While we could say that the "Palestinian national project" suffers from neglect in the light of the internal divisions and other distractions around the Arab world, we actually have to ask if such a project still exists. There is so much fragmentation within Palestine and in the diaspora, is it possible to revitalise the project or even renew it? If so, what would its features be?
These and other questions were the focus of research papers presented at the Second Annual Conference of Arab Research Centres in Doha recently. Organised by the Arab Centre for Research and Policy Studies the conference was headed, "The Palestinian Cause and the Future of the Palestinian National Movement".
As Dr Azmi Bishara said in his speech, the objectives of the conference included sending a message from Arab and Palestinian academics expressing dissatisfaction at the marginalisation of the Palestinian cause. "We assert the need for an examination of the Palestinian national movement and its future in the midst of shifting international and regional circumstances," he said. "Moreover, it has become impossible to ignore the widespread belief that the Palestinian national movement has reached an impasse that makes it imperative to think about its future."
Most of the views expressed at the conference leaned towards the recognition of the crisis in Palestinian issues on every level and the absence of a real Palestinian national project on the ground. Participants also said that the Palestinians have become hostages to an absurd political process. This was illustrated by what Fatah official Azzam Al-Ahmad told me about the new proposals made by US Secretary of State John Kerry, who has suggested that we take the Palestinian cause back to pre-Oslo days. When I asked what his own definition of a Palestinian national project is, Al-Ahmad answered, "A Palestinian state within the 1967 borders" achieved through negotiations; he did not provide an alternative should negotiations continue to fail. Hamas official Osama Hamdan, meanwhile, presented me with a limited vision of resistance against the Israeli project but failed to address the negotiations or possible solutions with Israel. These two positions reflect the level of fragmentation in the vision of the factions central to the cause and basically exclude the options which do not match the "negotiations or resistance" routes.
The concept of the Palestinian national project was summed up by Dr Bishara as follows: "It has become a hostage to the process of political negotiation, accompanied by astonishing settlement expansion. As for armed resistance, its abandonment has become a requirement for engaging in, and is incompatible with, politics." As such, he called for a reconsideration of the future of the project in light of the following variables: the deadlock of negotiations; the armed struggle impasse; and the preoccupation of the Arab world with the revolutions and counter-revolutions of the Arab Spring.
I would add to what Bishara said, in that there is an absence of real Palestinian leadership, as the current leadership owes its position to the long-since abandoned armed struggle, factional imbalance and the interventions of Arab regimes. This authority was implicitly "acceptable" to the people due to its adoption of the "Palestine liberation" slogan and the right of return of the Palestinian refugees. However, its legitimacy has faded due to the exclusion of resistance as an option and the adoption of "life is negotiations", a slogan that led to the relinquishment of most Palestinian rights and the abandonment of the Palestinian national project per se.
Has the national project become the hostage of Fatah and Hamas and the regional and international implications of their divisive positions? I believe that this is the current reality; as a Fatah official told me, the Palestinian national project is no longer completely in the hands of the Palestinians, but has become largely dependent on regional and international powers. These powers, he insisted, do not want this project to see the light of day, which is why reconciliation between Fatah and Hamas is always prevented.
There were many academic propositions made in the conference that expressed the depth of the Palestinian crisis due to the lack of a unifying national project, the disintegration of the Palestinian identity for the Palestinians inside and outside Palestine, and the increased suffering of the Palestinians in the refugee camps; the latter includes those who are being killed in Syria and Iraq, and losing their lives at sea in the desperate attempt to reach safety. This matter needs to be considered by the Palestinians in order to save what can be saved and then move towards an agreement over a unifying national project that represents all Palestinians or, at least, the majority of them.
The Arab Centre for Research and Policy Studies is to be congratulated for holding this conference to bring the Palestinian cause back from the margins and provide media exposure. This was an opportunity to draw international attention to the central issue of the Arab world and highlight it once more, even if it was only for a few days.
This is a translation of the Arabic text published by Al-Sharq newspaper on 10 December, 2013
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.