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Abbas forfeits Palestinian right to land and memory

Diplomacy and submission have been propelled to prominence with Mahmoud Abbas’s recent concession to Israel. Allegedly speaking on behalf of Palestinians, Abbas declared that the Palestinian Authority would agree to an epilogue to the “conflict” if a just agreement was offered. In return, he added, the Palestinian Authority would ensure a renunciation of the right for Palestinians to return to Jaffa, Acre and Haifa. The declaration prompted Hamas and other Palestinian factions to call for a collective refutation by the people who have, once again, been regarded as mere spectators in a process which is guaranteed to deepen the divide between the oppressed and the occupier. The PA has now clearly affirmed its support for the existence of the Israeli occupation by, illegally, waiving refugees’ right of return.


According to Israeli media, Abbas said, “You have a commitment from the Palestinian people, and also from the leadership, that if we are offered a just agreement, we will sign a peace deal that will put an end to the conflict and to future demands from the Palestinian side. We will not demand in the future to return to Jaffa, Acre or Haifa.”

Abbas’s statement echoes a previous personal forfeiting of the right to return made during an interview with Israel’s Channel 2 in November 2012: “I visited Safed once before… It’s my right to see it but not to live there…I am a refugee, but I am living in Ramallah. I believe that the West Bank and Gaza is Palestine and the other parts are Israel.” The acknowledgement went beyond recognition of the occupation; void of any semblance of indignation it expressed acquiescence and validated decades of oppression against Palestinians who assert the centrality of the right to return in relation to reclaiming land and memory.

Both statements portray a sequence of betrayal and degeneration of Palestinian right to land and memory. What was previously regarded as an irresponsible and submissive statement uttered by a leader relinquishing his right to return has now expanded into a treacherous framework encompassing Palestinians who have, for decades, resolutely challenged Israel’s colonial policies. The language used serves to highlight the divide between the internationally-recognised Palestinian representatives, the Palestinian people and the Palestinian political representation and resistance embodied by Hamas. Palestinian memory has been relegated to an alternative, a struggle fragmented by different experiences of life under occupation.

Abbas seems to differentiate continuously between Palestinians in the Occupied Territories, Palestinians in Gaza and displaced Palestinians, making the possibility of a Palestinian state not only practically unsustainable due to Israel’s expansion but also due to the inability to construct Palestinian identity through a recognition of collective experience, including the necessity of resistance. The foundations of the Zionist state were built upon the fabrication of a barren land in order to impose the alleged absence of the indigenous Palestinian population. Palestinians are now battling distinguishable forces culminating into the slide towards oblivion: Zionist historical interpretation, the compliance of the PA to Zionist appropriation of land and memory, Abbas’s relinquishing of rights granted by international law, as well as the indifference of the PA regarding the land and people under its supposed protection. The battle for memory also occurs within different realms: the struggle against the enforced historical absence of the illegally usurped nation and the struggle against Abbas’s misrepresentation of Palestinians. The concession to Israel authorises further destruction of Palestinian identity, degenerating from a struggle against forgetting into a struggle in favour of indifference which is clearly demarcated in the use of language depicting the occupation and its systematic oppression of Palestinians as a “conflict” between equally powerful adversaries.

Within this spectrum, the alienation of the PA merges into conventional expectation and comfort relished by the international community, which indulges it into an intentional reinvention of Palestinian objectives. As the PA aligns itself with the oppressive entities involved in the alleged peace negotiations and adopts their use of language to justify the illegal occupation, Abbas has elucidated a detachment from his own history and experiences, projecting the same detachment onto Palestinians and their struggle for land and memory. For decades Palestinians have struggled against various forms of enforced oblivion required by Israel as a means of safeguarding the illegal state. The recent statements allude to a leader who has compromised his loyalty towards the people by bargaining with issues central to the construction of Palestinian nationhood and state.

The indifference expressed by Abbas strengthens Israeli appropriation of Palestinian memory. Since the Nakba massacres, Zionist strategy has centred upon asserting the colonial ideology in order to appropriate the existence of Palestinians as well as their collective memory. Israeli dispossession of land, the destruction of historic Palestine and reinvention of the land served to assert a dominating narrative. Indifference can also be seen in light of the mass grave discovery in Jaffa last May. The discovery, central to Palestinian memory concerning the Zionists’ “Plan Dalet”, is now mired within a proposal to renounce the right to return, thus also limiting the Palestinian right and historical obligation to move beyond the absence of the disappeared in order to establish a truth which extends beyond a commemoration of the atrocities and challenges the stereotypical Israeli narrative regarded as authentic by Zionists and their allies.

Abbas’s relinquishment of the right also legitimised the usurpation of Palestinian rights in defiance of international law. Israel’s refusal to abide by UN Resolution 194, due the difficulties for the “Jewish state” should Jews diminish to a demographic minority, has now been upheld, in total disrespect for displaced Palestinians, by a leader who should have been focusing upon the preservation of memory issues crucial to the establishment of Palestinian nationhood. Israel has been awarded a multitude of concessions by the international community, notably undeserved impunity in reward for decades of international law violations. Abbas’s declaration consolidates his political affirmation for the existence of the state of Israel and his willingness to safeguard an illegal entity which should be dismantled in order for Palestinians to achieve a proper independence instead of bargaining for futile symbolic concessionary gestures.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.

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