By Blake Alcott
PSC (the Palestine Solidarity Campaign, UK) is the perfect go-to place for newcomers, like myself seven years ago, who decide to do something for justice for Palestinians. PSC Fact-sheets on fourteen basic topics from the Nakba to political prisoners are excellent. Its eagle-eye efforts to keep the press honest are precise, punctual and indispensable.
Its focused actions on apartheid, Jerusalem, Gaza, etc. are well-researched and reach a wide audience. After some foot-dragging it came around to supporting the BDS campaign. It organizes large demonstrations with branches in places where like-minded people congregate to be a public face of Palestinian rights and to continue educating both themselves and the public.
Unfortunately, however, perhaps because it is not Palestinian-led, PSC tends to ignore the approximately two-thirds of Palestinians living outside the West Bank and Gaza Strip. It tends to focus on these two areas, which came under Israeli control in 1967, at the expense of the Palestinians in Israel, refugees and their descendants.
At the all-day PSC event ‘Lessons from Gaza’ at SOAS in April 2013, two female Palestinian speakers, one from the West Bank and one from the Galilee, urged PSC in no uncertain terms to shift its focus towards all Palestinians, away from ‘1967’. Despite the subsequent assurances of the PSC Chair that the message had been heard, no such change has taken place.
Although PSC claims neutrality on the issue, its focus is consistent with the two-state solution but inconsistent with the one-democratic-state solution. It is not consistent with the goal of achieving all the rights of all Palestinians. PSC’s solidarity, usually and unfortunately, ends at the Green Line.
Evidence of PSC’s tendency to exclude those Palestinians outside the so-called ‘occupied territories’ can be seen in small places such as at the AGM of January 2015, where in the afternoon a woman who had worked in Lebanese refugee camps expressed on the microphone her frustration that during the entire AGM not a single word had been heard about the refugees.
A larger space in which this bias is evident is the PSC’s thrice-yearly publication Palestine News. I analyzed page-for-page of eleven issues, most of them twenty-eight pages in length, between Spring 2011 and Spring 2015, putting each half-page into one of four categories: General, West Bank/Gaza, Israel and Refugees.
The Excel sheet with the results are at my blog.
General articles – for instance on Palestinian history, Zionism, arming Israel, or international politics – took up 29% of the space. Of the remaining 71% (194.5 pages), 81.5% (158.5 pages) was devoted exclusively to the West Bank and Gaza, 12.3% (24 pages) concerned the Palestinians in Israel, and 6.2% (12 pages) to the majority of Palestinians, namely those in the diaspora.
Palestinians speak separately of ‘the land occupied in 1948’ (al-aradi al-muhtala ‘am 1948) and ‘the land occupied in 1967’. When PSC uses the word ‘occupation’, however, it means only the latter.
Indeed, the PSC Constitution already avoids regarding what is now Israel as occupied Palestinian land. Section (3 c) states that PSC has been established to campaign “for the immediate withdrawal of the Israeli state from the occupied territories”. The Israeli state, after all, cannot withdraw from itself.
An e-mail to members, dated 22 October 2015, six times used the phrases ‘occupation forces’, ‘end the occupation’, ‘complicity in Israel’s occupation’, etc., referring to the West Bank and Gaza Strip. The April 2016 PSC Guardian advertisement made it clear that the ‘Palestine’ it claimed was being “built out of existence” by “settlements” is the West Bank.
Although Palestinians have the right, after decades of resistance, to decide on the parameters of their lands, no solidarity movement should even come close to such language.
This language of course merely conforms to the international, Zionist-led discourse, where even BDS leaders limit the ‘occupation’ to ’67, newspapers like the Guardian write of the ‘OPT’, and a solidarity group can name itself ‘The US Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation’. The assumption seems to be that if the West Bank and Gaza were de-occupied, all would be well.
Ditto for the term ‘settlements’. Except for perhaps a few thousand hectares in Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, and the eastern Galilee, aren’t all Jewish-immigrant villages and towns colonial ‘settlements’? The PSC, after all routinely and correctly speaks of Zionism/Israel as a ‘settler-colonial’ project, but is apparently unaware of the consequences of this for its discourse.
Using ‘occupation’ and (illegal) ‘settlement’ this way enables PSC to avoid Israel’s beginnings (1917-1947) thus avoid questioning its legitimacy. Usually, it explicitly challenges only Israel’s actions, not the Jewish state in Palestine itself, i.e. not Zionism itself.
As with the focus in Palestine News, limiting occupation and colonial settlement to ’67 is of service to preserving the Jewish state ‘inside the Green Line’, i.e. on the 78% of Palestine delineated in the armistice agreements of 1949.
The least one can expect of solidarity movements is to bring their discourse in line with that of Palestinians: The major occupation occurred in 1948, echoing the earlier British and Ottoman occupations, and in fact enabled the second occupation of 1967.
Two States vs One Democratic State
It has become fashionable to prefer a ‘rights-based approach’ over an allegedly fruitless discussion of solutions. Aside from the logical absurdity of not looking at both rights and solutions, in practice, the PSC does consider solutions. And it tends to side with the two-state solution.
The ‘PSC Annual Plan 2015 draft’ stated under Objective 4: “To work with unions and party members, MPs and others to develop and implement Labour Party policy.” The Annual Plan 2015 and the Action Plan 2015 contain no fewer than 6 references to working with trade unions, the Labour Party and sympathetic (mostly Labour) MPs. A fringe event at the Labour Party conference of 2015 brought together the PSC Chairman, a PSC Patron, three Labour parliamentarians and the heads of two labour unions affliliated both to PSC and the Labour Party.
Unfortunately for PSC’s intended neutrality, Labour Party policy is firmly two-state. The party’s 2015 election manifesto says, “We remain committed to a comprehensive two-state solution – a secure Israel alongside a viable and independent state of Palestine.” The website of Labour Friends of Palestine and the Middle East reveals that it “supports a viable two state solution that delivers justice and freedom for the Palestinian people as called for by the overwhelming international consensus…”
This consensus includes not only the Tories, LibDems, SNP and John Kerry, but also the Labour Friends of Israel, whose approximately fifty Blairite members “support a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, with Israel recognized and secure within its borders and the establishment of a viable Palestinian state.” Former Labour Shadow Foreign Minister, Douglas Alexander, blogged that “Labor fully supports two states living side by side in peace, and recognized by all of their neighbors.”
Thus, while part of the Labor Party even still resists recognition of any self-determination for Palestinians, its two organized ‘pro-Palestinian’ and ‘pro-Israeli’ groups agree on the two-state solution. As recently as 2015 this is the policy PSC would help “implement”.
There emerges a direct question to the PSC Executive Committee: Is PSC neutral on this issue, or does it support the two-state solution?
Recognizing the State of Palestine
The House of Commons voted on October 13, 2014 in favor of a motion put forward by Labor MP Grahame Morris: “This House believes that the Government should recognize the state of Palestine alongside the state of Israel as a contribution to securing a negotiated two-state solution.” All Labor MPs voted voted Aye, as did the overwhelming majority of Conservatives and LibDems.
The PSC, also supports this move for Palestinian statehood, the state being roughly defined along the Green Line borders and including recognition of and security guarantees for the Jewish state. On 26 September 2014 it urged its members to lobby their MPs to vote for the state-recognition motion and repeatedly praised Palestine’s elevation to state status at the UN.
Caveat: I support recognition of the state of Palestine if it does not rule out defining its borders as those of historic Palestine and no other strings are attached. John Quigley has eloquently argued this position, and of course statehood is not the same as UN recognition of a state.
PSC is seemingly unaware that these real-life motions, in the UK as well as other European countries, are contested within the Palestinian and solidarity communities. Ali Abunimah, Mazin Qumsiyeh and Miko Peled publicly flagged up the pitfalls, as did Hamas, the PFLP, the Netherlands Palestine Committee and the Boycott National Committee (the steering group of BDS).
But the PSC chose to follow a small segment of Palestinian opinion, namely that of the Palestinian Authority (PA), rather than remain neutral out of respect for the diversity of Palestinian opinion. It often refers to its ‘partners’ in Palestine, but who are they, and where is its Palestine?
The main pitfall of course is that the motions cement the Jewish state and ignore the refugees – in line with all Great Power two-state proposals. That is, this PSC choice, like its closeness to the Labor Party’s two-state position, is all the more dubious as one of the two states is our old friend, racist, apartheid, settler-colonialist Israel.
No one can argue with a Palestinian who is tired, maimed, bereaved or stripped of his or her dignity and would thus settle for the remnants of Palestine. But in the absence of any evidence that a majority of Palestinians support this Zionist solution, solidarity groups who even consider it are out of line.
Right of Return
PSC is formally pledged to campaign “for the right of return of the Palestinian people.” By embracing BDS it supports BDS’s demand that Israel “respect, protect and promote the rights of Palestinian refugees to return to their homes and properties as stipulated in UN Resolution 194.” (To their homes, not just to Israel in general – a strong demand.)
Omar Barghouti in his Skype talk from Akko to Stanford University of April 27, 2016 first describes BDS’s demands for end of the occupation of 1967 and equality for Palestinians in Israel, then lists “third and foremost the right of Palestinians to return to their homes of origin from which they were ethnically cleansed.”
What for Barghouti is ‘foremost’ among the BDS conditions, as we have seen, receives almost no attention from PSC. One searches the PSC website in vain to find a single picture or drawing of an awda key. To support Right of Return I must turn to other organizations.
Another direct question emerges: would the PSC Executive Committee accept a motion at its 2017 AGM to devote say one-third of its efforts during ‘Balfour year’ to the Palestinians in Jordan, Syria, Turkey, Lebanon, the Gulf, Europe, Australia and the Americas?
There are more questions. One that is topical during Britain’s present storm over the conflation of anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism is: would the Executive Committee accept an AGM motion affirming that the PSC is an anti-Zionist organization? Many of its members and ex-members are, Zionism being the ideology that a Jewish state (yes, one not just with a star-of-David flag but with legal privileges for Jews and ongoing exclusion of the ethnically-cleansed) has the right to be in Palestine – in a land whose people had nothing to do with the persecution of Jews in Europe.
Even the debate over such a motion would clear the air: does our organization believe that the Jewish people have a collective claim on Palestinian land, or not? Does it accept, or reject, the implied parity of two ‘national’ groups, or does it award priority to the colonized and displaced people wherever they live?
The PSC is so valuable that instead of quitting it or grumbling about it, we should try to change it. In my opinion, PSC focuses far too much on symptoms – horrible as they are – and too little on the cause, namely the state of Israel itself, as it defines itself and with its necessary, unavoidable apartheid and murder.
PSC has embraced BDS but without realizing that BDS and a two-state solution are contradictory. Fulfillment of BDS’s three conditions is plainly the end of the Jewish state. The Green Line would disappear, and one democratic Palestine with a Palestinian majority would emerge. BDS rigorously entails this, so PSC cannot simultaneously support BDS and a two-state solution.
The discourse is changing anyway, as Awad Abdelfattah, Secretary-General of the Tajamoa political party, demonstrated in numerous talks in May. The first page is to always deal with all Palestinians, implying the revival of the Palestinian national discourse and solidarity with the refugees. The next page is that anybody supporting justice for Palestinians can no longer get around the issue of the de-legitimization of Israel. As Omar Barghouti recently said, “If freedom, justice and equality would ‘destroy’ Israel, what does that say about Israel?”
It is time for the PSC and all other solidarity NGOs to show some spine.
– Blake Alcott is an ecological economist and the director of One Democratic State in Palestine (England) Limited. He contributed this article to PalestineChronicle.com.