A hollow Palestinian state

Muhannad Ayyash

Mondoweiss  /  July 6, 2024

Spain, Ireland, and Norway recently made headlines for recognizing the State of Palestine. But the only effective policy for any state recognizing Palestine is also the diplomatic and economic isolation of the Israeli state. There is no other way. 

When Spain, Ireland, and Norway joined the majority of the world’s states to recognize the State of Palestine, attention immediately turned to what such a recognition will mean on the ground. Is this purely or primarily a symbolic move? What does it mean in a practical sense for Palestinians? Will it in fact create material pressure on the Israeli state and advance the Palestinian aspiration for freedom and liberation? Is it a first step towards creating that pressure? Can this help the Palestinians at the United Nations and/or in international criminal courts? Among others.

In the recently passed United Nations Security Council Resolution 2735, we find a reaffirmation of the international commitment to the “two-State solution where two democratic States, Israel and Palestine, live side by side in peace within secure and recognized borders.” The same questions apply here as well.  

It is clear to honest observers that what is required in the current comment is more than these types of recognitions and statements. What is required is a severing of diplomatic and economic ties with the Israeli state. Without this substantial and immediate material pressure, the Israeli state will continue to calculate that is has little to lose and everything to gain by continuing the genocide of the Palestinian people, not just in this genocidal operation but over the long term as well. 

Therefore, any state action that does not take a policy position of severing all ties with Israel or genuinely building towards such a policy position is, in the last analysis, state inaction in the face of Israeli settler colonialism.

Recognition of a Palestinian state is only meaningful if it is understood as the recognition of the Palestinians’ inalienable right to live a sovereign life on all their lands, and is part of a larger strategy to place material pressure on the Israeli state. Indeed, only if politicians around the world, not just from Europe, but from the Global South as well, including the Arab states, begin to openly speak about adopting such a strategy, and taking practical steps towards it, can we be assured that such diplomatic statements and moves are not going to remain purely symbolic and entirely ineffectual. 

I want to suggest that the only logical conclusion to the path taken by every state that has recognized the State of Palestine is in fact this diplomatic and economic isolation of the Israeli state. There is no other way. 

Why do I say that? Let’s first pull back and ask: what exactly is being recognized? What is a Palestinian state? According to the majority of the world’s states, a Palestinian state would be fully sovereign. That is, it would enjoy full rights of self-determination which include developing a military, an independent foreign policy, and an independent economy; it would have contiguous territories along the 1967 borders with a corridor connecting the West Bank with the Gaza Strip; and East Jerusalem would be its capital. Most remain silent on the Palestinian right of return to their lands across all of Palestine from which they have been expelled since 1948. But let’s put this last critical point to the side for now, and come back to it at the end. 

Taking the position of full sovereignty and 67 borders at face value, this means that states around the world are suggesting that all the Israeli settlements across the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, should they remain there, would be under Palestinian sovereignty. In effect, Israeli Jews would have to submit to the authority of the Palestinian state, which, among other things, means that these settlements would cease to be exclusive to Israelis Jews. 

Not only has every Israeli government in history outrightly rejected this idea of Israeli Jews living under Palestinian sovereignty, they in fact have always rejected the very notion of Palestinian sovereignty. Throughout history, including the years of the “peace process,” Israel never agreed or offered the kind of sovereignty that states around the world recognize as the right of the Palestinian people. Never, not once. 

So, we have a situation where Israel along with its main backer, the United States, are refusing the very idea of the State of Palestine as that idea is understood around the world. Instead, the U.S. continues to say that the core issues of borders, Jerusalem, sovereignty, etc., “should be resolved in negotiations.” Why would they say that? Why do they not want to openly support the recognition of the State of Palestine in line with the rest of the world? For a simple reason: they know that Israel does not want that particular kind of the Palestinian state. So, what kind of Palestinian “state” does Israel want? The U.S. empire understands very well that Israel (1) will never accept Palestinian sovereignty; (2) believes that all of Jerusalem belongs to Israel; (3) that Palestine cannot have a military, an independent foreign policy, or an independent economy; (4) that Palestinian territories will be discontiguous; (5) that the Palestinian right of return is not on the table; and (6) that Israel will officially annex large chunks of the West Bank and now perhaps the Gaza Strip. In essence, when the US says, “these are negotiations issues,” which it is saying again in its promoted ceasefire plan in regards to Gaza, what it is really saying is that Israel, after subduing the Palestinians into servitude and obedience, will force the Palestinians to accept something that is not a real state, but where the Palestinians will agree to publicly and officially end all their claims against Israel. 

Unfortunately, it is not impossible to find corrupt Palestinian leaders who have sold out the people’s struggle for freedom in order to accept such crumbs for the benefit of themselves. In other words, this outlandish, brutal, colonial plan is not only achievable but its success is probable as far as the US and Israel are concerned. 

But thus far, Palestinian resistance, as a people’s resistance, has withstood the effort to subdue it once and for all. And I believe that this will continue to be the case. The Palestinian people have refused the fate of elimination for over 100 years, and will continue for another 100 years or more if necessary.    

And so, this is where things stand today. The U.S.’s version of the “new Middle East” is one where Arab states have accepted the idea that a “Palestinian state” exists and the issue resolved once and for all, but in reality, it will exist in name only. In line with Israeli aspirations, the so-called Palestinian state will be restricted to approximately 18% of the West Bank, Jerusalem will be under exclusive Israeli Jewish sovereignty, and perhaps something around 70% of the Gaza Strip will remain under Palestinian self-administration. When you calculate what’s left of the land of historic Palestine for this fake hollow state, you are talking about approximately 5% to 8% of discontiguous territories of historic Palestine being left for limited Palestinian self-administration, not self-determination.

If recognizing the State of Palestine is going to mean anything, it cannot mean this. So here is the gauntlet that is being presented to the whole world: if you do mean what you say about 67 borders, East Jerusalem as the capital, contiguity, and self-determination, then you have to do something to make that a reality because the enemies of that State do not want it. They are looking at this idea and are responding with: only 5% to 8% of historic Palestine will be under limited Palestinian self-administration, which will moreover always be under the ultimate authority of Israeli sovereignty. This is not a gap that can be resolved in negotiations. What we have here is the continuation of settler colonial conquest or its ending and undoing through boycotts, sanctions, and divestments. 

Here we come back to the Palestinian right of return. Ignoring the Palestinian right of return in state discourse worldwide, in addition to being unjust, is defeatist and inconsistent with the idea of Palestinian sovereign rights. When states and Palestinian leaderships give up the Palestinian right of return to all the lands of Palestine, they are not practicing a politics of the possible as they claim, but rather they have already given away the whole farm to the Euro-American imperial world order, of which Israeli settler colonialism is a critical part. That is defeatism. That is itself a hollow conception of the State of Palestine, and therefore only encourages Israel to pursue an even more hollow version of it.  

The Israelis are now accustomed to impunity from the international community, which is secured for them by the US. In order to actually bring the Israeli state into a position where it will undertake genuine negotiations with the Palestinians about the core issues, and about how best to move forward and find a just solution that works for all of the people on the land, the indigenous Palestinians and the Israeli settlers, then pressure must be brought to bear on them. If the Israelis begin to see that the international community is determined to turn into reality the Palestinian right of return, and begins to feel economic pain from its ongoing settler colonial project, then Israelis will have to start to accept the idea of a one state solution and shared sovereignty. Only then, can we seriously move towards stability, peace, and justice. 

Moments of great volatility, chaos, and violence require, not the careful politics of the possible, but the daring politics of the just. A new world is waiting to be created, but it is being obstructed by the politics of the possible. Who will be daring enough to activate the politics of the just and properly enter history as the inaugurator of the new?            

Muhannad Ayyash was born and raised in Silwan, Al-Quds (Jerusalem), before immigrating to Canada, where he is now Professor of Sociology at Mount Royal University