Why does the Green Party in the U.S. support Palestinians’ Right of Return?

A Response From The International Committee
Green Party Of The United States

Thank you for taking the time to think about the Green Party’s platform on US Middle East policy and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. We welcome constructive discussion on all our positions, but especially on this issue as it significantly impacts peace and security for Americans as well as for all the peoples of that region.

For your information, our platform on this subject has evolved over the past four years and will continue to do so. It represents discussion and input from local members of state Green parties across the country, and particularly state representative members of the USGP International and Platform Committees where the work on this platform was drafted and proposed before being approved by the Green Party as a whole at our national presidential nominating convention in June. These Committee members represent their own state parties and come from a variety of backgrounds, education and experience including scholars of the Middle East and Arab, Muslim and Jewish-Americans.

We realize that no modern conflict has been more intractable and challenging than that between Israelis and Palestinians. We view this as a struggle pitting values of cultural diversity, heterogeneity and equality of different peoples, against values of tribalism, cultural homogeneity and exclusivity. It throws into high relief pressing contemporary questions that reverberate in ethnic conflicts worldwide—in the Balkans, Cyprus, India, Kashmir, Northern Ireland, Pakistan, Rwanda, Sudan and South Africa: How can different peoples live together in peace and security with equal access to legal rights and resources, without living in ghettoes? How can civic and governmental institutions support the challenging but enlivening tension that comes from the coexistence of multiple voices and historical narratives in a society, as opposed to promoting the illusory stability of one dominant voice, one historical narrative in any society? From this perspective, we believe that this conflict tragically continues to be fueled by the obsolete view that Palestinian-Israeli relations are a zero-sum game.

Palestine and Greens’ Ten Key Values

Our platform on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is primarily informed by our ten key values, especially social justice, respect for diversity, grass roots democracy, ecological sustainability, and non-violence. We have aimed to be faithful to each of these values, including their expression in international and humanitarian law, as we considered each of the following aspects of this conflict:

1. Historical background that includes both the Nazi holocaust in Europe and the expulsion of nearly 80% of the native Arab inhabitants of historic Palestine at Israel’s creation;

2. Human rights including native rights, refugee rights, and the right to self-determination;

3. Natural resources (especially water) and sustainable economies;

4. Security for all;

5. Israel’s military occupation of East Jerusalem, Gaza and the West Bank since 1967 and its consequences;

6. Validity of religious claims to the land;

7. Demographics;

8. The question of “two-state” vs. “one-state” solutions;

9. Eventual reconciliation.

We have approached the formation of a Green US policy on this conflict holistically, evaluating each component of our platform mindful of whether in the short and long-terms, it supports or opposes an enduring peace, which we regard as more than the absence of violence. While the Green Party recognizes the political status quo as expressed in both the Republican and Democratic Party positions, our values require us to look beyond the status quo and to consider the “imbalance” of power that exists between Israelis and Palestinians and which is supported by our government despite its disingenuous claim to be an “honest broker”.

Concerns of Jewish-American Greens

In that regard, some Jewish-American opposition to our positions has included: an insistence that we condemn all terrorism; that we affirm Israel’s right to exist; that implementing the Palestinian right of return should privilege Israel’s security and Jewishness; that we not take sides (suggesting that we are “pro-Palestinian”); and that ultimate support among Jewish communities for the Green Party and all its other platform planks—especially admired environmental positions—is jeopardized or withdrawn because of our platform on Palestine-Israel.

Regarding terrorism, we have stated repeatedly in press releases and in the opening of the platform plank in question that we are committed to non-violent conflict resolution and oppose all violence in this situation, which means Israeli state-sponsored terrorism and Palestinian terrorism/suicide bombings.

We also acknowledge that the Palestinian right of resistance to occupation is sanctioned by international law primarily as an expression of the right to self-determination, and that it must be understood as a response to Israel’s illegal occupation.

[For example, see Richard Falk, Albert G. Milbank Professor of International Law Emeritus at Princeton, “Azmi Bishara, The Right of Resistance, and the Palestinian Ordeal,” Journal of Palestine Studies, 2002]

As former Israeli Foreign Minister Shlomo Ben-Ami put it in the Israeli daily Ha’aretz, November 28, 2000, “Accusations made by a well-established society about how a people it is oppressing is breaking the rules to attain its rights do not have much credence.”

Non-Violent Resistance

Nevertheless, we reiterate that the Green Party supports non-violent resistance, a position stated eloquently by former USGP Political Director Dean Myerson in the Party’s October 23, 2000 press release:

“We acknowledge that Israel’s continued military occupation of Gaza, the West Bank and East Jerusalem constitutes a clear violation of Palestinian human rights under international law and numerous UN resolutions. However, we urge Palestinians–especially in response to provocations like those by Ariel Sharon and Israeli settlers–to refrain from violence and to protest their injustice by mass non-violent civil disobedience and non-cooperation, as well as by empowering leaders who support such non-violent acts of liberation. In doing so, Palestinians set a moral example and higher standard than their occupiers, which will engender the respect and unequivocal support of the international community.”

Still, the facts are that non-violent resistance by Palestinian, Israeli and international peace activists has routinely been met with violence by Israeli occupation forces and that thousands of Israeli and Palestinian civilians have been killed or injured since the start of the second Palestinian uprising (intifada). In response, the Green Party has frequently joined the consensus at the United Nations (including the Security Council and the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights), Amnesty International and other human rights and peace groups in calling for a civilian monitoring and peacekeeping force in the Occupied Territories. Unfortunately, these calls have consistently been opposed by Israel with the support of the US government.

For example, see these Green Party press releases:
Greens Demand That Israel Cease Its Hypocritical ‘War on Terrorism’ Against Palestinian People (12.12.01)
Greens Call for an International Peacekeeping Body to Enforce a Middle East Ceasefire (04.03.02)
U.S. Greens Support Peacemakers in Israel and Occupied Palestine (04.09.02)
Israeli Forces are Targeting Nonviolent Palestinian, Israeli, and International Peace Workers (08.14.02)

Recognizing the Historical Context

In turning now to the other concerns about our platform on this issue, we emphasize that our platform position evolved from a close reading of the historical context from which this conflict continues to emerge. We consider attention to this historical context, essential to the resolution of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.

Specifically, we view the persistence of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as epitomizing the ongoing, difficult transition in political consciousness that has been taking place since the late 19th century. In the past 100 years, presumptions of empire and colonialism, of the military acquisition of territory and settlement of disputes by war, have been challenged and some changes have occurred. We have seen the formal breakup of colonial empires and the rise of nationalism, the ascendance of international law in conflict resolution and the juridical recognition of universal human rights, including the right of self-determination of peoples. We believe that it is in the context of this continuing progressive struggle in world consciousness that the Palestinian-Israeli conflict must be viewed and for which it provides a central touchstone.

Thus, contrary to those despairing descriptions of this conflict as ancient or perennial, we view the struggle between Israelis and Palestinians as neither thousands of years old–it is over a century old–nor as a religious conflict, though religion has often been politicized. Instead, we see this as a struggle between native claims to land and self-determination versus theologically-justified colonial claims to the same land. This struggle began slowly in the mid-1800’s when British imperial interests in the region initiated the Jewish colonization of Palestine. [e.g., Prof. Mazin Qumsiyeh, Sharing the Land of Canaan, 2004]. It was then kindled for more than a half century through a culture of pervasive European imperialism and anti-Semitism. Although the rise of Palestinian and Jewish nationalism (Zionism) in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries were predictable responses to this oppressive atmosphere, they also contributed to intensifying the conflict.

Though disavowed by the Israeli government today, the historical record clearly affirms the colonial nature of Zionism vis-à-vis the non-Jewish inhabitants of historic Palestine. Tragically, this imperial stance continues today not only in the Israeli military occupation of the West Bank, East Jerusalem and Gaza, but also within Israel where laws that clearly discriminate against its non-Jewish citizens make an oxymoron of Israel’s self-identification as a “Jewish democracy”.

As stated explicitly in our platform, the Green Party acknowledges and deplores the Jewish experience of European persecution that culminated in the horror of the Nazi holocaust. We understand that such persecution of Jews also contributed to a longing for freedom and the human right of self-determination that, in part, fueled Jewish nationalism (Zionism).

However, this aim has been pursued in violence and accomplished at another people’s expense. Consequently, an unavoidable tension has been created between European Jewish settler-colonial control and the concomitant dispossession of an already inhabited land, and self-determination by the native, non-Jewish majority. This tension is the defining dynamic i.e., the problem–in the relations between Palestinians and Jewish immigrants. It was so before Israel was created, and remains so between Palestinians and the Zionist Israeli governments that have defined Israel to this day.

Tragically, this crucial historical dynamic “the heart of the problem that will not go away” is denied by the Israeli government and its main supporter, the United States.

Yet, mindful of this dynamic, we suggest that the central question then and now, is less whether there should have been Jewish immigrants to Palestine and more about how they were there then, and how they live there now given an unavoidable fact: the continuing presence of a native, non-Jewish population who has aspired to liberate themselves (from Ottoman and European colonialism) and form a secular, multicultural and democratic Palestine.

Global implications and Green policy

It is relevant to underscore here that as Greens working for world peace, our philosophy and values compel us to locate this conflict, as any, in a larger socioeconomic and environmental context. Thus, in our view, the extent to which Israel’s imperial-colonial stance toward Palestinians continues and is supported by the US, there will be significant and unsettling reverberations in the entire developing world. As we are already seeing in Iraq, the credibility of the western values of “equality among peoples”,the right of self-determination, and the rule of law, is deeply questioned. Thus, the policy positions taken by American Greens in this particular ethnic conflict set an important standard, and send a message extending well beyond Israel-Palestine to influence the resolution of other ethnic conflicts and pro-democracy movements worldwide.

For example, as media and scholarly reports of the current Palestinian uprising readily attest, there is a close identification and empathy of millions of citizens of every formerly colonized country in South America, Africa and Asia—including the Middle East—with the Palestinian struggle, an empathy that is far beyond the reach of even the most repressive governments in these regions. Attempts to reduce such identification and empathy to expressions of anti-Semitism deflect attention from the aforementioned political and psycho-cultural factors that sustain this conflict. Moreover, accusations of anti-Semitism heighten and perpetuate regressive elements on both sides for political gain, trivialize the historic prejudice against Jews, and inhibit the expression of genuine sympathy such peoples do have for Jewish suffering, especially the Nazi holocaust.

In this regard, a close reading of the history of a self-identified Zionist Israel reveals a stance that is a central and continuing obstacle to peace. Zionist Israel continues to locate itself not where it is–in an historically colonized Middle East–but in an imperial Europe or the US. That is, by speaking throughout its history primarily from the voice of a people identified not with the suffering of the indigenous people (Palestinians) in a joint struggle for liberation and self-determination, but as a nation identified with conquest and the subjugation of that same people (including its non-Jewish citizens), a Zionist Israel continues to identify with, and be identified by, imperial economic and military policies among those in the developing world.

At this moment in history, these facts remain: that Israel-Palestine — the territory between the Mediterranean Sea and the River Jordan — is, and always has been, a multicultural land; and that Israelis and Palestinians are inextricably linked by their history and mutual attachment to the same place they all call home. Separation has not and will not work because, as history and ethnic conflict resolution research demonstrate, some aspects of human experience, like attachment to land and home, are simply not divisible.

By recognizing these facts, the problem then becomes one of creating a political structure that gives maximum equality and freedom to all the people of this land.

Growing Support for the ‘One-State Solution’

Unfortunately, not one of the various peace plans formally proposed by the US, Europe or Israel — the Rogers or Allon Plans; Camp David I, Oslo, Camp David II, the Saudi Plan, Roadmap as well as the Geneva Accords — recognizes these facts. Yet, there are growing numbers of Israelis and Palestinians who do acknowledge these realities and support sharing the land. One recent example is the “Haifa Initiative” formally proposed by Jewish and Palestinian citizens of Israel in Haifa in March 2004.

Indeed, as Israeli historians like Ilan Pappe and Tom Segev document, the Haifa Initiative revives earlier Jewish and Palestinian voices like those of Martin Buber, Judah Magnes and the pre-state peace groups Ihud (‘Unity”) and Brit Shalom (“Covenant of peace”), voices which supported sharing the land. [See Prof. Pappe, A History of Modern Palestine: One Land, Two Peoples, 2004]

Also, the PLO adopted the stated goal of a single, secular democratic state as early as 1968, although this goal was downgraded to the two-state solution in the ensuing years under continual military and political pressure. Nevertheless, as Israel has continued to expand settlements and seize more Palestinian land within the Green Line and the occupied territories (including via its illegal separation wall), a majority of Palestinian Israelis and growing numbers of Palestinians in the occupied territories/diaspora, as well as Israeli Jews, have revived support for establishing one secular and democratic state as the only just solution.

See, from Haaretz: “One-State Awakening” and “Cry, the beloved two-state solution”, from the BBC: “Palestinian PM’s one-state call” and from the Jewish Media and Communications Center “Poll Results on Palestinian Attitudes”

Moreover, however much Palestinians have wavered from the one-state solution in response to increasingly dire circumstances, Palestinian refugees have consistently supported implementing their legal and human right to return to their homes in Israel/occupied territories.
See “Palestinian Refugees and the Peace Process: An analysis of Public Opinion Surveys in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip” and “Survey of Palestinians finds no support for compromise on right of return”

Thus, the two-state solution is fundamentally challenged by these realities: the powerful attachment of a native people (Palestinian refugees) to their land in Israel/the Occupied Territories, whatever the “territory’ is labeled; and by the fact that Israel within the “Green Line” is not even now a “Jewish” state given that more than 20% of Israeli citizens are not Jewish.

The Role of U.S. Greens

To conclude, as our platform states, our main role is to influence US policy in this conflict in a way that is consistent with our values and recognizes the facts without prescribing which model the people involved should follow. In fact, our platform also states, ‘We reaffirm the right of self-determination for both Palestinians and Israelis, which precludes the self-determination of one at the expense of the other.” Our call for a serious reconsideration of the one, democratic and secular state solution aims to open a conversation in the US and abroad about the only political structure we can envision that conforms to our ten key values and international law, that fully recognizes the historic and present realities, and that gives maximum equality and freedom, including mutual self-determination, to all the people of that land.

We invite you to join us in furthering this conversation.

In peace,

Green Party of the United States