Palestinian statehood bid lost in Western identity politics

Sunday 05/02/2017
A Palestinian protester holds a placard during a demonstration against the construction of Jewish settlements and against US President Donald Trump, on January 20th. (AFP)

On December 23rd, one of the Obama adminis­tration’s last major decisions on the interna­tional stage was to not veto a UN Security Council resolution criticising Israel for its settle­ments on pre-1967 Palestinian territory.

The internet and social media were inundated with reaction. The abstention was welcomed by pro-Palestinian movements — both Western and Arab — as well as in mainstream Arab circles.

Indeed, from the viewpoint of those who see a two-state solution as the catalyst for lasting peace in the region — the viewpoint of much of the international community — it would have been difficult to not welcome such an abstention from the Obama administration.

Caution, however, should be exercised. Does this seemingly defiant act from the Obama administration further the long-sought and long-fought Palestinian goal of full statehood? The short answer is ‘No’.

To quote Joshua Harris’s book I Kissed Dating Goodbye: “The right thing at the wrong time is the wrong thing”. This comes to mind in relation to the Obama administration’s abstention and refusal to veto the Security Council’s resolution. The timing is not just wrong but spectacularly wrong, given Donald Trump’s election victory and whose administration is expected to revert to the United States’ status quo of unconditional Israeli support on all major questions of international law.

Filtered down, the Obama administration’s abstention was merely a symbolic act of defiance on the left side of American politics against the ever-growing right-wing populism that carried Trump to victory.

The same dynamic can be seen in Britain in relation to the Palestinian-Israeli question. The generic consensus is that political parties left of centre have a pro- Palestinian tendency and that such parties — like the Labour Party — have a perception, even if untrue, of being anti-Semitic.

Particularly among young voters and students, the wearing of the keffiyeh as a fashion symbol, for example, has come to signify a generic pro-Palestinian stance on the left side of British — and, by extension, Western — politics. Conversely, political parties whose ideological stance is right of centre tend to sympathise with the Israeli position much like the Republican Party in the United States and the Conservative Party in Britain.

Of course, such an observation is a generalisation but generalisations serve to shape the political landscape. In the West, the situation is unhealthy because it relegates the Palestinian- Israeli question to an aspect of Western identity politics with an expectation that the left wing favours the Palestinians and the right wing favours the Israelis.

Once such an expectation emerges, it only fosters an environment in which dialogue is closed and the Palestinian-Israeli question gets lost in the maze of Western partisan politics along with issues such as abortion, immigration, the environment, the privatisation of health services, foreign aid, etc.

This emergence should not be welcomed. The Palestinian aim of full statehood — and, indeed, the wider desire for peace for both Palestinians and Israelis — should transcend ideological party politics and should be a universal aim. For such an aim to be achieved, its basis requires universal support both in abstract terms and on the ground.

Like abortion, immigration, the environment and others, the Palestinian-Israeli question has become an aspect of partisan opinion from one side vis-à-vis the other side. This dynamic in Western politics means that the aim of statehood is as far away from fruition as it ever has been, despite the warm words behind Security Council resolutions and parliamentary votes for recognition.