A betrayal? Furore over Palestinian participation in Herzliya Conference

A betrayal? Furore over Palestinian participation in Herzliya Conference
5 min read
23 Jun, 2016
Comment: For some observers, Palestinian participation in the Herzliya conference represents subjugation to Israel, and is motivated by an opportunity for a chance in the limelight, writes Ramona Wadi.
Head of the Joint Arab List, Ayman Odeh participated in Israel's Herzliya Conference [Getty]

The 16th annual Herzliya Conference that took place earlier this month was focused on the theme of "Setting a new agenda for Israel in a turbulent Middle East". It was another exercise in security and surveillance strategy which brought together politicians and academics.

While attempting to convey illusions of shared hope, national efforts and insisting upon an equivalence between the notions of "democratic" and "Jewish", the conference served as a primary means of oblivion from Israel's colonial presence in Palestine.

A look at the programme indicates a vast array of subjects, with the regional context obscuring the more immediate realities. In fact, the Palestinian leaders' participation in the conference also contributed to promoting the Israeli narrative, at the expense of silencing Palestinian memory, and this is a shameful state of affairs.

The conference was attended by senior members of the PLO, the vice-President of the PLO Committee for Interaction with Israeli Society and the head of the joint-Arab List, Ayman Odeh. This led activist groups including the Boycott, Divestments and Sanctions group (BDS) to condemn the decision to participate as an active means of embarking upon normalisation with Israel.

Subjugating the Palestinian narrative

Participants defended their decision by stating they had availed themselves of the opportunity to highlight the injustices which Palestinians suffer on a daily basis. According to a report published by Al Jazeera, the conference and similar events were viewed as "important platforms to present opinions" and an opportunity to confront as opposed to engage in isolationism.

Such statements render Palestinian leaders guilty of the same oblivion that is reminiscent of the dominant narrative disseminated by Israel and the international community.

Primarily, participation in the conference is inherently submissive, given the glaring absence of reference to the colonial context by both Israeli and Palestinian participants. Indeed, the very invitation to participate is propaganda and a form of direct exploitation. 

The colonial entity is well aware of its systematic human rights violations, and consistently seeks to perfect its methods of violence according to its security strategy. Given this is the case, communicating to a Zionist audience the indignities suffered by Palestinians under colonial rule, is entirely unnecessary.  

The dissonance created by participation in the conference undermines the possibility of cohesion between Palestinian politics and international activism

The conference also targeted activist groups which, despite their unfortunate preference for the two-state paradigm over support for the Palestinian anti-colonial struggle, do offer the possibility of putting international pressure on Israel.

The dissonance created by participation in the conference undermines the possibility of cohesion between Palestinian politics and international activism. And again, jumping at the opportunity to enjoy a sliver of the limelight manifested itself as an allegiance to Israel, rather than a decision to stand by the people and construct an alternative platform for the dissemination of the Palestinian reality.

It would, however, be a mistake to single out participation in the Herzliya Conference as the only condemnable action when it comes to seeking articulation. The same pattern is prevalent within international institutions such as the UN - the global entity that is regarded as the ultimate reference, but which has failed to impart anything but an endorsement of Zionist colonisation and symbolic gestures as regards to Palestine.

Israel's security narrative

Participation in the conference also bolstered Israel's security narrative. In the words of Israeli education minister Naftali Bennett, "Zionism was based on survival and security". While alluding to the invented historical narrative upon which Israel's colonial existence relies, the statement also reflects Israel's prime deception that has been endorsed by the international community, both rhetorically and in practice.

Participation in the conference also bolstered Israel's security narrative

Security and surveillance of the Palestinian population were incorporated into Zionist colonial expansion plans prior to the Nakba. This led to the deconstruction of Palestinian identity through state control, expansion and education. As geophysical fragmentation increased, dependency upon the colonial power became normalised. Surveillance became a form of refined restriction, particularly since the Oslo Accords and the PA's security coordination with Israel.

In the current regional turmoil, Israel has capitalised upon the security narrative to expand the metaphor. By referring to security issues beyond the colonised territory, Israel has marginalised Palestinians through the obliteration of the consequences inflicted upon families through security coordination and subsequent violations. This has, in turn, resulted in further support from the international community, as it plays willingly into Israel's demands. 

Palestinian alternatives

The colonising tactics employed by the Zionist state have resulted in severe discrepancies when it comes to Palestinian collective memory. This is exacerbated by Palestinian politicians who, despite professing abhorrence of Israel's violations of international law, continue to cling to shreds of purported prominence offered to them by Israel.

It is also important that Palestinian leaders host their own forums and disseminate something that is lacking in Israeli settler society

There are however, alternative courses of action. The refusal to participate in conferences organised by Israel to bolster its image at the expense of Palestinians should be imperative. It is also important that Palestinian leaders host their own forums and disseminate something that is lacking in Israeli settler society. There is no historical cohesion in a settler population and the Israeli narrative will always remain an external concept even to those residing in the colonised territory.

Palestinians, on the other hand, have an authentic collective memory that can also be an effective political tool. However, given the PA's penchant for pandering to Israel, it is unlikely that Palestinians will be given the space they deserve. This is especially true where capitulating to brief moments in the limelight is deemed more profitable to political individuals, despite the ramifications for the colonised population.


Ramona Wadi is an independent researcher, freelance journalist, book reviewer and blogger specialising in the struggle for memory in Chile and Palestine, colonial violence and the manipulation of international law. Follow her on Twitter: @walzerscent

Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The New Arab, its editorial board or staff.