The brief encounter in Moscow between Argentina's legendary footballer Diego Maradona and the Palestinian Authority President generated international headlines. "My heart is Palestinian," Maradona told Mahmoud Abbas.
Even so, a heart aligned with Palestine slipped into an overlooked omission. "President Abbas has a country and has a right," Maradona said. "This man wants peace in Palestine." His statement, widely reported and also uploaded on his Instagram account, is typical of the rhetoric which has contributed to the stagnation of Palestine's anti-colonial struggle.
Cult celebrity to one side, Maradona's statement was also political. Having professed his support for Palestine on other occasions, the meeting with Abbas was an opportunity to stand with the people, juxtaposed against a leader who has repeatedly imparted his allegiance, through collaboration, with Israel and the international community. In football parlance, Maradona missed an open goal.
Instead, the people of Palestine were again marginalised to accommodate a statement based on unfounded propaganda. This is damaging on several levels. Besides legitimising PA violence against Palestinians, it has also exposed another dangerous fallacy from Palestine's supporters. The political violence against Palestinian rights has permeated the narrative so much that there is the tendency to glorify any statement that resembles a stance in favour of Palestine. If such words are uttered by a celebrity, they are subjected to such glorification that a swift sentence, possibly uttered with little thought, suddenly becomes a new slogan for the cause. In this case, for example, in the haste to promote Maradona, his praise for Abbas is forgotten, or overlooked.
Meanwhile, just a few weeks ago, Palestinians in the occupied West Bank protested against Abbas's crippling of Gaza through sanctions, and duly faced the wrath of the PA security services acting on the President's orders. The Palestinians in Gaza, whose lives are already endangered by the illegal Israeli-led blockade — now supplemented by Abbas's punitive measures — have been used as pawns by the PA in its quest to assert control over the enclave. Their legitimate resistance to the Israeli occupation has been ridiculed or spoken about in a condescending manner by the PA President. Furthermore, the Palestinian refugees' right of return — which is enshrined in international law — has been forced into the realms of the imaginary by Abbas.
If any leader from the international community, including those of international institutions, had equated Abbas with peace and the right to land, there would have been a plethora of voices claiming otherwise. It is dangerous to eliminate or overlook the political implications of Diego Maradona's comments simply because of his celebrity status.
That Abbas has a country and a right, which he does, is not analysed within the context of his forfeiting his right of return in 2012. Maradona would have made more impact if he had pointed out that a leader with the right to a country has consistently made decisions that have stripped the people of Palestine of their rights to their land, as well as the possibility of returning to it.
While Palestinians in Palestine are struggling for their survival and their territory, detachment from the nuances of their lives – unavoidable due to different realities – is now being manipulated to such extremes that there is more willingness to disrupt a consistent political stance. This is also reflected in the trend to cling to every mention of Palestine as if it contains a way forward, while the end result mirrors the cacophony created intentionally by the international community to drown out genuine Palestinian voices.
The consistency in support for Palestine is in danger of veering towards the superficial. While it is not intentional (unlike the international political position), it reflects a lack of unity. More importantly, there is an unconscious clutching at straws in trying to connect every comment, despite its obvious flaws, with support for Palestine.
Nevertheless, at the very least, Maradona's statement can reinforce and unite Palestinians behind one truth: Palestine and Palestinians should not be defined by Mahmoud Abbas.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.