By Dr. Daud Abduallah
This is arguably the most pressing need across the Middle East today. The lack of political dialogue and addiction to force continues to have dreadful consequences throughout the region. After plunging Iraq into a blazing inferno of sectarian fighting America’s doctrine of ‘regime change’ through military intervention has stalled the drive to democracy, peace and security. Amidst this climate of increasing turmoil Palestinians have viewed every visit of US Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice with an increased sense of foreboding.
Palestinians in Iraq
Although her eighth visit to the region undertaken in January 2007 was intended to win support for her administration’s new strategy in Iraq Dr Rice’s tour predictably took her to the Palestinian territories.
After months of virtual neglect Palestine is back on Washington’s radar. This sudden upsurge of interest has confirmed a widely held view that the Palestine Question has become a functional conflict for regional as well as international players. Meaning that when rulers and commanders in chief suffer reverses in their popularity ratings they launch convenient ‘peace’ initiatives in Palestine. This explains the lack of enthusiasm and lukewarm meted out to Dr. Rice when she made her stop over in Ramallah.
The widespread perception expressed on the streets and in the local media inferred that the whole exercise was more about creating a semblance of concern to deflect attention from the catastrophe in Iraq. The botched execution of Saddam Hussein did untold damage to the American administration’s international standing. In the Palestinian territories, this was witnessed in protests and demonstrations. Despite his many iniquities Palestinians of all shades came out to protest the manner in which the former Iraqi leader was executed. To them he was a friend. His final testimony, ‘Palestine Arabiyeh’ was only accompanied by the Muslim declaration of faith.
Even though there appeared to be a common destiny between the benefactor and his beneficiaries there was one notable point of difference. While Saddam had a public and ghastly execution, Palestinians in Iraq are hounded and killed with much less fan fare and attention. Thus, many Palestinians both at home and abroad expected Dr Rice to issue a call from Ramallah for an end to the murderous campaign against Palestinian refugees in Iraq. This was not the case.
Apart from its propaganda value the US Secretary of State’s visit had a more ominous purpose. By creating the image of some movement toward reviving the ‘peace process’, it sought to create for Israel the space needed to become more fully involved in efforts to deter and destroy Iran’s nuclear capability.
In what was clearly a mission to distribute roles Dr Rice announced her government’s need for a new coalition of the willing from its Arab allies. The accompanying warning was stark. A defeat for America in Iraq would have devastating consequences on Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Jordan and other ‘moderate’ states. What has been noticeably missing from the official American disclosures and which is quite likely is the fact that a defeat for the US in Iraq could do more damage to the Zionist project in Palestine and the region. Founding father Theodore Herzl argued that his Jewish State would be ‘a portion of a rampart of Europe against Asia.’ [The Jewish State: 96] An American defeat would make the fulfillment of this role considerably more difficult.
Toward A New Agenda
Meanwhile, international measures to isolate and strangle the Hamas led government remain firmly in place. These are not because the government is intrinsically corrupt, incompetent or despotic but largely because they oppose foreign occupation and domination. Therefore their control of government is seen as an obstacle to the imposition of a settlement on the Palestinians.
Both the US and EU classify the movement as a terrorist organization. Having the benefit of hindsight out of office former US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright observed, ‘It is all too easy for a repressive government to label anyone who disagrees with its policies a ‘terrorist.’ She further asserted that, ‘If democracy is to take root in the Middle East, Islamist parties cannot be excluded out of hand.’ [2006:226].
After one year of turbulent rule with half of its parliamentarians and ministers incarcerated in Israeli prisons the US believes that Hamas is now sufficiently weakened and cornered to accede to all its demands. But there is no sign of this. The movement’s position remains unchanged.
Given the failure of international sanctions to dislodge them from power and Israel’s persistent attacks on civilians across the territories it was hoped the US would adopt a new course in Palestine. Clearly there is a lack of political will and vision to bring about such change. The only acceptable logic is force and more force. Hence the rapid arming of the presidential guard in Palestine represents the flip side of the current American troop surge in Iraq. A British source mentions a total of 7,000 assault rifles and one million rounds of ammunition were specially delivered with safe passage by Israel. [Jewish Chronicle, 19/1/2007]
While the Palestinians are encouraged to turn their guns on each other Israel continues to withhold more than $600 million in customs duties owed to them. The situation on the ground has finally deteriorated to the point that no single faction can now fix it. A new political agenda beckons all. It must be refocused and geared to end the occupation and restore national rights. The intermittent public display of differences between the presidency and government has confirmed that political stability would only be achieved when the powers of both organs are clearly defined and respected. In the same vein, the reorganization of the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) would help determine the approach to future negotiations while maintaining adherence to national rights.
Whether these negotiations begin in the short or medium term one thing is certain. Half-way, transitional and temporary measures are non-starters. President Abbas pointed this out at his press conference with Dr. Rice and reaffirmed it after his meeting with Hamas politburo chief Khalid Mish’al in Damascus. This is a position that has a resonance in the wider Palestinian society as well as within the European Union. Palestinian Legislative Council member Mustafa Barghuthi urged the rejection of any proposed transitional state with temporary borders determined by the route of the Apartheid Wall, minus Jerusalem and full independence.
Whatever their political persuasions, Palestinians take particular exception with the suggestion of a transitional state. They point out that although Palestine became a state under Article 22 of the Charter of the League of Nations  its powers of self-government were restricted and temporarily exercised by the British Mandatory. They cannot after all these decades accept a similar situation. They believe a transitional state with temporary borders at the Apartheid Wall would become permanent.
When all is said and done, the most urgent necessity facing the Palestinians at home is the formation of a government of national unity. Its coming into being would invigorate efforts to break the cruel sanctions that have crippled their economy and blighted their lives. Although this siege is often portrayed as one against Hamas there is absolutely no doubt that it is hurting the Palestinian people as a whole. For this reason Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh urged the Arab League to fulfil its recent pledge to break the sanctions.
As it stands Palestinians would not settle for less than less than a sovereign independent state within the West Bank and Gaza Strip, with Jerusalem as its capital and the return of the refugees to their homes. The incumbent government cannot accept less than what Arafat refused. Occupation however well disguised is not a solution. The late leader used to say whoever is displeased with this position should drink from the sea.
-The author is senior researcher at the Palestinian Return Centre, London.