‘From the river to the sea’ is just fine so long as it’s Israel’s sovereignty

A lot has already been said about the prompt firing of CNN host Marc Lamont Hill last week after pressure from Israel apologists, basically for uttering the words “from the river to the sea” at the UN, in his hope for Palestinians to be free.

I stand in solidarity with Marc Lamont Hill. In fact, I stood in a somewhat similar situation on the day. That day was the 29th of November, the Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People. I was in Copenhagen, and was asked to deliver a speech at the local marking of the day outside the town hall. I spoke alongside some rather prominent officials and former officials – like former minister and chair of the UN General Assembly Mogens Lykketoft, former head of UNRWA Peter Hansen, General Secretary of Amnesty Denmark Trine Christensen and others. And my speech was about how Israel has basically overtaken Palestine, from the river to the sea, and how it had always meant to do that. I didn’t use the precise phrase “from the river to the sea” though, that’s the only difference.

The classical historical connection of the date November 29th is the UN ‘Partition Plan for Palestine’ (UN Resolution 181) from 1947. But I decided to start a decade earlier – 1937.

I referred to David Ben-Gurion’s letter to his son Amos from that year. He was addressing an early partition suggestion of the British Peel Commission, and wrote:

“My assumption (which is why I am a fervent proponent of a state, even though it is now linked to partition) is that a Jewish state on only part of the land is not the end but the beginning. When we acquire one thousand or 10,000 dunams, we feel elated. It does not hurt our feelings that by this acquisition we are not in possession of the whole land. This is because this increase in possession is of consequence not only in itself, but because through it we increase our strength, and every increase in strength helps in the possession of the land as a whole. The establishment of a state, even if only on a portion of the land, is the maximal reinforcement of our strength at the present time and a powerful boost to our historical endeavors to liberate the entire country.”

That “land as a whole”, that “entire country”, is Palestine from the river to the sea.

I explained how Israel used the legitimacy granted to it by the UN as a jumping-board towards further expansion, in stages – just as Ben-Gurion had described in his letter. Till 1967, when Israel conquered all the land between the river and the sea.

In the 1980s, the “2-state solution” was considered an extremist and nefarious plot by the Palestine Liberation Organization. In fact, the PLO had accepted partition: it was ahead of Israel in terms of reducing its goals to seeking a Palestinian state merely on 22% of historical Palestine, rather than 100%.

Then the idea of a “2-state solution” became mainstream after negotiations officially began in Madrid in 1991. And Israel embarked upon the famous “peace process”. Prime Minister Itzhak Shamir coined the ‘teaspoon policy’: endless negotiating sessions at which countless teaspoons amounting to mountains of sugar would be stirred into oceans of tea and coffee, but no agreement would ever be reached.

And that’s basically how it’s been. Even when many were under the impression that Palestinians were finally getting a state, like in the 1993 and 1995 Oslo Accords, the reality was that they were getting Bantustans, always “less than a state”, as Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin had assured the Knesset just before he was murdered in 1995.

That’s been the orthodoxy. The Palestinians should get “less than a state”, and the Israelis should get more than their state: a non-demarcated, ever-expanding area, growing through “facts on the ground” – settlements built on occupied territory, in flagrant violation of international law.

And what happens when Netanyahu’s Likud says “from the river to the sea”? Do they get fired, like Marc Lamont Hill? No, they get elected. The original party platform on which the Likud was first elected in 1977 stated that “between the Sea and the Jordan there will only be Israeli sovereignty”. 

The 1999 Likud party platform, never rescinded, repeats this:

“The Government of Israel flatly rejects the establishment of a Palestinian Arab state west of the Jordan river.”

Netanyahu confirmed just before his last election victory in 2015 that there would be no Palestinian state under his watch.

It may be that the right is more overt about its intentions, while the left is more ambiguous. But it leads to the same result. And the result is that one state, from the river to the sea, under Israeli Apartheid control in various degrees from 2nd class citizenship to being incarcerated in an unlivable concentration camp (Gaza).   

There’s no real issue for Israeli apologists concerning the notion of “from the river to the sea”, as long as it’s Israel. But when the phrase is uttered in relation to Palestine and Palestinian rights, that’s immediately framed as terror, destruction and genocide.

Several are making this point in the wake of the Hill drama.

Gideon Levy:

What would have happened if Hill had called for the establishment of a Jewish state between the Jordan and the sea? He would have safely continued holding down his job. Rick Santorum, the former senator, said in 2012 that “no Palestinian” lives in the West Bank. Nobody thought of firing him. Even Hill’s critic, Shapiro [Ben Shapiro, an analyst on Fox News who labeled Hill anti-Semitic], has called in the past for ethnic cleansing of Palestinians in the territories (he backtracked on it a few years later) and nothing happened to him.

Miko Peled:

The call “From the River to the Sea, Palestine shall be Free” brings out the worst in the Zionist spokespersons. From CNN and Fox News to the various Zionist trolls and spokespersons around the world: “Aha!” they say, “The true face of these anti-Semites has been exposed.” Panic seems to strike as they assert that this is “a call for genocide of the Jews.” But the assumption that a free Palestine calls for the expulsion or killing of Jews is one that is made mostly by Zionists who can see Palestine only as a place where one side rules over and kills the other, but never where all people live in peace. Furthermore, it has become basic strategy to always cry “anti-Semitism” when the Zionist narrative is challenged.

Maha Nassar:

Most troubling for me, the belief that a “free Palestine” would necessarily lead to the mass annihilation of Jewish Israelis is rooted in deeply racist and Islamophobic assumptions about who the Palestinians are and what they want.

This is a discussion that Zionists simply do not want to have. As Israel is now reaching the final stages in the takeover of the whole of historical Palestine, from the river to the sea, it cannot but censor any mentioning of the naked emperor, lest it be noticed that there is just one, apartheid state, from the river to the sea. Such a recognition would inevitably lead to a demand for equal rights under that one state, rather than further talk of partition, when there is no cake left to divide, only crumbs. Israel ate the cake, and now it wants to have it too.

It may yet be that Marc Lamont Hill’s firing will prove to be the spur for a serious opening of this discussion, which is really the elephant in the room. And the elephant’s name, by the way, is Zionism.