“If the breath and heart remain steady as the eye slips from “centenary” to “half-century” to “decade,” this is because the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has endured so long that it has acquired about it an air of timelessness, and normalised into background noise”. The introductory remark to “Moment of Truth: Tackling Israel-Palestine’s toughest questions” succinctly describes the process of normalisation and adds to this normalisation by framing colonisation as a conflict.
Bringing together an array of viewpoints from political leaders, scholars and activists on Palestine, Israel and the international community in the form of debate, this book shows how normalisation has altered discourse from colonialism to occupation and eventually mellowed into a conflict. It would appear that there is no solution other than variations which shelter Israel from consequences and there is little discussion as to why anti-colonial struggle is almost completely eliminated. Yet, this absence also sheds light on how the fragmented approach to Palestinian rights is also eliminating possibilities.
With almost no veering away from the two-state compromise, the contributions in this book highlight the fact that the paradigm itself has contributed to fragmentation, notably due to solutions departing from impositions upon Palestine that do not require any form of decolonisation from Israel. The permanence associated with Israel is in itself an impediment to a solution, hence the notion of conflict gains ground from the fact that solutions are taking into consideration the fact that colonisation, although barely spoken about, will remain.
There are various reasons for this, among them the dynamics of the Palestinian Authority’s institutions, the indivisibility of Jerusalem which is always portrayed from an Israeli perspective, peace as a requirement to working towards a solution and the Israeli insistence upon impunity and oblivion, which results in frameworks that do not take into consideration the political history of colonialism and its ramifications. Rami Nasrallah presents his argument thus: “Israeli discourse is still characterised by a complete denial of Palestinian national and political rights”.
Usama Antar goes further in his analysis, arguing that “Israel has been able to transform the Palestinian struggle from a quest to end the occupation and establish an independent Palestinian state to a series of disputes about how the occupation is administered”. Antar’s statement is a reflection about part of the Palestinian reality, as well as inadvertently shedding light upon the metaphor of dispute distanced from a discussion of colonisation. Yet, Antar discusses the problems associated with Israel’s permanence in a vivid way, showing how the colonial presence has rendered classic anti-colonial struggle infeasible due to settler presence and argues for non-violent struggle as a solution – a concept which is both endorsed and repudiated by other writers in this book. Mkhaimar Abusada asks: “If Israel began to fire on the unarmed demonstrators in Gaza, wouldn’t the outcry have been deafening?” Recent events in Gaza have proved that any outcry is short lived and dramatised, rather than based upon a strategy that works towards Palestinian self-determination.
Although not mentioned as a main theme, oblivion should be kept in mind when reading this book, in order to gain an understanding of how it has influenced the shaping of discourse about Palestine from the regional to the international level. In his contribution, Shaul Arieli, unequivocally declares that Israel should not be punished for its violations by being forced to withdraw to the pre-1967 borders. Of the two-state paradigm, Shlomo Ben Ami states: “The two-state solution represents the salvation of the Zionist project before it slides irreversibly into a South African situation that would not be susceptible to a South African solution.” Regarding the indivisibility of Jerusalem, Daniel Seidermann observes that the “Israel public opinion will never allow for compromise in Jerusalem”.
The burden of compromise, therefore, is seen to rest solely upon Palestinians. In the absence of political unity between Palestinian political factions, PA corruption and collaboration with Israel to the point of backing the colonial narrative, prospects for Palestinians are always discussed from an inferior position.
Nathan Brown writes: “The PLO, the PA and factions have simply lost their ability to offer any programme other than their own continuation.” Diana Buttu elaborates further, saying that the international community is conscious of this power play, yet it enables them “to claim to be supporting Palestinian statehood even as they remain silent on Israel’s colonisation”.
The play on Palestinian statehood, dominated by the international community and the PA, is also a means of marginalising Hamas as a political power. Ghaith Al-Omeri, former advisor to PA leader Mahmoud Abbas, accuses Hamas of terrorism and of attempts “to scuttle Palestinian-Israeli negotiations and to advance its domestic objectives”. Yet as Ahmad Yousef, Tarek Baconi and Khaled Hroub articulate in their essays, Hamas has engaged in diplomacy and proved capable of reconciling ideology with pragmatism. Baconi in particular states: “The reason for Hamas’ enduring political legitimacy is that the drivers which animate Hamas’ ideology are not limited to the movement itself.”
Oblivion in the context of human rights discourse is portrayed well in the book. It is the little omissions which necessitate reminders, as Richard Falk points out, that contribute great harm towards Palestinians. Falk asserts: “Self-determination is not only a human right; it is the master human rights norm, informing by its special authority all the others.” The statement lays bare the fact that self-determination for Palestinians is mostly discussed as just one fragment of many rights to be achieved, thus contributing to the failure of articulating Palestinian rights from a legal perspective.
Now that Israel has effectively declared itself an apartheid state with the Jewish Nation State law, there is little to substantiate Robbie Sabel’s argument: “As part of a campaign to delegitimise Israel, there is a clear attempt to smear it with this moral taint.” Sabel’s statement should be a point of reflection on how Israel manipulates isolation. The book makes it clear that there is a contradiction when discussing Israel’s isolation. Public opinion is clearly swaying in support of Palestine and it will continue to do so. Yet the international community’s diplomacy is hindering the prospects of isolating Israel politically.
In terms of opinion and information, the book can make for a daunting read. Yet it also reflects the parameters within which Palestine and Israel are discussed. The impunity granted to Israel is contributing to the colonial entity’s efforts in stretching the limits of what is acceptable and what is not, thus creating a situation where the amount of violations and their intersection with other issues make it near to impossible to work out a solution due to accommodating Israel’s demands.
The lack of clarity on a solution is also a result of how the international community interacts with Palestine and Israel without addressing colonialism, something which is reflected in this collection of essays and its emphasis on Israel’s military occupation. Yet the omissions, or discrepancies, are what Palestinians are facing today. Therefore, despite the writers standing for Palestinian rights having missed an opportunity in highlighting the foundation of all the violations that Palestinians are facing today, it is equally important to acknowledge that not engaging in a discussion about colonisation and its violence is no longer something that can be overlooked.