By Sam Bahour
Today, Palestinian political strategy is being driven in the total absence of a functioning political system. Israel’s forced fragmentation of our geographic reality mixed with internal political party divisions, disgust, despair and incompetence, the status quo tears apart Palestine’s societal fabric. If it remains on its current course, the train of national liberation is bound to derail, resulting in serious, if not permanent, damage to our bid for freedom and independence.
Repairing the Palestinian political system cannot wait any longer.
Almost every week in Palestine a political personality or think tank invites a group of thinkers to hash out what can be done to halt the imminent crash of our political project. Efforts to bring us together when so many powers are trying to keep us in permanent disarray are of course welcome.
However, unlike many of those who take joy in merely being in the presence of leadership, I have been walking away from these never-ending discussions with serious concerns. Given the years of experience and high caliber of those sitting around the table, I’d be surprised if any of them was unaware of any piece of insight shared in the discussions. The thought that these meetings really launch any kind of strategic process to reverse the political deterioration is rather far-fetched.
Priorities for a Real Strategic Track
Here are a few priorities we need to get us on a strategic track that is worthy of the time and effort being exerted. They relate directly to the need to repair the Palestinian political system as well as our national liberation movement.
Applying Accountability – It is no longer acceptable that those responsible, politically or otherwise, for our current state of affairs should still be put forward as our saviors. Until the public sees more than a public relations effort to expose failed or criminal elements in our society, then whatever political strategy is chosen will have little legitimacy.
Addressing Governance – This is the issue everyone speaks about but no one addresses. How can we seriously move forward with no political system in place? The gatherings organized every week by well-meaning community catalysts may have their place, but they cannot be a substitute for a functioning political system. The successful round of municipal elections that were held in the West Bank were a baby step forward and they must continue, where possible, until all municipal governments are not only elected, but also respect their terms in office.
However, municipal level government is not the arena where political strategy emerges. Every Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) level of leadership, every PLO organ, every Palestinian Authority governing unit must regain its credibility before the people, inside Palestine and abroad.
Elections may serve a purpose, but they are not a silver bullet. To drive this point home, I urge all Palestinians to watch a TED talk by the venture capitalist and political scientist, Eric X Li, who argues that China will “morally challenge” the universality claim of Western democratic systems. The point is that there are many ways to reach collective leadership at every level of governance; what are we waiting for?
Building Capacity for the UN Battle – Entering the International Criminal Court (ICC) was a bold and long overdue step, but this is bound to be a long and hard process. The real impact of the new state tools available to us is how to bring the challenge to occupation down to an operational level in strategically chosen international venues. For that to happen, we need dedicated, trained and committed human resources. The quality of our current diplomatic corps leaves much to be desired. The public threat to enter 500+ international treaties and organizations rings hollow to those who know the current state of our human resources: This is a dangerous illusion. Let us take statehood seriously and mobilize human resources to rise to the occasion.
Only when we work on the three imperatives outlined above will we really be prepared to enter into a strategic planning exercise to chart our path to freedom and independence.
In the meantime, why do we waste time in dwelling on the need to choose forms of resistance? Can we not at least agree that all internationally and morally accepted forms of resistance should be supported? These include diplomatic efforts, economic resistance, civil disobedience, the ICC, Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS), etc. These are all tactics, not a political strategy. Once the political strategic direction is defined, then the intensity of any or all of these tactics can be revisited. But until a political strategy is defined, who is to say which tactic of resistance is valid or invalid?
The Basics for a Political Strategy
We must go back to basics, and ask the political parties as well as the PLO leadership a few questions to be used as starting points for a new political program. For example, in 2015, do we:
- Accept international law and UN resolutions as our political frame of reference?
- Recognize the State of Israel? Not the undefinable ‘Jewish’ state, but rather the state that sits in the UN?
- Recognize the new State of Palestine (it’s unfortunate that we did not call it new in the UN bid for statehood, so the political distinction would be clear)? Not the State of Palestine of 1948, the state in our hearts and poetry, but rather the political state that has sat in the UN as a non-member observer state since November 29, 2012?
Seeing the answer to these and other questions, in writing, from the PLO and all the political parties would speak volumes. It would at the very least let the Palestinian people know where we are.
In addition, there are some practical steps that could immediately help restart our national liberation movement.
First, President Abbas must travel to Gaza and stay there until the reconciliation agreement is implemented. Before he goes, it is imperative that he appoint a Vice President. The issue of appointing a deputy is long overdue one, but to understand the urgent need for this I urge all to read the article written by Atty. Haytham Zubi that was published in Al-Quds Newspaper on July 20, 2013 “Calm Constitutional Advice to the President.”
Secondly, a PLO decision and Presidential decree must broaden the scope of the Central Elections Commission to allow them to begin the long and tedious process of registering Palestinians worldwide. It is unacceptable that there has been no serious effort to create a Population Registry of all Palestinians, not only those under occupation.
Third, a PLO decision and Presidential decree must activate a new and progressive Political Party Law to allow new political groupings to come together and legitimately enter the Palestinian political stage. We are deluding ourselves when we continue to speak of the traditional political parties as if they are all alive and well, or even exist in any meaningful way today. If political thought is not permitted to legitimately assemble and become part of Palestinians’ political tapestry, one can only expect the excluded to tear the tapestry apart.
We have all spent far too much time massaging a reality that we all see and acknowledge as strategically troubling, indeed catastrophic. Repairing the Palestinian political system cannot wait any longer. The most just cause in modern history is at stake.