By Mazin Qumsiyeh
Some of my friends in Fatah and others will not like some of what I have to say here. Others will respect and even appreciate it including some members of Fatah central committee. The situation is becoming intolerable and some of us feel we cannot remain silent. I personally owe it to the 50,000 of you who occasionally read my emails and the many who specifically email to ask me about this issue of September. The proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back leading to this essay was an email from Dr. Saeb Erekat today that included a document claiming to be strategies of the Palestinian leadership in going to the UN in September for recognition. The same day, Israeli authorities initiated laws in the Knesset to make Israel more Jewish (see below) AND approved 930 new houses for a new Jewish only settlement of Har Homa C. This is an adjacent hill to Har Homa A and B and is on Jabal Al-Deek, land of my village of Beit Sahour. Words from unelected representative can be lost in the din of jack-hammers and bulldozers tearing the ancient landscape. Declarations to the media about 122 countries recognizing Palestine (about the same as was the case in 1989) mean little to villagers and refugees who are losing daily in their struggle to get their concerns heard by those driving SUVs and Mercedes cars in the streets of Ramallah and who go unhindered through checkpoints with VIP cards.
I talk and work with activists on the ground daily. The message they all relay is that there is a widening rift between all political parties and the people. They know it and admit it (many leaders said they can no longer mobilize people). The answer is known: go back to the people and reignite the revolutionary spirit that exists within each of us. The therapies for the metastatic growth of settlements on Palestinian land, to the increase in racist Israeli laws, to the plight of refugees all do not involve documents by Erekat or a resort to biased International fora that issues resolutions they were never willing to implement.
Under the category of “What we have to do?” Erekat’s document starts with “1. Open a strategic dialogue with the U.S. administration on the question of membership. It is evident that the use of the United States’ ‘veto’ makes it impossible for Palestine to become a member state. “After 37 years of opening “strategic dialogue” with the US, 18 years of direct negotiations under the auspices of the US, under what logic can such a dialogue lead to anything. Just think of the standing ovations given to the war-criminal Netanyahu in the US Congress to see that this is an illusion. If the PA could not even get Obama to stick to his own words on simple matters (e.g. settlement activity must be stopped), what makes Erekat and company think that talking more will get Obama to help establish a Palestinian state. Our own representatives refuse to even boycott Israeli officials (our UN representative attends a farewell party to the Israeli representative). Ofcourse every one knows that we Palestinians are the ones being pressured and not the Israeli government. The trap of Oslo that created a class of people dependent on their livelihood on aid ensured that independent Palestinian decision-making is impossible. Under these circumstances, what makes anyone think that it is possible to change the status quo without removing the structures of dependency created by the Oslo trap?
In a second point of “What we have to do?” Erekat states that “Recognizing a Palestinian State on the 1967 borders and becoming a UN member will make it easy for the Palestinian leadership to make a decision on the final status negotiations immediately, on all issues without exception (Jerusalem, borders, settlements, refugee, water, security, and the release of prisoners and detainees).” This is extremely dangerous and misleading. Why is UN recognition linked to unconditional return to fruitless negotiations? What makes anyone with any logic believe that the US would change without us first changing and applying some real pressure? And since when is the Palestinian struggle reduced to a Palestinian "state" in Part of the West Bank (no Palestinian or Israeli leader now believes even in getting the whole of the West Bank)? Many Palestinians point out that records of previous "negotiations" show that Qurei, Erekat and Abu Mazen were willing to give up on refugee and other rights in return for this emasculated state (see leaked Palestine documents and Abu-Mazin – Beilin agreement and Geneva accords).
In a third point, it states: "In light of President Obama’s speech on 5/19/2011 in which he talked about our choice to go to the UN saying: “for the Palestinians, their efforts to delegitimize Israel will ultimately fail, the symbolic actions to isolate Israel from the UN in September will not create an independent state. It is clear that the Obama administration understands that we are going to the UN for:
-An attempt to isolate and delegitimize Israel.
-That it is a symbolic act.
-Such effort will not lead to the creation of an independent state.
This understanding is contrary to what we want to achieve from applying for a membership for the State of Palestine on the 1967 borders with East Jerusalem as its capital. We do not seek to delegitimize Israel or isolate it nor is this a symbolic act.”
How many liberation movements in the world do you know of that refuse to even try to isolate a repressive apartheid regime? Just like many other situations before, this Palestinian authority wants to get Israel off the hook. Just like when they shelved consideration of the Goldstone report or when they lobbied Israel against release of Palestinian political prisoners (supposedly so that Hamas would not gain points). Just like when many of them said publicly that they do not boycott Israeli products but only "settlement products" (as if there is a difference in apartheid products). Just like when they issued instructions to their security services to stop popular resistance activities (only allowing vigils in the middle of cities but no friction with Israeli occupation soldiers). The list goes on and on.
As for the event at the UN being a symbolic act, indeed that is what is being contemplated. The PA should instead get beyond symbolism and do serious actions like demand the UN rescind Israel’s membership (since it failed to respect the UN charter and violated its own promises to comply with its obligations). A real effort would entail asking UN member state to deal with Israel like they dealt with Apartheid South Arica since Israel fulfills all the requirements of an apartheid regime under the relevant International convention.
A few years ago, Mr. Erekat came for a tour in the US. When some leading Palestinian Americans started questioning him on the failure of Oslo, he just got angry and said to about 40 of us that he has a PhD and that "who are you all to question things". This is simply unacceptable. The cause of 11 million Palestinians cannot be left to a few individuals (no matter how or if well-meaning).
The Fear of Aid Cut
US Aid to the Palestinian authority is done in a way to implement US policy which in turn (due to AIPAC and other lobbies) serves Israeli occupation policies. For example most USAID dollars go to infrastructure (mostly roads) that create temporary jobs and relieve the responsibility of the occupier. Most roads are alternative roads that help solidify the apartheid system (ie. roads around settlement blocks etc). The bulk of the aid goes directly to support the salaries of Palestinians employed by the Palestinian authority. Most of that budget goes toward salaries for security employees. Per Oslo II, that security is to ensure that there is no friction with Israelis (ie. suppress any resistance including nonviolent resistance). Because the salaries and political stability of the subservient Palestinian authority has come to depend on this aid, it is very easy to use it as leverage to extort high level officials. We saw this for example in the shelving of the report by the Goldstone commission. We saw it in 2006 and 2007 (when aid was cut following the elections, quickly the elites had to undermine the government and go back to supporting the status quo). In short, aid from the US harms Palestinian national interest and serves to perpetuate the occupation because it entrenches the status quo, reieves Israel from the cost of being an occupier, and restricts political freedom to liberate ourselves.
I urge the central committee of Fatah which acted boldly to remove Dahlan from his position as its media person to act boldly to go down the path of further and bolder changes. Setting term-limits on service would be an appropriate first step for Fatah and could set the stage also for setting term limits for PA positions. My humble and open recommendation is for the Palestinian leadership to come back to the people and get new blood periodically. With this new blood, a mobilization of the Palestinians in exile can be done to effect real change by building appropriate short, medium, and long term strategies for example by lobbying, media work, and BDS (Boycotts, divestments, and sanctions). Internally, the Palestinian house needs to be put in order by implementing existing agreements to create a representative Palestinian National Council (of the PLO). That would create an atmosphere of real popular resistance that could indeed quickly change the dynamics on the ground.
There are hundreds of Palestinian lawyers, political science professors, and other experts who can be consulted to build a real strategy and direction towards liberation. Engaging in open dialogue about these things is good for everyone. The status quo cannot be tolerated. It is better to do this now than wait till September when the people (having falsely raised their hopes of an end to the occupation) will see the leaders who kept talking to them about September flounder and fall.
It really makes no difference whether one is apathetic or one is colluding with the status quo of an occupation profitable to the occupiers (thanks to the Oslo accords). After all, silence is complicity.
– Dr. Mazin Qumsiyeh is a Professor at Bethlehem University and author of the book "Popular Resistance in Palestine: A history of Hope and Empowerment" (Pluto Press, 2010). He was arrested three times simply for advocating non-violent resistance to colonial occupation.