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Home > Issue 24: Democratic Formation in Palestine Periodic Reports (10) & (11 ) >

Current Challenges What To Do??

by Haidar Abdel Shafi

General background:

The Zionist movement announced itself and declared its goals and demands very clearly in the first Zionist conference held in Basel, Switzerland in the summer of 1897. At this conference the movement alleged that: the whole area of Palestine, including the East Bank of Jordan (Trans Jordan), is Jewish land. Based on this allegation and the significance of implementing it on the ground, the Zionist movement adopted the following:

    • Gradual build-up of military and economic capabilities as the basis for achieving political goals.
    • Establishing an alliance with a major force outside the Middle Eastern region.
    • Not recognizing a Palestinian national entity.
    • Zionism is a civilizing mission in a backward region.
    • The significance of economic, social and cultural separation as necessary conditions for the rebirth of the Jewish nationality.
    • The principle of peace through power.

Britain was the party that responded positively to the Zionist demand for an alliance with a major state. Having colonies in the Far East and East Africa, Britain wanted to serve its own interests because it was important to guarantee the safety and accessibility of the routes to these colonies, particularly the Suez Canal and its surroundings. This however was considered as breaking of promises given to King Hussein, leader of the Great Arab Revolt against the Turkish occupation. The Zionist ambitions thus converged with the colonialist interests in the region, and the Balfour (British Foreign Minister at the time) declaration was announced as an affirmation of this convergence of interests. Appointing Britain as the mandate power in Palestine was just an outcome of the Declaration.

Without elaborating on the role of the British mandate in Palestine, it is sufficient to affirm that Britain, as the mandate power, had shirked its responsibility towards the Palestinian people. It directed its military might to foil the Palestinian people s efforts to defend themselves, at a time when it opened the door for the Zionist movement to achieve its goals. This was basically manifested in the following:

  • Admitting Jewish masses into Palestine against the will and in spite of the resistance of the Palestinian people who defended their right to self-determination. The dangers of this policy can be clearly felt knowing that the demographic proportionality between Jews and Arabs in Palestine has changed during the mandate period from 1:11 to 1:2.

  • Britain allowed the Jewish community some autonomy under the mandate. It also allowed Jews to be trained on arms, manufacturing and possessing arms, at a time when it denied all of this to the Arabs, under threat of severe punishment.

When Britain relinquished its responsibility as the mandate state, it left behind a flagrant social and military disparity between the Palestinian and Jewish societies, which led to the catastrophe of displacement and the hegemony of the Israeli enemy on more than three quarters of the Palestinian territories.

  • Performance of the Palestinian leadership during the British Mandate in Palestine:

At the end of the Ottoman occupation of the Arab orient and the beginning of European colonialism, the League of Nations entrusted the mandate of Palestine to Britain, this despite its commitments stated in the Balfour Declaration, something that contradicted the mandate responsibilities.

The Palestinian society at the time was a backward semi-feudal farming society, in which familial and tribal quarrels as well as individual aspirations prevailed. In light of such a situation, leadership consisted of heads of families and tribes, and of land owners, called the Executive Committee, which was headed by Musa Kathem Pasha Al-Husseini. In the early and mid 1930 s, several political parties were formed in Palestine. Consequently, after the death of Musa Kathem Al-Husseini, a new leadership called the Arab Higher Committee headed by Haj Amin Al-Husseini was formed on the basis of party membership.

Because of individual, familial, and party contradictions, and weak leadership abilities, neither the first nor the second Palestinian Committee was up to the level of responsibility due to. These leaderships were not fully aware of all aspects of the challenges present at the time, and the organized work that was needed to follow up the enemy s movements and his targets. The leaderships were not tending to the needs to educate the Palestinian masses in an organized and effective method on the dimensions of the present challenge at the time, and to the need for organizing and recruiting their various fighting and political capabilities to serve the national goal.

The Palestinian leadership did not pay the necessary attention to assert the national dimension of the challenge. It did not activate this concept among the peoples and governments of the neighboring Arab countries to achieve a unified national Arab stand to face the challenges. Consequently, when the armies of the Arab countries intervened to defend the Palestinian people in the summer of 1948, they were not unified in the objective and action, something that contributed to the catastrophe of 1948.

Although very harsh and severe, the catastrophe was not able to defeat either the Palestinian people, or their strength of character and steadfastness. Despite their conditions in exile, the Palestinian people were able in a relatively short period of time to establish a national leadership that represented their unity and adherence to their firm rights to self-determination and establishing their independent Palestinian state in the land of Palestine with Jerusalem as its capital. This development was sufficient to refute all lies pertaining to the Palestinian people, which spread out following the catastrophe of 1948.

  • The performance of the Palestinian Liberation Organization PLO .

The first PLO leadership was established on a decision taken by the Palestinian National Conference, which was held in Jerusalem at the end of May 1964. This leadership engaged in studying the whole Palestinian situation, including the situation in exile and the possible options for Palestinian action in light of the prevailing situation in the Arab world with all its differences and complications. Among the most important steps taken by this leadership was the creation of the first units of the Palestine Liberation Army in the Gaza Strip, Egypt, Jordan and Syria.

After the 1967 aggression, other Palestinian political factions joined the PLO, and in about one and a half years, the PLO leadership was turned into the hand of these factions, which were led by Fatah, under the command of Yasser Arafat and the membership of all political factions in the Palestinian arena.

It was expected that the first priority of concern for this leadership would be to review the past, including the performance of the first leadership, its successes and failures, so that lessons be deduced, mistakes and weaknesses be identified and avoided for a better performance that can meet the challenges.

Unfortunately that did not happen and the leadership cut short what was needed by adopting the military option, which became the only means of struggle, in spite of the sweeping military victory that Israel achieved against the armies of three Arab countries in the near past. The PLO indulged in military actions carried out by its various factions each independently without coordination, incurring accumulated losses despite the examples of sacrifice and bravery manifested by the Palestinian fighters in various occasion, specially during the siege of Beirut in the summer 1982.

Following the occupation of 1967, Israel started immediately to put into practice its main strategy, namely establishing physical facts on the ground . It started to seize the land and establish settlements in selected areas of the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Israel did not heed UN resolutions, which condemned these act as illegal, and detrimental to peace. The PLO then started to suggest ideas which included concessions with the aim of achieving this peace. Among these proposed ideas was the establishment of a secular democratic state in which Jews and Arabs, Muslims and Christians, can live on the basis of equality, mutual respect, sovereignty of law and democracy. The Israeli governments however refused all those concessions, did not heed UN resolutions which condemned settlement policy, and persisted in practicing it.

The worst to happen however, was the Sadat initiative at the end of the 1970 s, which ultimately led to a peace accord between Israel and Egypt, the most powerful and largest Arab country neighboring Israel. The accord ended the segregation of the Israeli entity, and opened new horizons before it. It was expected that such an achievement would urge the Israeli entity to respond positively to the requirements of a just and equal peace with the Palestinian side. The Israeli governments however, used it to increase their aggression, and to escalate their settlement activities in the occupied territories. Almost two years after, the Israeli government waged its war against Lebanon and perpetrated many war crimes culminating with the Sabra and Shatilla massacres, after which the PLO leadership was deported from Lebanon. The latest of concessions made by the PLO is the acceptance of the principle of two states, which means imparting a legal status on the Israeli presence in the Palestinian territories. This concession however was promptly rejected by the Israeli governments, which clearly meant continued clinging to the Zionist position, which denies the Palestinians rights in Palestine.

  • The Peace process

This quick look at past events aims to clarify and assert that we were not influenced by any illusion pertaining to the Israeli position towards the aspired peace, when we agreed to participate in the Madrid Peace Conference. The justification for our participation in the peace process was our hope that the American sponsor would take a neutral and balanced position. This was especially the case after it had waged a devastating war in the Gulf under the pretext of standing against an occupation which had then been going on for only a few months, making it more likely that it would work for putting an end to an occupation that had then already exceeded twenty years, an occupation during which Israel had committed various violations against international laws and norms.

From the very first sessions, we were disappointed at the negotiating table in Washington. Israel refused to stop its settlement activities (usurpation of land and establishing physical facts on it), which were a violation of the terms of reference for the peace process, namely UN resolutions 242 and 338. The American sponsor however, did wish to force Israel to respect these terms of reference.

As a matter of logic, we should have suspended our participation in the peace process until Israel abides by the terms of reference, and we should have focused our thoughts and efforts on how to come out of this difficult impasse. The option of our leadership however was different as it decided to continue participation in the peace process, and the Oslo Accord, secretly reached, was finally announced.

It was frustrating that the Oslo Accord did not tackle the issue of settlement. Much of it has different interpretation anyway, a fact that has made it possible for successive Israeli governments to continue settlements and construct by-pass roads under the cover of the negotiation process, a thing which added to the difficulties in the impasse that we suffer. The more critical and urgent question now is: What to do

  • What to do

The aforementioned only asserts the need to stop looking away from the facts on the ground. It also asserts the need to stop wishing for things without actively working towards achieving them and investing all the needed energies to guarantee their achievement. The only way to discover the effective energies that we have is order. Our main problem is the absence of order, and we have many indications to prove that these days.

The factors that can establish order, in my opinion, are the following:

  • Sovereignty of law and independence of the judiciary.
  • Guaranteeing personal freedoms, and the freedom of the press within the framework of the law.
  • Dealing with the public money in a legal way, and respecting the principle of accountability and transparency.
  • Establishing the mechanism that can guarantee respect for and activation of these principles. The mechanism I mean at this stage is the authority of national unity.

Some people may inquire about the required Palestinian capabilities. The answer is that the Palestinian people possess significant capabilities in most walks of life, on an equal level to the best of capabilities existent in the Arab word. We have significant capabilities in the:

  • Financial and economic fields;
  • Agricultural fields;
  • Academic fields;
  • Legal fields;
  • Vocational fields;
  • National defense fields; and
  • Fields pertaining to activating women s motherhood and national education roles.

We are lucky to have a developed statistical department (the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics). We can benefit from it in the needed organizing process, which will get us out of the difficult impasse we suffer from.

The image that the Palestinian society reflects is not one that we deserve, and does not represent the real Palestinian face, the reality and originality of which are manifested by the intifada. Through the process of organization and reform, we strive to come out with what unifies the Palestinian society, by reducing social differences, and deciding a minimum income for the individual, so that it becomes an incentive for cooperation that gathers every one in a unified effort to achieve our national rights.


Source: ATF Shu‘un Tanmawyyeh Issue 24

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