The following is the text of Sam Bahour’s opening remarks at a Balfour Project webinar that took place on September 15, 2022.
I must state upfront that, although I am a direct stakeholder in this issue, I am fully aware that I do not represent all the Palestinian stakeholders and can only speak for myself. This should be self-evident since each forcefully fragmented reality of Palestinian existence, be it Ramallah, Nablus, Jerusalem, Gaza, or the Sabra and Shatila refugee camps in Lebanon, just to name a few, rightly has a voice in how our struggle for national liberation should proceed.
Dr. Tony Klug effectively presented our thinking and explained what our proposal is. I hope I can as effectively explain what our proposal is not.
Today’s Suffocating Reality
Before I state what our proposal does not cover, allow me a moment to explain the historic moment we are in as someone who wakes up every morning to an Israeli military occupation dictating the parameters of my life.
We are witnessing today an unprecedented onslaught by Israel on all aspects of Palestinians in Palestine. Fifty-five years of perfecting military occupation with full impunity have created a suffocating reality in all sectors of society.
It is now normalized — so the Israelis would like you to believe — that we wake up to radio reports starting not with today’s weather, but with the number of Palestinians killed the day before, the number of Palestinians arrested overnight and held under administrative detention, my 78-year-old Palestinian American cousin being one of them, and the number of house demolitions and settler rampages that took place.
This reality is unsustainable. Let me repeat for anyone not sure. THIS REALITY IS UNSUSTAINABLE!
Some will claim time is on our side. They will say: History has proved our case. We have less to lose than the Israeli side. The future will see justice ultimately prevail. I prefer to quote Martin Luther King’s comments on time, “Time itself is neutral; it can be used either destructively or constructively. More and more I feel that the people of ill will have used time much more effectively than have the people of good will.”
To use our time constructively we must act. When we are faced with this daily Israeli battering, near zero accountability from all corners of the world for Israeli actions, and a hollowed out, split, and calcified Palestinian political agency, we have, in my opinion, an obligation to deal with the here, the now, and the present.
Four Pillars of Action
To deal with today, I have 4 pillars of action in mind at all times. We don’t have the luxury to take them on one at a time.
First, resist occupation, hopefully nonviolently. This is a natural reaction that any people in the world would do. Think Ukrainians today.
Second, maintain international law as a framework to resist and move politically. For me it’s two states within an arrangement of confederation, but I fully appreciate others who may envision a different endgame. The time is not now to decide given Israel refuses to engage politically, but we must remain aligned with international law so as not to end up playing Israel’s game of the law of the jungle, which would erode large parts of those who support our struggle today.
Third, work towards statehood, in all of what that means, and understanding it will always be incomplete as long as we live under military occupation while simultaneously demanding equal rights today. The equal rights TODAY part is too often overlooked, thinking Palestinians are supermen and superwomen who can struggle forever. This romanticizing of our struggle does not serve us well.
Fourth, articulate a future worth living to both sides. For me, it’s a confederation as one possible option. Whatever outcome you desire, you, me, we all have an obligation to do the heavy intellectual lifting to not only define the endgame but present a convincing road map on how we will reach the desired destination. I really want to go to Jupiter, but it does no one any good if I keep stating that but can’t afford a car to get to the library to do the necessary research.
For me, our proposal links all four pillars together. Give me more occupation, you will get more resistance and ultimately, like we are seeing today, more violent resistance. Give me more statehood, you will get more diplomatic and economic resistance. End the occupation and the game changes altogether.
There is no silver bullet; there are only actions, today, that point us in the right direction. The sooner we realize this, the fewer Palestinians and Israelis will pay the price in their lives for our ignorance.
Now, back to what our proposal does not cover.
Not a Solution but Progress Toward One
It is not a solution. It recognizes that an element of the solution, the Palestinian state, is a given today and assumes that making progress on this key element would positively influence other aspects of this conflict, if we can even call it that.
It does not bring refugees back home. However, it recognizes that, as life under military occupation is unsustainable, life in refugeedom is even more so, has been for some time, and must start to be addressed, here and now. Today.
It does not ignore the Palestinian political agency, nor does it pretend to redefine the Palestinian agency’s political program. Rather, it is focused on what the international community can do, today, to give meaning to their repeated calls for the end of the occupation. Third states can and must act individually and collectively where possible. It is a shame on humanity that states continue to hide behind a need for a collective decision that requires Israeli approval before they act.
It is not an Oslo-style approach — “let’s talk until Kingdom comes” as the Israeli occupation continues to entrench itself deeper and deeper with full impunity. Rather, it is informed by the strategic flaw of Oslo, which allowed for Palestinian recognition of Israel without reciprocal Israeli recognition of Palestine.
So, the focus is on STATE and EQUAL RIGHTS, simultaneously
Equal rights need no explanation. Anyone who questions if Palestinians are full human beings deserving all recognized rights is not my audience. It pains me that Senator Bernie Saunders had to make this same argument in the United States in 2021, when he wrote in the New York Times: “We must recognize that Palestinian rights matter. Palestinian lives matter.” Bernie was actually saying more about the American state of affairs than about Palestinians.
A state, on the other hand, may be less apparent to some, whom I can’t blame, since we take our state for granted until we lose it.
International Status of Israel and Palestine
States — sovereign, independent states — are how the world is currently organized. That is not something that I, Tony, or the Palestinian people defined, but until it changes, Palestinians will not accept anything less, be it a state from the “river to the sea” or a state in the occupied Palestinian territory. If the world decides to change the organizing element of nationhood to tents, I’ll be the first to call for the best air-conditioned and carpeted tent available.
Formally, the status of the states of Israel and Palestine are strikingly similar.
Israel is recognized as a state by 165 of the 193 UN member states, even though Israel has yet to define its borders, a requirement for membership in the UN. As recently revealed in unclassified documents in Israel, not only does Israel not define its borders but, since 1967, it has deliberately acted to erase any notion of a Green Line dividing the two states. But that’s a discussion for another day when we talk about possible solutions.
Palestine, on the other hand is formally recognized, by 138 of the 193 UN member states and two non-member states, the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic, and Vatican City. Remember, I speak here of formal recognition, not the reality of that state on the ground, which is a different discussion. Both issues are extremely important. Palestine has also been a nonmember observer state of the UN General Assembly since the passing of UN General Assembly Resolution 67/19 in November 2012, which the Palestinians brought forth themselves, unlike other UN resolutions and declarations that attempted to dictate an outcome to the Palestinians without their consultation or agreement — (this dynamic should not be underestimated). That resolution, in particular, also does not define Palestine’s western border and leaves it open for future negotiations.
Thus, both Palestine (71.5%) and Israel (85.5%) are equally recognized by the majority of the world’s countries and in an equally flawed manner. These facts should serve as a no-brainer for policymakers in the world’s power centers to act, and quickly, to allow these two states to receive 100% recognition. Without acting, the option could disappear. Some think it is already impossible due to the never-ending illegal Israeli settlement building, but I am not from that school of thought. I vividly remember when hawkish war criminal Ariel Sharon claimed that the Israeli settlement in Gaza called Netzarim was as important to Israel’s security as Tel Aviv, three years before he dismantled Netzarim.
So, all that said, our proposal calls Israel’s decades-old bluff of this being a military occupation or not all the while making the possibility of Palestine statehood more difficult on the ground.
Exploiting International Leverage
The driver for this action is the international community, individual third states, and states collectively, like the EU.
The leverage these states and state formations have is tremendous. They underwrite today’s reality — as donor states to Palestinians. Using this leverage will force Israel to do the right thing or end up paying for their occupation, let alone facing the price around the world for not providing Palestinian subjects under its control with equal rights, like any Israeli citizen today. When Israel gets the message that maintaining a profitable military occupation is no longer on the table, things will change.
It is no secret that efforts are well underway to reframe this entire issue, more toward parts of international law that deal with colonization, apartheid, self-determination, and the use of force. We are in the last mile to structurally advance a state of affairs within the paradigm of a military occupation and one, nonetheless, that has an illegal standing today under international law.
If the military occupation framing is dropped by the Palestinians, third states, starting with the UK, will find themselves brushing the dust off of some documents in their libraries, such as:
• League of Nations Covenant (Article 22), part of the Treaty of Versailles, 1920
• The Mandate for Palestine, adopted through the League of Nations Council, 1922
• United Nations Charter, 1945, Chapter XIV (14); and the
• Statute of the International Court of Justice (part of the UN Charter), 1945
So, back to the equality standard, the gold standard of today’s younger generation, and I must note in defense of my own and past generations, this is exactly the same standard that the PLO adopted ever since 1974 when they fully embraced international law. History has a way of coming around full circle. Karma, as well, has its own way.