Jul 14 2002

Palestinians are damned if they do, and damned if they don’t

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

Palestinians are in a dilemma. They are not sure what to do or not do, who to trust and what they have to do to end the human tragedy that they find themselves. 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 Jewish Zionists first came to Palestine and attempted to replace the indigenous Palestinians, Palestinians tried to side with the British with the hope of freedom after world war one. The Ottomans who had reversed Arab improvements over fifty years, had sided with Germany. After the war the Brits reneged on their promises to Arabs revealing a parallel promise made by Balfour to the Jews. In the aftermaths of the 1948 catastrophe that led to the expulsion of Palestinians, the nationalist’s call was for a secular democratic state.

In the late 1980s, with encouragement from Palestinians under occupation who were conducting an intifada a popular uprising the PLO reversal of its traditional stand. It stopped calling for one state between the river and the Mediterranean for all its citizens and declared a Palestinian state alongside Israel. More than twenty years later, Palestinians still don’t have a state and Israeli settlements in the West Bank and Gaza have more than doubled since then. No peaceful effort was spared. Palestinians sought peace through an attempted international peace conference, secret talks, public negotiations, back channels, super power sponsorships, US intervention, UN mediation and resolutions, EU troikas and special envoys, non-aligned efforts, Egyptian diplomacy, and even the efforts of a dying monarch. All to no avail.

While externally all these countries and organizations tried and failed, Palestinians also used a variety of means of trying to get rid of a foreign immovable military occupation. Palestinian efforts included using NGOs to create quasi-governmental institutions, trade unions and student unions were added to the struggle. Writers, poets, singers, actors, dancers, musicians and all forms of art and media was included in the efforts of nation building but without success at ending the core of the conflict, the Israeli occupation.

Palestinian political movements included Marxists and Maoists, Nationalists and Islamists, secular and religious but without any tangible results.

In resisting the occupation Palestinians used a variety of methods. From non violent to extremely violent. From demonstrations, to sit ins to write ins to wall graffiti, underground communications to stone throwing, shootings, and suicide bombings. None of these methods have worked.

Palestinians were asked to bypass their leadership, to offer representatives other than the PLO, to accept a joint Palestinian-Jordanian umbrella for peace talks. International leaders called on Palestinians to lower their hopes and aspirations, forget about the return of the refugees and accept exchange of their prime land for smaller strips of land in the desert. And 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 yet nothing.

Now US president George Bush has made the final demand. Just get rid of your leadership, choose someone who is not tainted with terrorism i.e. a quisling and within three years there will be a state whose borders and nature will have to be negotiated with Israel. Even a moderate Palestinian like the president of Al Quds University, Sari Nusseibeh who has initiated a public petition against suicide bombings, is harassed and restricted by the Israelis. US position, public discomfort, but the Israeli occupation’s facts on the ground persist undeterred.

When he introduced his so called peace plan, the US president made a number of demands of the Israelis. What did Bush require of the Israelis? Scale down travel restrictions to Palestinians. Israeli response, continuous curfews in all Palestinian cities. Israel was also asked to remove its troops back to their locations on September 28th 2000. Israeli reaction, incursions using tanks, assassinations using US-made apache helicopters leading to the total reoccupation of every city of the West Bank, the restrictions and terrorizing of nearly two million Palestinians.

President US Bush wants Palestinians to trust him when he promises statehood, if the leadership is changed. We are now told a parliamentarian system is better than a presidential one. Earlier we were told that we should have a strong presidency. Four months ago the same George Bush demanded of the Israeli army to withdraw “immediately” and “I mean today and not tomorrow.” Result no withdrawal at no cost from the American superpower.

If the opposition acts, the Palestinian Authority is held responsible. If the Palestinian Authority wants to work, its prisons and police stations are bombed. If Palestinians support suicide acts they are considered a terrorist nation. If some oppose (as in Nusseibeh) they are declared as weak and ineffectual. If the office of the President is to be shunned then the natural place to be given room to maneuver is the Palestinian parliament. But this too has been paralyzed by the occupation, which arrests its members (like Marwan Barghouti) and denies its members freedom of travel, which is enshrined in all international treaties. The Palestinian Authority must be democratic and transparent and at the same time crack down, if need be using state security courts, as Al Gore advised, to dismantle opposition groups.

If there is resistance, Palestinians are branded terrorists and Israel (with US backing) insists that terrorists will not be rewarded. When Palestinians are asked to negotiate rather than resist Israel refuses to negotiate under “terror.” If there is no resistance, as was the case for tens of years, Israel feels no reason or urgency to respond to the calls for an end to its occupation. No matter what Palestinians do or not do they are damned to live under occupation. Whoever they choose or not choose they will not be allowed natural freedoms provided to all people of the earth.

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