Al-Jazeerah: Cross-Cultural Understanding
Opinion Editorials, June 2011
The Palestinian Authority's Historic Mistake – and Opportunity
By Jeff HalperRedress, Al-Jazeerah, CCUN, June 21, 2011
No one knows the precise plans of the Palestinian Authority (PA) vis-a-vis
September: will PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas declare a Palestinian state within
recognized borders and ask that it be admitted as a full member of the UN –
or not? Perhaps Abbas himself does not know. Now political leaders often
make decisions alone or in consultation with a small group of advisors. As
in so many matters political, however, the Palestinian leadership finds
itself in a unique situation. Its main allies are not governments, and
certainly not the American government, whose support for some inexplicable
reason has constituted the Palestinians’ default position for the past 40
years. Rather, the Palestinians’ most loyal and powerful ally is civil
society. And yet, this most solid base of support remains unappreciated,
unutilized and ignored.
To oppressed people everywhere, the Palestinians have become an inspiration, almost their surrogate. Their ability to remain steadfast (sumud) is proof that injustice, even when supported by the most advanced weaponry of the most powerful superpowers, can be resisted. But Israel, helped by time and geography, has succeeded in fragmenting the Palestinians. The refugees in the camps are almost completely excluded from political processes, but it is the exclusion of the diaspora that is especially problematic. Highly educated for the most part, fluent in all the European languages, they could play a major role in promoting the Palestinian cause abroad. Indeed, a few individuals have carved out influential positions despite being excluded, even resisted, by the West Bank leadership. Instead, the Palestinian Authority has fielded, with a couple notable exceptions, a most inept and inarticulate corps of diplomats. Rather than using their greatest asset, their own people abroad as well as the legions of articulate spokespeople at home, including younger people, the Palestinian Authority has tied its own hands diplomatically just when Israel is mounting a major international offensive against it. Just recall one astounding fact: during the entire year that saw the Obama administration taking office and the invasion of Gaza, there was no official Palestinian representative in Washington!
The second circle of civil society support for the Palestinian cause is, of course, the Arab and wider Muslim worlds. While each uprising of the “Arab Spring” has its own reasons and dynamics, the Palestinian struggle provided the inspiration. The Arab peoples came to realize that the same forces oppressing the Palestinians – militarism designed to thwart democracy and ensure neo-colonial control over their lands and resources – are at the source of their own oppression as well.
Indeed, the Palestinians possess one source of tremendous clout: they are the bone in the throat of the global powers that prevent them from completing their imperialist plans. The Palestinian struggle is not simply a local one between Palestinians and Israelis; it has become global on the order of the anti-apartheid struggle in South Africa. It cannot be by-passed. Even though there are larger and bloodier conflicts in the Middle East, until the Palestinians signal to the rest of the Muslim world that they have arrived at a political settlement with Israel and the time has come to normalize relations, the conflict is not over. A solution cannot be imposed, and the Palestinians are the gatekeepers. Nothing can happen without them, and until the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is indeed resolved, the US and Europe will be unable to pursue their interests unencumbered in an empowered Middle East.
The third circle of civil society just waiting to be mobilized are the millions of ordinary people the world over whose have devoted enormous energy and resources towards the realization of Palestinian national rights. The Palestinian struggle has indeed assumed the proportions of that against apartheid. It is one of the two or three leading issues in the world. Churches, trade unions, university students, political and human rights organizations, prominent intellectuals, performers and even key politicians have all mobilized in support of the BDS movement (boycott, divestment and sanctions against Israel). They are evident in the repeated attempts to break the siege of Gaza by sending international flotillas.
But they, like Palestinian civil society and that of the Arab and Muslim worlds, wait to be mobilized by the Palestinian leadership. According to newspaper accounts – unfortunately, the PA leadership has never conducted an open discussion of the crucial September initiative and has never shared its deliberations – the two main objections to seeking membership in the UN are fear of upsetting the American administration and failure to obtain the required number of votes. The first is ridiculous. Does anyone still believe the Palestinians will gain anything by pursuing American-led “negotiations”?
The second objection, that not receiving the required votes for admission
to the UN constitutes a “failure”, exposes a key flaw in the strategic
thinking of the Palestinian leadership. If Abbas approaches the UN in a
docile and half-hearted way, appearing more to be pushed by an Israeli
refusal to negotiate than by his people’s own just cause and urgent need for
independence, the Palestinian struggle will certainly suffer. Many other
countries that would otherwise support the Palestinian initiative will
indeed waiver, giving in to US and Israeli pressure because it seems the
Palestinian themselves are not serious about it. But if he goes into the UN
as the head of a national unity government with the support of the world’s
peoples, Mandela-like, he could decisively change the course of events
Inside the UN, Abbas would present Palestine’s compelling case for independence and UN membership, as he did in his New York Times piece of 16 May. He would also reframe the conflict. It is not specious security issues that lay at the roots of the conflict, but Israel ’s refusal to respect Palestinian national rights and to end the occupation. As he also did in the New York Times article, Abbas must also make it clear that recognition of a Palestinian state within the 1967 borders in no way compromises the right of refugees to return to their homes, a key point of future negotiations with Israel. He should also state up-front that the establishment of a Palestinian state does not end the Palestinian quest, through peaceful means, of an inclusive single-state solution.
If international mobilization is pursued vigorously and Abbas exudes a
genuine determination to see a Palestinian state established and recognized,
more than 130 countries, including many of the leading European ones, will
vote to accept Palestine into the UN. Even if this does not overrule the US
veto in the Security Council, it is far more than a merely symbolic
achievement and certainly cannot be considered a failure. Such a massive
expression of support would demonstrate the inevitability of Palestinian
statehood. It would signal the beginning rather than the end of an
international campaign for Palestinian rights, one now joined by governments
as well as civil society.
Jeff Halper is the Director of the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions (ICAHD). He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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