Home inFocus A Palestinian State? (Fall 2011) The Politics of Change in Palestine

The Politics of Change in Palestine

Book by: Michael Bröning
Reviewed by: Samara Greenberg Fall 2011

Change in ‘Palestine’?

While not much has changed in the status of Israeli-Palestinian negotiations since 1993, facts on the ground have. From the destruction caused by the second intifada from 2000-04 to Israel’s withdrawal from Gaza in 2005; from Hamas’s victory over Fatah in the first Palestinian elections held in over ten years to Hamas’s subsequent take-over of the Strip two years later, there’s no questioning that the Palestinian landscape today differs sharply from that of two decades ago when Arafat and Rabin shook hands on the White House lawn.

These changes, or “politics of change” as he calls them, are what author Michael Bröning sets out to clarify in his new book titled The Politics of Change in Palestine. In doing so, Bröning, director of the Friedrich Ebert Foundation affiliated with the Social Democratic Party of Germany, hopes to challenge “the perceived wisdom that Israel has no partner for peace, and that the Palestinian people are powerless to influence events.”

Bröning covers four topics inside his book’s small frame: Hamas, Fatah, Palestinian Authority (PA) Prime Minister Salam Fayyad’s state-building efforts, and the non-violent resistance movement. And while some of his facts and discussions are interesting, those pages, few and far between, are overcome by his constant blaming of Israel and the “occupation” for the Palestinians’ problems and the lack of a lasting peace.

The book begins with a discussion of Hamas and a description of what Bröning calls its “programmatic transformation” from an intransigent, militant group towards “political pragmatism” and the acceptance of the two-state solution.

This, however, is far from the truth; Hamas’s seeming acceptance of two states is anything but. In May 2011 Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal announced that he was committed to the two-state solution, as long as that solution includes “not an inch of land swaps and respecting the right of return”—unrealistic and uncompromising conditions. Moreover, until the day that Israel agrees to its terms, Hamas will continue to champion armed “resistance” as the legitimate tool to combat the “occupation.” Hamas leaders also continuously note that their acceptance of a Palestinian state in Gaza, the West Bank, and East Jerusalem would only be temporary as it would not “cancel the right of the next generations to liberate the lands,” as Hamas co-founder Mahmoud al-Zahar openly acknowledged in May.

According to polls, a majority of the Palestinian people feels the same. In a study sponsored by The Israel Project (TIP) this past summer, when asked to choose between two statements, while 30 percent of respondents agreed that “I can accept permanently a two-state solution with a homeland for the Palestinian people living side by side with Israel, a homeland for the Jewish people,” 66 percent answered that “The real goal should be to start with a two-state solution but then move to it all being one Palestinian state.”

The reason so many observers argue that Israel has no partner for peace is becoming clear.

Moving from the Gaza Strip to the West Bank, Bröning discusses Fatah and the Palestinian state-building plan under Salam Fayyad. Launched in August 2009, the goal of the so-called Fayyad Plan is to establish “the parameters of statehood” within the West Bank by mid-2011 so that, in the PM’s words, “it will be difficult for anyone…not to conclude that Palestinians are indeed ready for statehood.” Essentially, Fayyad’s plan was to prepare the West Bank so that a majority of countries would vote in favor of the PA’s unilateral move to declare a Palestinian state based on the 1967 borders at the UN in September 2011.

Bröning praises the plan as “a constructive lessons-learned approach based on years of failed negotiations.” Yet, such state-building efforts should have been accomplished within the framework of Palestinian-Israeli negotiations, as they could have bolstered the failing peace process. At this point, Fayyad’s plan is a double-edged sword. It has resulted in tangible and unprecedented changes on the ground in the West Bank, including improvements in the security situation (with Israeli and U.S. assistance), financial sector, general infrastructure, and the justice sector but, with its end goal of declaring statehood at the UN, the plan’s implementation enlarged the gap between the two sides rather than closed it.

While an improved situation in the West Bank as a result of Palestinian-Israeli cooperation could have enhanced the chances of creating a lasting peace agreement, Fayyad and the PA have chosen to go at it alone and at the expense of an agreement.

On the other hand, Bröning is correct to argue that the Palestinian people have the power to influence their future, perhaps now more than ever with their increasing focus on non-violent “resistance” measures as opposed to acts of terror. From the “Freedom Flotilla” and “airtilla” planned trips to the BDS (Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions) movement, pro-Palestinian groups are increasingly staging non-violent campaigns (which sometimes turn violent), to make Israel appear as an unyielding aggressor. And it’s working.

The non-violent movements’ goal, at its core, is to strip Israel of its right to “secure and recognized boundaries” as stated in UN Resolution 242 by declaring it is the Palestinian people’s “right” to have a state within Israel’s 1967 borders. It advocates for that cause by equating Israel with apartheid South Africa, by lobbying organizations, companies, and people to boycott everything Israeli, and by protesting, holding events, and soliciting ads.

All who know their history know this narrative is false and therefore part of the attempt to delegitimize Israel—”an accusation that few activists would refute,” Bröning states. What Bröning doesn’t seem to understand, however, is that his and the pro-Palestinian movement’s focus on the 1967 borders as the place for a Palestinian state has no historical merit. The 1967 green line is the byproduct of the 1948 war, which was launched by the Arab states, and the resulting demarcation line merely notes where hostilities ended—not where future borders were to be drawn. That the surrounding newly formed Arab countries refused to absorb the displaced persons, as other countries have in the past during times of war, is the real tragedy of 1948.

Equally worth refuting is Bröning’s acceptance of equating Israel with apartheid South Africa, a comparison that is ignorant and defamatory. In Israel, the Arab minority holds equal rights—the exact opposite of the demographic reality that existed in apartheid South Africa where the majority black citizens did not have equal rights. There are Arab members of the Knesset, the Supreme Court, and in other high diplomatic positions—positions not offered to apartheid South Africa’s nonwhite population or even the Palestinian population living under the PA and Hamas in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Israel is not a perfect country, but it is a democratic one, and Israeli-Palestinian relations are not founded on a legal structure of racial discrimination. Indeed, Israel’s Arab population enjoys far more freedom and rights than are afforded to Arab populations in any other Middle Eastern state.

Any useful elements of The Politics of Change in Palestine, such as Bröning’s discussion of Hamas and Fatah’s internal organizational structures, are overshadowed by the author’s clear bias against Israel. This book is part of the problem, not the solution, as it encourages the false notions that Hamas is interested in peace, that Fatah has exhausted all possibilities for peace, and that the Palestinian resistance movement as opposed to the negotiations process—the only legitimate avenue for solving the conflict—will bring about a lasting peace. It will not.

Samara Greenberg is a senior research associate at the Jewish Policy Center and deputy editor of inFocus Quarterly.