Unusually, on February 21 the New York Times carried an op-ed by a prominent Palestinian political figure, Mustafa Barghouthi.
Barghouthi is justly concerned that “Israeli settlement activity could soon lead us to the point of no return” for the two-state solution and concludes that “if we do not soon achieve a genuinely independent Palestinian state, we will be forced to press instead for a single democratic state with equal rights and responsibilities for both Palestinians and Israelis.” But he does not say that this point has been reached and therefore continues to support the two-state solution, as he has done for at least the three decades I have known him. Barghouthi also says that the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign “is not intended to delegitimize Israel…. It is…a movement to delegitimize the Israeli occupation of the West Bank.” I’m not sure why he omits mention of the Gaza Strip. But the two-state implication is clear.
Moreover, while the demand for an end to the Israeli occupation is one of the three points of unity for the Palestinian BDS campaign, Barghouthi neglects to mention the other two points: equality for the Palestinian citizens of Israel and the right of Palestinian refugees to return.
Norman Finkelstein has been excoriated for expressing essentially the same views in an interview he gave to Frank Barat before a February 9 speaking engagement in London. Finkelstein denounced the demand for equality for the Palestinian citizens of Israel and argued against the Palestinian refugees’ right to return on the incorrect grounds, in my opinion, that these demands have no standing in international law. Finkelstein deserves criticism for his crude and arrogant tone in that interview. Barghouthi would never deny the refugees right to return or the right of Palestinian citizens to equality. But neither does he insist on mechanically mentioning them when he gets a rare chance to write in the New York Times. Effectively, therefore the two positions are quite similar, though Barghouthi is infinitely more skillful in his mode of expression.
My point here is not to advocate for two states (I don’t) or one state (I don’t). Neither is on the agenda in the foreseeable future. Rather, it is to emphasize the importance of strategically informed and precise expression.
When I last saw Mustafa this past summer I asked him why he still spoke about two states even though we both knew that a viable and sovereign Palestinian state was very likely no longer a possibility. He said something like: The Palestinian people have fought for the right to self-determination and to have their own state. World opinion (except Israel) now agrees with us. We shouldn’t be the first to abandon this consensus. Let Israel be the first to say there is no longer enough land in the West Bank for a Palestinian state. Then we will have a response.
In other words, it isn’t always necessary or even useful to say everything you know and everything you believe is right.