Azmi Bishara’s lecture at the opening of the Second Annual Conference of Research Centers in the Arab World: The Palestinian Cause and the Future of the Palestinian National Movement, December 2013:
The Palestinian National Movement: Impasse and Future Horizons
When writing on the Palestinian cause, researchers find themselves torn between their national and humanitarian duty, on the one hand, and the need to adopt a relative standard of objectivity when interpreting events, so as to conduct rational assessments of reality, on the other. This dilemma, in turn, raises questions regarding the optimism or pessimism likely to be the outcome of an objective analysis—should hopes then be pinned on objective scholarly analysis that may push toward the “pessimism of the intellect”? Or, rather, should, )to use the language of Hume, Kant (one wager on the “will to act” and on the “optimism of the will” to search for change, a type of action that is based on understanding reality, while through this “optimism of the will” change it and create new realities. I tend to side with the notion that hope is based on action and the will for change, and that action may be guided by rational analysis, though such analysis cannot serve as a basis for hope.
Ultimately, there is no contradiction between academic knowledge, national duty, and the search for a higher purpose, such as freedom and justice. This is certain, for the main purpose of knowledge in the social sciences and the humanities is in freedom. Even so, one requires a dose of “enlightened optimism” in order to believe that scientific knowledge is the best tool to push societies forward and to seek a more just society. Great events and even greater calamities witnessed since the eighteenth century, a century marking this historical optimism in progress, however, have made us increasingly skeptical about the inseparability of knowledge and justice.
In our strive for progress, according to the standards of freedom and justice, we, as scientists and researchers, must perform our scientific duty with objectivity while simultaneously fulfilling our ethical duty that dictates a national responsibility toward our people, with complete bias. Ethics are, however, dependent on our understanding of good and evil and our belonging to a national and human community. We may disagree over the prioritization of communities, from the smallest to the broader human community or, vice versa, from the wider human community to a narrower, national one. Nevertheless, the ethics of both communities should overlap with a national liberation cause if it were just, for the smaller community in this instance is also the wider one, and the cause of one community is also a humanist cause when the people in question are being subjected to injustice according to universal humanist values. In the case of Palestine, we are discussing an injustice that afflicted an entire people, an ongoing project of settlement that has expelled millions of people from their homeland, whose children have maintained their identity as Palestinian refugees within the so-called Palestinian Diaspora, and millions of others who live in a reality of racist colonial apartheid and occupation.
Much effort has been expended in recent decades to formulate a different label for the Palestinian cause, such the Middle East Crisis (which we never hear anymore) and references to “the Palestinian National Authority in the West Bank,” “Israeli Arabs,” “the disbanded cabinet,” “the peace process,” and talk of Jerusalem and the West Bank as if they were two separate entities, not to mention the fact that the international media lexicon has become rampant with Zionist terms, such as “the Arabs of the Land of Israel,” “Judea and Samaria,” “legal and illegal settlements,” and so forth.
In order to make a clear value judgment over what is taking place in our countries with regards to the Palestinian cause, it is necessary to filter out all these terms and the accumulated layers created by the Zionist hegemony over the political discourse on Palestine, in addition to the ideological battles and the conflicts between Arab regimes, the political negotiations, and the projection of conflict over identity and history in Europe and the US regarding the Jewish Question on us. Only then will we be able to view the Palestinian issue as a cause of a people expelled from their land and whose homeland was stolen.
Moreover, only then will we be able to see that during the establishment of a political entity on the territory of a Palestinian homeland, racist and colonial policies have been, and continue to be, perpetually and relentlessly practiced. These policies can be summarized as confiscation, expropriation or armed theft, starting with the confiscation of Palestinian lands and their distribution to migrants under different justifications to the confiscation of history, memory, and even names, an expropriation that turned into a process of complete displacement.
Here, we do not need to categorize people into “good” and “evil”; those subjected to injustice are not necessarily good, nor are those practicing injustice evil as individuals. Those who fall into the trap of these simplistic generalizations tend to move further away from the concept of justice, and begin to judge Palestinians as morally superior, and other illusions to which some of the best Palestinian intellectuals have fallen victim. Adopting such a perspective also leads to dealing with the other side as “the evil camp,” or as demons rather than oppressors, while remaining oblivious to the social, political, and economic dynamics that are taking place within the occupying power, and ignoring the correct distinction between those who are practicing occupation and those who live under occupation. Those struggling against occupation are indeed defending a just cause, but this does not mean that falling under occupation is a virtue, just as the mere fact of going to prison is not, in itself, a virtue. Struggling against occupation is just even if it leads to prison, and struggling against unjust imprisonment is also a just cause regardless of the nature of the prisoner.
At the other extreme are those who completely abandon moral judgment and fall into the trap of admiring the oppressor because they conclude that progress and development have led to the oppressor’s supremacy, while denigrating the oppressed and viewing their backwardness as responsible for the loss of their national and individual rights. In fact, even the oppressed may come to admire the oppressor if they lose the balance between the knowledge required to diagnose the relationship between the occupier and the occupied and the moral judgment toward this state of affairs.
We do not need to discuss historical rights, the formation of nations, and international law in order to fathom that a clear injustice has been dealt to the Palestinian people or that this injustice is still being practiced, constantly reproducing a colonial reality and a structure of racial discrimination that the world, it appears, has grown accustomed to coexist with.
However, researching the historical claims and the justifications advanced by each side; the question of the existence and the formation of a Palestinian people; the Jewish Question in Europe and its overlap with the Palestinian cause (undoubtedly adding a measure of specificity and complication to the matter); the impact of the Question of Palestine on the Arab peoples and even on the ideological formulation of Arab nationalism; the emergence of ideological Arab regimes in the 1950s; the effect of the Nakba on the liberal Arab phase during the interwar period; and the relationship between the Palestinian Nakba and the emergence of Arab military regimes are all part of a domain of study that requires research knowledge of fact. These questions have been our main concern throughout our research agenda, and should remain our priority in the future, as should producing a documented historiography of the history of Palestine and the Palestinian cause to counter the Zionist narrative. Focusing on these questions, however, is in no way an alternative to “struggle for justice”— i.e. a value-based ethical stance and the actions based on such a stance.
If the Zionist academic establishment has the right to use theoretical and applied social sciences, history, and other disciplines in order to understand and nullify the hurdles facing absorbing Zionist immigration to Palestine, to understand the social and cultural structures of migrations, to learn military sociology, and to understand the history of Palestine and the structure of the Palestinian people—all for the purposes of domination, justification of policies, and formulation of future predictions—then what of the people who were, and remain, the victims of these Zionist practices? It is our right, our duty to be guided by scholarly analysis in the pursuit of a just cause. For these reasons it is fitting to hold an academic conference addressing the “Palestinian Cause and the Future of the Palestinian National Movement”.
Once we agree on the necessity of adopting a rational methodology and a genuine will to learn, we quickly find that one of the main obstacles to research and scientific thinking on the Palestinian cause is the existence of epistemological “idols” that are formed in each historical phase, and that appear sacred and taboo for a certain period of time. These “idols” are, in reality, the mere product of a specific phase, but their sanctification tends to last even after that historical phase has passed. There have been phases during which the Palestinian cause was seen as a question of Jewish immigration at the expense of the Palestinian population, who plead with the colonial powers to make them understand the limited absorptive capacity of Palestine. In another era, the cause was viewed as a question of British ambitions in the Levant. During another, in the midst of a wave of national liberation movements, the Palestinian cause was seen as a case of struggle for liberation from colonialism. During the tide of Arab nationalism, we had interminable debates: what should precede the other—Arab unity or the liberation of Palestine? The Left had its own terms through which it understood the Palestinian cause—a cause of class struggle within Palestine itself, and with the wider region, against Zionism, Arab reactionary forces, and imperialism. The Islamist movement also had its own terms, as did the nationalist movement. All these perspectives led to generalizations stemming from specific perspective; even if these terms may be useful for those holding these viewpoints, they become harmful when they declare themselves as a holistic, exclusivist perspective that explains the totality of reality, eventually subjugating reality to ideology. In such a context, competing perspectives are not content to see each other as flawed, but as political rivals.
Most often, ideology ends up losing the world of scientific knowledge and the world of ethics because ideology does not gaze into reality in order to understand it, but to select from it whatever affirms it, thus judging reality in an unscientific, often pseudo-scientific manner. Ideology, moreover, makes value decisions based on the answer to the questions: “with me or against me?” and “in whose interest”? Thus, ideology loses its ethical quality.
Our mission does not simply consist of breaking down these “idols,” or demystifying flawed perspectives, but of assimilating and surpassing these discourses as well. The class-based perspective is not a complete fallacy, nor is the nationalist perspective, the Islamist religious one, or the liberal. These are all viewpoints that have emerged from reality, and would be useful if we understood their historical sources and their limits; they become, however, an obstacle to knowledge and to the ethical judgment of justice when they insist on imposing themselves as a comprehensive theory that is capable of explaining all. My intention here is not to offer a historical review (despite the need for such critical work), or to argue against different perspectives; instead, I shall attempt to discuss the subject of our conference, one which was not chosen arbitrarily.
The Center had three main justifications for holding a conference on the Palestinian cause: to contribute to the formulation of a research agenda on Palestine that goes beyond what has been offered so far; to send a message from Arab and Palestinian academics expressing dissatisfaction at the marginalization of the Palestinian cause; and to assert the need for examining the Palestinian national movement and its future in the midst of shifting international and regional circumstances. Moreover, it has become impossible to ignore the widespread belief that the Palestinian national movement is undergoing a state of impasse that makes it imperative to think about its future.
Without delving into a historical preface, I posit that the Palestinian national movement has always stood on two pillars: first, that of combating injustice and aggression manifested in colonial settlement and the expansion of this settlement project, starting with passive resistance and ending with armed struggle—in all its forms. The second pillar is that of political action, starting with the communications of the Higher Arab Committee with Arab states and the international community before 1948, throughout the phase of the PLO’s initiatives and their quest to garner international recognition as the sole, legitimate representative of the Palestinian people, and, more recently, with the pursuit of the project of the Palestinian state and the struggle to achieve it since the 1970s.
These two pillars can be traced throughout the cause’s evolution. In fact, modern Palestinian national history can be written through an examination of the overlap, or separation, between resistance and political action. Throughout specific historical stages, the two elements supported each other, while in others they tended to be more distinct, and in still others, resistance and political action became antagonistic and separate. Both pillars of the Palestinian national movement, however, needed a memory of its own and a set of justifications, as well as international and Arab relations for support.
At some stages, resistance and political action coexisted within the same movements, and even within the same individuals, before splitting into separate movements and individuals, who differed in their affirmation of these as the two constitutive elements of Palestinian political action. Differences in perspectives reached the point where some saw one of these pillars as an objective and the other as a tool, or presented one as rightful and the other as invalid, and so forth. Since both pillars relied on different Arab bases of support and policies, they were separated, in many instances, by the inter-Arab conflicts. Moreover, they became embroiled in global policies and conflicts.
One could argue that, after much time, the political pillar ended up replicating the model of the national Arab state (as opposed to Arab unity). Arab states have after all dominated the political scene since independence, even though in some stages Arab nationalist ideology succeeded in establishing dominance. As a result, the political pillar adopted the proposal of a national Palestinian state (i.e., the Palestinian state in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip). Just as the Arab-Israeli conflict ended with bilateral negotiations between each individual Arab state and Israel, due to the dominance of the national Arab state, the leaders of the Palestinian national movement also ended up insisting on separate, bilateral negotiations with Israel.
For a long time, the fact that the proponents of the Palestinian state had a concrete political project turned out to be their source of strength. However, getting international players to accept the principle of the Palestinian state necessitated the abandonment of armed struggle. I must also add that armed struggle was not forsaken solely for that reason; the choice was also aided by structural changes within the Arab world and in the sources of support for armed struggle and their Arab and international extensions. These shifts were apparent, among other events, in the 1982 Lebanon War, the collapse of the old Arab system a decade later with the Second Gulf War in 1991, and the fall of the Socialist camp.
With the Palestinian state project transforming into an objective to be reached through direct bilateral negotiations with Israel, or what came to be termed “the political process,” the immunity of this project gradually began leaning toward the language and the terminology of the West and Israel in their depiction of the Palestinian cause. The state project also became hostage to the balance of powers reflected in separate negotiations and, in a last historical stand, it rebelled against this fate, going back to armed struggle during the second Intifada, which came at a very high cost. Subsequently, the proponents of the state project were forced to make a definite choice between negotiations as a perpetual, irrevocable fate, and armed struggle. Yasser Arafat fell victim to this last insurrection in his attempt to defy both the imposition of power balances through negotiations and settlement, and the attempt to force him to forfeit his stand on Jerusalem. With the death of Yasser Arafat, this duality ended, and the proponents of the Palestinian state project chose negotiations as a final and definitive option.
Armed struggle, or “the resistance,” became a separate option outside the political process, one that does not in reality carry a political project, even if it launched, from time to time, political and diplomatic initiatives to confront the West’s attempts to demonize it. It was not a coincidence for this option to be adopted by forces outside the PLO, which turned in its totality into the Palestinian National Authority. We later discovered that the Palestinian factions chose to continue on the path of armed resistance outside the so-called “political process” would find themselves in the same impasse when the electoral process pushed them to become implicated in a project of rule.
The process of negotiations politically excluded those politicians who were attached to a belief in resistance as an option since both sides declared negotiations as “the only game in town”; the Palestinians were ordered to assert political negotiations as the sole option. This reached a point when even protesting the imbalanced structure of the negotiations and the dictates imposed through them had to take place only through political tools and within diplomatic halls. Going to the UN came to be seen as a “revolutionary step” on the Palestinian’s part because it rebelled against the one-on-one power relationship with the Israelis within bilateral negotiation since any attempt to correct imbalances within the political process takes place through political methods that are subjected to the same power balances that govern the “political process”.
There are multiple facets to this development, including the radicalization of the Israeli Right, and the US’s decision to avoid imposing any dictates on Israel, even on matters that are viewed as constants in the US foreign policy, such as the opposition to Israeli settlement. Also contributing to the current state of affairs is the crisis of Arab fragmentation since the Second Gulf War and the absence of an Arab national project capable of preserving the minimal amount of principles in the face of Israel. Moreover, the Arab political dependence on the acquiescence of the US, the Arab peace initiative, which Israel rejected and Arab regimes remained attached to in order to avoid even thinking about alternatives. Arab regimes have also made a habit of hiding behind the Israeli-Palestinian negotiations under the pretense of respecting the independent Palestinian national decision, the will of the Palestinians, and other excuses.
What matters here is that the Palestinian national project, represented in the Palestinian state, has become hostage to a political process of negotiations that is being accompanied by a staggering expansion of settlement designed to displace Palestinians. On the ground, this results in the sequestering of the Palestinian entity in the so-called areas “A” and “B”, resulting in an entity that lacks sovereignty and Israel does not mind calling a “state”; even so, Israel wants a price in return. This shiold guarantee the separation of the Palestinian entity from the dynamics of Israeli society, so that it does not affect its demographic, economic, and political structure. This Palestinian entity, however, is not permitted to become a sovereign state on its own territory , and no solution is offered to the Palestinian refugees.
At this point, I must say that some of us had predicted this scenario, in detail, from the moment the Oslo Accords were signed, while others among us did not and spoke of a different scenario in which the settlement process was halted, leading to the creation of a national state where the Gaza Strip, alone, would become a new Singapore, assuming that all these analyses were based on pure intentions in the service of the Palestinian national project. On the other hand, analyzing the facts that are currently on the ground is sufficient to convince nearly everyone of the catastrophic scenario that is in play. Ironically, however, once the outcome was clear for all to see, a new difference emerged; one that is unfortunately not based on the interpretation of reality, for everyone can clearly see this predicament, but on a struggle over power. This conflict is leading political actors to lose sight of the unified and unitary Palestinian reality and of the Israeli policies that are also a coherent whole. The problem is that this struggle over power comes before the establishment of the state.
When it comes to armed struggle, I shall once more dispense with the historical background starting with the 1936-1939 revolt, followed by the emergence of the armed factions and their struggle after the Nakba, up until the currently active Islamic resistance movements. Abandoning armed struggle has become a condition for accession to the political process; in this way, armed resistance was turned into an option outside the political process, and is seen as a negation of it, even in instances where armed struggle does not see itself as such.
There is no need to speak at length about the developments affecting the countries that became the core of Palestinian armed struggle; I will not delve into the achievements of the Palestinian armed struggle, beginning with the moral and ethical achievements shown in their refusal to submit to oppression, nor will I talk about the its contribution to formation of a Palestinian national identity, nor about its direct impact that has led to the so-called Israeli “redeployment” in the occupied territories, where the pressures of the armed struggle coalesced with Zionist demographic fears. The latter existed in the academic sense, but the demographic scare became an engine of politics due to the armed struggle, for a quiescent obedient people, or a people that is divided into warring factions, does not constitute a demographic threat.
The real and hard fact today is that Israel has sought—since its unilateral withdrawal from South Lebanon, and four years later the Gaza Strip—to turn the actions of the resistance into a casus belli, a reason for war. This was the strategy of Ehud Barak and Ariel Sharon with their unilateral withdrawals from South Lebanon and Gaza, which represented a significant addition to the Israeli military doctrine at the start of the 21st century.
In an earlier phase, armed struggle had been transformed from the sole option for the liberation of Palestine into a strategy for resisting occupation, among others, in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, and in Lebanon after 1982. Following unilateral Israeli withdrawals, specifically after Israel’s aggression against Lebanon in 2006 and against Gaza in 2008/2009, armed resistance underwent a second transformation into a strategy of self-defense against any prospective Israeli aggression. What is currently being lauded as resistance is not the same resistance of decades past: resistance used to be a strategy of liberation, regardless of its being realistic, until it was transformed into an option for “resisting occupation”. Currently, however, if we were to brush aside all the rhetoric that makes “resistance” a label for a group, a party, or an alliance, as part of the ongoing struggle between Arab axes, we would find that organized armed resistance nowadays is a strategy for the defense of the self and the region that is controlled by the resistance movement, a fact that does not lessen the value of armed resistance. There are, of course, exceptions to this rule, such as individual armed operations that are carried out in the West Bank from time to time against settlers.
The problem is that this option, which has become a defensive one, has been used recently in the service of other purposes, a practice with a long tradition in Arab politics. I refer here to the use of military action against Israel in order to register political points domestically or as part of the competition between factions and regimes. This leads me to a point that must be stressed during this era of struggle by Arab peoples in search of freedom and democracy: if the Palestinian cause is a cause of justice and liberation—as I stressed at the beginning—then it does not contradict the notion of justice for other peoples, especially those belonging to the same nation (i.e., the Arab peoples).
The Palestinian cause has always carried two dimensions: the first is related to justice, but also to Arab identity, transforming the cause into something that goes even beyond values and touches upon the very being of other Arabs. Included in this category are those who reached power in Arab countries while raising the slogan of the liberation of Palestine, for there is no doubt that many of them were true in their intentions. However, it is also true that the sensitivity of the Arab public toward the Palestinian cause has enticed despotic regimes to exploit the cause as a political tool—herein lies the second dimension of the cause. The Palestinian cause was used to justify repression and to combat rivals who were accused of treason, even if they had fought for Palestine. Moreover, the regimes’ acolytes and allies would bestow legitimacy on all those belonging to their camp (even if they were supporters of normalization with Israel or were among those who collaborated directly with Israel) and declare as traitors those opposing them, even if the person in question was a Palestinian fighter.
I can safely say that turning the Palestinian cause into an instrumentalist tool in the hands of corrupt despotic regimes has harmed the cause not only ethically and morally, but also directly and substantively. The same regimes that refrained from directing their resources and energy toward the struggle against Israel have employed the Palestinian cause in their authoritarian lexicon, tainting the Palestinian liberation discourse—just as the terms “revolution” and “revolutionary council” became tainted at a certain stage, until the people “rehabilitated” these terms in the last three years.
There are those, such as the Arab liberals, who became admirers of Israel as a reaction to the corruption of the dictatorial regimes that peddled Palestine as a slogan; however, there are others who sided with the demagoguery of regimes as a reaction to acts of surrender and normalization, becoming themselves tools to engage in Palestinian politics for reasons unrelated to Palestine. Many liberals were oblivious to the fact that these regimes exploited the Palestinian cause to justify their impotence and backwardness, but that the cause is not the reason behind this impotence and backwardness. In fact, Palestine was often the factor that exposed this Arab impotence and backwardness, just as it was often the motive for development. It is not Palestine’s fault that despotic regimes have exploited it in a demagogic manner; on the contrary, this exploitation makes Palestine doubly a victim.
I have stated that the Palestinian political option is in a debacle, and that armed struggle as an option separate from politics is engaged in struggle for survival, and has shifted from a liberation strategy to one of self-defense. Under such circumstances, then, what horizons can be discussed?
The Israeli political establishment, in its academic and political wings, has detected a great threat in the Arab revolutions and the potentials for democratic evolution in Arab countries. In fact, a large number of studies have been published on the threats looming over Israel in light of the liberation of Arab populations, the emergence of an Arab public opinion, and the reinstatement of the Arab dimension to the Palestinian cause. Israel’s political circles, however, have regained their calm following the emerging manifestations of counter-revolution, which might look like a reaction to the outcome of electoral ballots, though, in truth, they represent a reversal against the entire democratic track, including the repression of the freedom of expression, the manipulation of public opinion, and the return of repressive security practices. The resulting Israeli self-confidence is currently exhibited internally through the expansion of settlement activities and, externally, through the return of Israeli security collaboration with some Arab regimes and the exploitation of the division of the Arab world into two axes—one Sunni and one Shiite—in addition to other phenomena that had been almost extinguished by the Arab revolutions.
Thus, it is necessary to reconsider the future of the Palestinian national project based on the following variables: the impasse of the negotiations, the crisis of armed struggle, and the fact that the Arab world will for the time being be occupied with revolution and counter-revolution until matters settle, hopefully, with the establishment of Arab democracies.
Prior to addressing these questions, it is important to stress the following: the option of resisting the practices of the occupation, such as demolishing homes, uprooting trees, or building settlements, was not suspended during the crisis of the two Palestinian options; the Palestinian individual has defended, at every turn, himself, his family, and his land against injustice. Nevertheless, no serious attempts were made to encase this immense potential for resistance within a framework for action, or a national movement that is based on these principles. As a result, leaving aside the media exaggerations of individual instances of resistance (often for reasons of exploitation to draw the attention from despotic oppression against Arab revolutions), the resisting individual, neighborhood, and the steadfast village have all been left to fall prey to the brutality of the Zionist state, without any outside support, or to attempt to seek redress through Zionist courts, despite the fact that Israel judiciary is among the main tools of the occupation.
The second remark is that the world, nowadays, has respect for Arab peoples because they are struggling against injustice in general, and specifically the injustice carried out by Arab regimes, not only against Israeli injustices. These people cannot be expected to acquiesce to Israeli oppression having sacrificed to combat the oppression of their own regimes. The struggle for freedom and justice is integral; those working for despotic regimes and security agencies often criticize those struggling for freedom and justice and equality because they are not fighting for the liberation of Palestine, as if they are doing so.
Any attempt to consider the future of a Palestinian national movement must be rooted in a return to these foundations, which are the existing antagonism between the Palestinian individual living on his land and the ongoing Israeli settlement practices. This is a platform on which we can build. Let us then look around us, and let us gaze away from the tired slogans that have lost their meaning: there is a broad settlement process that is taking place in Jerusalem in order to turn the Arab city of Jerusalem into something similar to Jaffa, which was transformed into a neighborhood/ghetto within Tel Aviv. This is the bottom line; and let us brush aside the slogans and the speeches that take people everywhere except to the heart of the matter, which is this: the transformation of Jerusalem into a Jewish city that includes an Arab ghetto. Parallel to this, there is an intensive settlement effort to annex the region of the West Bank termed “Area C” in the Oslo Accords to Israel. Moreover, an oppressive siege is imposed against the Gaza Strip, and the formulation of a real and effective position to break this siege is prevented by inter-Palestinian discord and domestic conflicts in Egypt over the regime’s nature.
In the Diaspora, Palestinian refugees are being made refugees for a second and a third time, and are being subjected to new Nakbas in Syria and Lebanon, to the extent that some refugees were forced to take further refuge in Palestinian refugee camps in Lebanon, which can hardly accommodate their original population. Some of these refugees have had to go as far as Indonesia. I will not attempt, for a moment, to be poetic about the matter, nor will I attempt to stir your emotions. However, I will content to say that in the city of Nazareth, occupied in 1948, families have held wakes for their relatives who were killed during the chemical massacre in Syria after having fled there for refuge from the Yarmouk Camp.
All this is taking place at a time when Israel declares that the properties of the 1948 refugees will be removed from “the guardian over the absentees’ properties” to the hands of private Jewish individuals and investors, which is in practice the unilateral abolition of the refugee question. We are currently witnessing the liquidation of the cause of Palestinian refugees, which culminated in the Israeli demand to recognize Israel as a Jewish state.
It would not be hard for any Palestinian to diagnose these frontlines between the Zionist project and the Palestinian people, or to build upon them a Palestinian national unity that engenders a humanistic democratic discourse capable of speaking to international public opinion, something which has been neglected by negotiations, as they limit Palestinian political efforts to relations with the US administration and, to a lesser extent, European governments. Armed resistance isolated itself in terms of international public opinion the minute it based itself exclusively upon religious discourse, forsaking the democratic dimension that is an essential part of a liberation movement.
It would not be difficult for any Palestinian who wishes to diagnose Israeli vulnerabilities to observe how Israel is strongly affected by boycotts or any attempt to deal with it as a colonial or apartheid state. Israel wants to be depicted as a democratic state (the only one in the region) that is engaged in negotiations over a conflict in which the oppressed and the oppressor are not determined, which is precisely why Israel resorts to the negotiations’ process every time an international boycott campaign or an international condemnation of settlement appears on the horizon.
Israel warns the Palestinian Authority, which is subject to Israeli government dictates and facilities, that resorting to resistance options of any sort, such as boycott campaigns and pressure on Israel, would threaten its privileges. It appears then that any Palestinian national project will inevitably find itself confronting these two options, and it will have to make a decision.
The starting point for the re-formulation of a Palestinian national movement is the reality on the ground; call it what you wish, “settler occupation,” “state of apartheid,” and so forth. The question is not over what it is called, but over what prevents us from holistically approaching this Palestinian national reality, and the reality of the Zionist aggression, instead of viewing them as separate issues. The question is also over the existence of a political heading that deals with the totality of the Palestinian reality and that explains this reality, as a whole, with a language that can be understood globally. Here should the unsuccessful dialogue for unifying the Palestinian Authorities begin, and not in Authority issues.
We are unable to replicate the experience of the African National Congress because there are different notions of state and nation, and the difficulty of Arab-Jewish collaborative action in Palestine , unlike the collaboration between white and black democrats in South Africa in search for a single state. This is also due to the Jewish question on the global stage, and to the ongoing negotiations that are taking place over how to separate, rather than how to coexist. In the same vein, we cannot copy the experience of the national liberation movements of the 1960s, for this is a stage that has passed, with its rhetoric and its international alliances. However, this does not prevent us from learning from the South African experience and the international discourse of the African National Congress, as well as the points of strength of the national liberation movements. Before all that, we must learn from our own experience and from our own history in order to cast a discourse that can effectively pressure Israel and garner the broadest possible support within Arab public opinion and on the global stage.
The difficulty currently lies in the ability to advance toward a political project that perceives the suffering of the Palestinian individual in Syria, Lebanon, Gaza, Jerusalem, and in the rest of the Palestine as a whole, in addition to Israel’s insistence on being acknowledged as a Jewish state, and its attempts to liquidate the properties of Palestinian refugees in the territories that were occupied in 1948. This is the real challenge of unity.
I did not discuss proposals for solutions, nor did I engage in the debate over the single state vs. the two-state solutions, even though this is a theoretically useful debate that must be conducted, although I have an opinion in this debate and I do believe that Israel is undermining, on the ground, the basis for the two-state solution; but it is not the victim’s duty to propose anymore solutions in this phase. Today, posing these questions as if they were an alternative to political struggle and to the political program of resistance is an escape forward.
What is offered here are ideas and questions to renew the debate over the future of a Palestinian national movement, based on the optimism of the will when knowledge becomes pessimistic.