ABU SITTA: Towards a Palestinian political agenda July 30, 2010
by Dr Salman Abu SittaÂ -Â Palestine Land Society -Â 16-20 July 2010
The deteriorating situation of the Palestinian cause is no secret to anyone, including Palestinians themselves and the Arab world. There is, therefore, an urgent need to review this situation and prepare a viable political agenda able to be applied. This is not to say that there is a need for a national programme, as that is still the National Pact of 1969, which concludes that Palestine is Arab land and resistance (in all its forms) to the occupation is the means of action.
The Palestinian arena
The objectives of the Palestinian national movement after the Nakba (the 1948 catastrophe of Israel’s creation and the start of the Palestinian refugee crisis) were very clear; the country was known and the enemy was known. In the fifties and sixties, the fedayeen (freedom fighters) movement and secret groups arose (in the Gaza Strip at first) after which the Palestine Liberation Organization was formed in 1964 and reached its highest level of visibility in 1974 before it started a long decline. In the last National Council in Algeria in 1988, the Board agreed reluctantly by a two-thirds majority to a Palestinian state based on the Armistice Line of 1949 with adherence to the right of return. Then we had the disaster of Oslo in 1993 which formed the contract for the submission of the people under occupation without reference to international law or Palestinian rights. We are still under the influence of this disaster.
Just as Egypt’s Anwar Sadat split from his predecessor Gamal Abdul Nasser, Mahmoud Abbas has split from his predecessor Yasser Arafat, giving up resistance as too “low” and resorting to a “life” of negotiations. Thus did Abbas abandon an independent Palestinian decision-making process, taking refuge in reliance on the consent of Western and Arab countries. He abandoned Arab Palestine and agreed to pursue a statelet in the remnants of the occupied West Bank. He reduced the issue of the whole of historic Palestine and its people to a tiny entity in the West Bank and he gave up, apart from meaningless lip-service, on the refugees’ right of return. He also gave up on the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) as the voice of the Palestinian people, except for giving negotiations some degree of legitimacy. His Palestinian Authority in Ramallah is, he believes, sufficient to attract Western cash, enough to buy support amongst his people.
Knowingly or unknowingly, Abbas surrendered to Tony Blair’s deceit that Palestinians must accept the conditions of the Quartet [the recognition of Israel... etc.], otherwise they will not receive assistance and besieged Gaza will not receive the $4.8 billion promised by the West at one of the Sharm el-Sheikh “summits” for the reconstruction of Gaza’s infrastructure destroyed by Israel.
The Palestinian President should know that Blair is a liar (who deceived his own nation to wage war on Iraq), because the Quartet has never set such conditions on Palestinians. Alvaro de Soto, the international mediator for Palestine (the successor of Count Bernadotte, assassinated by Israelis in 1948) says in paragraph 79 of his End of Mission report to the UN in May 2007: “There is a general misunderstanding that says the Quartet had put ‘conditions’ which, if not implemented, would be an obstacle to aid provided to the Palestinian Authority and communicating with it. I have tried time and again to make clear to the press that the Quartet did not impose even once conditions which call on the Palestinians to recognize Israel and renounce violence… If this sounds like ‘conditions’ of the Quartet, the fact is that these ‘conditions’ are the policies of America and the European Union alone… and it is a matter of fact that they had been taking from Russia and the United Nations a cover under the name of the Quartet to implement their [US and EU] policies.”
In this miserable set of circumstances, the Palestinian people have become different nations. The people of Gaza (12% of all Palestinians) are under siege from Israel, the West and those Arab countries which are pro-Israel and America. This blockade constitutes a war crime and genocide according to the simplest rules of international law. And then there are the people in the West Bank (18% of all Palestinians) who have been restricted by the Palestinian Authority and prevented – in the name of Israel’s security – from pursuing resistance and, in many instances, expressing any solidarity with the people of Gaza. The people in the West Bank have been led to believe that their ultimate achievement will be to build “institutions”, even while under occupation, with the people isolated from each other in areas A, B and C; this includes the people of Jerusalem who are besieged and displaced from their homes, which are demolished. Those in Gaza and the West Bank are the 30% of the total population of Palestinians who were allowed to take part in the democratic elections.
In addition, there are the 1.25 million Palestinians who have lived in their homeland under Israeli rule for six decades and who now hold aloft the banner of Palestinian patriotism inside Israel.
And then there are the Palestinian of the diaspora. Some members are living as refugees in Arab countries, caught between their own fear of expulsion from their places of refuge and the fear of the host countries’ reluctance to resettle the refugees, depriving them of even basic civil rights in the process. The hosts themselves are caught in a dilemma; do they encourage the refugees to continue the struggle to return to their land in Palestine and, in doing so, encourage the establishment of potentially volatile political entities on their soil? Around 500,000 Palestinians are spread across Europe and America who are the most active in engaging with politics, the media and legal activity. Living in democratic societies they are able to work together, despite those countries’ general loyalty to Israel.
In such an environment, it seems obvious that the first duty of a Palestinian president is to gather his forces and work on behalf of all Palestinians under the framework of a new national elected council that represents 11 million Palestinians, of whom around 70% at present do not have any representation on issues pertaining to Palestine; they have been disenfranchised to this effect since 1988, at least. However, Mahmoud Abbas rejects any attempts to include the diaspora in the equation, despite a written agreement in Cairo in March 2005 approved by all factions, and even though representatives of the “independents” (who are the majority of the Palestinian people, more than 95%), have met with him for this purpose.
As for reconciliation between the two main factions, it has kept people busy more than it should have. It is, in the best-case scenario, a dispute over the political programme; at worst it is a dispute over positions of authority. In any case, the place for reconciliation is not in Arab capitals or in front of their security services or the media, it is in an elected national council which has the definitive say on the differences in factional programmes and performance. The existence of such a council would have made it unnecessary to travel from Arab capital to satellite TV station and back again. The conclusion is that the Palestinian people must take action to develop a new political agenda which is required to achieve the unity of all the Palestinian people and their representatives.
On the other side, of course, is Israel. What is its situation today? Israel is a Zionist state and if it abandons Zionism it wouldn’t be Israel; it would become Palestine with a Jewish community, no matter how large. There is no benefit in searching in the rubble for an Israeli leader who believes in Palestinians’ rights and the classification of this one or that one as right-wing or left-wing has no real value. No matter who is at the helm, Israel is committed to the vision of Israel’s borders submitted by the World Zionist Organization to the peace conference in Versailles at the end of the First World War.
What is the position of neighbouring Arab countries on all this? In 1948, some Arab states went into Palestine after Britain’s departure under pressure from the demonstration that swept the capitals of their respective countries following the Deir Yassin massacre and others. Their purpose was to defend the Palestinian people yet they were not prepared to liberate Palestine; neither by actions nor by intention. When the Arab troops entered Palestine, the Jews already controlled 5.5% of Palestine and when they left defeated, Israel occupied the equivalent of 78% of Palestine.
Following this defeat, no Arab state has entered a war with the intention to liberate Palestine and border wars were fought to repel Israeli attacks on those States. After the defeat of 1967, these countries began to support the Palestinian liberation movement with money and through politics. However, after the two peace treaties with Israel and the convention of principles in Oslo, they gave up on this as well and began supporting the movement which calls for Palestinians to accept what little comes by de facto gestures while standing against the political program calling for the liberation of Palestine. Conversely, the Arab and Muslim peoples adopted an honourable national position supporting of Palestinian rights.
Despite this official Arab stance, there is an accidental overlap in some official views; Lebanon, Jordan and the Palestinians have a common desire to reject the settlement project but for different reasons and it is in the interest of Lebanon and Jordan to stand by the right of return. This is something that must be taken full advantage of by strengthening the movement for the right of return in those countries, and allowing refugees to establish national institutions that represent them and give them the civil rights enjoyed by the Palestinian refugees resident in European countries which now constitute the most vocal force demanding the Palestinian right of return.
There is no doubt that the Arab nationalist and Islamic dimension is extremely important for the Palestinian cause and must be activated at all levels, especially the popular ones, as they are the only ones that can be activated immediately. As for the official dimension, it has been affected by two factors; firstly, the system has already abandoned, if not by name, the Liberation of Palestine or constants of Palestinian rights and secondly, the insistence of President Arafat on an independent Palestinian decision which was either accidentally or deliberately misunderstood. The reality of the second factor is to use Arab and Islamic dimension in all aspects that serve the cause without turning any parts in the Palestinian camp into tentacles of one system or another. Of course, this comes only through a clean and effective Palestinian leadership resulting from the election of a new National Council.
What to do?
In the absence of the Palestine Liberation Organization and the inability of those who made it to take effective action to defend Palestinian rights, the Palestinian people; individuals, bodies and committees, should perform their duties in the fields available to them without the need to seek permission from one body. This requires a lot of effort and organization but a little money, at least much less than the price of tanks left rusting in Arab warehouses.
There are many available fields of action; Israel’s image has deteriorated in the West, which supplies it with weapons and money. This is a result of the effort of foreign NGO’s defending human rights in Europe and America along with a significant contribution from Palestinians in those countries. This effort must be multiplied and expanded and should involve a larger number of Palestinians in the Diaspora as well as contribution from among the other Arab peoples. It would be wrong for the Irish and British as well as the Turks to endeavour to break the siege of Gaza and not to find such activity in Arab circles.
The legal field is wide open and after reports by Dugard and Falk and finally Gold Stone and in addition to the reports of Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International, there is a vast amount of documentation on war crimes and crimes against humanity which incriminate Israel’s leadership in several countries. Although many official and popular Arab sides have war crimes committees, their achievements are weak or non-existent and sporadic. There is a need to choose a good compilation of them and gathering other forces under their administration. It is worth mentioning that arrest warrants for some of Israel’s leaders in Britain have been issued by British law offices sympathetic to Palestine and allied with Palestinian legal associations. Success in this task ensures three important things: the trial of war criminals and their punishment, curtailing their movement and travel, and exposing Israel’s crimes to the world. Within this field, the importance of breaking the siege on Gaza is highlighted as an example of among the worst crimes committed in broad daylight and broadcast on television screens without moving anyone to action except for a few people of conscience.
Within this field, the issue of more than ten thousand Palestinian prisoners in Israel must be also emphasized. They are kept without legal or moral justification and represent the highest percentage in the history of any occupation; 40% of young males in the West Bank and Gaza have been arrested by Israel at least once in their lives since the occupation in 1967. With the advancement of electronic communications and satellite television, distance is no longer relevant. Therefore, Palestinians and those supporting them in the world can launch media campaigns to respond to Israeli allegations and to expose Israel’s past and present crimes. There has been significant development in this field through the success of the boycott, divestment and sanctions campaign (BDS), which has been joined by several unions and universities in the world, and is still growing considerably. All of these activities, while modest, bother Israel who has recruited thousands of its supporters worldwide in a campaign known as Hzebra under a theme against the de-legitimization of Israel.
There is also an open field to connect with the world’s parliaments, international forums and United Nations agencies including UNESCO, through visits of public delegations from camps and communities and freed detainees and others. Here, the role of NGOs in different countries, which can arrange this communication and activation, can be highlighted.
There is also the economic field which is the most important field affecting Israel. As previously mentioned, the impact on Israel’s economy is more painful than a failed war. In spite of the spontaneous movement of the People’s Boycott of Israel (BDS) and its spread in Europe and to some extent in America, it is worrying Israel in two ways; the media and the economy. However, the real blow comes from the Arab economic boycott of companies that deal with Israel, which was in force until the signing of ‘peace’ treaties with Jordan and Egypt. By a simple calculation, we find that the Arab countries, either on popular or official levels, by only boycotting goods from the U.S., the Netherlands, Germany and Britain, and depending on Israel being beyond the international law, which punishes occupation and apartheid, and based on the consultant resolution to the International Court of Justice issued on July 9 2004 and endorsed by the United Nations, can force these countries to reconsider their bias towards Israel. If sales of Mercedes and Siemens products, for example, stopped, then Germany will think twice before it manufactures nuclear submarines for Israel or participates in the manufacture of biological and chemical weapons of mass destruction, which it is now doing for the benefit of Israel. The boycott is a known and recognized weapon. Here we find that the United States applies it without legal justification. So what if the boycott is on the basis of international law? Arab countries have the legal justification and they do not need to declare war on Israel or get their tanks and warplanes from storage. They need nothing but to “rationalize” consumer or recreational spending on imports from countries that do not help Israel kill Palestinians.
Then there is the field outside media, whose circle of influence has expanded beyond description through the use of the Internet and the spread of satellite channels and which directly led to demonstrations in several European countries in condemnation of the Holocaust of Gaza, and has also led to weekly demonstrations against the Apartheid Wall in Bil’in. We have nearly one million young men and women, all proficient in the use of a computer, and half of whom are fluent in English who can be recruited to carry out media campaigns and respond to tendentious newspapers and radio stations. Nothing in this is new. Israel and Zionism have hundreds of recruits for the purpose of whitewashing Israel’s image.
There are so many other activities civil society can do without hindrance. But at home, all forms of resistance remain a prerequisite for the restoration of rights. Anything else is absurd. But this resistance, whatever forms it takes ought to be efficient and organized with means and system available for those who want to apply them. In Palestinian society, the uniting word is still “right of return” which goes beyond the limits of the factions, parties, and personal ambitions. The movement of the right of return has developed since the cataclysm of Oslo, and enlightenment about it has become successful in all areas of the Diaspora. However, it is still scattered over differences in orientation, importance and effectiveness. Therefore, there must be of an international conference bringing together all these under one umbrella, if not with integration, then with coordination.
The field of civic education for the youth is the real battle that will lead to an outright victory. Our more than five million young people did not live through the Palestinian revolution, and did not join the guerrillas. They were born in an era of frustration, therefore, despair and apathy as well as the desire to immigrate controls most of it, except for those who keep their faith and patriotism. These are a true national treasure that can be retrieved and activated with evening lessons, conferences, seminars, camps and societies. It is enough to know that the right of return movement, which is active in the Western world, is led by such young people, despite that their numbers are few.
The battle is very long and there should be steadfastness and sustainability of activities and a transfer of responsibilities from one generation to another. The war is long. Israel will not be defeated today or tomorrow, but it is betting that “old people die and the young ones forget” and that the people will get weak and give up their rights one after another while Israel gains its legitimacy through the signatures of the victims. If Palestinian history is a witness, this will never happen. There are obvious things that should be taken into account: The first, which cannot be overlooked, is that Israel will continue its racism and criminality, and it will not accept those who reject it. It is also true that despite its military strength against regular armies, it is very fragile, geographically and demographically. We must take advantage of this vulnerability. The second thing is that the world that had supported Israel has begun to turn away from it, and there will come a time when the world sees it as a burden and not an advantage. It is necessary to accelerate this realization by the world. Thirdly, the Palestinian people aspire to do their duty and defend their rights, backed by the Arab and Islamic peoples and the honourable forces in the world. But it needs a work structure and an efficient leadership that can handle the activation of these forces as a whole.
The first effort required is the re-election of a new National Council that represents 11 million Palestinians, half of whom were born since the Intifada uprising. There is no doubt that the current opposition to electing a national council will soon collapse, because those in charge of the current situation do not have the confidence of the people; they were not elected by 70% of the people and they did not contribute any achievements to the Palestinian people. The new council would adopt the Palestinian National Charter as well as the option of resistance with all its forms. Its first duty is to fill the vacuum left by the absence of the institutions of the PLO. Among the most important, are defending the rights of refugees who account for two-thirds of the Palestinian people (or three quarters if we calculated those displaced in 1967) by putting in place all the refugee camps in the Arab world, and by activating the capabilities of communities abroad toward defending the right of return.
The vacuum caused by the absence of the Palestine Liberation Organization or the harm caused by its poor performance, is extremely dangerous and it must not be tolerated by anyone. Those who tolerate it are partners in damage, but there is no benefit from complaining or criticism if each Palestinian does not play his or her role. As a first practical step for the activation of the Palestinian people and its representation, we propose a meeting of a group of highly credible Palestinians, with knowledge within all these fields, to develop a Palestinian political agenda that is practical and applicable and which is easy to accomplish. From this would emerge an extended conference, including representatives of communities and trade unions. This conference would represent the people and reflect civil society, and would be synonymous with the Palestine Liberation Organization when it is rebuilt on the old format. There is nothing strange in this, as Zionism has many institutions including the Jewish Agency, Jewish National Fund, the World Jewish Congress and many others standing beside Israel . The first objective would be to recruit all categories of the Palestinian people, and strive towards the election of a new national council and the building of the new PLO, consisting of all active categories within the Palestinian arena on the basis of the National Pact of 1969.
A plan or a dream?
It might be said that in the miserable Arab atmosphere, these proposals seem like a series of dreams, but they are not. The Palestinian people have fought the longest battle in history to be fought by a defenceless people. This people do not lack resilience, steadfastness or a sense of sacrifice but rather a wise leadership as well as work efficiency and organization. But there is a new generation that differs from its predecessor and is capable of and willing to give what is needed. We do not need individual charismatic leadership, but institutions in which the leadership alters according to performance and requirements. Institutions do not die and can be reformed, certainly the younger generation are able to establish and develop these institutions as they were born in exile and are armed with education, knowledge and culture that address the world. All of these are qualities their parents and leaders are in need of and as such, in them lies the hope of the Palestinian people who have suffered immensely, but who have not and will not give up.
The author is the founding president of the Palestine Land Society