No time in the recent history of the Palestinian people has appeared darker or more devoid of hope. Internally divided, splintered across the globe, and lacking effective representation, the Palestinian national movement is arguably at the lowest point in its history. Moreover, Palestine today serves as the harbinger of the future of an Arab world under siege, occupied by external forces allied with internal collaborators intent on sowing and feeding divisions. Outside of Palestine, refugees and exiles are under constant threat and pressure from Arab regimes and Western governments, with little or no support from the traditional institutions which once represented them on the world stage. Yet, if there is to be hope it is in the desiccated and ostensibly defunct Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) to which Palestinians must turn. The time has come for Palestinians globally to regain and reinvigorate the institution that the world still recognizes as the “sole legitimate representative of the Palestinian people.”
This process begins with the dissolution of the Palestinian Authority. All Palestinians living under the 41st year of their occupation in the West Bank and Gaza must declare that they will no longer be a party to their own occupation. That they will not allow Israel to illegally withhold their tax revenues, while launching repeated incursions and invasions killing with virtual impunity. Nor will they permit representatives of their “government’ to benefit financially and politically from Israel’s occupation, from the construction of Israel’s apartheid wall to the expansion of settlements on Palestinian land and the suppression of political activity. For American President George W. Bush’s favored sons — Mahmoud Abbas, Salam Fayyad, Mohammad Dahlan and their ilk — to resign with what little dignity that remains and leave Palestine for whatever shore will take them, in order to allow a new PLO to emerge not tainted by the stench of corruption and collusion. Any government which is beholden to the financial and military support of its peoples’ enemies is not deserving of either the title “Palestinian” or “Authority.” Indeed, the time for this grotesque charade to end is now and it is long overdue.
As the sixtieth anniversary of the Nakba approaches, it is time for Palestinian refugees in the Arab world and beyond to reassert their role as the vanguard of the Palestinian National Movement. To demand that they no longer be represented as a bargaining chip to be bartered by negotiators more interested in personal self-aggrandizement than the refugees’ well-being or their internationally recognized rights. It is imperative that Palestinians living under occupation or in exile unite to revive and reform the PLO and hold new elections for the Palestine National Council (PNC). Once elected, a new PNC would convene to announce an independent Palestinian state, a government-in-exile, and a strategy for victory that would unify Palestinian groups across the political spectrum, from secular to Islamist.
A reinvigorated PLO would also coordinate with the plethora of grass-roots organizations that have formed to oppose Israel’s apartheid policies and advocating for the right of return. Currently these organizations operate independently with only intermittent coordination and suffer from a lack of financial and organizational support at the international level. Yet, they have had amazing achievements and made terrible sacrifices seeking justice for the Palestinian people. One can only imagine what could have been achieved over the past seven years with the institutional support of an internationally recognized organization representing all Palestinians. Surely, in an age of instant global communication, we should not have to imagine what is possible; we should strive to achieve it.
The Palestinians are blessed with an abundance of capable individuals across multiple generations living under occupation or in exile who can and must lead this new movement. Many have been politically active and working toward achieving justice either with the pre-Oslo PLO or with different organizations since the second intifada began. But the movement must also be open to all Palestinians who truly believe in a program of national unity, and who agree to invest in and work toward the goals elucidated by a new PLO. Self-determination begins with self-reliance. The Palestinian national movement once represented the hopes of oppressed people globally for justice and self-determination and it can once again.
However, the Palestinians can no longer look toward the Arab world, the United States, the members of the European Union, or the United Nations for support or assistance. The historical evidence of the past sixty years clearly demonstrates that they have no interest in Palestinian-self-determination or a truly independent Palestine. Moreover, they have actively colluded with Israel and the United States to prevent both. Indeed, the plethora of failed “peace” initiatives, whose worthless papers could pave a road from Washington to Jerusalem and the fetid carcass of the “peace process” rotting on its shoulder, illustrates the utter failure and deliberate impotence of the international community to resolve the plight of the Palestinians. While individuals from these nations and bodies can and are welcome to assist, the Palestinians must liberate themselves. The Palestinian national movement, which once stood proudly along other national liberation struggles, cannot be allowed to end with a descent into factional fighting, war-lord fragmentation and chaotic rule of the gun. Failure to act quickly to reverse this course will result not in an independent Palestinian state or a “one state solution,” but rather with Palestinians huddled into open-air prisons ruled by a web of collaborators with the support and legitimacy of the international community.
The challenge ahead should not be underestimated. Not since the shaping of the modern Middle East at the end of World War I, has the region been so destabilized through external pressure and riven by internal factional conflict. Moreover, as demonstrated by recent events in Gaza and Lebanon, the Palestinian people remain surrounded by powerful enemies who are intent on their subjugation and defeat. As they did after 1948, the Arab governments are again actively suppressing Palestinian political activity, while publicly espousing the rhetoric of Arab unity and brotherhood. Meanwhile Bush’s “vision” of a Palestinian state has proven to be a nightmarish, Guernica-like chimera whose abyss we are quickly sliding toward. We must not falter or tarry; the time for change has come. The revolution starts now or it won’t start at all.
Osamah Khalil is a doctoral candidate in US and Middle East History at the University of California, Berkeley, focusing on US foreign policy in the Middle East. He is a Palestinian-American who has traveled, studied, and researched throughout the Middle East. He can be reached at okhalil AT berkeley DOT edu.