A summary of a session held by the Arab Thought Forum (ATF) on 6 July 2002; the participants were: Abdul Latif Ghaith, Fadel tahboub, Sam an Khoury and Ali Abu Hilal. Session facilitator Abdel Rahman Abu Arafeh and Nasir Ya qub minute taker.
In light of the fact that the recent months were overcrowded with open incidents and changes at different sub-branched levels, it is difficult to start from one specific point or to choose the most important issue for the sake of understanding the present state of affairs. Moreover, assessing the present condition by moving from the start of incidents and gradually reaching the present situation will only lead us into a maze which will not turn out fruitful results. The most striking feature of the present conditions is one of obscurity and haziness; the lack of clarity as a result of the crowdedness in incidents is the overwhelming frame of the Palestinian scene at the moment.
However there is no choice but to make an attempt to gather the broad lines which govern the present state of affairs and to determine the nature of " The Crisis which the Palestinians as a people, leadership and institutions are living. Then one has to cudgel his mind to exit from this dilemma which is in fact a confinement to all. It is worth to mention that this long followed tradition that the ATF adopts by holding sessions and dialogues with leaders, representatives, prominent figures and different parties on the Palestinian arena takes place quarterly. However, the fact that a group of committed participants in the sessions are unable to attend either because they are in Israeli detentions or in their hiding places influences the political dialogue by making it more obscure; this may lead the course of action to gain more weight and pace but at the same time it will not be free from risks and hazards.
In order for the discussion to be fruitful and direct, may be it is enough to draw a picture for the current state of affairs. Then we will start from this diagnosis towards other dimensions which are intertwined in the formation of the present picture and its future dimensions as the relationship with the United States, Israel and the internal Palestinian relations. Thus, concerned individuals and parties will be able to discuss the nature of the political movement together with down to earth incidents, recommendations, proposals and mechanisms to contribute in getting out of the present dilemma.
It is important first to answer the question regarding the factors responsible for the present situation or the causes behind this current situation. The first thing that crosses our mind is the Oslo Accord, its misinterpretations and content are considered as a primary element which is responsible for the current situation we are living in including the confrontations, and the highly intense political, military, and economic repercussions which took place between the Israeli and Palestinian sides. To exemplify this, we can bring famous statements made by Abu Mazin one of the architects of the Oslo Accord like, " Oslo Accord will lead either to an independent state or to a disaster"; in this regard we can have more than one point of view; there is one vision that points out that the lack of clarity and the following agreements made each party interpret it in the best way to serve its own interest. This has eventually lead to the transformation of the issue into a vigorous struggle in which the stronger side, the Israelis attempt to forcefully impose and dictate their terms and agenda according to their own perspective on the Palestinians and by using the unbalanced scale of powers to their own interest. For example, there is the issue of settlements since the Israelis continue to impose new facts on the ground; this is considered as one of the outputs of the lack of clarity in the Accord in the first place. It has lead to an escalation between the two parties and piling up of differences until it eventually erupted into an open confrontation. Moreover, the lack of clarity in the agreements and the different readings of it lead the two sides not to abide by it or by the agreements that followed the Accord and were signed by the two sides at later stages. The Israelis continued with their occupation and its manifestations like checkpoints, road blocks and harsh measures. This reality has contributed to the rapid loss of confidence between the two sides to the point of almost diminishing the chances for having a real peace between them. Instead of finishing the track of negotiations on clear cut basis and guidelines, an atmosphere of hostility and grudge spread until it reached an absolute crisis.
There is another point view which differs from the former. It connects the present political situation with Oslo accord, yet its interpretation and analysis differs. It points out that Israel considered Oslo Accord as a project through which it can end the Palestinian question by terminating the Intifada and rooting out the resistance option. When it did not achieve this aim as a result of the vitality of the Palestinian people and its quest for construction and development, the Israeli governments started to make plans to attack this Accord and the achievements of the Palestinian people. The reaction of the people was in their resistance which was their only means to get rid of the occupation.
The continuation of the resistance constituted a suitable reply to the failure of the Palestinian side who believes in peaceful settlements, compromise and negotiations. The resistance came as an example of the most obvious manifestation in the failure of the Oslo Accord according to the Israeli point of view. Nevertheless, the Israelis insisted in the past to go ahead in achieving their greater goal “ ending the Palestinian Issue, so they inaugurated a new stage of war whose main objectives are to reoccupy the Palestinian cities and territories and terminate the Palestinian Authority but not completely; it also aims at striking hard against the national forces and besieging the resistance movement and its supporters. If the Israeli objectives in hitting the Palestinian infra structure with its different aspects (Authority, Movements and institutions), popular and faction forces( weapons, personnel, facilities, devices), economic and social structure( economic facilities, obstruction of the flow of goods, closure, curfew, demolition of houses) are very obvious, this means that the Palestinian people and cause have entered the first series in a new stage especially when the " achievements" of the occupation do not mean that the Palestinian resistance has stopped or came to an end.
Between these two visions the realistic and the radical, there are other interpretations and conclusions which are similar on one occasion and different on the other. They differ in intensity of their attack of the two sides; they also differ in who to blame and hold more responsible for the outbreak of acts of violence. For example, there is an analysis which indicates that when the negotiations hit a stumbling block, all what was agreed upon was cancelled. However, this result has only happened since the Oslo Accord did not identify the guidelines of the final Palestinian objective since the Palestinian side was completely involved in its attempt to reach this objective although it did not exactly determine the way to reach it. As for the Israelis, they considered that staging new operations to reoccupy lands will not help them to turn the course of history anti clockwise but to use these operations to reformulate new solutions which are a lot less than what the Oslo Accord states. By this way, they succeed in removing and discarding the Palestinian national aspirations. There are on the table several Israeli scenarios like the return of Civil Administration or establishing a new Lahid Palestinian leadership as it was the case in South Lebanon and others, yet the Israeli options are not yet decisive or are still in the making process.
There is a view which states that the two sides - Israelis and Palestinians have entered a decisive stage to end a long fought battle in which the leaders were the conflicting sides “ contenders - in this battle. Regardless of how long is duration of the battle historically speaking, this kind of battles is not terminated with a coup de grace; the struggle is a struggle between leaderships. The Palestinian people aims at achieving its own entity regardless of the agony and despair; it has proved that it is this kind of people which is impregnable no matter how harsh and severe the Israeli suppressive force is ; history of the struggle which has lasted for several decades is a witness to this fact. Consequently the present battle is between two leaderships and not between two peoples. This is very clear since the 1982 war which aimed at terminating the Palestinian Liberation Organization. It is acceptable to state that we have reached the end of the stage called" The Crisis of the Struggling Leaderships".
The failure of the Palestinian side in attaining and establishing an independent state according to 1967 borders and the lack of a clear strategic plan at the present historical stage have lead to the arrival of the final stage which is the struggle of leaderships. The struggle for survival, existence and steadfastness has become the most important characteristic for the Palestinian leadership especially when there are attempts to prove the illegibility of the leadership and not dealing with the Israeli "right" leadership on the same footing although the Oslo Accord was basically interpreted as a struggle for survival and keeping what is left of the Palestinian presence and land. If we add to this Israel s final clarification of the Oslo Accord according to its own interests since the mid nineties and the change in the Zionist vision of the solution which was embodied in the Israeli war against the track of political settlement and the results of that war which were expressed by the assassination of Rabin whose death represented the first bullet against the peace process, it is possible to conclude from all that that the 1987 Intifada was actually a people s uprising against an occupying government and it was highly possible that it would lead to salvation and freedom, but it was aborted since it was a real uprising . However, the current condition within the framework of the existing struggle shows a completely different situation which essentially calls for describing the struggle as the "Leaderships Struggle" not "Intifada" and not even a "Peoples Struggle". Another conclusion stems from this vision which states that the Palestinian people will never be a winner or looser since the battle aims at defeating the leadership and what it represents. This analysis and these conclusions do not also overlook the importance of the large or terrible impacts of the success or defeat of the leadership on the people.
Some are inclined to show other elements which have lead to this explosive situation like the dualism in the Palestinian treatment of both resistance and negotiations. The military option of the Authority was in fact some kind of tactics it followed to influence the other side and not to defeat it, yet the dual standard of the situation lead the Palestinian leadership to lose its ability to influence so it was unable to achieve a sense of unity among the different parties nor was it able to build a targeted strategy. Some tend to focus on the phenomenon of militarizing the Intifada and the operations in the 1948 occupied Palestinian territories. Although it proved its effectiveness in inflicting injuries among Israelis, it was used as a pretext for the aggression and the unprecedented retaliatory acts of the Israeli side; this has also gave way to Sharon a suitable cover to think deeply in implementing the policy of state terrorism without taking into consideration any international reactions in response to his policy.
The aggressive Israeli policies with its new manifestations have shown a number of dangers encircling and threatening Palestinians; these risks predict and indicate certain features which are catastrophic in their nature if these policies were to be fully implemented God Forbids. The different features of the crisis are as follows:
- Termination of the power and structure of the Palestinian people in order to lay the ground for a radical and essential change as a result of the economic crisis, closures, curfew, spread of social problems and the absence of law and this will constitute real dangers and hazards on the Palestinian social structure.
- Increase in the Israeli chances in dictating its solutions, visions including the return of the Jordanian option, the compulsory transfer of Palestinians to abroad, formation a Palestinian Lahid government or reactivating the role of what is called Civil Administration.
- Full and harmonious cooperation between the United States of America and Israel especially following the September 11 attacks, and this has given Israel more strength under the slogan of fighting Palestinian Terrorism.
- Rise in the level of racial segregation and prejudice inside Israel since it has become completely acceptable to shed the Palestinian blood; even the serious and sincere Israeli peace movements are no longer capable to let its voice be heard loud and clear.
- The formal Arab stance and its inability to give support to Palestinians. These Arab governments have absorbed the popular movements and contained the street movements which expressed their readiness to help the Intifada people especially after Beirut Summit and the adoption of the Saudi Initiative.
- The American, Israeli and Arab pressures on President Yasser Arafat and how this pressure will influence him and influence the national unity; this will also escalate the internal struggle( Palestinian against Palestinian) in a manner that will leave the Palestinian society at a stake.
- There are solid possibilities and expectations that the battle will expanded to be become regional especially if Israel hits Syria or Lebanon and how will this influence the Palestinian Israeli struggle.
Solutions: Proposals and recommendations
There is a group of manifestations which express the existence of a crisis; on one hand there are internal signs which relate to the internal Palestinian house and the Palestinian - Palestinian relations. On the other hand there are external manifestations which are linked first to the struggle with the Israeli side and next linked with the regional, European and American settings. Therefore, for practical purposes, we can mention a number of proposals and recommendations in an attempt to put forward solutions for the current crisis in order to overcome this critical stage, defeat this weakness and exit from the threat of a great earthquake which is threatening the pillars of the Authority and the Palestinian society with the least possible number of losses.
First:: At the Palestinian internal Level:
Preparation of the public morally and nationally to steadfast and to guarantee the participation in the process of decision making and to prevent the disintegration of social values.
Holding a comprehensive and national dialogue between the Authority and the different opposition parties and not to delay this issue so that it will not be imposed from external sides.
The Authority should rise to the occasion and efficiently manage the struggle; deep thinking of what will be suitable with the current stage which is essentially based on the juxtaposition that Israelis should not make concessions since they are stronger and that Palestinians should not make concessions since they have a right to this land.
Have a national consensus on the option of resistance and uprising; there should be a unanimous agreement on the appropriate form to fight the Occupation and practice the right to resistance. Falling into strategic mistakes is not acceptable especially when fighting the Israeli political and military invasion in order for the approach and style of confrontation to be organized and coordinated.
The Palestinian Leadership should reach a decision concerning dual standards of address especially regarding resistance.
Deepen the popular aspect of the Intifada.
Rearrangement of the priorities of Palestinian political movement to put the demand for an international protection on top of the diplomatic agenda. There should be an end to fighting and an Israeli withdrawal before the start of negotiations.
Carrying out real democratic reforms inside the Authority, PLO and all institutions; the current reform should not be carried out as a result of international pressures.
Holding of elections in the institutions of the Authority ( Presidency, Legislative Council, Local Councils) on the basis of a new elections law which depends on the relative majority and the reduction of the tribal and clan pressures and influences. The elections should include ( according to an appropriate mechanism) the National Council, the Legislative committee and the Central Council and different Palestinian entities have to be taken into considerations. It is essential that non governmental institutions follow suit and hold periodic elections with full integrity.
Second: At the International Level
The Palestinian Leadership has to be clear in its address and relationship with the Arab countries to support the Palestinian side.
Efforts have to be exerted to develop a formal popular stance to support the Palestinian position.
Efforts have to be made to increase the level of influence of the European decision on the American position.
Launching a large scale campaign and diplomatic movement to guarantee the continuation of the Israeli isolation internationally.
Launching diplomatic action in the United States to change the political opinion and the public opinion especially after Bush s last speech.
The Palestinian Israeli conflict has reached a dangerous and critical stage and the crisis which the Palestinians are living in has become more and more susceptible to a number of variables; the lack of clarity and haziness have become the important characteristics of this stage in which incidents and events are taking place at a great speed and uncertainty.
After the gains of the Intifada were obvious in planning for the termination of occupation, establishment of the state and the dismantling of settlements, developments and complications have lead to vagueness in the Palestinian strategy of struggle and the spread of reluctance between the options of peace, resistance and unlimited military actions. The leadership has also lost track in following and identifying the features of the next stage; dual addresses and speeches have continued; internal dialogue was not achieved; this made it necessary to give up Oslo and to hold fast to economic and political interests which sometimes do not meet the higher interests of the Palestinians.
Since many Israeli and Palestinian issues were not yet settled and the spread of the "right" terminology in Israel, it is high time for a quick action to take place to put internal affairs into order since they are the security valve for confronting any external emergency; there should be quick tactics to address any issue especially when the Israeli occupation of the Palestinian cities and lands is in fact an open Israel option until the Israeli objective is fulfilled or not. This is in fact dependent on the Palestinian side who is expected to adopt a program based on the termination of occupation, settlements and the establishment of the Palestinian state with Jerusalem as its capital; it should not accept any other program and it should also make every effort to sue Israeli war criminals.
Maybe it is time for the Negotiating Team at Oslo to stop and either dissolve itself or join the reform process and give chance for the people to choose its representatives; this is a prerequisite for the establishment of a national unity government or unified emergency government which has a unanimous agreement on a future strategy capable of achieving goals and carrying out reforms.
The Authority is now at a crossroads; it should choose between the Palestinian people and regaining the dignity of the PLO and its institutions or head towards another option which is the option of " no option".