Now in its seventh month, the Intifada has reached the most cruel and, for Palestinians, the most suffocating stage. Israel’s leaders are clearly determined to do what they have always done, which is to make life impossible for this unjustly suffering people, and Sharon knows no limits to what he is willing to do, all of it in the name of a “principle” accepted by the US, which is to refuse to do anything while “violence” continues. This therefore seems to entitle Sharon to lay siege to an entire population of three million people, even as he and Shimon Peres, surely the most dishonest and hypocritical of the lot of them, go around the world complaining of Palestinian terrorism. So let us not waste any time wondering how it is that they get away with such despicable tactics. The fact is that they do and will continue to do so for the foreseeable future.
Having said and admitted that, however, is no reason to accept the consequences passively. Let us therefore look calmly at the situation from a tactical and a strategic point of view. This is what we find:
The Palestinian leadership which signed on to Oslo and the ruinous principle of US tutelage, as well as all sorts of miserable concessions (including an ongoing settlement drive) is simply incapable of doing anything more than it is now doing, which is to attack Israel verbally and signal to it under the table that it is willing to return to the old (and useless) negotiations in more or less exactly the same way. Beyond that, it has little power and less credibility. Arafat’s sheer genius at surviving has carried him as far as he can go, and even though the end of the line must be obvious to him, he has no intention of letting go. The illusion that he is Palestine and Palestine him stubbornly persists; so long as he is alive he will go on believing that, no matter what happens. The further difficulty is that all of his theoretical successors are lesser men, and are likely to make matters worse.
US policy is unaffected by the Palestinian plight, no matter how bad that is. Bush is as pro-Israeli as Clinton, and the Israeli lobby in the US and Europe is as merciless in its lies and misinformation as it has always been, despite years of effort on the part of the Arabs to try to get close both to the US administration and (surprisingly enough) to the Israeli lobby. And yet, there is a great deal of untapped sympathy for the Palestinian cause in the United States and Europe, but there has never been any Palestinian campaign (among African Americans, Latino-Americans, most of the churches that are not part of the fundamentalist churches of the South, the academic community, and even, as proved by a remarkable statement by several hundred rabbis supporting Palestinian rights in a paid advertisement in the New York Times, among Jewish Americans, many of whom are as aghast at Sharon and Barak as we are) to gain this constituency in a systematic way.
The Arab states are much less likely to be of more than marginal tactical help to the Palestinians than before. All of them have direct interests that tie them to US policy; none of them has the capacity to be a strategic ally for the Palestinians, as the recent Amman summit proved conclusively. On the other hand, there is a wide gap separating rulers from ruled in the Arab world, and this is encouragement enough for the Palestinian cause, if it is directed towards emancipation and the end of occupation.
The Israelis will not stop their settlement policy nor their besieging of Palestinian life in general. Despite his bluster, Sharon is not a very intelligent or even competent man. He has relied on force and deception throughout his career, flirting with crime and terror most of the time, using it whenever he thought he could get away with it. We have never addressed the Israeli public — particularly those citizens disturbed by current developments, which in effect condemn Israel to unending strife — nor, unfortunately, do we now have anything to say, for example, to the hundreds of reservists who have refused military service during the Intifada. There is a constituency inside Israel which we must find a way to engage, exactly as the ANC made it a point of policy to engage whites in the struggle against apartheid.
The Palestinian situation itself is remediable, since it is human beings who make history and not the other way round. There are enough young Palestinians all over the world and enough older ones who are thoroughly and totally exasperated, dismayed and sick to heart at a leadership that has gone from one disaster to another without ever being accountable, without ever telling the truth, and without ever being clear about its goals and aims (except for its own survival). As the late Eqbal Ahmad once said, the PLO has historically been very flexible strategically and extremely rigid tactically. In effect, this aphorism is exactly reflected in policy and performance since 1993. Arafat began by accepting Resolutions 242 and 338 as the basis of negotiations (strategic), then changed flexibly to accepting one strategic modification after another during the ensuing years; settlements were to be stopped, then they increased, and he accepted that too. The same with Jerusalem, and the return of all territories. But Arafat never wavered in his tactics, which were to stay in the peace process and rely on the Americans no matter what happened. Strategically flexible, tactically rigid.
Therefore, we now need something that the situation demands, but that all the actors resist, i.e. a real statement of goals and objectives. These have to include first and foremost the end of Israeli military occupation and the end of settlements. No other way can lead to peace and justice for Palestinians or for Israelis. There is no such thing as an “interim” peace (as Oslo had it all along, to the tremendous detriment of the Palestinian people). Nor are there some rights for Palestinians, and not others. That is unacceptable nonsense. One set of laws and rights, one set of goals and objectives. On that basis a new Palestinian peace movement can be organised that must include Israeli and non-Israeli Jews, especially heroic individuals and groups like Rabbis for Human Rights and the movement led by Jeff Halper to end house demolitions.
What then are the objectives for that movement? First of all, an organised movement focused on Palestinian liberation and coexistence, in which everyone is part of a whole, instead of an idle spectator waiting for another Saladin or for orders to come down from above. There has to be concentration on the two other societies whose impact on Palestine is central. First, the US, which provides Israel with the support without which the actual events taking place today in Palestine wouldn’t be possible. After all, the US taxpayer supplies Israel directly with $3 billion in aid, plus a constant re-supply of weapons (like the helicopters now bombarding defenceless Palestinian towns and villages) that amounts to a total of almost $5 billion. This aid must be stopped or radically modified. And second, Israeli society, which has gone on either passively endorsing racist policies against “inferior” Palestinians or has actively supported it by working in the army, Mossad and Shin Bet to implement this humanly unacceptable and immoral policy. The wonder of it is that we have stood it for so long, as have many Israeli citizens who need to be involved in changing it.
Although every human rights declaration in the world today (including the UN Charter) gives a people the right to resist by any means when it is under military occupation, and the right for refugees to return to their homes, it is also the case that suicide bombings in Tel Aviv serve no purpose, political or ethical. They too are unacceptable. There’s a huge difference between organised disobedience, or mass protest, on the one hand, and simply blowing up yourself and a few innocents, on the other. This difference has to be stated clearly and emphatically, and engraved in any serious Palestinian programme once and for all.
The other principles are fairly straightforward. Self-determination for both peoples. Equal rights for both. No occupation, no discrimination, no settlements. Everyone is included. Whatever negotiations are entered into must be on that basis, which must clearly be stated at the outset, and not left unsaid or implied as they were in the US sponsored Oslo process. The UN has to be the framework. In the meantime, it is up to us as Palestinians, Arabs, Jews, Americans and Europeans, to protect the unprotected, and to end war crimes like collective punishment, bombing, and persecution, all of which Palestinians suffer from every day.
These are the realities today, at the heart of which is the enormous asymmetry, the tremendous disparity in power between Israel and the Palestinians. So we must capture the high moral ground immediately, by political means still at our disposal — the power to think, plan, write and organise. This is true for Palestinians in Palestine, in Israel, in exile. No one is exempt from some obligation to our emancipation. It is sad that the present leadership seems totally incapable of understanding that, and therefore must stand aside, which at some point it most certainly will.