By Prof Lawrence Davidson
The Palestinians have always been a strong and determined people. You have to be so in order to defy a powerful and ruthless adversary, backed by the most of the world’s great powers, for close to one hundred years. The Palestinian leaders, both secular and religious, have likewise been strong and determined. A list of such people would run into the hundreds and so I shall just name a few: Sheikh Izz ad-Din al-Qassam, who organized Palestinian resistance against both the Zionists and the British only to be gunned down by the latter in 1935; George Habash who founded and led the secular Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine; Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, the founder and leader of Hamas until his assassination by the Israelis in 2004 and, of course, Yasir Arafat who led the Palestinian struggle for independence and statehood for half a century. None of these men were terrorists. They were freedom fighters. And the inevitable violence that they carried out was minuscule compared to that violence leveled upon the Palestinians by their adversaries. Finally, none of them ever gave up.
In order to not give up when facing far stronger foes one needs to: 1. Have a sense of what is possible over the long run. That is not to be overwhelmed by the immediate past and/or the immediate future. To understand that there is an essential difference between losing a battle, even a number of battles, and losing a war. 2. To have a sense of multiple strategic and tactical possibilities. That is what can be achieved through violent resistance, non-violent resistance, alliances and united fronts near and far, etc. 3. And to have a proper sense of certain bottom line principles that one simply cannot compromise, for without their tangible existence the struggle loses its meaning.
Part II – The Presence of Weakness
These leadership qualities existed within the secular organizations of Palestinian resistance for decades and did not start to ebb until the latter part of Yasir Arafat’s period of authority. At that time intimations of weakness such as corrupt practices, opportunism and questionable compromises were already evident. In addition, Arafat ended up running the Palestinian territories like a sheikhdom and the effect was to stifle the ambitions and enthusiasm of younger potential leaders. After the great man’s death the his older, less innovative companions remained entrenched in their positions. It is difficult to know why this happened when it did, and not earlier. However, it might be that this branch of the Palestinian resistance movement simply fell victim to statistical odds. To produce strong and talented leaders over a hundred years of struggle is already extraordinary. It means that over a century you have continuously produced those special leaders who are capable of strategic and tactical genius, capable of inspiring generation after generation of oppressed people and refugees, and to do all this while being castigated as terrorists by half the governments on the globe and hunted by many of the major security services of advanced nations. As time goes on the odds of reproducing such leadership becomes increasingly poor. That the production of such an exceptional leadership cannot go on forever is one of the major assumptions of the Palestinians’ Zionist foes. And, at least in the case of the PNA leadership, their assumption has now proven correct.
That this is so has been known to the Israelis and indeed to most Palestinians since 2004. And now it is known to everyone else thanks to the leakedPalestine Papers (PP) recently released by Al-Jazeera and independently authenticated by The Guardian in England. Though the PP does not tell us anything remarkably novel they do lay out the truth for the world and thereby render preposterous the charade of a peace process behind which this now revealed reality was hidden. Here are aspects of the picture the PP paints:
1. It reveals the present PNA leadership of Mahmoud Abbas and his fellows as naive, groveling and collaborationist. Apparently, Abbas and his people were and are so overwhelmed by a sense of Realpolitik that they could think of nothing else to do by capitulate in stages. And in doing so they ended up giving away those things that made the struggle worthwhile in the first place. They were willing to accept the Bantustans, to give up almost all of Jerusalem, to turn their backs on 99% of the Palestinian refugees, to look the other way as the people of Gaza were slaughtered and to even serve as an ally of the Israeli occupation forces on the West Bank. By the time they were done there was nothing left that was worth fighting for. As the PNA’s chief negotiator, Saeb Erekat told U.S. Middle East envoy George Mitchell, they had done everything but "convert to Zionism." And yet, the Israelis scorned the Palestinian compromises.
2.That is why, in these leaked papers, notes and memoranda the Israelis are revealed as every bit as disgusting as Abbas and his people. The Zionists are seen to be duplicitous in the extreme. Clearly all the talk about their being no negotiating partner on the Palestinian side was a lie. It is true that it takes at least two to negotiate. But the missing negotiating partner was always, from beginning to end, the Israelis. The ideologically driven orientation of the Israeli leadership precluded any compromises with the Palestinians and effectively stifled those few younger Israeli diplomats and representatives, such as those at Taba in 2001, who might have been willing to make a reasonable settlement. Thus, there is something deeply disturbing to vicariously witness the Israeli leaders directing negotiations with the Palestinians for decades while knowing that they never intend to close an honest and just deal. That their diplomacy would always be gunboat diplomacy and the rest was just playing for time, maneuvering so that in the end you get it all. Ironically, the only other modern nation that I know of whose leaders played this game was Nazi Germany.
3. The Palestine Papers also reveal the leaders and diplomats of the United States as utterly pathetic. Their behavior transforms their claim of being an "honest broker" into a classic Big Lie. There is one passage in the PP where Abbas turns to Mitchell and says "Nineteen years of promises and you haven’t made up your minds what you want to do with us." If Abbas is revealed here as incapable of independent action, so is the U.S. As the recent behavior of Barack Obama has demonstrated, Israel, through its allied Zionist lobbies, controls U.S. foreign policy when it comes to the Palestine-Israel conflict. The tail is wagging the dog. That is just a fact and the PP revelations substantiate it.
Thus it is that the men who inherited the mantle of Yasir Arafat are failures. Not because they have failed to win an independent Palestinian state, but because they have been willing to toss to the winds the underlying goals that make any such state worth having. Because their lack of insight and courage made them blind to the truth that was right there before them for years–that they were bargaining with people (be they of the Israeli left or right) who were in the game only to humiliate them, only to satisfy some perverse need to see these Palestinians waste time while they, the Zionists, boldly stole everything they had. The Israelis never intended to fulfill the peace process. They want only the land–all of it.
Part III – Back to the Tradition of Strength
So, is the game up? No it is not. There are two additional sources of strong Palestinian leadership still on the field. There are still strong and determined Palestinian leaders at the head of Hamas. And, it should be kept in mind that the leaders of Hamas are the democratically elected leaders of Palestine. Whatever Washington might say, Abbas and his cronies (on top of everything else) are politically illegitimate. And, as far as most of the Palestinians are concerned, the important thing at this juncture is that Hamas still has the stamina and talent to preserve the goals for which the Palestinians have always fought. As Tariq Ali has correctly noted, "Now we know why the Israel/US/EU nexus was so keen to disregard the outcome of the Palestinian elections and try to destroy Hamas militarily." It was because they could not castrate them as they had the Abbas crowd.
But it is not just Hamas where you find determined and principled leadership. There are a number of West Bank Palestinians who are strong leaders in the worldwide Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions(BDS) campaign against Israel. These people, such as Omar Barghouti and Lisa Taraki, are just as tough minded as anyone in Hamas. And, as Hamas has its allies in the outside world, so do these leaders of the BDS movement. And these allies collectively number in the millions.
What this all means is that the Palestinians are in good shape to absorb the public destruction of the PNA as a representative of the Palestinian People. Given that the PNA is an authoritarian and repressive organization, armed and funded by the United States, its corrupt and self-serving remnant will be with us for awhile. But it represents no one and no one but con men and the ignorant will take it seriously. Its demise in all but form represents a healthy event for it paves the way for ever greater numbers of men and women in civil society to throw their weight behind those who still have the will to fight. So, with the air cleared, what we have here is not so much a bad end, as a fresh beginning.
Lawrence Davidson is a Professor of Middle East History at West Chester University in West ChesterPennsylvania.He is the author of America’s Palestine: Popular and Official Perceptions from Balfour to Israeli Statehood (University Press of Florida, 2001), Islamic Fundamentalism (Greenwood Press, 2003), and, co-author with Arthur Goldschmidt of the Concise History of the Middle East, 8th and 9th Editions (Westview Press, 2006 and 2009). His latest book is entitled Foreign Policy, Inc.: Privatizing American National Interest (University of Kentucky Press, 2009). Professor Davidson travels often and widely in the Middle East. He also has taken on the role of public intellectual in order to explain to American audiences the impact of U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East.
Davidson is a regular contributor to Opinion Maker.