Millions of us around the world have supported the Palestinian cause for decades. In our calls for justice for the people of Palestine we have stood alongside some political giants. I can’t think of any other piece of land — we are talking about a tiny scrap hardly the size of an African safari park — which has been at the centre of so much political angst, bloodshed and hardship for its people. The creation of the state of Israel in 1948 and its ongoing ethnic cleansing and colonisation of Palestine has seen to that.
The finger of blame for the current Palestinian plight can be pointed in many directions, but the first to carry the can must be Britain. In case you need reminding, this year is the centenary of the infamous Balfour Declaration — in reality, a short letter — which was issued in November 1917. In just a couple of short paragraphs, the British government pledged its support for a “national home for the Jewish people in Palestine”.
Quite how and why a country on another continent could promise a piece of land it didn’t own to a group of people scattered around the world to the detriment of those who lived there is baffling in the extreme. That, though, is exactly what Foreign Secretary Lord Arthur James Balfour did on behalf of “His Majesty’s government”.
At that point the Arab world should have come together as one in condemnation of such a move but the Arab world, despite once being an entity in its own right, was already fragmenting at the hands of European colonialism which capitalised on a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity by trading on fear, greed and power. Now the Arab world is largely a group of nation states run by self-serving royals and dictators whose only motivation in life is to maintain their iron grip on the wealth and reins of power.
For the past 100 years, Arab rulers have done little or nothing to help the Palestinians. The charismatic and fearless Yasser Arafat, however, did manage to prick their consciences now and again and, at times, the possibility of peace seemed within the grasp of Palestinians under his leadership.
I remember visiting Arafat with an international delegation during his final days in Ramallah. He looked worn and frail, and his complexion was grey. On his table was a gun which he said he would use if the Israelis dared to invade his compound in the occupied West Bank. This wasn’t an idle threat; Israeli tanks were surrounding the building and the late Ariel Sharon, the antithesis of a peacemaker, was threatening to do all sorts, including physically removing Arafat from power. Since Israel has never chosen to be bound by international law — indeed, treats it with open contempt — such threats could not be taken lightly.
Arafat was blamed for being an obstacle to peace, and his Fatah movement and the Palestinian Liberation Organisation were labelled as terrorists or apologists for terrorism. Today, we hear the same old tired Zionist rhetoric but the obstacles to peace are now said to be the Fatah leadership and Hamas. In a few years it will be another bunch of players to blame, and so the cycle will continue unless both the international community and the Palestinian people rise up and cry “Enough!”
Today’s Palestinian leadership in Ramallah is uninspiring; it is in decay and dying, literally. What hope can an ageing, corrupt and untrustworthy group of old men give the Palestinians? The reason we are still talking about Palestine today is because its people are strong, resilient and determined to get justice, and while Western governments and Tel Aviv long ago defanged the Ramallah leadership they cannot crush the ambitions of the Palestinian people.
All the promises made by current President Mahmoud Abbas, such as peace in the West Bank, have not been rewarded one iota. The Israel occupation is still in place and the building of illegal settlements continues unrestrained. You can almost see the tumbleweed rolling through the streets of despair in Ramallah today, which resembles more of a rest home for the elderly than a hotbed of Palestinian nationhood and political activism.
The population of Palestine is the youngest in the region, with a birth rate of over four children to every woman, and with 40 per cent of the population under 14 years old it can be regarded as a youthful nation. Those who are 65 years and above account for less than three per cent of the population, according to the World Population Review. There are bright, young men and women (let’s not forget the Palestinian women for God’s sake) who are more than capable of injecting some life and vitality back into Palestine, its political ambitions and its people. They are the next generation and are more than capable of pushing forward to make their dreams become a reality.
The clear deliverance of justice will come through neither the hands of the West nor the Arab leaders; both maintain the status quo of occupation and misery and are part of the problem not the solution. Abbas can deliver nothing — Benjamin Netanyahu will go to his grave making sure of that — but there is still hope for change.
Palestine needs a leader surrounded by a diverse team who can unite the West Bank and Gaza and stand up to the international community without being bought off by bribes and false promises. Abbas must, if he has any love left for Palestine or its people, step down and take the old guard with him. He is a leader without a mandate; even he must realise that.
Instead of standing up for his people he is punishing them from the West Bank to the Gaza Strip by enforcing brutal sieges and thereby continuing the unjust occupation. He has just one gift left which could redeem him overnight in the eyes of Palestinians everywhere. He could — and should — resign and hand over the leadership to someone who commands respect and will not be bought or bribed by Arab wealth and Zionist influence.
There are many players to blame for the plight of the Palestinians today, who are a people betrayed on all sides. The only hope now will come from political change at the top and a desire from those at the bottom to make sure that their next leadership is progressive, corruption-free, courageous and trustworthy. Palestine is no longer a country for old men. It must embrace the future, and the future is young.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.