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Knowledge, memory and the imposed deterioration of Palestine

Security forces take measures during a commemoration ceremony held for the 12th death anniversary of the Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat in Ramallah, West Bank on November 10, 2016 [Issam Rimawi / Anadolu Agency]
Security forces take measures during a commemoration ceremony held for the 12th death anniversary of the Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat in Ramallah, West Bank on November 10, 2016 [Issam Rimawi / Anadolu Agency]

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas clearly has no qualms about adding speculation to the narratives surrounding the probable murder of former PLO leader Yasser Arafat. On the 12th anniversary of Arafat’s death, Abbas gave a provocative speech similar to those allegedly revelatory discourses reserved for UN meetings whenever it is decided intermittently that Israel has exceeded acceptable limits when it comes to colonial violence. While probably expecting a furore over his admission that he knows who killed Arafat, it is more likely that the statement will provide further confirmation of PA corruption and collaboration with Israel.

Speaking during a ceremony organised by Fatah in Ramallah, Abbas declared, “You ask me who killed him; I know, but my testimony alone is not enough.” He referred to an ongoing inquiry about the murder. “You’ll find out at the earliest opportunity and be amazed when you know who did it,” he added. The latter part of his comment is puerile and sensationalist, making his admission more like gossip than a political statement that carries the possibility of supporting Palestinian memory.

Given that both the anniversary and the opening of the Yasser Arafat Museum took place within a short space of time, Abbas seems to have attempted to mix glorification, remembrance and opportunity, albeit to no avail. The museum’s exhibits are a reflection of a memory that is selective and one that serves a purpose; the linking of anti-colonial struggle to a historical figure and international leaders such as Fidel Castro, whose internationalist commitment remains permanent, among others. The Palestinian leadership’s decline from anti-colonial struggle to diplomatic complacency is less pronounced, something which is also synonymous with what Abbas has done for Palestine in terms of diplomatic engagement. Between the exhibits and the rhetoric there is an underlying similarity that rests within a putrid decadence, that of sacrificing the people for partial remembrance and its ensuing exploitation.

The previous investigations into Arafat’s death, which have been deemed inconclusive, will undoubtedly continue to fuel speculation, particularly in light of a clear admission from Abbas that suggests murder. However, it is worth keeping in mind that in February 2015, similar admissions were made by Tawfik Tirawi, only to be consigned to oblivion until the PA’s next theatrical episode.

Indeed, Abbas’s penchant for oblivion can be summed up by his purported reasoning behind the refusal to give names: “I do not want to mention names because these names do not deserve to be remembered.” Not only does this statement contradict his previous reasoning for not divulging the identity of the alleged killer(s); it is also an expression of blatant contempt for the importance of Palestinian historical and collective memory. Abbas has attempted to dictate the trajectories of Palestinian memory by obliterating the right to collective expression and knowledge, which constitutes a complete aberration of the elements sustaining memory processes in terms of building narratives through historical facts and remembrance. Without the need to remember, history becomes an irrelevant subject.

Palestinian memory has encountered a series of impediments which are premeditated and intentional. The colonial erasure of Palestinian memory was consolidated by the Oslo Accords which reversed anti-colonial struggle, or their remnants, into a permanent compromise with Israel and the international community through the two-state paradigm. Commemorating Arafat’s death requires a remembrance of both ends of the spectrum if Palestinian memory is to thrive within the confined space that is now Palestine and the oppressive colonial extension embodied by Abbas.

The PA head has extended the failure of the Oslo Accords, entrenching their ramifications to the point of annihilating Palestinian memory. As can be gleaned from the recent news, the tendency to seek out particular dates of historical importance in order to make an opportunistic statement is taking precedence over remembrance. The same attitude was exhibited over the Balfour Declaration, the dramatic 100th anniversary has also taken precedence over the consequences of the infamous document, given that the PA has absolutely no intention of aligning itself to Palestinian resistance.

In this case, Abbas has exploited the concept of his alleged knowledge, the remnants of Arafat’s memory and its relevance to Palestinian collective memory, while being aware of the absence of an impact within the wider framework precisely due to the deterioration of Palestinian memory as a collective effort between Israel and the PA. As much as Arafat has been glorified according to political need, the reality is that Palestine has been wilfully abandoned and its symbols scavenged to serve temporary purposes. This is why the land and the people remain ensconced within a space where the realities of colonialism and occupation are separated from each other; why there is no political will to discuss Israel as a presence rather than a state; and why diplomats keep distinguishing between settlements and early colonial settlements. For the PA, Israel and the international community, Palestine exists only as an abstract discussion. It is, therefore, inconceivable that any information regarding Arafat’s murder will be politically sustained.

Hence, divulging the identity of Arafat’s alleged killer will provide knowledge for the sake of filling a gap in the narrative, but its impact within the wider political framework will likely be less significant. Whatever Abbas may attempt to convey, he has instigated another rupture in Palestinian memory. The current scenario is one where knowledge regarding the alleged murder will complete a sliver of memory that is assailed by far more treacherous endeavours and within permanent oblivion. Abbas would prefer to alienate the Palestinian people by incongruous words which shift attention away from the fact that revealing the culprit’s name will only complete a narration. For this to become embedded within memory, Abbas must eliminate his hypothetical discourse and refrain from even influencing the trajectories of Palestinian memory. For Palestine, memory and deterioration have performed a macabre act of intertwining. Abbas is simply accelerating its extension.

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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