Why Symbolism Matters For Palestine

Dan Morrison looks at the vote coming up on Monday to recognise Palestine as a State and what it will mean for the Palestinian people.

Another bloody Israeli war in Gaza has come and gone, propped up by disturbing euphemisms and hypocrisies, with the question of Palestinian statehood refusing to go away. In fact, it is right under our nose. Monday’s vote in Parliament about whether to recognise Palestine as an independent state is evidently not binding, however it is important.

As Sunny Hundal noted for LabourList ‘even if the vote next week is largely symbolic,’ there is ‘an opportunity to send a signal to the world and take a step in ending this injustice’. Football pundits frequently talk about the importance of a team ‘sending a signal’ to the opposition, though really it’s just bollocks, another meaningless cliché to roll out. But this signal is significant, partly because it recognises Palestinians basic right to statehood, and also as it tells Israel as frankly and  firmly as possible that they can no longer continue flouting international law and ghettoizing the millions of people in the West Bank and Gaza. It also provides an opportunity for us.

Sweden became the first major European country, and EU country, to announce that they would recognise an independent Palestinian state, but quickly backed down with a series of ambiguous statements; a result of an Israeli rebuke. They needn’t have backed down. Depending on the result of the vote a bloc of pro-peace European countries can open up, lead by the UK and Sweden, which could act as a negotiator between the Israelis and Palestinians- more effective than an American government heavily influenced by the Israeli lobby.

Germany and France, countries with notable Arab populations, often wary of criticising Israel, may be more forthcoming in their criticism with the support of two major European nations. The EU is important, it is a large bloc of countries that has the means to exert the necessary pressure on Israel, whose quiet and inaction over the Jewish state’s actions has been deafening at times. Fear of the ‘other’ has categorised much of life in this troubled part of the Middle East, and the fear of the other is rising in the EU. The chance for a humanitarian unity for all parties is too great to pass up.

But is there any land left for an independent state? Have the borders not been eroded beyond repair? Possibly. Israel has aggressively pursued its policy of Jewish settlements and colonies in the West Bank, which are illegal under international law. In doing so, the land left for a Palestinian state along the pre-1967 lines has continued to shrink. As journalist Robert Fisk noted last month, in Jerusalem Israel continues ‘to cut Palestinians off from both the capital they are supposed to share with Israelis and from Bethlehem.’ This should not stop a positive vote, nor damn the two state solution to history. These settlements are illegal and, if you follow the definitions applied to situations in Rwanda and Bosnia by the UN, amount to a level of ethnic cleansing of the land. The time and land left for a Palestinian state is clearly shrinking, but it is still possible and worth voting for; Ariel Sharon removed settlers from Gaza for less humanitarian reasons.

The Palestinian leadership has struggled for coherence at times. Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian President, has struggled to reign in the less moderate elements of the administration and has looked weak, but he and his party offer the Palestinians the best deal. The actions of Hamas and Islamic Jihad, two Islamist movements influential within Gaza, are no friends of the Palestinian people; however deplorable and disproportionate Israeli actions in Gaza were, they could not have been justified without these two groups firing on Israeli civilians. Do not forget, Hamas publically executed militants accused of ‘collaborating’ with Israel as well.  A yes vote would completely delegitimise these groups and give strength to the PA, who now governs Gaza as a result of a unity deal with the increasingly weak Hamas.

In her book The War That Ended Peace, Margaret MacMillan asks not just what started the First World War, but also what caused the long preceding years of peace to end. With war ravaging Syria, Iraq and Ukraine, and renewed conflict in Lebanon, Yemen, Central African Republic and Kashmir, the correlations between that time and this are strong. Our leaders must show that they have learnt from the mistakes made a century ago, and that we will not again, as former Prime Minister David Lloyd George said, ‘slither over the brink into the cauldron of war without any trace of apprehension.’

To invoke Nelson Mandela, peace and freedom will never be complete without the Palestinians, and a yes vote on Monday would be one for the Palestinians and for peace. The symbolism of this today cannot be too strong.

By Dan Morrison

[Image Credit: Takver]
Latrobe University students for Palestine marching down Swanston Street
Protest against Israel’s Gaza Blockade and attack on humanitarian flotilla – Melbourne 5 June 2010.



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