SOME POLITICAL IMPERATIVES FACING THE PALESTINE NATIONAL MOVEMENT AND THE PALESTINIAN PEOPLE

Source: MSANEWS

English-language text of her unofficial political address sponsored by the

Palestinian General Delegation (PLO representation office) in London,

England, to the Association of the Palestinian Community, held at London

University’s School of Oriental and African Studies, 22 October 1997.

I Introduction

In discussing the political imperatives facing the Palestine national

movement, it is important to start with the meaning of the term

‘imperatives.’ Imperatives are something above the agenda of today or

tomorrow, something larger. They are about matters of survival, survival of

the Palestinians as a people, as a nation, as a political singularity

capable of speaking to the world with one voice. Such an attribute is not

inconsistent with political plurality, the multitude of changing political

trends and factions which have always existed under the PLO framework. For

it is one thing for the Palestinians to speak to each other in a plurality

of voices, but at the end of the day, they must be capable of

presenting a single voice to the world outside.

Without this capability, the Palestinians will become the next Armenians,

the next Kurds, peoples who have ceased to exist as peoples, peoples who

have been reduced to mere ethnicities, like the Arabs themselves after the

death of Arab nationalism. Once the idea of the common destiny is lost, the

various segments of a former people have nothing in common except the

objective attributes, like language and religion, and maybe even a common

past, but not a common future. The primary imperative, then, for the

Palestine national movement, is to arrest the progression of this type of

fragmentation, accelerated by Oslo, to protect the survivability of the

Palestinian people, to represent them all toward a common future.

II. The Inside-Outside Link

This means, first and foremost, restoring the severed link between

Palestinians inside Palestine, under occupation in both the 1948 and 1967

areas, and Palestinians in exile, both in the cities and refugee camps of

Arab cordon states and in faraway locations like Europe and America. After

all, the Palestinian population of close to six million, split almost

evenly between inside and outside as it is, is an inherently dichotomous

entity. But today the linkages are faltering, due to Israeli strategies to

cut apart the unity of the Palestinian people by turning the knife of

fragmentation at many different angles.

Israel through Oslo has fragmented the inside from the outside Palestinians

by creating an objective divergence of interests between them. After all,

without the right of return, even to the unlikely Palestinian mini-state,

the outside Palestinians have no interests in common with those inside.

They have no future to hope for from Oslo but the finality of the

dissolution of their rights, their final severance from the larger

Palestinian body, and the ‘solution’ of their problem as refugees in terms

of individuals, scattering them one last time to the various ends of the

earth – ‘le akhir al-dinya,’ as they say.

For there are Israeli plans right now to remove the refugees from the doors

to their homeland, especially those in Lebanon, and to send them to faraway

places like Iraq, Sudan, Australia, Canada, Scandanavia, and the United

States. The Israelis have even used the chairman of the international

relations committee of the United States Congress to petition the southern

Gulf states of the GCC to accept 30,000 Palestinian refugees each from

Lebanon, thereby ending for them the refugee question as a political

question, and foreclosing the implementation of the Palestinian right of

return as a historical possibility once and for all. Fortunately, the

target states have refused these plans, at least for now.

But the historical imperative facing the Palestine national movement must b

e faced head on; it is one that concerns the fears of the Palestinians

outside as to having been abandoned, and the responsibility of the

leadership toward them as equal members of the Palestinian nation. Can the

Palestinian problem be solved at the expense of fully half the population?

Could the Palestinians

inside bear the thought of carrying on into the future by themselves,

leaving behind their compatriots still trapped in exile? Must they not at

least have the practical right to return to a Palestinian state, at an

absolute minimum?

Restoring and constantly reinforcing the link between inside outside must

be done conceptually and operationally, in both theoretical and practical

terms, and it must be done immediately, before the Palestinians outside

despair of all faith in the fact that they too have a leadership. It means

in the first instance that the responsibility falls on the Palestine

national movement not to allow the Israelis to re-define the Palestinian

people in reductionist form as Camp David did, as ‘the inhabitants of the

West Bank and Gaza Strip.’ It requires focusing more political, diplomatic,

strategic and public relations attention on the Palestinian refugee

question, restoring it as the central problematic that it deserves to be,

as one of the critical problems to be solved in accordance with inalienable

Palestinian rights, as a question with the same historical and political

weight as the settlements or Jerusalem. It requires the practical act of

restoring the PLO funds and services to the refugees in Syria and Lebanon,

to make up for the severe cutbacks in contributions by UNRWA and the

international charities. It requires the Palestine national movement to

energetically and enthusiastically seek out and expose all those schemes

aimed at re-scattering the refugees outside to faraway destinations and

using all available means to combat those schemes and prevent them from

reaching fruition. It also requires that the successor or successors to

Chairman Arafat, specifically as head of the PLO (as opposed to the

Palestinian Authority), to be acceptable to the Palestinians outside as

well as inside, and that the outside half be given the chance to

participate meaningfully and actively in the succession debate.

After all, the Palestinians outside have participated equally in

Palestinian suffering as those inside, if not more so, their rights are no

less salient, and their coherence as a political force is no less vital to

the ultimate survivability of the Palestinian people as a nation. For the

Palestinian tragedy is defined just as much by exile as it is by

occupation; indeed, the very birth of the Palestinian problem resulted in

the first instance from an act of exile and only secondarily from an act of

occupation onto the emptied lands.

Finally, it is important to mention that preserving the inside-outside link

falls primarily on one element of the Palestine national movement, that is,

on Fatah. This is because the other political factions, while they must be

respected, have in front of them impediments which prevent them from

becoming that single voice which Palestinians present to the world, the

voice that used to come under the heading of the PLO as the sole legitimate

representative of the Palestinian people.

First, the secular factions outside have two impediments. One, they do not

have entirely the independent decision. Two, they do not have sufficient

presence inside Palestine. The Islamist factions have exactly the opposite

problem: born almost entirely of the Intifadah, they have very little

presence among Palestinians outside compared to what they have inside,

primarily they have representative and public relations offices, and safe

havens for their leaders. They are expending too little effort to obtain a

following outside, which is apparent from their elaboration of political

and strategic priorities, as well as from their operational recruitment

efforts. Indeed, not all of them recognise the primary existential concerns

of Palestinians outside as central to the Palestinian cause at large,

concerns such as the ultimate answer to the refugee question; when

confronted with the refugee dispersion schemes, they do not always

recognise them as problematic, much less as a cause for alarm. To an inside

Palestinian, the equivalent would be to say that the settlements or

the Israeli absorption of East Jerusalem do not represent a cause for alarm

or concern.

Given these deficiencies experienced by the other political factions, this

most crucial and vital link between outside, that which joins the two

sectors or halves of the Palestinian people, is preserved today only within

the structures of Fatah; therefore, it is on the shoulders of Fatah that

this most basic imperative of its continuation must fall. Without it, if a

situation emerges whereby Palestinian conceptions of self-interest are

allowed to diverge based on the country of residence, what will distinguish

the Palestinians of future years from the Kurds, who have sectors in

Turkey, in Iraq, and in Iran, all with different leaders, separate

aspirations, diverging futures?

III. The Dangers of Emigration

Palestinians in the refugee camps outside are becoming increasingly

attracted to the prospect of emigration; this is particularly rampant among

the new generation. The cause is a variety of ‘push’ factors of economic

destitution and distress and lack of hope in return to Palestine, combined

with foreign ‘pull’ factors deliberately exerted by Israeli interests in

bringing about Palestinian self-dispersion. Doors of immigration are

miraculously opening in many Western countries, complete with propaganda

enticing them to leave their temporary homes for permanent ones outside

Palestine. The result has been the gradual yet alarming de-population of

the refugee camps; the Beirut camps, for instance, have lost fully half

their populations in the last 5-10 years.

Even more startling is that the emigration scheme is being targeted by

foreign forces not only against Palestinians outside, but equally among

those inside, even in PA areas. In the Gaza Strip, for instance,

Palestinians report that the foreign advertisements encouraging emigration

from Palestine have recently been on the increase. And there is a growing

tendency on the part of these Palestinians to be attracted to the foreign

attempts to ‘pull’ them out, given the disastrous economic situation

imposed on the inside by the post-1993 Israeli siege operation called by

the name of ‘closure.’ Even the most enthusiastic former political cadres

are now contemplating emigration, not for themselves, they say, but for the

sake of their children.

Exposing these foreign schemes, which can be called under the general

heading of the emigration war, and inventing strategies to counter them,

represent another urgent political imperative facing

the Palestine national movement. It requires taking political, diplomatic,

strategic, and public relations steps to counter the operational aspects of

the foreign schemes, both above and below

the ground. Failure to face this imperative will result in the gradual

erosion of the Palestinian population base and in another wave of

de-population, both from Palestine itself and from surrounding areas

outside. One way to face it is through mass education regarding the dangers

of emigration, and by providing something constructive for those

Palestinians to do other than emigrate; the leadership must give them both

the means and the hope to stay where they are, and a political reason to do

so.

IV. Contingency Planning for PA Failure

Before addressing this very sensitive subject, I want to clarify one thing,

very well. I am one of those the leadership in the PLO did not do this

agreement by its own choice, but under some kind of duress. After the Iraq

war there was a financial crisis, a political crisis in the form of an

increasingly relevant Hamas, and a geographical crisis, in that the

pressure from the United States government on Tunisia to expel the PLO from

Tunis had become overbearing. Washington wanted the PLO to agree to

Israel’s terms, and the pressure of possibly losing its headquarters was

supposed to function as an additional inducement.

Is it possible the PLO could represent the Palestinian people from Cuba?

The truth is that the PLO had to get inside by any means possible, to live

and fight another day, much along the same lines

as why they left Beirut in 1982. Had the PLO been allowed to fade into

historical irrelevance, nobody would be left in the area to represent the

Palestinian aspirations, or to hold the Palestinian

people together, or to carry their cause across the bridge that joins the

past to the future. Under these conditions, the PLO did what they thought

they had to do, not because they wanted to accept

those terms, but because they thought they had to.

Regardless of these facts, there is a dangerous trend emerging among many

of those who used to combat Israel from both a political and a humanistic

perspective, who used to oppose the occupation in the 1967 areas in

particular, to divert their opposition wrath from Israel onto the

Palestinian Authority. This is something very wrong, it is a fatal

distraction from the main problem, which remains the Israeli occupation in

almost all of Palestine, with the exception of the besieged the Gaza Strip,

whose entire population has since been sentenced to life imprisonment. Let

no one imagine the West Bank is approaching statehood; if anything it is

being absorbed even more rapidly. One comparison of the reality on the

ground in the West Bank today versus three or four years ago

reveals that the West Bank is beginning to look more and more like the

colonised 1948 areas and less and less like Palestine, with the exception

of the legalisation of Palestinian national symbols in

the populated cities. Over the course of this time, the signs have been

removed from the Palestinian villages, and the Green Line, if anything, has

been erased.

The truth is that the Israelis have found in Oslo a solution to their

Intifadah problem: a way to withdraw from the people without withdrawing

from the land. Today the Palestinians under

occupation cannot even see the faces of their enemies due to the physical

interpolation of PA soldiers. It is common for all people to focus on what

is right in front of their face rather than on the

big picture, and right now it is the Palestinian Authority that is right in

front of their face. However, Israel remains there as it was before,

surrounding them, imprisoning them inside their small

enclosures, preventing almost all travel to or through East Jerusalem, and

completely cutting off all movement between the West Bank and Gaza Strip,

to the point where people have begun to refer

to travel between them in the same terms as ‘traveling overseas’ – all this

is done in the name of peace.

Anyone who becomes distracted and forgets about this reality, anyone who

focusses his or her wrath on the political or administrative faults or

flaws of the PA, and especially anyone who raises the slogan of an

‘Intifadah against the PA,’ not only have they distorted the memory and

spirit of the Intifadah, but their motives in this instance should be

doubted because this is exactly what Israel wants, it is the work of Israel

whether intended or not. For Israel would like nothing more than to prove

to the world that the Palestinians are unable to rule themselves even in

this limited way, and how therefore could they ever be ‘trusted’ with

independence?

One can acknowledge that the PA has faults without focussing on it. The

central flaw of the PA is that it is not an independent entity, though it

seeks as its primary objective to become one. But

since it is not now independent, it cannot be treated as a state to be held

to the same standards as the government of an independent state would be,

or even as an independent organisation would be. In other words, the PLO

can be held to such high standards, but the PA, under its current

circumstances, cannot.

And even though, structurally speaking, the PA has been put in the position

of a Gen. Lahad, it does not, as a national force, fit well into that role.

This position is accepted only under the most extreme duress, it is born of

neither surrender nor treason, and anyone who compares the personage of

Arafat to the personage of Lahad is not familiar with the long struggle of

the PLO. Therefore it is very important not to allow a criticism of the PA

to displace the struggle against the occupation and the exile, or to take

precedence over it, for this will only further weaken the fragile

Palestinian position and relieve the Israelis of the burden of Palestinian

pressure that used to be exerted onto it. Even worse, it will ultimately

destroy the very concept of Palestinian nationalism, which has, in its

entirety, and perhaps wrongly, been temporarily reduced and encapsulated

into the safe-keeping

container of the PA.

This leads to the very important conclusive imperative, which is the

creation of a contingency plan in the event that the PA should fall or be

destroyed as a national force. This could happen as a result of a multitude

of factors. It could happen by virtue of an Israeli- Palestinian war,

between the Israeli army and the Palestinian police, the so-called

‘Intifadah with weapons.’ It could happen as a result of a crisis of

succession, in the midst of which the PA is so weakened that Israel is able

to find a leader or leaders who will do its bidding truly, and in which the

PA is transformed into the 1990s version of the Village Leagues. It is at

that time that the Palestinian Gen. Lahad will emerge, or even two Lahads,

one responsible for the West Bank cities and one for Gaza, or a plurality

of Lahads, one responsible for each ‘autonomous’ area, with no connection

between them except the competition for US and Israeli favour. It could

happen by virtue of Israeli intransigence, in which the PA loses

credibility as a national force capable of ever liberating the West Bank

and Gaza Strip

through negotiations; this is the particular track on which history is

currently moving.

Given these possibilities, and history (like physics) is all about the

probable realisation of possibilities, a central imperative emerges, the

imperative of a post-Oslo contingency. There must be a contingency plan by

the PLO and especially by Fatah in case the PA collapses or is altered

beyond recognition. For even if the Palestinian Authority dies, the

Palestinian people must still live. And it must be understood that the

central feature dictating the effectiveness of a contingency plan is that

is preparation must be completed before the historical inevitability of the

projected contingency has become obvious.

To prepare for such a contingency, it is imperative to restore substance to

the PLO structure and not allow the organisation to become an empty shell.

It is not strategically sound to encapsulate

the entire substance of Palestinian nationalism in the weak and fragile PA,

which exists in a context of an Israeli occupation which surrounds and

imprisons it, and which may someday destroy it;

it is more sound to leave some of the substance in the more independent

framework of the PLO, which is international and not surrounded, and hence,

not so easily destroyed. The PLO can be

something larger and higher than the PA, representing all Palestinians

everywhere, embodying Palestinian nationalism in the larger sense, inside

and outside, without taking away in the slightest bit from the integrity or

authority of the PA. The PA can be seen simply as the internal branch of

the PLO, the embryonic government inside, until such time as full

independence has been achieved. It is only at that time when the PLO can be

secure in actually becoming the Palestinian state and transferring all its

people and its substance back to the Palestinian homeland.

Also due to the lingering uncertainties, it is important to leave some of

the important PLO figures and cadres on the outside, not only the PLO

foreign minister in Tunis, but also the leaders of the refugee populations

outside. Removing these leaderships to the inside will do nothing but

deprive huge sections of the Palestinian people of whatever semblance of

leadership they have left, to very

little gain, all the while making the PLO even more vulnerable by bringing

all its capable figures and fighting forces under the jurisdiction of

Israel, and within its easy reach. And, in the final analysis, what kind of

leaders would they be, if all of them returned to Palestine without

bringing their people home with them? It only makes sense for all the

outside leaders to return when an independent state has been declared and

the refugees given the practical option of returning to the territory of

such a state.

It is equally imperative to create a structure of survivability within the

PLO organisation and its core element Fatah, something capable of existing

if need be in a post-Oslo or post-PA phase, some phoenix that could rise

intact from the ashes of a fallen, collapsed, or altered PA. Again the

effectiveness of such contingency planning depends totally on building the

dormant potential replacement structures well before the projected

contingency has had the chance to become manifest.

Finally, and I leave this until last to emphasise its importance, the PLO

must never, never give up its military option, either inside or outside,

for this is its only source of leverage. And by this I do not refer to the

‘threat’ of another Intifadah. After all, the Intifadah was a unique war in

that it was conducted by civilians, including many children, but today the

civilians are tired and cannot be asked to do such a thing again.

Furthermore, Israel is not afraid of another Intifadah, because the new

structures of closure and prevention of normal Palestinian movement do not

support Intifadah-style combat or Intifadah tactics. Fighting a new

Intifadah is the same as fighting the last war and it will not work. While

the people may do it under instructions, their heart will not be in it.

They are cynical about it because they think it is only for show, and that

they are being asked to sacrifice as civilians simply for purposes of show.

This means that the military option should be of para-military form and not

civilian form. If there must be a model it should not be that of the

Intifadah; instead it should embody a combination of

Hezbollah and Hamas tactics to be implemented anywhere in the country and

not specifically in the West Bank or Gaza Strip. The military option that

should be preserved is of the old style, and I am not saying whether or not

it should be operationalised now or whether it should stand dormant, only

that it is imperative that such structures and capabilities be quietly

constructed and preserved fully intact. Israel does not surrender its

military option against the Palestinians where they live, peace agreement

or no peace agreement, and therefore, what strategic logic dictates that

the much weaker Palestinian side should do so? After all, who ever in world

politics made concessions to a powerless enemy, incapable of violence? The

answer is no one. States do not concede power to others out of altruism, or

because of justice or recognition of rights or any of the other synonyms

for altruism.

And it is on this note of calculated realpolitik that I close.

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