Fighting against a racist’s peace: what it means to oppose annexation

With few exceptions, politicians in Australia and across the western world have recently expressed concern that the two-state solution is under threat by Netanyahu’s now-postponed annexation plans (which are perhaps best understood by examining Trump’s ‘conceptual map’). These positions may reflect the growing popular support for the Palestinian struggle across the world, one expression of which is the protest statement signed by hundreds of Australian academics and artists published last week in Overland.

However, calls by politicians to uphold international law can also be interpreted as an attempt to maintain the West’s sense of moral superiority without investing in racial justice for Palestinians, for they do not disturb the Israeli settler-colonial project. The rhetorical commitment to the two-state solution works as an ideological weapon that serves Israel’s criminal impunity while legitimating Zionism as a settler-colonial, ethno-nationalist project.

Unconditional support for the Israeli state, regardless of its apartheid practices and ongoing colonial project, has been a long-standing bipartisan position in Australia that protects Israel from censure. As Ben Saul reminded us last week in a piece urging Australia to join global condemnation of Israel’s annexation plans, Australian and Israeli forces train together. Australian citizens who are also Israeli citizens serve legally in the Israeli army and have joined military operations that breach international and human rights.

It wasn’t long ago, in December of 2018, that Scott Morrison recognised West Jerusalem as Israel’s capital while holding back on moving the Australian embassy from Tel Aviv (my colonised home city of Yaffa) to West Jerusalem. The move made Australia the only western nation to follow the United States in in supporting the expansion of the Zionist settler-colonial project across internationally-recognised Palestinian land. The recognition, alongside Australia’s consistent opposition to United Nations resolutions condemning Israeli international law violations, points to a perverse kinship between the two nations.

No mainstream Australian party questions this kinship, even as illegal settlements continue to be built and extrajudicial killings by Israeli soldiers remain common, such as recent the killings of Ahmed Erekat and Eyad Hallaq. Between April 2011 and May 2020, Israeli security forces have killed 3,408 Palestinians in the occupied Palestinian territories and within Israel according to B’Tselem. Israel further violated international law as it killed 189 people and shot more than 6,100 Gaza March of Return protestors with live ammunition and indiscriminately shelled UN sites, schools and mosques, and massacred Palestinians in Gaza in 2014, 2012 and the summer of 2009.

In 2009, as an undergraduate with Students for Palestine, I led protests against the Rudd government’s disgraceful support for Israel’s assault on Gaza. In refusing to demand an end to the siege, Rudd stated that ‘Australia recognises Israel’s right to self-defence’ as over 500 Palestinians were massacred. This anti-Palestinian discourse was reproduced under the guise of multilateralism, alongside calls for ‘the absolute importance of bringing about an effective diplomatic solution.’ Now, Rudd is urging Morrison to condemn annexation, arguing that ‘Australia has consistently taken the lead when this most basic of our international norms had been breached.’ It is the same violent discourse that equalises relations, distorting the relationship from being one of coloniser and colonised, victimiser and victimised: ‘Both sides have legitimate concerns that need to be addressed in order for both states to exist side-by-side with equal rights and peace and security for their citizens.’

In 1993, the Palestinian intellectual Edward Said astutely warned the Olso Accords would institute ‘an instrument of Palestinian surrender.’ This event was a turning point in the history of Palestinian struggle. After decades of guerrilla struggle, the leading Palestinian organisation, the PLO, made peace with our colonisers. The process formally presented Palestinians and Israelis as equal negotiators on the world stage, serving to transform Israel – one of the most violent nations on Earth – into brokers of peace and, in Said’s words, ‘temporarily obscure the truly astonishing proportions of the Palestinian capitulation.’

Since the Accords, the Israeli settler population in occupied East Jerusalem and the Jordan Valley in the West Bank has boomed thanks to the intervention of the Israeli army and international inaction, and now stands at 620,000. These settlements are a product of a long-held consensus in Israel: that Jerusalem, large parts of the West Bank and the Jordan Valley rightfully belong to the Israeli state. Netanyahu’s annexation extending sovereignty over the Jordan Valley would merely formalise a de-facto reality on the ground.

As a Palestinian, I consider it an insult that Western politicians summon the two-state solution in our support as though it were anything but a position of forced surrender. Palestinians in the homeland and in their diasporas have a long history of demonstrating against Israeli oppression that has been left unchallenged by the so-called peace agreements. Meanwhile, those same politicians condemn or criminalise Palestinian resistance, including the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement.

This lip-service to two-state solution is the premise for opposing the annexation across political parties in Australia. This includes the Greens, in spite of their more sympathetic record to Palestinian rights. In a recent media release, Adam Bandt states that the annexation ‘thwarts Palestinians’ right to self-determination, destabilises the entire region and further jeopardises the prospects of a two-state solution.’ This is the same position taken by foreign minister Marise Payne last week, when she stated that ‘the Australian Government is a longstanding supporter of a two-state solution, in which Israel and a future Palestinian state coexist, in peace and security, within internationally recognised borders.’ Like all other mainstream political parties in Australia, the Greens express their qualified sympathy while formally opposing the BDS movement.

This rhetoric has aided Israel’s image as a cooperative and moral international player while continuing its illegal settlements and land grabs, as well as the siege of Gaza, which began as collective punishment on the Palestinian population for democratically electing the wrong party, Hamas. It is another iteration of the colonial logic that speaks over and for Palestinians without any respect for widespread Palestinian dissent against this ‘solution’.

Mark Muhannad Ayyash has put forward a similar critique earlier this week:

These words do not carry any consequence that can give them meaning, depth, and force. They are part of the diplomatic routine, which gives the feeling that something is being done, that the world is watching closely and that the world is concerned for Palestine.

This chimera of an act ends up sustaining the status quo and ensures that nothing consequential is ever undertaken. The very emptiness of these words thus becomes another weapon that enables annexation.

Many ordinary Palestinians have understood this situation for some time: the cavalry is not coming – not from the Arab world, not from the UN and not from international law. And in their absence, those international institutions and states show themselves as part of the problem, not the solution.

While Netanyahu has explained that Palestinians in the potential annexed areas would not be granted Israeli citizenship, as reported in The Times of Israel in May, some anti-annexation liberals in the West and centrist Israeli activists have been responding to this goal-post shifting by the far right to enter into a discussion of what should happen to the Palestinians after annexation. While this discussion will become necessary if the annexation goes ahead, when the conversation is not held on Palestinian terms it can stifle our ability to centre resistance and articulate just alternatives to occupation and expanded Israeli settler-colonisation. It has not been liberal positions but Palestinian disillusionment with ‘what’s on the table’ that has generated waves of struggle throughout Palestinian history.

If the current Bla(c)k Lives Matter moment against anti-Black police brutality reiterates anything for us Palestinians, it is the limits of liberal government reformist visions. Liberal multiculturalism and the pretence of colour-blindness have been the dominant ideologies of the past few decades in ‘post-racial’ societies such as the United States and Australia, and it is they, along with the police, that are being put on trial. Demands for abolishing, defunding and demilitarising the police push against right-wing and liberal efforts to maintain the status quo of systemic racism: that is, a way of organising and distributing mobility, wealth, opportunity and safety through an economy of advantage and disadvantage. As Palestinians, we learn from this history as we now bear witness to the ways in which the New Jim Crow policies – as described by Michelle Alexander – have enabled police impunity and mass incarceration.

The Palestinian struggle is connected to the global BLM movement through an interlinked vision to dismantle racist settler-colonial structures and systems. Within our shared fight for racial justice, it is crucial to challenge Israel’s Zionist supremacy at the same time as we are seeing white supremacy fiercely challenged in protests across this country against Aboriginal deaths in police custody. In drawing these links, we also build support towards our efforts at challenging Israeli white-washing initiatives that seek to blackout colonisation and paint Israel as a progressive model of democracy.

As Palestinians, we have suffered the consequences of the legitimisation of Zionism as a settler-colonial, ethno-nationalist project. The current moment crucially offers opportunities to strengthen global solidarity against racist state apparatus wherever they operate, which would boost support for the demands of BDS, given these demands are premised upon ending the same kind of state impunity targeted by the uprisings in the United States. Yannick Giovanni Marshall’s reflections in ‘The racists’ peace’ are relevant here:

To order that our protests must be peaceful is to demand that when we ask to be injured less, it is in a tone that is respectful and polite. To praise the peacefulness of a protest is to assert the right of those resisted to determine the ethics of resistance – their right to command and to direct it, their right to lay out how resistance must be conducted.

We should demand that our global protest against annexation be tied to our imaginaries of a Free Palestine. Committing to anything less is a racist’s peace and a racist’s justice.

It is not enough to expect pro-Palestinians to accept the utterance of words of support against annexation from politicians supporting Orwellian peace agreements. The time for feigned pro-Palestinian support should be over. Genuine support for the Palestinian struggle demands opposition to Israeli settler colonisation itself.

Tasnim Mahmoud Sammak

Tasnim Mahmoud Sammak is a PhD candidate at Monash University, faculty of Education and Palestinian organiser. Her research project explores the emergence of radical political subjectivities and imaginaries. Tasnim’s grandparents were exiled from Yaffa during the Nakba in 1948 to a refugee camp in Gaza, where they, including her father, were again displaced to Al-Hussein refugee camp in Amman after the annexations of 1967, when her mother and her family were also exiled from Ya’bad, Jenin in the West Bank.

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