Palestine: The end or a new beginning?
By Alan Hart
There is a strong case for saying that Palestine is a lost cause. And it, the case, can be summarised as follows.
Why a lost cause?
- The nuclear-armed Zionist (not Jewish) state of Israel is the regional superpower and not remotely interested in peace on terms the Palestinians could accept. The vast majority of its Jews have been brainwashed by Zionist propaganda and as a consequence are not open to rational and reasoned discussion about justice for the Palestinians. And that leaves Israel’s leaders free to continue the policy of taking (stealing) for keeps the maximum amount of Palestinian land with the minimum number of Arabs on it.
- As things are, the major world powers are not going to use the leverage they have to cause (or try to cause) Israel to end its defiance of international law and denial of justice for the Palestinians.
- The regimes of a corrupt, authoritarian and divided Arab order have no interest in any kind of confrontation with Israel, and they do not have the will to use the leverage they have to press the major powers, the one in Washington DC especially, to oblige Israel to be serious about peace on the basis of justice for the Palestinians and security for all.
- The occupied and oppressed Palestinians have no credible leadership. (And that reality won’t be changed simply by Mahmoud Abbas standing down to make way for another “president”.)
The idea for this article was triggered by an analysis written for Al-Shabaka: The Palestinian Policy Network, by Palestinian professor Tariq Dana. The title of his policy briefing paper was “Corruption in Palestine: a self-enforcing system”.
Dana is Assistant Professor of Political Science at Hebron University. (Established in 1971 it was the first educational institution for university education in Palestine).
Al-Shabaka, which means the network, was created in 2009 and is registered in California. It brings together some of the best and brightest Palestinian writers and thinkers around the world and describes itself as “a think-tank without borders and walls”. Its mission, drawing from the experience of the Palestinian people, is “to engage the broadest spectrum of perspectives in debate on policy and strategy”, and, “to communicate ideas and strategies on resolving the Palestinian-Israel conflict to Palestinian communities as well as to Arab and other policy communities and interested parties worldwide.”
The Overview to Dana’s policy briefing paper noted that, according to a recent survey, 81 per cent of the occupied and oppressed Palestinians believe the Palestine Authority (PA) is corrupt.
Dana then put some flesh on the bone of corruption with this statement.
Corruption in Palestinian Authority (PA) institutions should not be perceived as merely a matter of administrative and financial wrongdoing committed by irresponsible individuals whose behaviour is driven by greed and personal interests. The scandals that Palestinians hotly debate from time to time -– such as embezzlement of public funds, misappropriation of resources, and nepotism – are an outcome of longstanding corruption embedded in the underlying power structure that governs the Palestinian political system and that were rooted in the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) prior to the Oslo process.
If I was in dialogue with Dana I would ask this question. Isn’t the real point that the PA has become just like all other Arab governments? I imagine the answer would be “Yes”.
From conversations many years ago I know that Arafat and the other founding fathers of Fatah and the authentic PLO didn’t want that to happen. They really did want their state to be democratic (which was one of the reasons why the Arab regimes feared and even loathed the authentic PLO). I can recall, for example, what was said to me by Khalid Hassan, a founding father of Fatah and its intellectual giant on the right. “We have to be democratic. If we become just another Arab regime we will fail.”
Dana also offered this observation.
Corruption has been a major contributing factor to the Palestinian national movement’s inability to achieve its objectives and now also serves the objectives of Israel’s occupation.
My way of putting it is to say that corruption helped to guarantee that the PA became, by default but effectively, a Zionist collaborator.
Dana’s conclusion was this:
Corruption will remain endemic within the PA as long as the Palestinians themselves do not begin restructuring their national institutions according to democratic principles and standards of accountability, as part of a broader strategy to pursue self-determination and Palestinian national rights, including freedom from occupation.
That call for restructuring Palestinian institutions echoed one made by Osamah Khalil, a co-founder of Al-Shabaka, in March 2013. (He is Assistant Professor of History of the US in the World at Syracuse University.) In a briefing paper with the headline “’Who are you?’ The PLO and the limits of representation”, his conclusion was the following:
If Palestinians want a representative body, national unity, an end to factional differences and to a corrupt and illegitimate leadership, they will need to build that movement themselves from scratch. They will also need to make the previous body and its leaders – regardless of their revolutionary origins and rhetoric, titles, symbolism and emotional ties – obsolete and irrelevant. With a past marked by failure, Palestinians must imagine and work towards a very different future. Otherwise there will be little hope of finding a successful strategy or vehicle to achieve Palestinian rights.
Given that liberation was the goal and that the Palestinian past is indeed “marked by failure”, as Khalil states, complete understanding of it has to take account of two most important facts.
Building a new liberation movement
The first is that Arafat risked everything – his credibility with his leadership colleagues and his life – to prepare the ground on the Palestinian side for peace on terms which a rational government in Israel would have accepted with relief. (Israel’s response was to invade Lebanon all the way to Beirut with the objective of liquidating the entire PLO leadership and destroying the organisation’s infrastructure.) If the major powers led by America had backed Arafat after he secured support for his policy of politics and unthinkable compromise in the shape of a two-state solution, peace would have been there for the taking if Israel’s leaders had wanted it.
The second is that the occupied and oppressed Palestinian people have not failed. Israel’s policy was and is to make life hell for them in the hope that they will abandon their struggle and either surrender on Zionism’s terms or, preferably, pack their bags and leave to start a new life in Arab and other countries. The steadfastness of the occupied and oppressed Palestinian people (not their leaders) is a success, not a failure.
In my analysis the process of building a new Palestine liberation movement “from scratch” would have to begin with something I have been advocating for several years – the dissolution of the PA and handing back to Israel complete responsibility for its occupation of the West Bank.
As I have noted in previous articles, that would impose significant burdens – economic, security and other – on Israel. But with complete responsibility for occupation would come full accountability.
How might that benefit the Palestinians?
Exposing Israeli racism, oppression and colonisation
Israel’s racism, oppression and ongoing colonisation of the West Bank (ethnic cleansing slowly and by stealth) would be exposed, fully naked, for the whole world to see, and that could assist the mobilisation of public opinion everywhere for pressure on governments to use the leverage they have to cause (or try to cause) Israel to end its defiance of international law and denial of justice for the Palestinians.
I think it can be assumed that Israel would prevent the Palestinians under its control from engaging in activities to rebuild their liberation movement on democratic foundations. So how, actually, could the rebuilding be done?
Palestinian diaspora action
In my view it could only happen if the incredible, almost superhuman steadfastness of the occupied and oppressed Palestinians was supplemented by practical and coordinated Palestinian diaspora action.
The composition of the Palestinian diaspora by countries and numbers of Palestinians resident in them is roughly the following. Jordan – 2,900,000; Israel – 1,600,000; Syria – 800,000; Chile – 500,000; Lebanon – 490,000; Saudi Arabia – 280,245; Egypt – 270,245; United States – 270,000; Honduras – 250,000; Venezuela – 245,120; United Arab Emirates – 170,000; Germany – 159,000; Mexico – 158,000; Qatar – 100,000; Kuwait – 70,000; El Salvador – 70,000; Brazil – 59,000; Iraq – 57,000; Yemen – 55,000; Canada – 50,975; Australia – 45,000; Libya – 44,000; Denmark – 32,152; United Kingdom – 30,000; Sweden – 25,500; Peru – 20,000; Columbia – 20,000; Spain – 12,000; Pakistan – 10,500; Netherlands – 9,000; Greece – 7,500; Norway – 7,000; France – 5,000; Guatemala – 3,500; Austria – 3,000; Switzerland – 2,000; Turkey – 1,000; and India – 300.
In the past I have advocated that Palestinians in the diaspora should take the lead in bringing the sidelined Palestinian parliament-in-exile, formerly known as the Palestine National Council (PNC), back to life, refreshed and reinvigorated by elections to it in every country where Palestinians live. Bu on reflection, I think that idea needs to be modified.
Are there enough diaspora Palestinians who care enough to become politically engaged to rebuild their national institutions on democratic principles and standards of accountability?
I still believe there needs to be a new institution elected by Palestinians everywhere with the prime task of debating and determining Palestinian policy and then representing it by speaking to power with one voice, but I think it should not style or present itself as a Palestinian parliament-in-exile.
In reality there’s something almost absurd about having a parliament for a state that does not exist. And if an institution elected by Palestinians everywhere did pose as a parliament-in-exile, its American representatives and those who are residents and citizens of other countries could be accused of having dual loyalty.
The big question is this: Are there enough diaspora Palestinians who care enough to become politically engaged to rebuild their national institutions on democratic principles and standards of accountability?
It isn’t a question of resources because there are many very wealthy diaspora Palestinians. It’s a matter of will.
If the answer is “Yes”, there could be a new beginning for the Palestine liberation movement.
If the answer is “No”, it can’t and won’t happen. Then, when Israel’s leaders conclude that they can’t force the occupied and oppressed Palestinians to abandon their struggle for an acceptable amount of justice, the most likely endgame will be a final Zionist ethnic cleansing of Palestine.
If such an obscenity is allowed to happen, I think future honest historians will conclude that the Palestinian diaspora was complicit by default.