Opinion: Palestine, From Intifada to Infighting
Why the disagreements among Palestinian politicians and factions, whether before the establishment of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) in 1964 or after it? Is it because of the love of Palestine? The importance of regaining the rights of the Palestinian people? Is it the importance of allowing Palestinians to live a normal life in an independent state, like other people around the world?
The answer to all these questions is a resounding no. So what is the argument about?!
Quite clearly, it’s an argument over the ways and means of achieving an objective. But it is illogical for those who disagree on the best form of patriotism to manipulate the Palestinian cause to suit their own personal agenda. It is with deep regret that I point out this has happened for decades. It is still happening today as Palestinian leaders mismanage the cause, pushing it backwards and marginalizing the PLO to the benefit of other organizations.
It is true that the political and military struggle between the Palestinian factions has passed through many stages, and has resulted at times in terrible tragedies. But over all the decades of internal strife, the most dangerous struggle has been the one between the Hamas and Fatah movements. This is not hyperbole: this is the reality of the situation. Most Palestinians, as well as anybody concerned with the Palestinian cause, would agree.
In short, the conflict that erupted between Hamas and Fatah prior to the 2006 elections is the most dangerous in Palestine’s modern history because it resulted in the division of two forces whose unity had formed the backbone of the efforts to achieve an independent Palestinian state.
Leaving aside thoughts of laying blame on one party or the other, it may be beneficial to remind ourselves of the pivotal moments of this struggle.
When the First Intifada erupted in December 1987, Israel had already occupied the West Bank for twenty years. During that time, the resistance had hurt the occupation but had failed to break Israel’s military machine or internationally embarrass Tel Aviv’s political position. The youth of Palestine were able to achieve both of these things during the intifada.
What can tanks, armored vehicles, or helicopters do in the face of groups of youth armed with nothing but rocks who decide to leave their adolescence behind and fight those forcibly occupying their land? If Israel’s harsh military response spilled Palestinian blood and caused death, it also brought the world’s attention to what was happening. Nobody who saw the images can forget those Palestinian boys armed with nothing but rocks facing off against tooled-up Israeli soldiers. While those boys were throwing their stones and dying, the “fathers of the resistance” were living in peace abroad in cities from Tunis to Damascus to Beirut.
The rocks and blood of the youth of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip got the Palestinian leadership unprecedented international attention for their cause, throwing open possibilities they had never had before, which they never could have secured by taking hostages or hijacking airplanes.
The world heard Israel’s Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin—a former Israeli Defense Forces general—saying that he wished Gaza would be swallowed by the sea just because some youths were resisting his soldiers’ occupation of their land. This was the same world that had become accustomed to the claim that Arabs wanted to drive Israel into the sea. How the picture had changed!
As the international community saw more images of the harsh clashes in the West Bank and Gaza, in Israel public opinion continued to shift, resulting in calls for an end to Palestinian suffering.
The Palestinian National Council convened one year after the intifada had created this tense atmosphere, which allowed for the announcement of the Palestinian Declaration of Independence in Algeria in November 1988. This, in turn, formed the foundation stone for the constitution project, which clearly included the goal of peaceful coexistence between Palestinians and Israelis. This constitution, in turn, paved the way for the Palestinians to take a number of practical steps, chiefly amending the PLO Charter to omit anything that contradicted the articles on the two-state solution.
In the end, it was the intifada that forced Israel to recognize the Palestinian Liberation Organization as the legitimate representative of the Palestinian people. It was the intifada that opened the way to the Madrid Conference, the subsequent secret Oslo talks which ultimately resulted in Rabin and Shimon Peres meeting with Yasser Arafat and Mahmoud Abbas in Washington to sign the historic agreement on September 13, 1993. In that moment, we watched an impossibility become a reality.
The foundation stone for a Palestinian state had been laid, setting a different course for Palestinian political action and opening the door to the possibility of all factions meeting on Palestinian territory and working together to work towards an independent state.
Indeed, Hamas entered the political arena through this very door. So what is the problem now? Many may disagree with my analysis, but the real problem is an absence of a clear and unified vision. Hamas and every other Palestinian faction not committed to the Oslo Accord should have refrained from participating in politics. The Palestinian Authority should have imposed its authority and forced those who were not committed to the peace process to actively—not just nominally—respect the will of the majority of the Palestinian people, who wanted to pursue peaceful struggle after years of armed struggle in order to liberate their occupied land and regain their rights.
But what happened, as in most Arab situations, was that the Palestinians tried to march to the beat of many different drums and zig-zagging all over the place.
If the Palestinian situation continues in this vein, it will not be possible to achieve a truly new beginning for Palestine. Achieving that goal will need a fixed target and a clear vision that commits all sides, instead of merely claiming to coexist while their visions and goals are light-years apart.
What was agreed between Hamas and the Ramallah delegation in Gaza on Wednesday is an important step. It could be the first of many on the road to this new beginning.