Jun 21 2007

Whither Palestine?

Published by at 1:40 pm under Articles,Palestinian politics

Recent violence in the Palestinian territories means that the goal of a truly independent Palestinian state has became more remote than at any time since the second intifada.

Since 1967, and before, the aspirations of Palestinians to liberty and independence have repeatedly hit one snag after another. There is plenty of room to place the blame on Palestinians themselves, Arabs, and the international community. Palestinians have failed to measure accurately their own powers in comparison to the Israelis. The Arab states gave plenty of lip service to the Palestinian cause and the international community spent more on weapons to the region rather than efforts to encourage all sides to a peaceful resolution.

But while Palestinians and others could have done more to try to enable their own independence, the biggest single power that actually was causing the continuation of the occupation was Israel. As an occupying power with military control over the land, Israel has given lip service to peace but in reality hesitated in ending its illegal occupation. Despite their legal and political spin, this Israeli refusal to leave the occupied territories was in direct contravention to what the preamble to the Security Council Resolution 242 termed the “inadmissibility of the acquisition of territory by war.”

This year, 40 years after the passing of that resolution, many felt that the Palestinian cause was finally on the verge of a political resolution. The Arab peace plan, which calls for normalization by all 23 Arab countries with Israel in return for its withdrawal to the ’67 borders (reiterated with more zeal this year), responds to the deepest Israeli aspiration of being accepted in the Middle East.

The current American president and his secretary of state seemed focused on seeing the birth of the state of Palestine alongside Israel on the ground, and not just in words. This spring Jordan’s King Abdullah gave the strongest pro-Palestinian speeches ever made to the joint sessions of Congress. He argued that a breakthrough is needed quickly before the Americans get bogged down with the ’08 presidential elections and another window of opportunity is closed. The Israelis, while reeling from an unsuccessful war in Lebanon, also seem ready to make what Israeli prime minister Ehud Olmert called “painful compromises.”

With all this potential — or possibly because of it — the Gaza strip erupted in internal violence last week, which ended in Hamas militants taking over Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas’s security offices. That left the Palestinian president no choice but to declare a state of emergency, dismiss the Hamas-led government, and appoint an independent former banker (who is close to Condoleezza Rice) as interim prime minister.

Many today feel that the situation in the Gaza strip threatens to evaporate the dream of Palestinian statehood. But does it really?

Forty years after the Israeli occupation of Gaza and the West Bank (including Jerusalem) Palestinians have failed to find the magic formula for their liberation. They have attempted cross border violence, Arab and international diplomacy, secret talks, nonviolent resistance, suicide attacks, cross-border rockets, regional Arab initiatives, and international peace envoys, but nothing has succeeded in cracking this difficult nut called the Israel occupation.

After the initial small guerrilla attacks across the Jordan River in the late 1960s, highlighted by the battle of al Karameh (the name means “pride” in Arabic), the Palestinian Liberation Organization quickly assumed the role of representing the Palestinian people fighting both inter-Arab and international battles of legitimacy.

While the Palestinian intifada in 1987 refocused attention to the occupied territories, it also succeeded in toning down the PLO’s rhetoric, ultimately resulting in Yasser Arafat declaring a Palestinian state on the ’67 borders. And thus the Palestinians adopted the two-state solution which has now become an international mantra.

The blind rejection by Israel of the PLO in the 1970s paralleled the feeling of impotence from dependence on pan-Arab nationalism, and gave birth to an Islamic movement that worked for some time on building its grassroots institutions and concentrating on social welfare.

The failure of the Palestinian national movement played into the hands of Islamists who felt, as their logo states, that “Islam is the solution.” The Islamic Resistance Movement (its acronym in Arabic is Hamas) entered the anti-Israeli arena during the first intifada in 1987, but grew more powerful after the return of Arafat and the creation of the Palestinian Authority. The Authority, which came about as a result of the Oslo Accords (rejected immediately by Hamas), was considered to be yet another failure because it didn’t produce the coveted end to the Israeli occupation — or even the end of the illegal Jewish settlement activities. Some argue that, unlike secular Palestinian nationalists who were looking for a speedy resolution based on the two-state solution, Hamas Islamists were in no such rush. They were still looking for a change of Palestinian society along with the aspiration that all Palestinian refugees be allowed to return to the state of Israel.

When the Al Aqsa Intifada erupted in 2000, enough light weapons had entered the Palestinian territories to ensure that this uprising would be violent. For its part ,Hamas, which saw in the failure of the Barak-Arafat-Clinton Camp David plan the death of Oslo, became more daring in its attacks, causing more civilian Israeli fatalities and provoking a strident Israeli response.

Not only did the second Palestinian intifada push farther away the possibility of a compromise settlement, it reintroduced the Israeli fear that any deal was unlikely to stick. With mistrust ruling the day, the aspiration of a truly independent, viable Palestinian state with territorial integrity has become increasingly remote.

On the ground, the die was set for a split between Gaza and the West Bank when Hamas suicide attacks became more common. Since then, movement between the two sectors of Palestine (separated from each other by Israeli territory) became extremely difficult and the idea of a large Gaza prison began to take shape.

The Israeli withdrawal from Gaza two years ago, and the nearly full sealing of the Erez checkpoint between Gaza and Israel, meant that the Rafah crossing point was the only point of entry or exit for Gazans to the rest of the world. With Rafah being closed many more days than open, the national claustrophobia of Gazans began to grow. The physically encircled Gaza strip also had to deal with the unjust economic siege that was placed on the elected Palestinian government. The Hamas lead government was internationally ostracized for a position on recognition of Israel similar to that of the Saudis and many other Arab countries.

While Hamas calls for an Islamic state in all of mandatory Palestine, in the recent Mecca agreement they accepted that the PLO negotiate so long as the outcome is put to a referendum. Hamas has accepted the concept of a Palestinian state on the ’67 borders without explicitly mentioning Israel or agreeing to formally recognize it. Saudi Arabia and many Arab states have similarly refused to recognize Israel until it withdraws to the ’67 borders.

The latest violence in Gaza has created a de facto Islamic (i.e. Hamas) security control over Gaza and a nationalist (i.e. PLO) control — along with a new emergency government — in the West Bank. The international community will quickly open up the money faucet to the non-Hamas government, and Gaza will be left to burn and starve under the rule of the Palestinian Islamists. George Bush has called President Abbas and pledged a renewal of diplomatic and financial support to the emergency government in the West Bank. International aid will most likely also come to UN agencies serving in Gaza to alleviate the human suffering, but it is unlikely that anyone will support the de facto government there.

Ironically as a result of the current emergency situation, Palestinian statehood is a very serious possibility today in parts of the West Bank without the old city of Jerusalem and without a corridor to Gaza. But is it the contiguous territory and viable independent state that Palestinians have dreamed of? That seems unlikely. A Palestinian state is therefore either a real possibility or next-to-impossible depending on what shape and borders such a state would have.


Daoud Kuttab is an award winning Palestinian journalist and the director of the Institute of Modern Media at Al Quds University in Ramallah.

3 responses so far

3 Responses to “Whither Palestine?”

  1. Matton 22 Jun 2007 at 12:48 am

    Please share info about how the Palestinians tried nonviolent resistance and failed.

  2. Daoudon 29 Jun 2007 at 9:28 am

    please visit the site http://www.holylandtrust.org or google palestinian nonviolence

  3. Rajan Rishyakaranon 04 Aug 2007 at 3:29 pm

    That’s an Islamist propaganda website! Palestine Authority still bans many Christian denominations such as Jehovah’s Witnesses and Mormons. Yet it allows the heretical Coptic Church (which is Monophysite) to operate. Hypocrisy? Well, most Palestinians are for the most part munafik!

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