Jul 19 2002

Damned if we do, damned if we don’t

Published by at 12:00 am under Articles,Palestinian politics

Palestinians are in a dilemma. We are not sure whom to trust, whom not to trust, what to do or not to do to end the human tragedy in which we find ourselves. To be sure, there are many who pretend to know what is best for us and for our future, but history shows that much of this external advice is self-serving rather than beneficial to Palestinians.

When European Zionists first came to Palestine and attempted to supplant the indigenous Palestinians, our great grandparents turned to the British, supporting them during the First World War, in the hope the area would be recognized as a Palestinian state. The Ottomans, rulers over the territory for four centuries, had sided with Germany during the 1914-18 war. The British told us: If you just help us in this war, the state will be yours.

After the war, however, we found that British foreign secretary Arthur Balfour had made a similar promise to European Jews, leaving Britain to sort out the mess during three decades of its mandate over Palestine. After the 1948 catastrophe (Israel’s “War of Independence”) that led to the expulsion of many of our people, Palestinian nationalists, such as the Palestine Liberation Organization, called for one state to be established between the Jordan River and Mediterranean Sea — a secular democratic state that would have a Palestinian majority.

By the late 1980s, with the encouragement of Palestinians under occupation who were waging the first intifada (popular uprising), the PLO reversed its traditional stand. It stopped calling for one state between the river and the sea and declared a Palestinian state alongside Israel. We had been told: If you just accept Israel, you’ll get your state in the West Bank and Gaza. In November, 1988, that’s what the PLO did.

More than 20 years later, Palestinians still don’t have a state and Israeli settlements in the West Bank and Gaza have more than doubled.

It wasn’t for lack of trying. Palestinians sought peace through an attempted international peace conference, secret talks, public negotiations, back channels, superpower sponsorships, U.S. intervention, United Nations mediation and resolutions, European Union troikas and special envoys, non-aligned efforts, Egyptian diplomacy, and even the efforts of a dying Jordanian monarch. All to no avail.

While all these external countries and organizations were trying — and failing — to find a solution, Palestinians also used a variety of means to establish the beginnings of statehood. We used non-governmental organizations to create quasi governmental institutions; we created trade unions and student unions. Writers, poets, singers, actors, dancers, musicians and all forms of art and media joined in the efforts of building a nation but, at the end of the day, we were left with the Israeli occupation.

Palestinian political activists followed many movements — Marxist and Maoist, nationalist and Islamist, secular and religious — but none has had any tangible results. We resisted the occupation using non-violent and violent means. We engaged in demonstrations, sit-ins, write-ins, graffiti, underground communications. We tried stone-throwing, shooting, suicide bombings. None of these methods has worked.

Several years ago, when multilateral negotiations were attempted, Palestinians were asked to bypass their leadership — to come to the table, not with the PLO as our representative, but under a joint Palestinian-Jordanian umbrella — for peace talks. World leaders advised us to lower our hopes, to forget about the return of the 1948 refugees, and to accept the exchange of some of our prime land — now housing Israeli settlements — for smaller strips of land in the desert. Palestinians agreed to all this, yet without any real change on the ground.

Patience was called for. Moderation was demanded, confidence-building measures were requested and still nothing.

Now, U.S. President George W. Bush has made the final demand: Just get rid of your leadership, choose someone who is not tainted by terrorism, and within three years there will be a state (whose borders and nature will have to be negotiated with Israel). But when even a moderate Palestinian such as Sari Nusseibeh, the President of Al Quds University and someone who has initiated a public petition against suicide bombings, is hounded by the Israelis, what are we to believe?

When he introduced his plan, Mr. Bush made a number of demands of the Palestinians. What did he require of the Israelis? He told them to reduce the travel restrictions placed on Palestinians. The Israeli response: continuous curfews in all Palestinian cities. He asked Israelis to pull back their troops to positions they held on Sept. 28, 2000. The Israeli reaction: incursions using tanks, assassinations using U.S.-made apache helicopters leading to the total reoccupation of every city of the West Bank, the restrictions and terrorizing of nearly two million Palestinians.

Mr. Bush tells us to trust him when he promises Palestinian statehood. Trust him? His people now tell us a parliamentary system is better than a presidential one. Not long ago, they told us we should have a strong presidency.

We are living a conundrum. If Palestinian groups that are in opposition to our leadership act, carrying out attacks on settlers or on Israelis in downtown Tel Aviv, the Palestinian Authority is held responsible. If the Palestinian Authority wants to work, its prisons and police stations are bombed. If Palestinians support suicide attacks they are considered a terrorist nation. If some, such as Mr. Nusseibeh, oppose these attacks they have their offices closed down for being too influential, a threat to Israeli sovereignty in Jerusalem.

Palestinians are supposed to shun our president in favor of our legislative assembly, but the assembly is paralyzed by the occupation, and leading members, such as Marwan Barghouti, are arrested; others forbidden to travel. The Palestinian Authority is to be democratic and transparent and, at the same time, ruthlessly crack down and dismantle opposition groups.

Resist — you’re a terrorist. Try to negotiate — you’re told Israel won’t negotiate when it is still threatened by attacks. If there is no resistance, as was the case for many years, Israel feels no reason or urgency to respond to the calls for an end to its occupation.

No matter what Palestinians do, or do not do, they are damned to live under occupation. Whoever they choose, or do not choose, to lead them, they will not be allowed the freedoms enjoyed by most nations.

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