[News] Talking Palestine: What Frame of Analysis? Which Goals and Messages?

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Wed Apr 12 10:44:53 EDT 2017


  Talking Palestine: What Frame of Analysis? Which Goals and Messages?

by Nadia Hijab, Ingrid Jaradat Gassner on April 12, 2017


To say there is no longer a consensus among the Palestinian people on 
the ultimate political solution is to state the obvious. On the one 
hand, those claiming political leadership over the Palestinians are 
pursuing a sovereign state alongside Israel. On the other, the voices 
calling for a single democratic state in all of the land that 
constituted Mandate Palestine until 1948 are growing louder. Indeed, 
Palestinian and other analysts 
taking advantage of US President Donald Trump’s statement 
he could live with either outcome to push the boundaries of debate 
beyond two states.

That Palestinians are no longer able to agree on what political 
settlement they seek is a major problem. There are others. Perhaps the 
most important is the lack of consensus on a common framework of 
analysis to articulate the Palestinian condition. This prevents the 
adoption of clear messages to articulate both what has befallen the 
Palestinians and what we aspire to. It also obstructs the development of 
effective strategies for achieving these aspirations. These problems are 
the subject of this commentary. We begin by tackling each in turn before 
proposing some ways forward.

    The Dangers of a Debate Focused on the Political Settlement

The reality is that there is no political settlement in sight that would 
realize the rights of the Palestinian people. Israel is working on a 
number of scenarios to achieve a political settlement of the conflict 
that brings it the maximum amount of Palestinian land with the minimum 
number of Palestinian people through annexation or by simply maintaining 
the status quo 
it can end the conflict to its advantage.

Beyond this reality, there is a problem in the debate itself. By 
focusing on the ultimate settlement and whether it should be one state 
or two, the discussion too often leapfrogs the need for a process of 
decolonization as well as reparations for the damage inflicted upon the 
Palestinians. Decolonization and reparations must be part of the final 
settlement, whether it is that of a Palestinian state in the Occupied 
Palestinian Territory (OPT) adopted at the Palestinian National Council 
in 1988 as an expression of the Palestinian right to self-determination, 
or that of one state in all of the former British Mandate Palestine in 
which all citizens are equal.

The leap to one state involves a particular risk if it erases the Green 
Line that demarcates Israel from the OPT – a line Israel itself is eager 
to erase. As discussed in previous analysis 
erasing the Green Line risks eroding important sources of power the 
Palestinians have – ones that they will need to ensure that any final 
settlement is grounded in decolonization and secures reparations. These 
sources of power include the international consensus on the right to 
self-determination of the Palestinian people, the applicability of 
international humanitarian law (IHL) in the OPT, the related fact that 
the occupying power has no right to sovereignty there, and Palestinian 
membership of the state system. The fact that Palestine is part of the 
state system gives it the power to, among other things, challenge Israel 
through the International Court of Justice and the International 
Criminal Court – however ineffectively these avenues have been used to 

Perhaps at the end of the day a just one-state solution will become a 
reality, and then there will be no need to insist on holding on to the 
Green Line to ensure that IHL is applied to the OPT. Until then, 
however, Palestinians must not give up the sources of strength and power 
they have today. Otherwise, we risk losing the tools offered by IHL and 
legitimizing the Israeli settlements instead of advancing our cause.

It is clear that the process of decolonization and reparations cannot be 
the result of negotiations with the current Israeli regime (or indeed 
with past regimes). Israel has consistently blocked the emergence of the 
sovereign Palestinian state envisaged in a two-state solution, and it 
will certainly not agree to carry out the political and legal 
transformation required for the goal of one state. Indeed, Israel is 
apparently collaborating 
those Arab states that have recently formed the Arab Quartet (Egypt, 
Jordan, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates) to impose a 
non-sovereign state on the Palestinian people in parts of the OPT as a 
final settlement that would end all claims.

Decolonization and reparations, therefore, are the matter of a struggle 
that seeks to change the balance of power in favor of the Palestinian 
people – with negotiations about the ultimate political solution to 
follow once Israel has been forced to accept a settlement based on 
decolonization, reparations, and respect of fundamental rights. Such a 
struggle must utilize all available Palestinian sources of power, 
including those mentioned above.

Until a final settlement is possible, there are interim goals that can 
guide the struggle for decolonization and reparations. However, it will 
be impossible to achieve consensus on such interim goals – let alone the 
political solution – without clarity and consensus about the appropriate 
framework of analysis of the Palestinian condition.

    A Multiplicity of Frameworks Obscures Strategy and Goals

There are multiple frameworks of analysis competing to be applied to the 
devastation of the Palestinian homeland and people caused by the 
implementation of the Zionist project since its launch in 1897, the 
creation of the state of Israel in 1948 in 78% of Palestine, and the 
Israeli occupation of the remaining part of Palestine in 1967.

In recent years, an increasing number of scholars and analysts have 
called for applying a settler colonial framework 
Palestine, drawing comparisons between the policies of elimination of 
indigenous populations by settler colonial movements in Africa, the 
Americas, Australia, and elsewhere, including Palestine. Debate about 
Zionist settler colonialism 
given prominence to other, associated frameworks, in particular ethnic 
cleansing <http://www.history.com/topics/ethnic-cleansing>and forcible 
population transfer 
Arguments are also made for an indigenous peoples’ frame 
Palestinians as a people that predate Israel’s settler colonial society. 
This framing has the additional advantage of being able to draw on 
UN-recognized indigenous rights 
<http://www.un.org/esa/socdev/unpfii/documents/DRIPS_en.pdf>of a people 
to its native country, land, and natural resources.

Other scholars have chosen the prism of racial discrimination 
<https://www.adalah.org/en/content/view/7771>, highlighting Israel’s 
discriminatory legal system, racist policies, and violations of the 
Anti-Racism Convention 
both sides of the Green Line. This line of argument has led to the call 
to see the Palestinian case through the lens of apartheid 
with scholars and analysts drawing on international law and highlighting 
analogies with the former apartheid regime in South Africa. There are 
also those who speak of “sociocide 
or “cultural genocide 
and those who argue that genocide 
<https://sites.google.com/site/palestiniangenocide/>as defined by the 
Genocide Convention applies to the case of the Palestinian people.

All these frameworks of analysis can certainly be applied to the 
Palestinian condition. In fact, in some contexts – particularly in 
academia – it is useful to explore these and other analytical frames 
because this builds understanding and knowledge about new ways to 
articulate Palestinian rights. However, what Palestinians need is a 
framework of analysis that does more than create knowledge: We need one 
that is also strategic.

    Choosing the Most Strategic Framework of Analysis

A framework of analysis is strategic if it allows Palestinians to make 
effective use of their available sources of power in a struggle for 
decolonization and reparations that pursues a set of clear core goals. 
  The question that arises at this point is: What are the Palestinians’ 
core goals? To date, the “goal” has been largely defined as a sovereign 
state along the 1967 borders with Israel. Yet referring to what is 
actually a political settlement as a goal confuses the issue. The 
Palestinian struggle has always been about Palestinian rights in and to 
the land of Palestine. The original solution adopted by the Palestine 
Liberation Organization in the 1960s was that of a secular democratic 
state in all of Palestine. This was followed in 1974 by a decision on an 
interim solution for a state in any part of Palestine that was freed, 
and in 1988 by a decision for a state on the 1967 borders. However, the 
purpose of all these political solutions was to fulfill Palestinian 
rights in and to the land of Palestine.

Therefore, and in the absence of clarity about the ultimate political 
solution, the core goals must be the fundamental rights that are the 
essential elements of the right to self-determination of the Palestinian 
people and that, as such, must form part of any future political 
solution. These are: Freedom from occupation and colonization, the right 
of the refugees to return to their homes and properties, and 
non-discrimination and full equality of Palestinian citizens of Israel. 
These three goals, as essential elements of self-determination, were 
eloquently laid out in the Palestinian civil society call for Boycott, 
Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) against Israel until these goals are 

If we agree that these are the three core goals of the Palestinian 
people, then we can identify the framework of analysis that would be 
most strategic in pursuing decolonization and reparations and ensuring 
that they are intrinsic to the final political settlement. The two 
frameworks of analysis that are most comprehensive and have been most 
consistently promoted are that of settler colonialism and of apartheid. 
  The settler colonial framework is strategic in many ways: It captures 
the historical experience of Palestinians as the indigenous people of 
the country and asserts that our cause is a cause of freedom and 
self-determination. The international framework of decolonization and 
self-determination of the 20thcentury focused on liberation of the 
territory, return of the displaced, and sovereign statehood. As such, it 
is also a framework that mobilizes solidarity and support, in particular 
among formerly colonized nations in Africa, Latin America, and 
elsewhere, whose political backing is urgently needed, for example, in 
the UN General Assembly and for bringing a case to the International 
Criminal Court (ICC).

The settler colonial framework also has added value because it opens up 
a legal argument that can be used by Palestinians as a source of power. 
International law deals with colonialism, which includes settler 
colonialism. Unlike military occupation under IHL, which is 
internationally tolerated if it is temporary and is conducted in 
accordance with the Fourth Geneva Convention, colonialism is absolutely 
prohibited today and treated as a serious violation of 
universally-binding norms of customary international law. ^1 
Therefore, all states and the UN have a legal obligation to give no 
recognition, aid, or assistance to the practice of colonialism by any 
state, and to cooperate and adopt measures, including sanctions, in 
order to bring it to an end.

However, there are serious problems relating to the settler colonial 
framework that should preclude it from being the Palestinians’ 
overarching framework of analysis. For one, the state system considers 
colonialism to be an issue of the past, and the UN treats decolonization 
as largely accomplished. More importantly, international law itself also 
limits the strategic value of this analytical frame. There is no 
criminal responsibility because colonialism has not been criminalized.

Moreover, the prohibition of colonialism and the above legal obligations 
of all states and the UN are applicable only to Israel’s settler 
colonial enterprise in the OPT. Experts at an international law 
at Birzeit University in 2013 clarified this fact:  Colonialism was not 
expressly prohibited by international law at the time Israel was 
established. The normative shift began only in the 1950s as result of 
anti-colonial liberation movements, and colonialism became expressly 
prohibited in 1960, when the UN adopted the Declaration on Granting 
Independence to Colonial Countries and Peoples 
<http://www.un.org/en/decolonization/declaration.shtml>. Earlier settler 
colonial movements, including the Zionist movement, that had by then 
established themselves as nation states were thus de facto immunized and 
normalized by UN-led decolonization. The dominant legal opinion is that 
colonialism is not legally applicable within the borders of existing 

Thus, for Palestinians who continue to struggle against Israeli settler 
colonialism in the 21stcentury, this anti-colonial framework is 
problematic: It risks creating contradictions between the core rights 
and goals we seek to achieve, and of promoting political solutions that 
deny the full set of these rights to many Palestinians. The 
international legal and political consensus is that the right of 
Palestinians to liberate territory and establish a sovereign state is 
restricted to the OPT. The framework cannot incorporate the right of the 
refugees to return to homes and property in Israel or the right to 
nondiscrimination and equality of Palestinian citizens there. Moreover, 
for Palestinians and their allies in the movement for Palestinian 
rights, the anti-colonial approach has, because of its focus on two 
states and the 1967 borders, proven in practice to be divisive and to 
sideline the right of return of the refugees and the right to equality 
of Palestinian citizens of Israel. This is one of the lessons learned in 
particular since the 1990s from peace diplomacy based on the Oslo Accords.

By contrast, none of the above problems arise with the anti-apartheid 
framework. It should be noted that apartheid is not defined by 
similarities with the former racist regime in South Africa. Rather, it 
has a universal legal definition dating back to the Anti-Apartheid 
1973 and updated in the Rome Statute of the ICC (2002) as “Inhumane 
acts…committed in the context of an institutionalized regime of 
systematic oppression and domination by one racial group over any other 
racial group or groups and committed with the intention of maintaining 
that regime.” Inhumane acts of apartheid include forcible transfer of 
population, persecution, murder, imprisonment, and other severe 
deprivation of physical liberty and fundamental human rights.

We argue that the most strategic framework of analysis that should be 
applied to the Palestinian condition is the anti-apartheid framework. In 
the first place, it incorporates and builds on the analysis of settler 
colonialism: In the case of Palestine, apartheid began when the Zionist 
settler colonial society transformed into the state of Israel and 
incorporated its ideology of Jewish superiority and policy of ethnic 
cleansing into the laws and institutions of the state. Contemporary 
Israeli apartheid is thus best defined as the institutionalized regime 
of racial discrimination whereby Israel, as state and occupying power, 
systematically privileges Jews and oppresses, fragments, and dominates 
the entire Palestinian people and colonizes the OPT, with the intent of 
maintaining and consolidating this regime in all of pre-1948 Palestine. 
Population transfer and ethnic cleansing of Palestinians, including 
denial of return, is an inhumane act of oppression and a pillar of 
Israeli apartheid.

Secondly, while it builds on the settler colonial analysis, the 
apartheid framework goes further, drawing on international law as a 
strategic asset. As a severe form of racial discrimination, apartheid 
has been prohibited and treated as a serious violation under customary 
law at least since the end of World War II. It is also criminalized by 
the Anti-Apartheid Convention and the Rome Statute of the ICC, 
constituting what is probably the second most serious crime against 
humanity after genocide.

For these reasons, the framework is applicable at least back to 1948 
when Israeli apartheid formally began with the establishment of the 
state, and to all of former British Mandate Palestine since 1967. In the 
OPT the apartheid framework applies /in addition to/the IHL. As an 
apartheid regime, Israel bears legal responsibility for inhuman acts of 
apartheid against all Palestinians, including refugees, citizens of 
Israel, and those under occupation. The state of Israel is responsible 
for restoring their rights through reparations, while individual 
criminal responsibility applies to those who carry out, aid, or abet the 
crime of apartheid. The responsibility of all other states and the UN is 
to ensure that those who are guilty are brought to justice. Neither 
states nor the UN must give recognition, aid, or assistance to Israeli 
apartheid, and all have a legal obligation to cooperate and adopt 
measures, including sanctions, to bring it to an end and ensure 

Thirdly, apartheid is a framework that mobilizes solidarity and support 
among people worldwide. Due to the legacy of the international campaign 
that brought down apartheid in South Africa, many people also know that 
apartheid regimes are to be boycotted and isolated. It is also a 
framework that has already become popularized as part of the Palestinian 
struggle because of such events as Israeli Apartheid Week 
<http://apartheidweek.org/>, which since 2005 has been held every spring 
in a growing number of cities around the globe.

Moreover, there is increasing international support of the apartheid 
analysis. Since 2006 at least, independent legal scholars and UN human 
rights experts have held Israel responsible for apartheid against 
Palestinians and called for international measures, including sanctions. 
The recent report by the Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia 
(ESCWA), /Israeli Practices towards the Palestinian People and the 
//Question of Apartheid/ 
remains in the public sphere as an authoritative legal study even though 
the UN secretary general has ordered the report withdrawn, leading to 
the resignation of its Executive Secretary Rima Khalaf, whose powerful 
resignation letter 
also being widely circulated. Indeed, the coalition of Palestinian human 
rights organizations in the OPT – the Palestinian Human Rights 
Organizations Councils (PHROC) – sent a letter to the UN secretary 
general condemning the withdrawal of the ESCWA report and saying it will 
adopt the apartheid framework as laid out in that report.

Finally, the 2013 international law conference at Birzeit cited earlier 
clarified that apartheid does not necessarily end with a “one-state 
solution” in the entire territory that is controlled by an apartheid 
system. The post-apartheid system can have a two-state solution. This is 
illustrated by the example of Namibia, whose people achieved 
self-determination through independence as a result of their struggle 
against the South African apartheid regime that had controlled and 
colonized their country. Based on international law, the solution to 
apartheid is ending institutionalized racial discrimination in order to 
allow exercise of the full set of human rights by the oppressed group, 
including the right to self-determination of oppressed peoples. It does 
not proscribe a political solution.

Equally importantly, and as the ESCWA report emphasized, there is no 
basis for the claim that describing the actions of the state of Israel 
as apartheid would be anti-Semitic. The very preface of the report 
refutes this claim, noting that findings on Israeli apartheid are based 
on the same body of international law that also prohibits anti-Semitism.

    A Common Frame for Our Goals and Messages

We have sought to set out the way in which the challenges that face the 
Palestinian people are compounded by confusion over a common framework 
of analysis and an agreed set of goals. We have pointed out how the 
common use of the word “goal” to describe the ultimate political 
settlement muddies the water. Whatever the ultimate political 
settlement, it should enable the Palestinians to finally be free from 
colonization, to enjoy equal rights, and to have rights in and to their 
homeland, including the right of return to their homes and lands and 
compensation for what has been lost.

We believe that the multiplicity of frameworks of analysis that have 
been applied – and indeed are applicable – to the case of Palestine 
obscures both our goals and our messages. There is a pressing need for 
the adoption of a single framework of analysis that is strategic, that 
would enable us to crystallize our demands around our goals and to 
communicate these through clear and compelling messages. We argue that 
the anti-apartheid framework of analysis is the most strategic.

The anti-apartheid framework will enable the Palestinians to craft 
messages that clearly communicate what has happened to the Palestinian 
people as well as the goals of the Palestinian struggle. It helps to 
clarify that this is a struggle for decolonization and reparations, and 
not merely a struggle for a state. The powerful message must be that the 
Palestinian struggle is for freedom, justice, and equality in the 
homeland, whether in a single secular democratic state or in two 
sovereign states side by side, in which all citizens enjoy all human 

Once there is agreement on this framework, existing strategies can be 
honed and new strategies can be developed. As messages are refined, it 
is important to avoid the temptation to use other frameworks of analysis 
beyond the academic sphere. The term apartheid needs to again become 
common parlance as it was during the time of the South African struggle 
for freedom. Moreover, an education and awareness-raising campaign is 
badly needed to build consensus around this framework of analysis as is 
investment in the knowledge and skills of the Palestinian and solidarity 
activists working to advance it.

Furthermore, those working to disseminate messages about Palestinian 
rights through the media should go beyond such rhetoric as “time for one 
state” or “the two-state solution is dead.” If they truly want to 
advance Palestinian freedom and rights, then they should focus on the 
process of decolonization and reparations that must be realized whatever 
the political settlement. Otherwise there is a risk of doing more harm 
than good by leapfrogging that process and the heavy lifting that 
remains to be done. This is not to say that the message must focus only 
on the horrors on the ground. On the contrary, messages should also be 
forward looking and focus on a future where all can live freely and 
enjoy justice and equality.

At this stage of the Palestinian struggle for self-determination, when 
the ultimate political solution cannot be defined, the concept of 
apartheid provides a clear analytical framework for a struggle for 
decolonization and self-determination that can isolate and weaken the 
oppressive practices of the Israeli state and – at the same time – 
preserve and strengthen the fundamental Palestinian rights that are not 
negotiable: The right to freedom from occupation and colonization, the 
right to full equality of Palestinian citizens of Israel, and the right 
of the refugees to return to their homes and properties.


 1. See /Draft Articles on Responsibility of States for Internationally
    Wrongful Acts, /Article 40, comment 8 and footnote 651 with
    reference to the 1969 Vienna Convention on Treaties, Article 53.
    Also see Article 41 explaining third-state obligations:

          Nadia Hijab <https://al-shabaka.org/en/author/nadiah/>

Nadia Hijab is Executive Director of Al-Shabaka 
<http://al-shabaka.org/>: The Palestinian Policy Network, which she 
co-founded in 2009. She is a frequent public speaker and media 
commentator and a senior fellow at the Institute for Palestine Studies. 
Her first book /Womanpower: The Arab Debate on Women at Work /was 
published by Cambridge University Press, and she co-authored /Citizens 
Apart: A Portrait of the Palestinian Citizens of Israel/ (I.B. Tauris).

          Ingrid Jaradat Gassner

Al-Shabaka Policy Advisor Ingrid Jaradat Gassner is a founding member of 
the Palestinian Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) Campaign and 
co-founder and former director of Badil Resource Center for Palestinian 
Residency and Refugee Rights (Badil). She has worked extensively in the 
fields of international law and advocacy, including innovative research 
on Palestinian refugees, the right to return, Israeli colonialism and 
apartheid and related third-state responsibilities. She has also 
coordinated research for a Palestinian civic initiative seeking to 
register exiled Palestinians as voters and campaign for direct PNC 
elections. She currently works as coordinator of advocacy with the Civic 
Coalition for Palestinian Rights in Jerusalem.

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