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On participating in Zionist research conferences

"100 years since Balfour, 70 years since the establishment of the State of Israel": This is the slogan under which many of the current Zionist research conferences are taking place. The initiative has been put forth by Zionist research centres that specialise in strategic research in Israel and the United States.

The current conversation is focused primarily on the Schusterman Centre for Israeli Studies, based in Brandeis University in Boston as it will host a conference on the topic of national immunity, which will be held with the support of the Diplomatic and Strategic Studies Foundation. What matters to us with regard to these conferences is not only the central themes and topics that are discussed, but also the increasing levels of Arab participation in such meetings. The question of Arab attendance has roused countless debates in the national arena and has been a source of much disagreement between parties.

In a normal context, that is when the Palestinian Liberation Organisation (PLO) was considered the highest political order for the Palestinian people, Dr Nabil Shaath, the man responsible for international relations within the PLO, was the cause of much debate when he participated in the Herzliya conference. It was the topic on everyone's mind.

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This same point of debate has been revived over the last few days as many have begun to question the participation of academics in the Balfour conference. Yet, it is important to note that this type of participation lost any credibility when Palestinian representatives attended the funerals of Israeli officials ranging from Shimon Peres to that of a civil management officer in the Israeli army. The participation of Palestinians in anything that normalises relations with Israel is no longer a compass to follow.

Because our people's revolutions and intifadas were not born out of the PLO's initiatives but on the contrary, preceded them by decades, the national vanguard of politicians and academics are still paving the way for the future. The vanguard has faced many challenges with the hurdles of the past to overcome and the impasse preventing new reforms. Not to mention that the PLO has become the representative for the Palestinians at the negotiating table, which has transformed the Palestinian question into nothing more than an issue of Israeli security and the PLO into nothing more than an Israeli agent.

Of course, this collapse is unprecedented in the general Palestinian stance. Arab citizens of Israel are being treated as though we are extreme or excess simply because we seek to hold on to our gains and the sacrifices we have made over the course of the last few decades. We are holding on to all of the sacrifices and honouring the blood of our martyrs so that it will not have been spilt in vain. Yet, in today's world, our refusal to attend the funeral of Shimon Peres is a political faux pas for which we must now apologise, because "his excellency" Mahmoud Abbas participated in giving Peres a send off worthy of his alleged great memory. The PLO is now calling resistance operations "excessive responses". The PLO has also stated that it considers Hamas' operations as a threat to Palestinian national security. If the question has come down to participating in the funerals and memorials of Israel's greatest politicians and generals, how can we ever criticise Arab politicians who participate in the Knesset or Israeli politics? We cannot.

The question is not that the collapse of values and functions as a cover for the trend that is making its way between us, but it also seeks to further place us at the mercy of the Palestinian Authority and its men. The mix of authoritarianism and collaboration that is sometimes practiced by this party will continue to be a point of Palestinian contention.


If the debate spurred by the participation of academic Palestinian citizens of Israel in the Israeli conference is a question of loyalty, one must consider it as a question of general Palestinian survival and interest, especially for those living under the umbrella of Israeli citizenship. It is among the first instances of Palestinian participation in such conferences and it proves useful to consider it a legitimisation of the Palestinian political and national project and its institutions.

It is not proper, at this stage in our struggle and its history, to reduce the Palestinian cause to a civil issue that is completely cut off from its national dimensions. We cannot discuss issues facing Palestinian municipalities in Arab-Israeli conferences titled "100 Years since Balfour". While we understand the challenges facing Arab citizens of Israel, particularly those of the political and academic vanguard, we ask that they avoid participating in the falsification of our history. We ask that they let go of the concept of the margin and marginalisation because their minority status remains part of the larger Palestinian question and they are often used as a means through which to further legitimise the Zionist project.

Translated from Arab48, 22 June 2017.

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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