By Dr. Salman Abu Sitta
The deteriorating situation of the Palestinian cause is no secret to anyone, including Palestinians themselves and the Arab world. There is, therefore, an urgent need to review this situation and prepare a viable political agenda able to be applied. This is not to say that there is a need for a national programme, as that is still the National Pact of 1969, which concludes that Palestine is Arab land and resistance (in all its forms) to the occupation is the means of action.
The Palestinian arena
The objectives of the Palestinian national movement after the Nakba (the 1948 catastrophe of Israel's creation and the start of the Palestinian refugee crisis) were very clear; the country was known and the enemy was known. In the fifties and sixties, the fedayeen (freedom fighters) movement and secret groups arose (in the Gaza Strip at first) after which the Palestine Liberation Organization was formed in 1964 and reached its highest level of visibility in 1974 before it started a long decline. In the last National Council in Algeria in 1988, the Board agreed reluctantly by a two-thirds majority to a Palestinian state based on the Armistice Line of 1949 with adherence to the right of return. Then we had the disaster of Oslo in 1993 which formed the contract for the submission of the people under occupation without reference to international law or Palestinian rights. We are still under the influence of this disaster.
Just as Egypt's Anwar Sadat split from his predecessor Gamal Abdul Nasser, Mahmoud Abbas has split from his predecessor Yasser Arafat, giving up resistance as too "low" and resorting to a "life" of negotiations. Thus did Abbas abandon an independent Palestinian decision-making process, taking refuge in reliance on the consent of Western and Arab countries. He abandoned Arab Palestine and agreed to pursue a statelet in the remnants of the occupied West Bank. He reduced the issue of the whole of historic Palestine and its people to a tiny entity in the West Bank and he gave up, apart from meaningless lip-service, on the refugees' right of return. He also gave up on the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) as the voice of the Palestinian people, except for giving negotiations some degree of legitimacy. His Palestinian Authority in Ramallah is, he believes, sufficient to attract Western cash, enough to buy support amongst his people.
Knowingly or unknowingly, Abbas surrendered to Tony Blair's deceit that Palestinians must accept the conditions of the Quartet [the recognition of Israel… etc.], otherwise they will not receive assistance and besieged Gaza will not receive the $4.8 billion promised by the West at one of the Sharm el-Sheikh "summits" for the reconstruction of Gaza's infrastructure destroyed by Israel.
The Palestinian President should know that Blair is a liar (who deceived his own nation to wage war on Iraq), because the Quartet has never set such conditions on Palestinians. Alvaro de Soto, the international mediator for Palestine (the successor of Count Bernadotte, assassinated by Israelis in 1948) says in paragraph 79 of his End of Mission report to the UN in May 2007: "There is a general misunderstanding that says the Quartet had put 'conditions' which, if not implemented, would be an obstacle to aid provided to the Palestinian Authority and communicating with it. I have tried time and again to make clear to the press that the Quartet did not impose even once conditions which call on the Palestinians to recognize Israel and renounce violence… If this sounds like 'conditions' of the Quartet, the fact is that these 'conditions' are the policies of America and the European Union alone… and it is a matter of fact that they had been taking from Russia and the United Nations a cover under the name of the Quartet to implement their [US and EU] policies."
In this miserable set of circumstances, the Palestinian people have become different nations. The people of Gaza (12% of all Palestinians) are under siege from Israel, the West and those Arab countries which are pro-Israel and America. This blockade constitutes a war crime and genocide according to the simplest rules of international law. And then there are the people in the West Bank (18% of all Palestinians) who have been restricted by the Palestinian Authority and prevented – in the name of Israel's security – from pursuing resistance and, in many instances, expressing any solidarity with the people of Gaza. The people in the West Bank have been led to believe that their ultimate achievement will be to build "institutions", even while under occupation, with the people isolated from each other in areas A, B and C; this includes the people of Jerusalem who are besieged and displaced from their homes, which are demolished. Those in Gaza and the West Bank are the 30% of the total population of Palestinians who were allowed to take part in the democratic elections.
In addition, there are the 1.25 million Palestinians who have lived in their homeland under Israeli rule for six decades and who now hold aloft the banner of Palestinian patriotism inside Israel.
And then there are the Palestinian of the diaspora. Some members are living as refugees in Arab countries, caught between their own fear of expulsion from their places of refuge and the fear of the host countries' reluctance to resettle the refugees, depriving them of even basic civil rights in the process. The hosts themselves are caught in a dilemma; do they encourage the refugees to continue the struggle to return to their land in Palestine and, in doing so, encourage the establishment of potentially volatile political entities on their soil? Around 500,000 Palestinians are spread across Europe and America who are the most active in engaging with politics, the media and legal activity. Living in democratic societies they are able to work together, despite those countries' general loyalty to Israel.
In such an environment, it seems obvious that the first duty of a Palestinian president is to gather his forces and work on behalf of all Palestinians under the framework of a new national elected council that represents 11 million Palestinians, of whom around 70% at present do not have any representation on issues pertaining to Palestine; they have been disenfranchised to this effect since 1988, at least. However, Mahmoud Abbas rejects any attempts to include the diaspora in the equation, despite a written agreement in Cairo in March 2005 approved by all factions, and even though representatives of the "independents" (who are the majority of the Palestinian people, more than 95%), have met with him for this purpose.
As for reconciliation between the two main factions, it has kept people busy more than it should have. It is, in the best-case scenario, a dispute over the political programme; at worst it is a dispute over positions of authority. In any case, the place for reconciliation is not in Arab capitals or in front of their security services or the media, it is in an elected national council which has the definitive say on the differences in factional programmes and performance. The existence of such a council would have made it unnecessary to travel from Arab capital to satellite TV station and back again.
The conclusion is that the Palestinian people must take action to develop a new political agenda which is required to achieve the unity of all the Palestinian people and their representatives.
On the other side, of course, is Israel. What is its situation today? Israel is a Zionist state and if it abandons Zionism it wouldn't be Israel; it would become Palestine with a Jewish community, no matter how large. There is no benefit in searching in the rubble for an Israeli leader who believes in Palestinians' rights and the classification of this one or that one as right-wing or left-wing has no real value. No matter who is at the helm, Israel is committed to the vision of Israel's borders submitted by the World Zionist Organization to the peace conference in Versailles at the end of the First World War.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.