The Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) today launched a new online forum whose main priority appears to be to undermine the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement.
This came just days after the PLO sabotaged a UN Human Rights Council resolution that could have hastened international action against Israel for its continued illegal colonization of Palestinian land.
New “Engage” forum launched with attacks on BDS movement
The PLO delegation in Washington launched “Engage,” an online blog hosted on its official website.
Two of the first three posts are attacks on the increasingly successful BDS movement. In “Connecting the Dots on American campuses,” Samer Anabtawi, a graduate student at the University of Chicago, claimed that the Palestinian solidarity movement on campuses is “heavily fragmented” and needed to be unified in a broad network. (Note: Shortly after the publication of this post, the PLO Delegation deleted Anabtawi’s article from its website. Here’s a screenshot of the deleted article).
What is standing in the way of this unification? Anabtawi singled out Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) whose national organizing and support for BDS has made it an increasingly important factor in the struggle.
For many, “Students for Justice in Palestine” might as well be the network they need. However we cannot deny that today’s student movements for Palestine lack an essential element to political engagement in the U.S.: an appeal to a broad base of audiences. The Palestinian network needs to couch its objectives in a rhetoric that resonates with young Americans who cherish liberal values of democracy, individual rights, freedom of speech, and equality.
After this backhanded claim that SJP is out of touch with mainstream values, Anabtawi presses his attack:
To remain true to its causes, the network should refrain from creating a laundry list of policies and political beliefs that its member groups and activists are encouraged to adhere to;
In other words, principles are bad; abandon them. So what does Anabtawi think should happen instead?
rather the network should aim at fostering a healthy debate on how to advance the Palestinian cause. For instance, instead of instructing chapters to support BDS campaigns against Israel, our cause must encourage discussions on the efficacy and morality of BDS and whether BDS is the most effective tool. By doing so, the network would expand beyond a narrow political agenda, allowing it to engage a broader audience.
Anabtawi speaks of SJP as if it is a national organization with chapters who follow “instructions.” In fact, each SJP is autonomously and locally organized, and only in the past two years has a national umbrella been formed. No one “instructs” SJPs or other Palestinian solidarity groups to support BDS.
Anabtawi accuses Students for Justice in Palestine of having a “narrow political agenda,” when in fact the points of unity adopted at the first National Students for Justice in Palestine conference in October 2011 embrace the rights of the entire Palestinian people.
And contrary to his claims, SJP has been very successful at making important new allies for the Palestinian cause. Thanks to the work by SJP activists with their Chican@ and Latino comrades, MEChA, the largest association of Latin@ youth in the US, voted overwhelmingly to endorse the Palestinian call for boycott, divestment and sanctions last year.
This year’s MEChA conference, attended by SJP representatives, deepened the commitment to joint solidarity work.
Anabtawi even proposes that Palestinians ally themselves with J-Street, a Zionist lobby group that explicitly opposes BDS and rights for all Palestinians, and indeed does have a narrow political agenda of preserving Israel as a racist state with a guaranteed Jewish majority at the expense of the rights of Palestinian refugees and Palestinian citizens of Israel.
According to his LinkedIn profile, Anabtawi was an “Intern at Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Palestine,” a relevant institutional affiliation not disclosed in the blog post.
In the second piece, “BDS Role in Palestinian Economy,” Laila Ikram poses the question of whether “abandoning BDS” is the way for Palestinians to go, before proposing that divestment be “researched” in order to be adopted alongside “positive investment.” Encouraging “positive investment,” it turns out, is the very strategy used by the Israel lobby to undermine and derail divestment efforts.
Of course this is not the first effort by the Palestinian Authority to undermine BDS. In 2010, Salam Fayyad, the externally-imposed Palestinian Authority “prime minister,” launched a call on Palestinians to boycott goods from Israeli settlements.
While this brief campaign grabbed headlines, it was actually an attempt to undermine BDS more broadly because while calling for a boycott of settlements goods only, PA officials were assuring Israel of their desire to maintain expand econonomic ties with Israel in defiance of the Palestinian BDS call.
PLO cave in leads to “missed opportunity” for Palestinian rights
On 22 March, the UN Human Rights Council adopted a weak resolution on a recent report about Israeli settlements. The resolution was condemned by a coalition of Palestinian human rights groups as a “missed opportunity.”
The human rights groups blamed the “influence of European States in dictating that a stronger, more detailed resolution would not have received consensus support at the Council.”
But this failure was entirely the fault of the PLO delegation, which is effectively a puppet of the Palestinian Authority in Ramallah.
As The Electronic Intifada exclusively reported last week, the PLO delegation had the support and opportunity to present a stronger resolution that would undoubtedly have gained a majority and could have led to concrete international action against Israel. But the PLO apparently refused to do so in order to appease its international sponsors.
Start from scratch?
Although the venerable name of the PLO has cachet, and the idea of the PLO still commands the loyalty of millions of Palestinians, in practice this body long ago lost any legitimacy or representativeness among Palestinians.
Its loss of legitimacy is so severe that in a recent analysis for The Electronic Intifada, Osamah Khalil proposed that Palestinians should abandon it altogether and start from scratch.
The latest antics at the UN and with the “Engage” forum can only bolster those who agree with Khalil.
This post was expanded and updated after initial publication.