18 Februray 2014, Princeton University
It is a particular honor and challenge to join the list of distinguished speakers who have preceded me to deliver lectures in this annual series dedicated to the legacy of Edward Said. In various ways I was connected with the Princeton dimension of Edward's later years: not only was he a most cherished friend, but also a tennis and squash partner from time to time, and a guest speaker in my graduate courses on several occasions.
But beyond friendship what remains so vibrantly present about Edward's continuing presence in my life is the model he set for me and so many others as someone simultaneously fully committed to the teaching/scholarly life of the university and yet also devoted to the vocation of an intellectual. In Edward's usage a person who feels, thinks, and acts as an engaged citizen. I was also influenced by Edward's playfulness and wit, as well as his enthusiasm for all that life has to offer ranging from the high culture of music and literature to the enjoyment of food and sport. This fullness of being may not seem so special, but in my experience it is rather rare. It is particularly unusual at the most esteemed universities where there exists an unwritten code in which consulting for the government is a badge of honor while acting in solidarity with morally compelling social and political initiatives unpopular with the governing classes is treated as a discrediting descent into inappropriate partisanship. This form of ethically driven public engagement is often harshly demeaned as undermining academic objectivity.
Edward came to reject such academic versions of 'political correctness' with grace and passion than. As myself a somewhat marginalized member of the academic community, I found his kind of self-understanding of intellectual life nothing short of inspirational. I shall be forever grateful for Edward's articulations and enactments of what it means to be a public intellectual devoted to a global justice and humane values, which often is centered upon solidarity with unpopular causes. Of course, Edward was not alone in this effort to combine exceptional scholarly contributions with engaged citizenship and a critical outlook. Among many, Bertrand Russell, Jean-Paul Sartre, and Noam Chomsky are particularly relevant in prefiguring Edward's own process of situating himself in the history and struggles of his time, and above all, in his case, in the plight and destiny of the Palestinian people.
I follow Said in believing that, at least here in America, the nature of the public side of this dual role of scholar and citizen generally is enacted in an oppositional orientation. It is oppositional to the mainstream and government in tone and substance, and is it odds with what the media conveys as the conventional wisdom of the day. In Said's words: "there's only one way to anchor oneself, and that is by affiliation with a cause, a political movement. There has to be some identification not with the powers that be..there has to be an affiliation with matters involving justice, principle, truth, and conviction." I believe that Said's words convey an urgent message to today's youth, probably nowhere more so than here at Princeton. We are living at a time where a much more widely engaged citizenry is urgently needed within the academy. That is, those dedicated to speaking truth, empathy, and love to power, those able to put aside the willful national and class evasions of global common interests. These diversions currently shift attention away from such desperate challenges as those associated with climate change, nuclear weaponry, global poverty, and the many struggles around the world in pursuit of human rights and justice. Salmon Rushdie put it well in the course of introducing Said back in 1986: "he reads the world as closely as he reads books." [Politics of Dispossession, 107]. Never in my lifetime has it been more evident that dominant political forces throughout the world are not well attuned to promoting the global public good, thus not supportive of the wellbeing and even the ultimate survival of the human species, making the human future almost totally dependent on transnational activism.
It hardly needs saying that Said found his defining political cause concretely presented as a result of his national identity, that is, as a Palestinian born in Jerusalem, coming of age in Cairo and Beirut, and doing his advanced studies and building a career in the United States. Such a life journey produced in Said an acute lifelong consciousness of dispossession and enforced exile vividly depicted in the memoir of his early adult years, Out of Place.
And yet his engagement with the Palestinian struggle was not a vital part of the first half of his academic career during which he rose to prominence to become one an influential literary and cultural critics. Said's distinctly political awakening as a public intellectual dedicated to Palestinian liberation came in the aftermath of the 1967 War. This turn toward engaged citizenship was volcanic in its effects upon him, and lovingly encouraged by Edward's wife, Mariam Said. In the 1967 War Israel gained a total victory over the combined military forces of its Arab neighbors. Such an outcome accentuated the plight of the Palestinians, having a profound impact on Said's conscience and consciousness. This humbling outcome also shattered Palestinian hopes of what might be called liberation-from-without, and made Israel into America's most trusted and reliable strategic partner in the region. It was a time of discouraging defeat for the Palestinians but less appreciated, also unexpectedly, it became a moment of hope borne from renewed and reconfigured dedication to the Palestinian struggle. Said revealingly attributes his own hopes for the Palestinian future on the successful struggles by Third World peoples in anti-colonial war, and especially upon the extraordinary resistance that Vietnam had mounted to frustrate American military intervention, which was assuming paramount importance in his surroundings at the time. It is of continuing interest that he cited the writings of Franz Fanon and the battlefield exploits of the Vietnamese general, Vo Nguyen Giap, as informing his approach to the next phase in the Palestinian struggle.
Even less appreciated than the post-1967 political revival of the Palestine national movement was the degree to which Israelis allowed their military victory to become a time of moral and political complacency, hastening the death of Israeli idealism, an assessment eloquently argued throughout Ari Shavit's evocative meditations on Israel's evolution, decay, and destiny in The Promised Land.
These developments in and after 1967 permanently changed the strategic parameters in the entire region, infused the Palestine national movement with a sobering ephiphany along these lines: if liberation for the Palestinian people was to be achieved it could only result from what might be called 'liberation-from-within,' that is, on the basis of a Palestinian resistance movement rather than through reliance through the warfare of Arab neighboring states. The Palestinian leadership for the first time fully realized that Palestinians must themselves become agents of their own liberation. This realization applied regardless of whether Palestinian adversity took the form of occupation, dispossession, or discriminatory subjugation within Israel. These dramatic moves toward the assumption of responsibility for Palestinian national destiny gave rise to some mobilizing glimmerings of Palestinian self-empowerment. In ensuing years the Palestinian cause has passed through many phases of frustration and disillusionment, ups and downs, changes of direction, a few successes and mainly failures, all in the ongoing quest for a just peace. However darkened the outlook became in subsequent decades I have found that the spirit of the Palestinian people to be unshakable. It is an expression of that celebrated Palestinian national trait of sumud or steadfastness, in effect, a commitment to carry on the struggle for as long as it takes to gain freedom and dignity.
In the period after 1967 Yasir Arafat and Palestinian Liberation Organization gave a face and a structure to the Palestinian movement that claimed a right of armed resistance. Said became highly influential as interpreter and partisan, participating as a member of the Palestine National Council and writing and speaking widely. He supported the historic and stunning 1988 decision of the Council accepting both the existence of Israel as a legitimate state and proposing a permanent peace based on Palestinian self-determination territorially confined to the 1967 borders, what are known as 'the green line.' Such a position was in conformity with the letter and spirit of unanimous Security Council Resolution 242, which was reaffirmed after the 1973 War in SC Res. 338 calling for its 'immediate implementation.' When adopted in 1967 242 called for an unconditional Israeli withdrawal from the territories occupied in the war and for a just resolution of the refugee issue. It has never been acknowledged that this acceptance of the post-1967 UN approach by the Palestinian side was an extraordinarily forthcoming gesture in the direction of promoting a peaceful outcome of the struggle. These terms should have been acceptable to Israel, and certainly offered a promising basis for negotiations. And yet neither Israel, nor the United States, nor even the United Nations responded. In contrast, over the years periodic Israeli proposals are routinely praised in the West as 'generous' and 'courageous' although they significantly diminish the moderate Palestinian expectations contained in Resolution 242 and its embrace by the Palestinian leadership in 1988. Every Israeli proposal up to the present has included major territorial claims beyond the green line and an insistence on resolving the refugee issue without reference to Palestinian rights under international law.
Put in historical perspective, the Palestinian initiative in 1988 was extraordinary for several reasons. To begin with, it was unusual for the weaker side in world politics as measured by hard power to take a peace initiative by offering significant territorial concessions in advance of actual diplomatic negotiations. Even more impressive was the Palestinian acceptance of a status quo that would make normalize and institutionalize a dominant Israeli presence in historic Palestine. It is difficult so long after these facts to recall that the Palestinians previous to 1988 had rejected altogether the idea of a Jewish homeland and state in historic Palestine, that is, what had been offered to the Zionist Movement by the British Foreign Secretary, Lord Balfour, in 1917. Even the UN proposals in 1947 of a divided Palestine, with approximately 45% of historic Palestine being allocated to the Palestinians in a partition scheme embodied in General Assembly Resolution 181 were summarily dismissed as unfair and unacceptable by those who spoke on behalf of the Palestinian people. And yet in 1988 the Palestinians signaled their readiness to accept a Palestinian destiny on less than half the territory offered to Palestine by the UN in 1947. Israeli apologists often quote the words of the distinguished Israeli diplomat, Abba Eban, who said, "The Palestinians never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity." In retrospect, I would say that Israel did a pretty good job of missing an opportunity in 1988, at least if you believe there ever existed a genuine Israeli interest in a just peace that included accommodating moderate Palestinian national aspirations.
What ensued is well known. No reciprocal peace gestures of any kind were forthcoming from Tel Aviv. Indeed the opposite. Israel accelerated its violations of the Geneva Conventions governing belligerent occupation by building numerous armed settlements on that 22% remnant of Palestinian territory occupied since 1967. The territorial appropriations associated with the settlement movement were later reinforced by an elaborate and expensive network of settler only roads, and later by a security wall built mainly and unlawfully well deep inside the Palestinian side of the green. This behavior sent a clear message to the Palestinians that if they wanted to end the occupation they would either have to swallow a settlement that involved far less even than 22% of the land as well as relinquish any Palestinian right of return and accede to a range of Israeli security demands. Israel insisted upon a completely demilitarized, and hence totally vulnerable, Palestine. As this process of Palestinian political retreat continued, Israeli diplomatic demands escalated, a process Israelis explained as creating 'facts on the ground.' In the course of these developments, Said and other Palestinian intellectuals became gradually disenchanted with the leadership of the national movement. Said felt that Palestinian rights were being unjustly and fundamentally compromised to such a degree that all hopes for a just peace were being destroyed.
More specifically, the feeling spread among Palestinian intellectuals that Arafat was no longer providing the Palestinian people with adequate leadership, that he had become far too eager to reach an agreement with Israel on almost any terms. In this atmosphere, Said came to believe also that Arafat, became too trusting of and dependent upon Washington and too eager to please American leaders, that he seemed ready to sacrifice inalienable Palestinian rights, and that such a prospect was already demoralizing the Palestinian people. It is important to remember that Said had endorsed the 1988 approach, including a willingness to allow withdrawal from the land occupied by Israel in 1967 to serve as the foundation of a territorial partition of historic Palestine between the two peoples. For Palestinians this meant abandoning their earlier arguments that Israel and Zionism could never be allowed to alter the character of historic Palestine. He was then even willing to forego the more moderate Palestinian position that Israel must in a peace agreement retreat at least to the partition borders mandated in 1947 by the UN. In effect, Said was prepared to live with a viable Palestinian sovereign state on the West Bank and Gaza that had East Jerusalem as its capital. What he refused to do was to accept any further dismemberment of this Palestinian remnant by the settlement phenomenon or through the renunciation of the claimed right of return for millions of Palestinians living in refugee camps or exile. Said became so alienated by this diplomatic drift that he ended his participation in the PNC and became a sharp public critic of the PLO approach.
Said's distress with the secular Palestinian leadership reached its climax after the Oslo Framework of Principles was made public in 1993, inscribed forever in our memories by the infamous handshake on the White House lawn. He regarded the Oslo agreement as a humbling defeat for Palestinian diplomacy, a bigger setback than the 1967 War, and the fulfillment of his worst fears as to where the Palestinian movement was headed. Oslo was such a political setback because it created delusionary expectations that facilitated Israeli efforts to curtail Palestinian prospects still further, while lulling most Palestinians into a mood of false hopes. What particularly disturbed Said about the Oslo text was its complete failure to reference Palestinian rights, especially, the inalienable right of Palestinian self-determination. Beyond this there was no explicit mention of Palestinian statehood. There was also no insistence calling upon Israel to suspend any further expansion of the flagrantly unlawful settlements, and commit to their eventual dismantling. As this Oslo process went forward with its futile deference to inter-governmental diplomacy, and in light of the shifting circumstances brought about by the settlements, Said renounced his advocacy from the 1988 conception of a just peace. Instead, he now proposed a single bi-national state as the correct principled solution for both peoples. It became his belief that only such an outcome would now allow Palestinians and Israelis to live together and enjoy freedom, peace, democracy, and equality of rights.
It is relevant to take note of Said's position as to role of violence in the Palestinian struggle during this final phase of his own engagement. As with Nelson Mandela Said never repudiated the Palestinian right to engage in armed resistance, but at the same time he repeatedly stated his belief that neither side could achieve peace and security by relying on what he called the 'military option.' It should be remembered that even Gandhi believed that violent resistance was to be preferred to acquiescing to an unjust structure of oppression. Said recognized and celebrated the intifada of 1987 as an inspiring model of nonviolent resistance from below that had been effective in raising Palestinian spirits and gaining greater public understanding and support for the Palestinian struggle throughout the world, including in the United States. This first intifada exemplified his insistence that liberation for the Palestinian people depended above all on the rise of coercive (although nonviolent) and creative forms of self-reliance, as well as on a leadership unwaveringly dedicated to a just peace, and not to peace at any price.
There are several other features of Said's position that are not often commented upon. He controversially insisted that the path to a sustainable and just peace required a prior Israeli acknowledgement of the massive injustices inflicted on the Palestinian people by the nakba of 1948. This was the time of catastrophic dispossession when as many as 700,000 Palestinians were forced from their places of habitual residence, which in some cases stretched back many generations, even thousands of years. Said was very definite about the Israeli need to meet this condition. He reformulated this demand in an interview given not long before his death: "Until the time comes when Israel assumes responsibility for what it has done to the Palestinian people, there can be no end to the conflict." He went on to explain that he meant—"..all our claims against Israel for the original dispossession and for the occupation that began in 1967." On at least one occasion Said seemed to feel that the best way to proceed would by way of some version of a peace and reconciliation commission, but its makeup and proceedings must be under authentic Palestinian control.
It could be argued that Shavit's book does represent an Israeli admission that the Zionist project as it went about establishing the state of Israel inflicted unacceptable cruelties on the Palestinian people and was guilty of much wrongdoing. Yet Shavit's acknowledgements fall far short of being an official pronouncement, and his central argument would not likely please Said. Shavit argues that massive cruelty to the Palestinians was an unavoidable incident of Israeli nation-building. He also contends that Israel is currently severely threatened, and for its own wellbeing and future security Israel should beat a hasty diplomatic retreat, and in so doing embrace a robust version of the two-state solution that gives the Palestinians a sovereign state that corresponds roughly to the 1967 borders.
Although militant in his rhetoric critical of Israel and the United States, it should be remembered that Said always favored a reconciling vision of just peace, and in that spirit, was willing to put aside his interpretation of the colonialist illegitimacy that enabled Israel to come into existence. His firm belief in the need to acknowledge injustices endured by the Palestinians was inseparable from his equally strong insistence that that one dispossession could never justify a second dispossession. For this reason, Said rejected attacks directed at the legitimacy of Israel as a state. In his own version of facts on the ground, Said accepted the existence of Israel as a reality that the Palestinians should not challenge, exhibiting a special sensitivity to past persecutions of the Jews, especially the Holocaust. Yet he vigorously rejected the opportunistic contention often made by Zionist ideologues that the past victimizations of Jews somehow exempted Israel from criticisms associated with their present victimizations of Palestinians. In effect, the barbarism of the Holocaust did not excuse the failures to deal justly with the Palestinian people who were fully entitled to live securely on the land of historic Palestine.
Against this background I would like to share some thoughts on developments bearing on Palestinian tactics and prospects that have evolved during the ten years since Edward Said's death. In most fundamental respects, there has been no change in the Palestinian situation of oppressive occupation, a continuing consolidation by Israel of its control of Jerusalem annexed and expanded by unilateral legal fiat, another decade of settlement expansion giving rise to a growing realization that 'the occupation' of the West Bank had itself become a form of annexation, and the persistence of show time periodic orchestrations by Washington of negotiations between Israel and the Palestine Authority that gave the appearance of diplomacy but which went no where as neither side seems to believe in the credibility of the process. In this latest enactment of face to face talks, initiated after intense pressures had been applied to both sides, the American Secretary of State, John Kerry, has expressed the opinion that these revived negotiations are an all or nothing moment of decision for the parties—supposedly this is the last chance to sell the Palestinians a two-state solution that despite being overwhelmingly slanted in Israel's favor is the best outcome the Palestinians can hope to achieve. Likewise, is gives Israel most of what it wants, and a reasonable prospect of a peaceful future that it would be foolish to reject if the Palestinians could be persuaded to sign on the dotted line. My own view is that this round of negotiations is almost certain to go nowhere, and as such, will be as discrediting to the Palestinians of the diplomatic process generated by the Oslo Framework as were the 1967 and 1973 wars discrediting of a liberation strategy based on the external military intervention by neighboring Arab states.
There is underway a post-armed resistance and post-statecraft restructuring of the Palestinian national movement. It is no longer relying on liberation-from-without (either via the authority of international law or force of arms) nor from liberation-from-above by way of inter-governmental diplomacy under the auspices of official PLO leadership in Ramallah. In recent years, with increasing success the Palestinian national movement centered in civil society has adopted a 'legitimacy war' strategy that is in some ways analogous to the last stages of the anti-apartheid campaign waged against South African racism in the late 1980s and early 1990s. This embrace of a legitimacy war strategy puts emphasis on tactics of coercive non-violence, global solidarity politics, civil society leadership, and the dynamics of popular mobilization. In contrast, to Oslo which was power-based, legitimacy wars can be best understood as rights-based, preoccupied with rights as specified by international law and reinforced by international morality and depending on political pressures exerted from below mainly by a mobilized public rather than governmental elites.
To understand this transition to the legitimacy war option we need to appreciate that there took place a Palestinian learning process arising from past tactical failures and disappointments, as well as on changing national, regional, and global opportunities. I will try to convey this shift by pointing to five disillusionments on the part of Palestinian that are helping in these years to produce this new consensus supportive of a legitimacy war strategy to achieve liberation from oppression and a just peace with Israel:
--disillusionment with the authority of international law and the United Nations to promote a just peace as it became increasingly evident that Israel could defy numerous near unanimous UN resolutions and even outcomes in the International Court of Justice without enduring adverse effects, that a condition of impunity pertains to the state of Israel and its leaders in relation to the implementation of international criminal law;
--disillusionment with inter-Arab solidarity at the governmental level: Israeli victories in the wars fought in 1948, 1956, 1967, and 1973 made it clear to the Palestinian people that the commitments and capabilities of the Arab governments throughout the Middle East were insufficient to challenge Israel and achieve Palestinian goals;
--disillusionment with liberation by armed struggle of the Palestinians themselves, whether by guerrilla tactics or suicide bombing: Israel was too strong, resilient, and capable, and Palestinian tactics of violent resistance were alienating and demoralizing in relation to world public support, raising sympathies with Israel's security plight;
--disillusionment with Palestinian official leadership: its inability to achieve Palestinian unity and to develop and stand for a rights-based platform, as well as its loss of respect due to serious allegations of corruption and collaboration;
--disillusionment with inter-governmental diplomacy—the Oslo Peace Process in its 21st year and variations associated with the Road Map: embedding a realist approach based on relative hard power militarily, diplomatically, and economically (reflecting especially Israel's importance as trade partner and arms supplier), incorporating Israel's expansionist moves, fragmenting the administration of occupied Palestine into Areas A, B, and C, and basing a peace agreement on the willingness of the Palestinian negotiators to accept a series of arrangements that were far less favorable to Palestinian interests and hopes than the vision of the future that seemed to be embedded in SC Res. 242, and reaffirmed in SC Res. 338, as well as being sharply less attractive to the Palestinians than were the guidelines set forth in 1988 to serve as the basis for a solution satisfactory to both sides.
It should be obvious, although worth emphasizing, that these disillusionments should not be generalized as applicable to every international struggle against entrenched positions of oppressive structures, but are meant to point out the specific realities pertaining to the evolution of the Palestinian struggle. It is surprising and revealing that Israel's right-wing government seems as skeptical about this latest recourse to inter-governmental diplomacy as does the Palestinian Authority. This should surprise us since the whole diplomatic charade is strongly slanted toward Israel's favor, which has for many years allowed Israel to pursue its expansionist policies behind the screen of the negotiations. At the same time, some in Israel's leadership circles see neither the present need nor the desirability for any agreement with the Palestinians, at least, until their expansionist program for a 'Greater Israel' has been completed, and fear that the negotiations could be a potential trap if the United States were to exert its geopolitical muscle.
Let me now comment upon the specific nature of the legitimacy war being waged by and for the Palestinian people with the strategic goal of a just peace.
There is a sense in which the Palestine National Movement's embrace of a legitimacy war strategy exceeds our capacity to envision a successful ending of the struggle. We need to remember that this sense of impossibility has often challenged earlier liberation movements that saw no way to get from an oppressive here to a liberated there. Many memorable events of the last century fall into this category of perceived impossibility: the anti-colonial wars of the 1950s and 1960s, the East European liberation movements of the 1980s, the anti-apartheid movement, and the Arab Upheavals of 2011 in their initial phase.
As we all know only too well, liberating empowerment does not assure a happy political ending. I think Edward Said well understood that the Palestinian struggle was a version of what I call the 'politics of impossibility.' He explored this theme brilliantly in literature and as it applied to the Palestinians in a long essay aptly titled "Lost Causes." This understanding was well put by Pete Seeger, the revered American folk singer who recently died: "..the world would never amount to a hill of beans if people didn't use their imaginations to think of the impossible." [quote from John Nichols, "Pete Seeger, 1919-2914, The Nation, Feb. 17, 2014]. To dedicate action to achieve the impossible should never be a matter of optimistic false consciousness. It is rather a recognition that there is no way for the rational mind, in light of present circumstances, to figure out a solution that accords with the postulates of a just peace. Yet at the same time there are present moral and political imperatives of carrying on the struggle to reach such a solution because the future is unknowable and the present circumstance of occupation, oppression, dispossession, and dispersal is intolerable. Putting this condition of 'impossibility' more concretely in context, we can say that it is now too late for a viable and just two-state solution and seemingly far too early for a one-state solution based on the equality of the two peoples. Furthermore, aside from these two territorial solutions there are no others worth considering at the present time, although it should be emphasized that the tensions between the two sides is about more than land: it is also about refugees, Jerusalem, settlements, resources, and security arrangements.
Advocates of legitimacy wars need to study history and pose the question, 'what overcomes impossibility.' There are many examples, but let me briefly mention the South African situation late in the apartheid era. At that time there seemed to be no peaceful solution on the horizon, and no prospect that unleashing a civil war could settle accounts once and for all. It seemed like a hopeless situation, and yet the impossible happened: Nelson Mandela was unexpectedly released from prison by a hard core Afrikaner leader who proceeded against all odds to negotiate a peaceful transition to a multi-racial constitutional democracy that even resulted in Mandela becoming the first president of post-apartheid South Africa. Why did this happen? Not because F.W. De Klerk had a sudden change of heart, a moral transformation, but the unexpected took place because the white elite recalculated their interests, and were especially sensitive to the growing boycott and divestment movement that was threatening their regime and country with increasing delegitimation and anguishing isolation. It was, in effect, the anti-apartheid campaign led to the dawn of a new realism in South Africa that preferred reconciliation and compromise to enduring the rising costs of maintaining the criminalized structures of racism through violent oppression. I am not claiming that the Palestinian situation is the same as the South African, except to say that there is some reason to believe that soft power militancy of a sufficient magnitude might lead rational leaders in Israel to base their future on a peaceful politics of accommodation rather than to continue reliance on a hard power dominance that seemed increasingly vulnerable to soft power challenges.
What is happening in relation to the Palestinian struggle is a gathering momentum behind the BDS Movement that is continuously gaining support in a variety of settings, including from European governments that have been stalwart supporters of Israel over the years, pension funds in the Netherlands and Norway, banking operations in Belgium and Germany, and by initiative undertaken within the United Nations itself. The narrow wedge of this effort has been a growing insistence upon the responsibility of corporations and financial institutions to desist from business operations with the Israeli settlements, and their products, a responsibility being confirmed as applicable even by governments as consistently supported by Israel as those of Germany and the Netherlands. The broader context also includes debates and resolutions of solidarity within scholarly associations, such as the American Studies Association, as to whether or not to endorse an academic boycott of Israeli universities due to their discriminatory treatment of Palestinians. The much discussed Scarlett Johanssen break with OxFam because of her refusal to back out of a SodaStream commercial aired at this year's Superbowl is also indicative of a growing trend. And there are recently frequent issues involving musicians and intellectuals who refuse to perform in Israel due to their objections to Israel's policies and practices. Suddenly, there are warnings being directed toward Netanyahu by longtime friends of Israel, such as Thomas Friedman. These warnings declare that it is a matter of urgency for Israel to negotiate a reasonable version of the two-state solution and give up the project for an expanding Israel that refuses to commit to any set of international borders.
Equally indicative, are the concerns being somewhat hysterically voiced by Israeli think tanks that perceive the boycott campaign and the legitimacy war as the major security threats to Israel's future. They are hysterical because its goals are greatly exaggerated. For instance, by Ehud Rosen writing under the auspices of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs published online a provocative piece titled, "What is the real BDS endgame? The Elimination of Israel?" Contrary to Rosen, the leading Israeli journalist, Gideon Levy, asserted recently in a Ha'aretz column that at this point only Israelis cling to this idea of annihilation—as Levy argues, outside of Israel it is only politically irrelevant extremists espouse that any longer such a view. No Palestinian political group of any consequence questions Israel's existence, and this includes Hamas, but focuses its energy on realizing Palestinian rights in a setting that accepts the permanence of Israel, or some bi-national sequel that merges the political identities of the two peoples.
Israeli leaders allege in their pushback against what they derisively describe as 'lawfare' and 'the delegitimation project' is the false and diversionary accusation that BDS is seeking to destroy the state of Israel rather than to challenge its unlawful and immoral policies and practices. This Israeli counter-attack also resorts to the claim that since the Israeli state cannot be distinguished from the Zionist project, the entire boycott movement should be repudiated as anti-Semitic. In truth, there is double dose of misinformation present—first of all, the legitimacy war approach is only challenging Israeli practices and policies that are denying Palestinians rights and entitlements, not the state of Israel as a sovereign state and member of the United Nations; secondly, to equate a state with a religion or ethnicity is to make all criticisms based on the rights of others a form of racial hatred, in this case a type of anti-Semitism; such fallacious reasoning is dangerous, removing anti-Semitism from its core meaning as hatred of Jews and the Jewish people and extending it to anyone who dares criticize the policies and practices of the state of Israel, and proposes remedial action to coerce change; this loosened meaning of anti-Semitism also indirectly shows what is wrong with the insistence by Netanyahu that Israel be recognized by the Palestinians and the world as 'a Jewish state'; to make a formal demand that Israel be recognized as a Jewish state is monumentally insensitive from the perspective of the 1.5 million Palestinians living within Israel, as well as corrupting the ethical nature of the modern state as necessarily transcending religion and ethnicity.
Thirdly, to make Zionism synonymous with the existence of the Jewish state of Israel is to turn a political project to establish a Jewish homeland into a rigid conception of Jewish identity that doesn't even fit many Jews who are not Zionists and do not live in Israel. Indeed, there is a strong argument that Israel is itself entering a post-Zionist mode now that the state containing the Jewish homeland has been securely established. Israel already serves as a Jewish homeland for all Jews that want to live in Israel. This makes it all the more important to establish Israel as a place of harmony for all traditions of human rights as well as a hospitable habitat for the various ethnic/religious identities contained within its borders. We should remember the forgotten tenet of the notorious Balfour Declaration that gives an assurance that establishing a Jewish homeland must be done in a manner that is respectful of the wellbeing of all non-Jews living in Palestine.
Returning to the legacy of Edward Said I believe he would have welcomed this tactical shift in the direction of a legitimacy war and would be thrilled that the flame of Palestinian nationalism again burns brightly within this evolving framing of the struggle. At the same time he would certainly have lamented the continuing failures of leadership and unity on the Palestinian side, as well as have condemned the persistence of a one-sided U.S. role. And he would no less stridently have condemned the weakness of tangible support from Arab governments. Said's dedication to Palestinian liberation was unconditional, but it included an unyielding insistence that Palestinian leaders much be held to critical account by Palestinians whenever their tactics and behavior seemed mistaken or perverse. I believe Said would have affirmed the following features of this current phase of Palestinian struggle:
--its primary reliance on the tactics of militant nonviolent resistance;
--its emphasis on popular mobilization inside and outside of Palestine itself, not only among Palestinians everywhere, but all people of conscience throughout the world;
--its marginalization of the existing formal leadership representing the Palestinian people and a growing recognition given to leadership from below—putting the issue simplistically, Said might in 2014 have believed that Omar Barghouti, the main voice of BDS, has become a more trustworthy and relevant leader than Mahmoud Abbas, President of the Palestinian Authority;
--its refusal to be fooled any longer into believing that the United States Government has the credibility to act as a dipomatic intermediary and possesses the capability to promote a just peace by inter-governmental negotiations;
--its global scope that invokes the transnational language of rights, law, and morality as elements of soft power;
--its essential vision of and insistence upon the eventual equality for Palestinians and Israelis living together in peace and justice;
--and finally, its embrace of hope in the form of the politics of impossibility, fully appreciating the daunting obstacles, and yet with eyes wide open, committing oneself to this struggle for justice, the great symbolic
struggle of the early 21st century that is more and more capturing the moral imagination of people throughout the planet.
Let me end with some lines from Edward's dear friend, the justly celebrated Palestinian poet, Mahmoud Darwish, that appear in a poem written shortly after Edward's death in remembrance of their friendship and embodying an imaginary dialogue:
It's the imaginary
the child of will: We can
change the inevitability of the abyss
He also said: If I die before you,
My will is the impossible
I asked: Is the impossible far off?
He said: A generation away.
Edward Said epitomized his own outlook on the situation of a partisan of Palestine by invoking a line from Tennyson's poem, Ulysses:
"...strong in will
to strive, to seek, to find and not to yield"