Palestine is always defined by an indefinite present dissociated from its past, a bludgeoning lie against which Palestinians are always struggling. Ever since the UN recognised Israel's colonial project as a state and projected the humanitarian paradigm onto the Palestinians driven out of their homes and land, it has become convenient for world leaders and diplomats to remain within those parameters.
It has also become incumbent upon human rights organisations to raise awareness of the ramifications of political issues that the international community prefers to ignore. Israeli apartheid is now a mainstream concept, yet Palestinians have been warning about violent, racist segregation and discrimination for years. "Zionism is apartheid," declared the PLO in 1985, decades before the human rights organisation B'Tselem declared Israel to be an apartheid state last year, followed by Human Rights Watch and, more recently, Amnesty International.
If the deterioration of Palestinians' political rights has been evident to anyone with or without a shard of humanity, why does the Palestinian Authority have to cling to such reports rather than set the alarm bells ringing itself? In his speech to the African Union urging the bloc to rescind its acceptance of Israel as an observer state, PA Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh portrayed himself as a bearer of exceptionally bad news which should influence the AU decision, rather than the AU basing its decision upon the decades of colonial violence inflicted upon the Palestinian people.
"I am sorry to report to you that the situation of the Palestinian people has only grown more precarious. A few days ago, Amnesty International published a report confirming that Israel is not only guilty of denying Palestinians our human rights but that Israel is also committing the most grave of crimes, the crime of apartheid," Shtayyeh said in his speech published by Wafa news agency.
Although it is welcome, the Palestinian situation has not grown "more precarious" because of Amnesty International's report. The international community was colluding with Zionist leaders to expel Palestinians from their own land prior to the 1948 Nakba. From the infamous Balfour Declaration in 1917 to the ethnic cleansing of 1948 and the military occupation in 1967, international support has entrenched Israel's settler-colonialism. The apartheid that is now being mentioned openly has its roots in that collusion, but the PA prefers to obliterate the past in order to toe the international line and the "accepted" discourse on Palestine, which segregates the Nakba and each violation committed by Israel, so that the Zionist state's apartheid also becomes dissociated from its colonial origins.
It is such dissociation which enables Shtayyeh and international diplomats to speak about Palestine and Palestinians as if they were disconnected issues validated solely by the degree of media visibility. The PA's responsibility is not to follow the media, but to make the case against Israeli apartheid based on what Israel is doing and what Palestinians are experiencing; it shouldn't need to wait for an Amnesty report to do this. With Shtayyeh using the report to "prove" that Israeli apartheid is a reality, he is weakening, and even invalidating, the Palestinian narrative.
If, as Shtayyeh rightly says, Israel should not be rewarded for its apartheid practices, why does the PA continue to collaborate with the occupation state on security matters? Why does the PA lend more weight to reports by international human rights organisations than the lived experience of its own people?
Amnesty International's report, like those of Human Rights Watch and B'Tselem, will serve its own purpose by making discussion about Israeli apartheid a mainstream topic, rather than normalise Israel's settler-colonial presence. The PA's duty ought to have been accomplished prior to Amnesty issuing its report, but its own entanglement in enabling apartheid, as a result of being beholden to Israel and the international community, will result inevitably in external condemnations of Israel which still leave Palestinians at increased risk of violence. As much as human rights work can be valuable, taking down the political and physical implications of Israeli apartheid must be the priority.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.