Israeli tactics are 'uniting' Palestinians
Jonathan Cook, The National, Abu-Dhabi
Last Updated: Nov 10, 2010
Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel's prime minister, is in the United States
this week, but few observers expect an immediate or significant
breakthrough in the stalled peace talks with the Palestinian
In public, Mr Netanyahu maintains he is committed to the pledge he
made last year, shortly after he formed his right-wing government, to
work towards the creation of a demilitarised Palestinian state.
But so far he has proved either unwilling or unable to renew even a
partial freeze on Jewish settlement building in the West Bank - a key
condition set by Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian president, for
reviving the negotiations.
Most of Mr Netanyahu's cabinet, including Avigdor Lieberman, his
foreign minister, barely conceal their opposition to Palestinian
statehood. Instead, Mr Netanyahu has imposed a precondition of his
own: that the Palestinians recognise Israel as the state of the Jewish
A leading analyst of Palestinian politics says the picture is not as
bleak for the Palestinians as it might appear.
Asad Ghanem, a professor of political science at Haifa University,
predicts Mr Netanyahu and his cabinet will eventually come to rue
The intransigence and the unabashed espousal of "an ideology of Jewish
supremacy" by Mr Netanyahu and his supporters will lead to the gradual
"reunification" of the Palestinian people, Dr Ghanem said in an
In clinging to a vision of Greater Israel, Mr Netanyahu and the right
are fuelling a potentially powerful Palestinian nationalism that could
yet come to crush not only the occupation but Israel's status as a
Jewish state, said Dr Ghanem, the author of several books on
Dr Ghanem, who belongs to Israel's Palestinian minority, a fifth of
the country's population, noted that the original goal of Israel's
founders was to use a sophisticated version of divide-and-rule
political tactics to weaken an emerging Palestinian national movement
that opposed Zionism.
The war of 1948 that created Israel led to the first and most
significant division: between the minority of Palestinians who
remained inside the new territory of Israel and the refugees forced
outside its borders, who today number at least 4.7 million, according
to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency.
Since 1967, Israel has fostered many further splits: between the
cities and rural areas; between the West Bank and Gaza; between East
Jerusalem and the West Bank; between the main rival political
movements, Fatah and Hamas; and between the PA leadership and the
Israel's guiding principle has been to engender discord between
Palestinians by putting the interests of each group into conflict,
said Dr Ghanem. "A feuding Palestinian nation was never likely to be
in a position to run its own affairs."
He is dismissive of plans by Mr Abbas and his prime minister, Salam
Fayyad, to try to revive the Oslo process by bypassing Israel and
seeking the international community's blessing for the establishment
of a Palestinian state next summer.
Palestinian leaders who have pursued statehood, Dr Ghanem added, have
done so on terms dictated by Israel.
First the rights of the refugees to be considered part of the
Palestinian nation were sacrificed, then those of the Palestinians
inside Israel. Next parts of East Jerusalem and all of Gaza were
excluded. And now finally, he said, even significant parts of the West
Bank were almost certain to be counted outside a future Palestinian
"The core of the negotiations for Abbas is about ending the
occupation, but he has progressively conceded to Israel its very
narrow definition of what constitutes occupied land. The rights of the
refugees and other Palestinians to be included in the Palestinian
nation now exist chiefly at the level of rhetoric."
The Israeli right's insistence on Palestinian recognition of Israel as
a Jewish state would accelerate the unravelling of Israel's long-term
policy of fragmenting the Palestinian people.
"All Palestinians are affected by such a demand, not just those living
inside Israel. The Palestinian national movement accepted Israel as a
state decades ago but Netanyahu is not satisfied by that.
"He wants to reopen the 1948 file," Dr Ghanem said, referring to the
war that established Israel by expelling and dispossessing 80 per cent
of the Palestinian people. "He is provoking the Palestinian national
movement to reassess the accepted two-state model for ending the
As fewer and fewer Palestinians clung to the belief that Israel would
ever agree to partition the territory, the physical and ideological
barriers between the Palestinian sub-groups were starting to crumble,
The separate struggles of the Palestinians - for civil rights among
Israel's Palestinian minority; for national liberation by those in the
occupied territories; and for the right of return among the diaspora -
were being superseded by "a common fight against the reality of an
Dr Ghanem added that, when Palestinians came to realise that they
would never be offered more than a "crippled state" by Israel, the new
paradigm would become "one binational, democratic state for all
Palestinians and Jews in historic Palestine".
The different Palestinian factions would eventually merge their
political platforms. The civil rights movement rapidly emerging among
Palestinians inside Israel would then serve to complement the
fledgling anti-apartheid struggle in the occupied territories.
Palestinian analysts in the occupied territories were less sanguine.
George Giacaman, head of Muwatin, an institute promoting Palestinian
democracy, said the reunification taking place among Palestinians was
"There is a new sense of a common cause and struggle," Mr Giacaman
said, "but the geographic divisions between Palestinians are so deep
and have been in place so long it is difficult to see them being
Still, maintains Dr Ghanem, Palestinians in Israel and the occupied
territories, as well as the millions of refugees, will one day come to
thank Mr Netanyahu for bringing them together.