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"We want to live", and other Palestinian concerns

By Azmi Bishara

Congratulating Israel on its "Independence Day" is to congratulate it on the successful armed robbery of Palestine and the brutal displacement of its people. When such congratulations come from political leaders in the USA, for example, or France, or the Ivory Coast, it could be argued that this is to be expected. However, when they come from the head of an Arab political entity we have cause to answer with silence; not the contemplative sort so beloved of the poets, but the stunned kind brought about because you are, quite simply, lost for words.

This is not the first time Israel has received congratulations from this quarter and unfortunately – it probably won't be the last. Enough is enough, though, because this is really strange. While Gaza's inhabitants – refugees and their descendents who were displaced most brutally by Jewish forces in 1948 are eking out an existence under the collective punishment of Israel's siege, a message of congratulations has been sent to the Israeli occupier and oppressor by the Prime Minister of the Palestinian Authority.


Salam Fayyad – for it is he – gave an interview in Israeli newspaper Haaretz early last month (April 2010). Among other things he said, "Related to the Zionist ethos, fine, Israel is a biblical country, there are lots of hilltops, lots of vacant space, why don't they use that, and let us get on with it?… The conflict of the region is not about us at all, it's between radicals and moderates… We are building to receive the refugees in the Palestinian state." This is the same language as that used by the Israelis, the same terminology employed by the Zionist settlers who claim that they are building their illegal settlements on "vacant hilltops".

Such Arab politicians are so good at second-guessing the Americans that they are able to do everything wanted of them even before the US asks them to do it. They really do have an uncanny understanding between them.

At a stroke, this former employee of the World Bank now employed by the international community has reduced the concept of a Palestinian homeland to "populated areas" that must be provided with the necessary infrastructure of life, which is well within Israel's vision of a Palestinian state limited to densely populated areas. It is added in stage whispers that this is necessary in order to prevent the growth of extremist elements. The right of return is reduced by Mr. Fayyad to the right of return to a fragmented, non-contiguous Palestinian state.

What is happening before the eyes of the world is a flagrant deception and sleight of hand by Western powers to make the densely populated Palestinian "islands" look "normal". The reality is that order and calm has been imposed by force while the Palestinian Authority is preoccupied with building grand institutions. Real life in the occupied Palestinian territories is lived under constant curfew inflicted by the illegal Israeli military occupation on an oppressed civilian population.

The man who gave this interview to Haaretz has distanced himself from the Palestinian nationalist discourse. Salam Fayyad was appointed as Prime Minister in the aftermath of a coup against the democratically-elected government of Palestine now surviving only in Gaza. He won only 1 per cent of the popular vote. Before that he was Minister of Finance appointed and imposed by the Americans on Yasser Arafat when the latter was besieged by the Israelis in his compound in Ramallah. The Israeli press called him "Palestine's Ben- Gurion". Unbelievable, because we all know what Ben-Gurion did to the Palestinians. Fayyad is ranked 10th on the list of the 100 most important figures by Time Magazine. How and why was he chosen? Of course, there is no point to imperialism unless it is able to dictate to us who is a moderate and who is the extremist. It has no value if it is not in a position to shower us with awards while deciding who the winners should be.

Fayyad's interview led me to a painfully exhausting review of the interviews granted by Palestinian officials to the Israeli media in recent years. I gave up after two days of mind-numbing reading, throwing in the towel because I was (and remain) convinced that this issue deserves a whole research project of its own, or a book on model ways to inculcate the personality of the colonized, which I have neither the time nor the inclination to write. My advice to those who have nerves of steel is to embark upon this mission, but be warned: almost all the interviews have the Palestinian officials adopting Israeli concepts and terminology in describing the reality of the Palestinians, as well as offering gratuitous concessions to the Israeli public.

All of those interviewed appear to have been driven by the desire to impress the occupier, a kind of textual drollery for the Israeli reader. Interestingly, nearly all of the interviews were followed the next day by denials in Arabic by those interviewed of some of their statements to the Hebrew media, which declined to publish a single correction in Hebrew-language papers.

Driven by his inferiority complex and the overwhelming desire to impress the oppressor, the rogue Palestinian is praised by the state of Israel but remains imprisoned by the occupation and his statements, getting nothing in return except the honour of being called a "moderate". The first time that he changes his attitude or position, he is ridiculed as weak by his Israeli minders who accuse him of lying and thus "prove" that all Arabs are liars and not to be trusted.

None of these submissive attitudes by such Palestinians – whether criticizing Palestinian chaos and corruption or attacking the Islamic Resistance Movement (Hamas) – has ever led to any positive change in Israel's position. Easily given concessions only encourage the oppressor to exert more pressure and demand even more. Fayyad and his entourage argue that their biggest achievement is giving the "Israeli peace bloc" the tools to persuade the Israeli public to accept a Palestinian state as a solution to the Jewish state's demographic dilemma, encouraging public opinion to support the idea of peace with so-called moderate and flexible Palestinians who can be persuaded to yield more concessions.

Just when I had finished reading these interviews the PA leader embarked on an effort to win over Israeli public opinion because it was clear that the Obama administration's desire to put pressure on Israel was illusory and "negotiation is the game of life" to which there is no alternative. In other words, instead of negotiating with the Israeli government the Palestinian president, he decreed, would appeal directly to every individual Israeli citizen. This "wise" strategy was announced during a meeting of the Fatah Revolutionary Council. It may come as a bit of a shock to the PA president when he realises that such a strategy means that he must deal with six million Israeli negotiators and every one of them a citizen who will want concessions as proof that Abbas really wants peace. More "facts on the ground" will also be demanded to ensure Israel's security.

President Abbas ran out of patience only one day after his announcement, when he rushed to give an interview to Israel's Channel 2 TV, trying to fill in the blanks left by his Prime Minister's Haaretz interview. "There is no crisis of confidence with Netanyahu," said President Abbas. On the right of return he said, "We are talking about a just and agreed upon solution. You can't get more flexible than that." The PA, he added, "will agree on a solution that we will then bring to the Palestinian people." The Palestinian Authority's leader has therefore given the occupation state the right to accept or reject the right of return, despite it being a right guaranteed by international law. What is more, Abbas will only give the Palestinians a solution with which Israel is happy. He must then sit and hope that Netanyahu responds and accepts the offer because the PA's leader does not want "the Palestinians to even think about demonstrating".

Overwhelmed by enthusiasm for addressing Israelis and Jewish public opinion in the US, Abbas then addresses AIPAC, the most effective of Israel's many lobbying tools in the Western hemisphere. Honest listeners will realise that the PA's leadership under occupation has given up all attempts to resist the occupation, has surrendered totally, and has placed itself as a hostage in the hands of the occupation.

The end of this chapter is known in advance but there is a new chapter in the offing. The man who has abandoned Palestinian rights and deviated from the national discourse, not being a product of the national movement himself, will be the main protagonist of the next episode.

The ex-World Bank employee who boasts of being a practical man giving people day-to-day solutions rather than adhering to the national cause, has won the West's admiration for his pragmatism and for wasting no time on politics, which he leaves to the West, the Quartet and, of course, Israel; he is too busy building economic institutions.

Believing in a Palestinian economic structure is to believe in a chimera. It is no more than a political instrument which, once its task has been fulfilled, will be abandoned by those who financed it. The Palestinian economy in the West Bank is only a cover for security arrangements and strategies, an economy based on assistance in return for political and security services. It is entirely dependent on external support subject to political whims and the desire to promote those Palestinians who accept Israel's conditions and are eager to protect Israel's security.

The PA's leader is up to his ears in politics, but it is the politics of the West and the Quartet which he serves. The whole Palestinian economy depends on his attitude towards them, and this allows him to use financial aid to pay employees' wages. And if Fatah is not satisfied his pragmatism rushes to the rescue again; he simply gives Fatah a majority in his cabinet.

This kind of apolitical politics brings to mind those who called on the Palestinian people through the Israeli media to give up resistance, warning them that struggle would provoke the anger of the occupation and "destroy their lives" (as if that's not done already!). The slogan was "we want to live".

There are two types of "love for life": In aggressive countries like Israel it does not contradict politics, nor does it clash with notions like nationalism, patriotism, religiosity, literature, art, nihilism, moral decay, the army, parliament, politics, industry, agriculture, science and even war if need be. That would apply to the USA as well.

However, for people under occupation "love for life" must be exercised away from politics, weapons, struggle and national projects and therefore away from productivity. Here, symbolic love for life must be drawn from the kitchen, from tabouleh, hummus and unseemly haste to get entry into the Guinness Book of Records, and contrived concerts and competitions to bestow awards on the elite.

It is perversely interesting to see how satisfied the Israeli occupiers are as it broadcasts films of vibrant cafes and restaurants in Ramallah as a sure sign of the quality of life behind artificial barriers.

This is a totally artificial "love for life", a pretence whereby life is reduced to "we want to live", where there is no vibrancy in life for the simple reason that there is no true life under occupation without a struggle against the occupier. In the absence of independence and national sovereignty, life, happiness and sadness can only be felt under the shadow of a national project which, if abandoned, remains a folk tale held in the imagination.

The fact is that the public relations industry seeks immunity against the truth; it is reluctant to take the public conscience seriously and indifferent as to whether it is marketing fact or fiction. It is a branch of pragmatism as a philosophy, the market and the commodification of human relations. Its job is to find a way to market anything and everything and find an attractive sellable image for everything, even the aesthetically repulsive or morally offensive. Yet this industry, no matter how creative and innovative, has not inspired its students to set up a competition for the biggest dish of Palestinian traditional Musakhan, the world's largest Knafeh in Naples, or even squatting and eating olives and cheese to get closer to the masses as a form of struggle. It is all about transforming the obvious into an absurdity like telling people, for instance, that the sky is blue. When politicians make use of people's instincts and tell them that they "want to live", then there is no need to remind them of what is already part of their daily consciousness. Public relations masterminds, "copyrighters" and political leaders do not need to market the obvious.

The job of a political leadership is to answer the questions why and how do we live? And will the occupation allow us to live when we have surrendered and abandoned all our weapons? Who will finance these institutions after donor countries have lost interest in them? Who will finance nearly 200,000 jobs, on which more than a million people are dependent, subject to the desire of the so-called international community in supporting an unfair settlement? What would we be without the rest of our people? What is our commitment to Jerusalem and the refugees? What kind of life is left for a people who have given up their sovereignty for crumbs?

Diverting people's attention from the real issue under the slogan "we want to live" is equivalent to selling a cheap product which has a short lifespan. The good news is that the Palestinian people are waking up to the fact that their leaders are short-changing them; the bad news is that Salam Fayyad is still the darling of the West. We await the outcome of this struggle with interest.

Dr Azmi Bishara is an Arab-Israeli politician and former member of the Israeli Knesset. He is leader of the Balad party.

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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