The Militant (logo)  

Vol. 73/No. 17      May 4, 2009

Boston meeting debates
course for Palestinians
BOSTON—More than 500 people from around the world participated in a conference on Palestine at the University of Massachusetts campus here March 28 and 29. The conference, entitled “One State for Palestine/Israel: A Country for All Its Citizens?” was sponsored by the Trans Arab Research Institute (TARI) and the William Joiner Center for the Study of War and Social Consequences of the University of Massachusetts.

The event featured presentations by 36 professors and activists, mostly residing in the United States and the United Kingdom, but also some from Palestine and Israel. Among the panels were: “Is the two state settlement feasible?” “The vision: one country, one state,” “Strategies for building one country,” and others.

Opening the meeting Dr. Hani Faris, TARI acting chairperson, said that once the invitation to the conference was posted on the Internet it had quickly filled to overflowing and people had to be turned away. “The manner in which the Web site spread and the number of people who registered or wanted to register was a clear indication as to the level of interest on an international scale in the idea of the one state,” he said.

He told participants that the conference had been attacked for being anti-Israeli and even anti-Semitic, and also for betraying historic Palestinian rights. “The attacks on the conference by both sides,” Faris said, “are principally due to the fact that the idea of the one state is the least understood for what it is and what it is not in both the Israeli and Palestinian vocabulary.”

Many panelists pointed to the “fragmentation” of the Palestinian leadership, and the need to build a new one. Several referred to the example of the grassroots leadership that came forward in the occupied territories during the first intifada in 1987.

Speakers presented different views on their approach to Palestinians living in Israel who have citizenship but not equal rights. Some called for them to be included in any new leadership and the need for a civil rights-style movement in Israel. Others said “those Palestinians see themselves as Israelis and do not want to threaten their status.”

Many speakers pointed to the movement for “Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS)” as a tactic to weaken Israel and put an end to what they called “Israeli apartheid.” They drew comparisons to the divestment movement waged against the apartheid regime led by the African National Congress (ANC) in the 1980s. “Israel supports one state—an apartheid state,” said Ali Abunimah, who runs the Web site Electronic Intifada. He said activists need to “mobilize support for Palestine and support BDS.”

Omar Barghouti, a founder of the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel, said that a new state must respect the rights of all who live there. Then he added, “How do you convince the Israelis? Who cares. It is not about convincing, but resisting.”

Karma Nabulsi, a lecturer at Oxford University, and Ghada Karmi, a professor at London Metropolitan University, pointed to the example of the ANC. Karmi said the ANC presented a very clear message in its program—the Freedom Charter, which called for a democratic, nonracial South Africa—and opened its arms to whites who would abandon apartheid.

Joel Kovel, a professor at Bard College, was among those arguing that Israel controls U.S. foreign policy. Barghouti also advanced this view, saying “Israel occupied the White House under Bush, and maybe under Obama.”

At the end of the conference Saree Makdisi, a professor at the University of California at Los Angeles, read a draft statement prepared by the conference steering committee. It reaffirmed the idea of one state, “a country for all its citizens.” It called for “a just peace on the following principles”: the land belongs to all who live in it or have been expelled; that it be founded on equal rights for all; that there be a “just redress for decades of Zionist expropriation and discrimination.” The statement also called for the creation of a non-sectarian state with separation of church and state, the return of all refugees, and a non-discriminatory immigration policy.

There was limited time for discussion from the floor. One young woman questioned the call for an academic and cultural boycott of Israel, asking “What about the Israelis here for the conference?”

Laura Garza of the Socialist Workers Party raised the need for Palestinian and Israeli workers to build a leadership that can lead a movement for a democratic, secular Palestine and that can take power out of the hands of their common enemy, the capitalist class in Israel. She also spoke to the danger of anti-Semitism arising from BDS, pointing to boycotts of Jewish-owned businesses in Italy.  
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