Time for New Palestinian Political Strategy
Palestinians had long lost confidence in their Palestinian Authority as their representative, who was supposed to defend their rights and work to achieve their statehood. Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian President, was imposed on the Palestinians in the 2005 election when the Israeli forces had arrested and restricted the movements of other Palestinian candidates and his campaign was given 94% of TV coverage. Although his presidency had expired in January of 2009 he is still, illegally and unconstitutionally, occupying his position. Polls had shown that his popularity is very low.
Palestinian Prime Minister, Salam Fayyad, and his government were also imposed on Palestinians when Abbas appointed him to the position after the democratically elected Hamas government foiled an American coup d’état that eventually caused a division between the Palestinians.
The Palestinians were deceived by the signing of the 1993 Oslo Accords. They were misled that the Accords would be merely the first step in a plan that would eventually lead to Israeli withdrawal back to the 1967 Armistice Lines and to the establishment of a Palestinian State in the West Bank and Gaza Strip by 1995. Thus Yasser Arafat had dramatically altered the charter of the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) to reflect a new strategy of denouncing the legitimate armed resistance (labeled violence at the time), abandoning the liberation of all Palestine, accepting and recognizing the existence of the Israeli state on 78% of Palestine, and announcing peaceful negotiations as the only strategic choice for solving the Palestinian/Israeli conflict.
Arafat and his PLO were allowed to enter the West Bank, and to establish a Palestinian Authority (PA), whose job was to administer the Palestinian affairs during the interim period until statehood. Without an independent economy, and being under the mercy of the American-controlled Quartet funding the PA had no power and no autonomy and eventually, under western pressure to fulfill the conditions of the Oslo Accord and the Road Map, functioned as an Israeli tool and a front line to guarantee Israeli security by quelling any Palestinian resistance to expanding Israeli colonization (settlements) in the West Bank. It further served to legitimize political concessions given to Israel in the hope for achieving the illusive statehood.
Although the PA had fulfilled the conditions of the Oslo Accord and all the other agreements that followed, the successive Israeli governments did not withdraw an inch from the Occupied Territories; rather, they adopted more aggressive expansionist policies.
Finally, recognizing that negotiations are not getting him even the smallest gain that he could show to his people, Arafat stopped cooperating and refused to give any more concessions. Western pressure was applied forcing him to accept the assignment of Mahmoud Abbas as the Prime Minister of the Palestinian Authority in 2003. Abbas was set to continue the negotiations. When Arafat did not grant Abbas any real power causing him to resign he was assassinated by poisoning. Abbas, then, took his place and continued the charade of futile negotiations.
The PA was established basically to enter into peace negotiations with Israel. Unfortunately its negotiating team is very weak since the PA had burnt all its bargaining chips by denouncing armed struggle, pursuing Palestinian freedom fighters and imprisoning them, being divided into Gaza Strip and Western Bank, and not having serious support from the rest of the Arab countries. On the other hand Israel holds all the cards; the Israeli army has total military control of all Palestine, controls the movement of Palestinians through hundreds of check points, controls all borders and determines who could leave or come into territories including all the Palestinian officials, controls all the Palestinian resources especially water, imprisons 1.5 million Gazans into an open prison besides the 11 thousand prisoners in Israeli jails, and encourages and finances extremist armed settlers, who routinely terrorize Palestinian civilians and build their own colonies on stolen Palestinian land. On top of all that Israel has the financial, military and political support of the US.
Lately the international civil communities in Europe and in the US started to sympathize with the Palestinian cause and to join a campaign of boycotting and divesting out of Israeli companies and Israeli educational systems especially after witnessing the latest crimes against humanity of Israeli governments committed against Palestinians in general, their war crimes in Gaza Strip, their crimes of international political assassinations, and their open sea piracy and flagrant violations of international laws and many UN resolutions.
Re-engaging into the futile theatrical charade of peace negotiations with the Palestinians has become a necessity for the Israeli government to give the impression that Israel is seeking peace. Of course Israel will impose its impossible to accept conditions in order to accuse Palestinians of being an obstacle to peace.
Lacking any bargaining power and without any serious support from their brethren Arab leaders or from the US controlled international political community the Palestinian negotiating team could do nothing except appeal to the Israeli sense of fairness to achieve any political gain. But Israeli governments have no sense of fairness or justice and aspire only for more expansion and for the ethnic cleansing of Palestinians.
The demands of the Palestinian negotiating team had shrunk dramatically. From the original struggle for liberating whole Palestine the PLO had downgraded its aspiration and strategy to acceptance of the Israeli occupation in the hope of establishing a Palestinian State on the meager 22% of original Palestine and then lately to a mere freeze of colonization (settlements) for just few months. It seems that the whole Palestinian cause has been summarized in settlements only. They have forgotten all other forms of Israeli occupation, oppression and terror such as the siege of Gaza, the arrest of civilians including women and children in mass, the theft of land, the terror of extremist religious settlers against Palestinian communities, the demolition of Palestinian homes especially in Jerusalem, the eviction of Palestinian Jerusalemites from their homes and the burning of Islamic mosques among the numerous other crimes.
The Israelis had stalled all peace negotiations. They never stopped their aggression against Palestinians; rather they intensified their oppression and their colonization specifically during peace talks. According to Ansar Al-Asra, a Palestinian human rights organization, Israel had focused its aggression towards Palestinian children targeting them for arrest, imprisonment, and torture in an attempt to break the spirit of resistance since childhood. Israelis never stopped expansion but increased it particularly during negotiations. They never dismantled any check point despite their claim of doing so. They continued imposing unacceptable pr-conditions to sabotage negotiations. Their so-called late freeze of settlement, which excluded settlements in East Jerusalem and the already ongoing settlements, came only to pull the legs of Palestinians into negotiations in an attempt to improve their internationally tarnished reputations after their piracy against the international humanitarian flotilla. Once negotiations started the settlements frenzy continued.
Statistics released by Land Research Centre show that during the 10 months of alleged freeze 120 illegal Israeli colonies were expanded , 1520 housing units were built, more Palestinian land was usurped, agricultural land was destroyed, 280 homes and other structures were demolished, and 13 Palestinian homes were seized by extremist settlers. On September 28th the Israeli high court gave a judgment for settlers to evacuate tens more of Palestinian families from their homes in Sheikh Jarrah, a Jerusalem neighborhood, to be occupied by Israeli settlers. On October 10th the Israeli Knesset succumbed to the demands of the extremist Avigdor Lieberman’s Yisrael Beitenu Party and approved the racist "loyalty oath" bill demanding every new immigrant to swear loyalty to "the Jewish democratic Israel". Such bill comes as a first step of transferring more Palestinians out of Israel.
For almost the last 20 years of peace talks between Palestinian negotiating team and the successive Israeli governments the Palestinians kept yielding one concession after the other while Israel kept expanding one settlement after the other. Israelis had never missed any opportunity to reject every Arab peace offer including the best offer Arabs could give, the 2002 Arab Peace Initiative that would guarantee Israeli security and normalize relationship with all its Arab nations providing Israel withdraws to pre-1967 borders. Peace contradicts with the Zionist expansionist dream in the Arab World.
There is a consensus that the path of peace negotiations has miserably failed and would never yield peace, yet members of the Palestinian negotiating team insist on negotiating because it secures their positions. Arab leaders support negotiations in the hope of containing the Arab/Israeli conflict in Palestine only. Israel wants negotiations to extract more political concessions. The US calls for negotiations in order to appear as an honest peace broker while at the same time guarantees Israeli military superiority in the region. The losers are Palestinians themselves; negotiations had harmed their cause; they have lost more land and more rights.
There is a dire need for an immediate new more assertive Palestinian political strategy. There is an urgent need for a new more effective Palestinian election, involving not only Palestinians under Israeli occupation, but also Palestinians in all Palestinian refugee camps and in exile, to choose a more representing political body, who would sincerely and assertively fight for the Palestinian rights on the international arena. The 17 years old Palestinian negotiating team with its futile negotiate-only mindset needs to be dismantled and be replaced with another team who is ready to negotiate only after Israel withdraws back to 1967 borders. The effectiveness of this new Palestinian body depends on the Arab League re-instating the Palestinian issue as the major Arab cause in totality and to support Palestinians in every form of resistance.
Further, and most important, the legitimate armed resistance to Israeli occupation must be re-introduced alongside the political struggle as an indispensable method for liberation. Aggressive armed resistance to the Israeli occupation is the only deterrent Palestinians have to stop Israeli expansion. The Egyptian October 1973 War liberating Suez Canal and Hezbollah’s liberation of south Lebanon in 2000 serve as good examples for the saying "what was stolen by force could not be regained except by force".
* Dr. Elias Akleh is an Arab writer from a Palestinian descent born in the town of Beit Jala. His family was first evicted from Haifa after the "Nakba" of 1948, then from Beit Jala after the "Nakseh" of 1967. He lives now in the US, and publishes his articles on the web in both English and Arabic.