Al-Jazeera / October 3, 2020
Many articles have already been written criticising the normalisation deal signed between the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Bahrain and Israel and calling it a stab in the back of the Palestinian people. Others have argued that it should not have come as a surprise since the ruling oligarchies in the UAE and Bahrain have been in bed with apartheid Israel for years and it was only a matter of time before they made it public in order to strengthen their alliance against the two main threats: Iran and the spread of democracy in the Arab world.
This article will not go down the same path. Rather, it is an attempt to engage with what seems to be a social, political, economic, and historical formulation of an alternative programme to what is offered by the hegemonic imperialist, Zionist, and reactionary powers not only for Palestine, but also for the rest of the Arab world.
In this context, it is useful to bring up American literary critic Fredric Jameson’s theorisation of “cognitive mapping”, a process that repeats, adds, and respects very strongly the laws of dialectics (the development and movement of opposites). In other words, interpreting this deal by only understanding the historical context within which they were signed is not enough; one needs to offer a progressive programme that challenges them on the basis of changing the conditions which have ultimately led to them, namely settler-colonialism and apartheid in Palestine.
The signing of the deal between Israel, Bahrain and the UAE at the White House on September 15 is, admittedly, the beginning of a new era that has started in the Middle East; however, it will not bring about – with its unbalanced power relations – a just solution to the Palestinian question.
The accords of Camp David (1979), Oslo (1993), Wadi Araba (1994), and the Abraham Accord (2020), all of which were borne out of trade deals and backroom diplomacy between Israel and those Arab countries, have sold out the Palestinian cause altogether. None of them addressed the basic Palestinian rights, like the right of return of the refugees, self-determination, equality, and freedom.
In a nutshell, all mentioned agreements have guaranteed Israeli control over historic Palestine from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea, a de facto reality created by the stronger colonial party with no compromise whatsoever.
The current situation is undoubtedly the product of international and regional imbalances prevailing at this specific moment, which is neither static nor eternal, but rather passing and will inevitably be followed by other moments, according to the law of dialectics.
There is no doubt, then, that this specific historical moment is the climax of Palestinian and Arab passivity because of the weakening of progressive Arab nationalism and the fall of the Palestinian right-wing leadership into the trap of the “peace industry”. However, any approaching moment is expected to be heading against what is being offered to us under these circumstances: “All that is solid melts into air” as Karl Marx would have put it.
Opposition to the deals in the Arab world, in general, and the Gulf states, in particular, will grow exactly the same way the Egyptian and Jordanian peoples opposed and fought against the Camp David and Araba after they were signed.
The alternative vision Palestinians have to embrace is a geopolitical production that challenges the space newly drawn by the United States, Israel and their Arab allies – the so-called new Middle East – and puts forward a new map of secular-democratic Palestine, in the heart of a democratic Arab world.
We need an alternative representation of the whole socio-political “reality” currently rising in the area which moves away from the much-repeated mantra of the racist two-state solution.
Palestinians need to move on, but with new ideas emanating from a strong belief that “[wo]men make history, but they do not make it in circumstances chosen by themselves”, as Marx has put it. For far too long, Palestinians have been led by right-wing politicians that have failed to achieve a single basic right of any of the three components comprising the Palestinian people: those living in the diaspora, residents of Gaza and the West Bank, and second-class Palestinian citizens of Israel.
Hence there is a need to stress the importance of Palestinian agency with a progressive leadership that is against all forms of class exploitation, whether national, sexual, or religious, a leadership that is necessarily secular in its deep understanding of the Palestinian question.
Such leadership cannot entertain racist solutions. It has to rise to the historical challenges posed by the new-old alliance of Israel, the US and reactionary Arab regimes and, thus, become an agent for activities of local/national and international character through the promotion of Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) against Israel until it complies with international law.
There is an urgent need for a move beyond the present historical stage that is characterised by a form of prevailing nationalist dogmatism represented in slogans such as “two states for two peoples” and “the only solution is the two-state solution”, and others. Such slogans, in a way, are the product of waves of normalisation with apartheid Israel, a process of remoulding the Arab and Palestinian mind through “ideological state apparatuses”, such as media, education, mosques, law, which try to manipulate and reshape the consciousness of individuals, especially of those with revolutionary potential.
There is also an urgent need for a departure from the nihilistic mood that has been dominating much of the Palestinian Stalinist left-wing discourse lately, by emphasising the importance of human agency and the necessity for a historical understanding of the current post-Oslo historical moment.
We need an alternative vision that can lead to peace and justice. And it seems that colonised Palestinians are meant to be the ones to offer a vision that re-humanises them and their oppressors. That is their moral responsibility being at the receiving end of a multi-tiered system of settler-colonial oppression.
When things looked so bleak for Black Africans suffering at the hands of another settler-colonial power, in a similar situation to what the Palestinians are going through, Nelson Mandela offered this alternative vision: “I have fought against white domination, and I have fought against Black domination. I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. It is an ideal which I hope to live for and to achieve.”
The alternative for Palestinians has to be one secular democratic state in historic Palestine, a state in which all citizens are treated equally regardless of their religion, sex, and colour. This state has to embrace the return of refugees and self-determination, both of which are a step towards solving the Palestinian and the Jewish questions. This is what the Palestinian people have to strive for: to turn the whole hegemonic political equation upside down.
Haidar Eid is an associate Professor at Al-Aqsa University in Gaza