facts on the ground that it’s been building with impunity under the veneer of peacemaking. It has worked towards ethnically cleansing Jerusalem where it’s explicitly trying to change the Jewish demographic majority from a ratio of 60% Jewish nationals to 40% Palestinians, to 70% Jewish nationals and 30% Palestinians by 2020. This is embodied in the Jerusalem master plan, the municipal master plan. It’s an explicit policy that it espouses. In addition, it’s tripled the number of illegal settlers from 200,000 to 600,000. It’s consolidated its hold on 62% of the West Bank, which is also an outcome of Oslo. This is Area C, and its most right-wing Parliament right now, Knesset, has said that they should annex Area C regardless of whether or not it’ll be called apartheid. It’s also instilled a fragmentation between the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, and built a wall that runs directly through the West Bank, effectively confiscating 13% of the territory, notwithstanding the ICG decision ruling it illegal in 2004. For anybody who still believes in the two-state solution, that’s fantastic as a theoretical matter, but it is no more realistic or possible than a one-state solution is. Both of them are almost impossible to achieve under the brunt and weight of an Israeli settler colonial project that is not being reined in by anybody and is acting with impunity. AARON MATÉ: It’s the 30th anniversary of the First Intifada, December 9th, 1987. Based on that history and the period since, the difficulties that Palestinians will face in trying to wage a non-violent resistance when there’s a record of brutal Israeli crackdown, as we’re already seeing today. NOURA ERAKAT: Two things. One is just to start by saying Palestinians have had … That wasn’t the first Palestinian Intifada. The first significant uprising that Palestinians waged was in 1936 to 1939, what’s known as the Great Revolt, and that was the revolt against British colonial domination and the British Mandate, when it was crushed with unprecedented force by British colonial forces, where they exiled a significant portion of the leadership, and what historian Rashid Khalidi has described basically the beginning of the end for Palestinians and why we had no chance during the 1948 war to be able to defend ourselves, which leads to the establishment of Israel. There was another uprising in 1976 to ’78 when the Village Leagues or Begin’s attempt to actually have Palestinians on the ground govern themselves and squander the idea of having a PLO and a national movement in order to have self-autonomy. That was the second Palestinian Intifada. In 1987, we’re seeing what would be the third Intifada, which wasn’t necessarily violent, did involve rocks. When the Intifada becomes militarized, that happens in 2000 to 2005, what is also known as the Al-Aqsa Intifada. That becomes a more militarized confrontation, and as a result of it Israel actually militarized its response significantly, in a way that it justified now what it does in the occupied territories. It uses lethal force. It shoots to kill Palestinians without justification and acts as jury, judge, and executioner under a framework of a new law that it’s created for its colonial domination. It first created this law and called it a “war on terrorism,” and the US initially opposed Israel’s move because it said, as an occupying power, it has the responsibility to protect Palestinians who don’t have police power to police themselves, and so Israel maintains that responsibility. It’s a convoluted legal transformation that happens, but basically using the veneer of a “war on terror,” Israel has successfully subsumed Palestinian resistance in a broader global war on terror, and now uses this lethal policy, which makes it almost impossible for Palestinians to participate in a mass civil uprising. One Palestinian has already died. There’s been over 200 Palestinians injured in going out for mere protest, and yet there’s nobody condemning. Palestinians have been asked to be more like Gandhi. They’re constantly like Gandhi, and nobody pays attention. Nobody pays attention, and instead we are criminalized. Our nonviolent protest is criminalized as well. Even Boycott Divestment and Sanctions here in the United States is being criminalized from the top down. 26 states have declared that BDS is illegal. The Senate is considering criminal penalty and civil penalties of upwards of quarter of a million dollars for participation in nonviolent resistance. The question really to ask is, “What does the international community want Palestinians to do, and why this is onus only on us in order to resist the 11th most powerful military in the world?” Every kind of strategy that we’ve come up with for our resistance has been criminalized, not because of its content, but because our protest. The mere idea that we can protest and insist that Palestinians exist is what is at stake. That is what Palestinians are fighting for and continue to fight for, whether in the form of BDS, in the mass civil protests, in symbolic protest, in the form of art. The mere fact of Palestinian existence, the mere fact of remaining in their homes, is the ultimate form of protest and what scares Israel the most. AARON MATÉ: Existence is resistance. Noura Erakat, human rights attorney and assistant professor at George Mason University, thanks so much. NOURA ERAKAT: Thank you for having me. AARON MATÉ: And thank you for joining us on The Real News.