A diaspora left out in the cold


At a rally in Gaza on July 25, a DFLP leader, Salah Zeidan, demanded an end to the Fateh-Hamas unity talks that have been taking place in Cairo over the last few months because, as he said, they leave out the smaller Palestinian parties like the PFLP and the DFLP. What, on that basis, should the largest Palestinian party, the diaspora, say of its own exclusion from these and all other deliberations in the Palestinian arena?

Take, for example, Fateh’s upcoming conference on August 4. This long awaited convention is due to take place in Bethlehem under the auspices of Mahmoud Abbas’ leadership. It will be Fateh’s sixth conference and comes after several postponements and a delay of over a decade. From the start the conference preparations have been riven with internal disputes, conflicts and threatened splits. There were differences over where it should be held, many members arguing for Amman as a place not subject to Israeli restrictions. Farouk Qaddumi, the head of the PLO’s political department and an old rival to Abbas, refused to meet in any territory under Israeli occupation. He followed this up two weeks ago with the shocking accusation that Abbas had been behind a plot in collusion with Israel to poison Yasser Arafat in 2004.

Whether true or not, this can only deepen the already existing rupture in Fateh between the old and the young, and between Qaddumi’s followers and those of Abbas. It may even lead to two Fateh conferences, one in Bethlehem and another elsewhere, perhaps in Damascus or Beirut. Even without that, those Fateh delegates opposed to Abbas are likely to be excluded from the Bethlehem meeting, as are the delegates from Gaza whom Hamas’ foreign minister, Mahmoud Zahar, has vowed to prevent from attending as long as Hamas prisoners languish in Palestinian Authority jails . What credibility or legitimacy the resulting conference will be left with under these circumstances is unclear.

Those of us in the diaspora, watching these developments, can only feel a mixture of concern and impotence, angry at this pointless internecine fighting and unable to stop it. Worse still to imagine how triumphant Israel must feel for having created a situation where over half the Palestinian people are excluded from their own political process, while a minority of them tears itself apart under its occupation. Destroying the Palestinian national cause by fragmenting the Palestinians was always Israel’s aim. The PLO, established in 1964, was able to halt this process for decades by creating a unifying structure, a substitute homeland, for the dispossessed majority. Whatever its imperfections, the PLO succeeded in foiling Israel’s strategy and kept the national cause alive.

It all came to an end when the PLO leadership decided to return to the Palestinian territories in 1994 under the Oslo agreement. Unknowingly, that fateful move was to signal the start of a process of disintegration of the Palestinian national cause. No real provision was made for the diaspora community after the main PLO departure, leaving it leaderless and increasingly demoralized. All eyes were focused instead on the occupied territories with the hope that an independent Palestinian state would soon emerge. Many diaspora Palestinians, seeking a relevant role in these new circumstances, began to invest in the putative state, and the center of Palestinian life shifted firmly to the inside. International funding poured in to foster this arrangement, but also to support the illusion of a ‘state-around-the-corner’. Soon the debate was no longer about reclaiming the whole of Palestine, as had been the national objective, but only a small part of it. The wrangling with Israel ove! r percentages of land in the denuded parts of Palestine left over is the logical consequence.

Throughout this process and the tortuous peace negotiations between the PA and Israel that followed the Oslo accords, the assumption has grown that the PA represents not just the people under occupation but all Palestinians. This dangerous misapprehension, made possible by the ambiguity of having the same man as leader of the PA and of the PLO, has dragged the diaspora into the infighting between Fateh and Hamas, and soon probably within Fateh itself. It could also portend a situation whereby a PA leadership, which excludes diaspora participation by definition, may be in a position to sign away diaspora rights.

The only possible reason for shedding such fundamental rights has been the argument that a Palestinian state, once established, would be the first step to the liberation of the entire homeland and the return of diaspora Palestinians. But no such state is in sight, and without it, these Palestinian sacrifices of national unity and national cause have been in vain. What we need urgently today is unity, not just at the Fateh conference or between Fateh and Hamas, but between the outside and the inside.


First published by the Bitterlemons International.