Delayed & Denied

06.21.13

Clinton's Got It Wrong: Our Freedom is Our Right, Not Your Choice

Everyone has had a similar experience. There is some maintenance problem in your home that you have put off repairing for a while. In the back of your mind, you know that leaving it as is might cause greater problems in the future. A friendly handyman looked at it and told you that maybe you can push it a few more years but you will certainly have to confront it at some point. Perhaps fixing it at the moment is too costly; maybe it just takes too much effort. Ultimately, you know it can’t stay like this forever but as long as the consequences seem distant into the future, the more you’re likely to put it off.

Maybe you’ll get around to it one day, maybe you won’t.

Such a scenario is not unlikely when we are talking about home appliances, leaky pipes or cracks in a wall. But no one should ever accept that the freedom and rights of millions of human beings are dealt with this way.

Yet this is precisely how the rights and freedoms of Palestinians are dealt with.

It is a narrative that has been repeated many times by high profile American officials. Mostly recently, we heard this from former President Bill Clinton who earlier this week spoke at an event honoring Israeli President Shimon Peres. The Times of Israel reported on Clinton’s remarks:

“The longer the Palestinian conflict remained unsolved,” he said, “the more acute the demographic challenge would become for Israel. […] No matter how many settlers you put out there, the Palestinians are having more babies than the Israelis as a whole…  You’ve got an existential question to answer.”

Put aside for a moment the very racist notion of paranoid baby counting and consider the overall framing. The freedom of millions of Palestinians living under the yoke of Israel’s military occupation is portrayed as a matter that Israel should resolve because eventually they may be dealing with a larger problem: having to accept Palestinians as equals. Palestinian rights are reduced to an Israeli prerogative.

Maybe they’ll get around to it, maybe they won’t.

But Palestinians are not Israel’s leaky pipes or clogged drainage system. Palestinians are human beings with who deserve the same rights as every other group of human beings and their freedom from occupation must be demanded with urgency and not left to the whims of their occupier.

Clinton is not the only one to use this framing. President Obama did the same when he was in Jerusalem in a key speech to the Israeli public. There he said:

You can be the generation that permanently secures the Zionist dream, or you can face a growing challenge to its future. Given the demographics west of the Jordan River, the only way for Israel to endure and thrive as a Jewish and democratic state is through the realization of an independent and viable Palestine.

Some believe that making this argument to the Israeli public advances the interests of peace. In reality, the opposite is true, it just makes things worse. Hearing this, the Israelis are encouraged to see Palestinian freedom not as the legitimate and urgent right of Palestinians but as a choice Israelis can or cannot make when and if they get around to it.

What is needed is a different approach from Washington and the international community. Instead of the friendly handyman’s you’re-gonna-want-to-get-around-to-fixing-this-sooner-or-later approach, what is urgently needed is the county inspector’s approach. One that says to the Israelis: your problem is illegal, it violates code and ordinances, and you will be fined and summoned until the matter is promptly and properly resolved.

With this approach, there are direct and immediate costs to not getting around to it and putting it off becomes far less likely.

Palestinian freedom should not be framed as Israel’s choice. Rather, as the occupier of Palestinian territory and millions of stateless Palestinians, this is Israel’s obligation, an American obligation and an international obligation.

It’s about time we start talking about it this way.