Reducing the Palestinians

Yasser Arafat confers with Yitzhak Rabin and Shimon Peres after the three were awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in Oslo on 10 December 1994


One of the most important changes that the Oslo process brought about was the de facto transformation, indeed the ultimate corruption, of the Palestine Liberation Organisation, from a liberation movement representing the entire Palestinian people, into a vassal regime called the Palestinian Authority (PA), representing only one third of the Palestinian people.

What is quite insidious in this process is how the PA, conscious of this transformation, continues to speak of the “Palestinian people”, which had been reduced through the Oslo Accords to those West Bank and Gaza Palestinians it now represents.

Diaspora Palestinians are simply referred to, in accordance with US and Israeli parlance, as “refugees”, and Israeli Palestinians are referred to by Israeli diktat as “Israeli Arabs”. In doing so, not only has the scope of the Palestinian leadership and its representative status of the whole Palestinian people (achieved in international fora in 1974 after a strenuous struggle) been substantially reduced, but the Palestinian people themselves were diminished demographically by the PA’s appropriation of the designation “Palestinian people” to refer to a mere third of Palestinians.

This has had an immensely deleterious effect on those Palestinians who have been excluded from the designation “the Palestinian people”, as, according to the Geneva Document, all their grievances are null and void after Mr Abed Rabbo signed the agreement on behalf of the PLO (not the PA), claiming to represent the entire Palestinian people.

The Geneva Document is explicit on this issue: “No further claims related to events prior to this Agreement may be raised by either Party.” This demographic diminution of the Palestinian people was carried out with an important twist: while the PA will no longer fight for the rights of diaspora Palestinians and Israeli Palestinians, it can, in reclaiming its former status as the PLO temporarily, compromise and surrender all their rights to gain some rights for the portion of the Palestinians it now claims is “the Palestinian people”.

Thus, in order to obtain a measure of independence from Israeli occupation for West Bank and Gaza Palestinians, the PA recognises Israel’s right to be a Jewish racist state — that has the right to discriminate against Israeli Palestinians — and surrenders the internationally recognised rights of diaspora Palestinians to return and compensation. This has been the logic of Oslo, and it also governs the Geneva Document. It is thus essential to point out that the Geneva Document was signed by Palestinians who were not even elected by West Bank and Gaza Palestinians, much less the entire Palestinian people, whose rights they surrendered.

There is a parallel process that unfolded on the Israeli side. While Israel has no legitimacy and is not recognised by any international body as a “representative” of the Jewish people worldwide but rather as the state of the Israeli people, who are citizens of it, the PLO and the PA, contrary to world opinion — including that of the United Nations and the United States — have recognised Israel’s jurisdiction over world Jewry. Thus, it is not the Israeli people’s rights that are recognised in the Geneva Document; rather it is those of the “Jewish people” tout court. In the Geneva Document, the signatories affirm that “this agreement marks the recognition of the right of the Jewish people to statehood.”

While the internationally recognised status of the PLO as the representative of the Palestinian people has been reduced by one third since Oslo and more recently by the Geneva Accords, the representative status of the Israeli government has been expanded threefold when the PA and its “unofficial” representatives recognised Israel’s claims on world Jewry as legitimate. Thus, what this “peace” formula has made possible is the reduction of the Palestinian people and the multiplication of Israeli Jews. This has been done despite the fact that the majority of Jews living outside Israel are not Israeli citizens nor have any bodies representing them endowing the Israeli State with representative powers on their behalf.

In this vein, the Geneva Document speaks of how, “[r]ecognising that after years of living in mutual fear and insecurity, both peoples need to enter an era of peace, security and stability, entailing all necessary actions by the parties to guarantee the realisation of this era.” The two “peoples” spoken of are not Israeli Jews and the Palestinian people, rather they are world Jewry and West Bank and Gaza Palestinians! Does this mean that the Palestinian people in its entirety has not actually been fighting a colonial settler movement on its land but instead it is West Bank and Gaza Palestinians who have been fighting the Jewish people worldwide? Is this not what Zionism always claimed in order to justify its colonial policies and portray itself as a victim of anti-Semitism?

When have the Palestinian people chosen world Jewry as their enemy? Was it not Zionism and Israel who would always insist that it is the “Jewish people” who are claiming the right to colonise Palestine and its people while the PLO always rejected Israel’s claim to speak for all Jews? Have not the PLO, the Palestinian intelligentsia, and Palestinian revolutionary groups always asserted their enmity to Zionism and not to the Jewish people?

Only by accepting Zionism’s claims that Israel is the representative of the Jewish people, does the Palestinian anti-colonial struggle become identified by Yasser Abed Rabbo as a war with the “Jewish people”. Unlike Abed Rabbo, most Palestinians have always understood the anti-Semitic nature of Israel, its persistent attempts to claim anti-Semitically that all Jews have the “same” opinion of Zionism, that they all support it, that it represents them all, and that any attack or criticism of it is anti-Semitic since it, Israel, is the Jewish people.

Such anti-Semitic claims that flatten world Jewry as some cohesive group with an international agenda à la Protocols of the Elders of Zion would produce much uproar if their authors were not Zionism and the State of Israel. Indeed the claim advanced by Israel and its apologists that criticism of Israel is “anti-Semitic” is the most anti-Semitic claim of all, rendering all Jews around the world represented by this one state and claiming that they all approve of its atrocities and crimes against humanity. That the PA and Mr Abed Rabbo have accepted this “logic of peace,” as they call it in their Document, speaks of the success that Israel has had in imparting its version of anti-Semitism to the corrupt Palestinian leadership.

As for the two-thirds of the Palestinian people being eliminated by the Oslo process, Israeli Palestinians, on their part, understand well the logic of Oslo and have been fighting Israeli state racism independently of the PLO and the PA and without compromising the rights of the rest of the Palestinian people. Diaspora Palestinians, mostly bereft of leadership, continue to struggle for the application of their internationally recognised rights to return and be compensated, also without compromising the rights of other Palestinians.

Only the corrupt leadership of the West Bank and Gaza wants to speak for all Palestinians in order to do away with most of them and derive benefits, if any, for a few. This does not mean that West Bank and Gaza Palestinians cannot seek agreements with the Israeli occupation to obtain independence; it means that they cannot do so by compromising the rights of diaspora and Israeli Palestinians for whom they cannot speak.

They may compromise their own rights if they so choose, such as accepting limits on the future sovereignty of their mini-state to be, for example, but not the right of return nor the rights of Israeli Palestinians to fight Israeli state-racism. Indeed, most West Bank and Gaza Palestinians have rejected the Geneva Document on this basis, whether in demonstrations or public statements and in recent opinion polls, further proving that the PA leadership that claims to represent them does not represent them at all.

What is central to this politics of representation is that neither world Jewry nor diaspora Palestinians and Israeli Palestinians ever elected Israel or the PA as representatives. These two, however, continue to fight for so-called “rights” for world Jewry, or surrender the rights of the Palestinian people, respectively. This process is one wherein the Israeli state wants to unify world Jewry under its flag against all international norms, while the PA wants to eliminate two-thirds of the Palestinian people from its internationally-recognized mandate by surrendering their rights and keeping a third of the Palestinians as “the Palestinian people”.

Zionism’s historic denial of the Palestinian people has finally been adopted by the Palestinian Authority and its coterie of functionaries, ministers, security officers, and, yes, members of the Legislative Council (half of whom have already served as ministers of the corrupt Palestinian Authority and the other half, with few exceptions, aspires to serve in the future). Golda Meir asserted in 1969 that “it was not as though there was a Palestinian people in Palestine considering itself as a Palestinian people and we came and threw them out and took their country away from them. They did not exist.”

The Palestinian people have been fighting Zionism’s denial of their existence from Herzl to Meir and beyond. However, the Palestinian Authority and its “unofficial” envoy Yasser Abed Rabbo (whose name incidentally means “Yasser worshipper of his Lord” and who is otherwise nicknamed in popular Palestinian circles as “Yasser Abed Yasser” or “Yasser worshipper of Yasser [Arafat]”), have fully endorsed the Zionist view by excluding two thirds of the Palestinians from the designation “the Palestinian People”. Following this formula, all Palestinians Israel expelled and all those who remained living within Israel under the Israeli racialist system of democracy-only-for-Jews are, in line with Golda Meir’s racist lie, not considered Palestinian at all.

The fact that a corrupt and dictatorial Palestinian leadership is aiming to eliminate two-thirds of the Palestinian people is symptomatic of the continued Zionist aggression that the Oslo process culminating in Geneva has legitimised. No one should have been fooled, least of all Nelson Mandela, by the songs for “peace” announcing the triumph of the last unrepentant settler colony in the world.

Abed Rabbo and his colleagues may have accepted the Zionist victory but the Palestinian people are not going anywhere. They are resisting and will continue to resist all attempts to liquidate their national existence and their lives in the name of “peaceful” solutions. Mr Abed Rabbo and his PA colleagues can do what they want, whether with Ariel Sharon or with Yossi Beilin. The Palestinian people, however, cannot be legislated in and out of existence by the stroke of a pen.

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    Joseph Massad is assistant professor of Modern Arab Politics and Intellectual History at Columbia University, New York. This article first appeared in Al-Ahram Weekly. It is reproduced here by permission of the writer.