As a liberation movement, the two-year-old Palestinian intifada has many parallels in history. Liberation movements without exception in modern times have mainly achieved their goals of ridding colonized peoples and countries of their foreign occupiers despite overwhelming military and technological advantages held by the invading nation. This has been true wherever you look, from Algeria to South Africa and from East Timor to Afghanistan in the time of the Soviets.
Logically, this should also be the outcome of the Palestinian struggle against Israeli occupation. The sad reality may be different though, because, almost uniquely, the Palestinian people find themselves on the opposite side from their own “leadership.”
The Palestinian leadership, whose primary goal now, as it has often been, is its own survival, rather than the achievement of any defined national aim, is fast becoming a burden and outright danger to the very rights and aspirations of the Palestinian people.
Still believing that the lifeline for its rescue from the hole it has dug itself into lies firmly in the hands of its bitterest foes, the Palestinian Authority (PA) is eagerly engaged in a desperate frenzy to volunteer one major surrender of its people’s inalienable rights after another, in the vain hope that Israel and its American sponsor will be appeased and those who were once welcomed at the White House will miraculously return to respectability. But supplication in this manner does not only generate more failures; it simply whets the appetite of the enemy for more abject capitulation.
The Oslo deal, which was cooked in the darkness of conspiracy behind the backs of an honorable, committed and capable Palestinian negotiating team headed by Dr. Haider Abdel-Shafi, was the greatest example of a self-serving, shortsighted policy of trading the mere recognition of the PLO for full recognition of Israel’s “rights.” While no fundamental Palestinian rights were recognized by the Oslo agreement, except the “right” of the PLO to negotiate, Israel received, with PLO consent, full ratification and legitimacy for all its war gains up to that point. In particular, the PLO agreed to recognize Israel’s “right to exist” on 78 percent of the land of historic Palestine, to renounce all violence and end the first intifada, to alter the Palestinian National Charter and to postpone for years any discussion of the most fundamental causes of the conflict: Jerusalem, the right of return of refugees, defining borders, settlements, and self determination for the Palestinians.
The PLO also agreed to shoulder the administrative and financial burdens of the occupier, and agreed that Israel would have legal immunity from liability for all the damage and harm done to the Palestinian people and their property through decades of occupation. Thus relieved, Israel was free to focus its energies during the five-year “interim” period (which has now stretched to nine years and is still growing), to build more settler colonies and create more facts on the ground. The declared goal of Israeli leaders was to stretch negotiations indefinitely so that if the day ever came when a final settlement would be reached, Israel would already have effectively annexed most of the West Bank according to its expansionist schemes.
Worse was the Palestinian acceptance to be responsible for Israeli security, and to build a police force whose main purpose, other than directing traffic in Gaza, would be to protect Israeli occupation forces from the justified anger of the occupied people.
In short, the PLO, in exchange for Israeli recognition not of Palestinian national and human rights, but simply for recognition of the PLO, agreed to transform an illegal, belligerent military occupation into something acceptable and semi-permanent. After all, how could the PLO and later the PA challenge the legitimacy of the occupation when its own forces were conducting “joint patrols” with the occupation troops to enforce Israeli military orders on the Palestinian people?
All of this has sent an unmistakable message that, despite the continued onslaught against the occupied Palestinians, the PLO was on its way to resolving its conflict with Israel, and it freed the rest of the world, including the Arabs, from taking measures to oppose Israel’s continued aggression. Today, Palestinian President Yasser Arafat is an actual prisoner. This is simply the logical conclusion to a process that is inherent in the unjust Oslo structure. When the PLO moved its leadership and cadres from exile to the Occupied Territories, they did not come as liberators, but merely to join their people as fellow prisoners of the Israelis. From the first days of the Oslo accords, even Palestinian leaders were subjected to the most humiliating controls by the occupier, except when “VIP” passes were granted as a favor and privilege to be withdrawn at any time. Today, “VIP” stands only for “Very Important Prisoner.” Nelson Mandela proved it is possible to be a national leader from behind bars, but not if your first priority is to maintain your own privileges and curry favor with the jailer.
Even now, when the Palestinian leadership and people are under a full onslaught from the Israeli regime, Palestinian representatives are still demanding of their people ever more disastrous concessions. Thus, Akiva Eldar reported in Haaretz on Sept. 5 that Abu Mazen (Mahmoud Abbas) and Nabil Shaath both made recent visits to refugee camps to warn Palestinians against pursuing their right of return and threatening that those who insisted risked losing even the opportunity to “return” to the territory of a Palestinian state. These colossal failures should have led to the removal of the Palestinian Authority. Yet the PA has survived to commit one blunder after another in its feverish endeavor to save itself at any cost.
When the US president withdrew recognition from the Palestinian leadership last June, the Palestinian leadership redoubled already immense efforts at appeasement. The new Palestinian “interior minister,” Abdel-Razzak Yahia, called on the Palestinians to halt all forms of “violence” against the Israelis, including stone throwing. A few days later, he called the “arming of the intifada” a historic error, because it caused the Palestinians much bloodshed and destruction. This is an outright distortion of the facts as much as it is total surrender to the Israeli view that the intifada is not a legitimate uprising against 35 years of endless and deepening foreign military occupation, but a vicious, unprovoked aggression against Israel following Arafat’s rejection of Barak’s supposedly “generous” offers at Camp David.
Many Palestinians have indeed argued in favor of nonviolence, and such a shift in strategy would be perfectly reasonable after a careful assessment. That does not require forging and rewriting history to try to win the favor of the enemy at the expense of the Palestinian people. While the Palestinian people cannot bear the burden of this failed leadership any longer, one of the results of years of autocratic rule is that no obvious alternatives have developed. Whether the Palestinian people can find a true voice, between the attempts of the existing failed leaders to stay in place, and the efforts of Israel and the US to replace them with a Palestinian Karzai, is perhaps one of their greatest but most urgent challenges.
Hasan Abu-Nimah is a former Jordanian ambassador to the United Nations. This commentary first appeared in The Daily Star (Jordan). It is reprinted here with permission of the author