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The Choice That's Left for Palestinians

The Choice That's Left for Palestinians

Friday, 28 August, 2020 - 11:45
Nabil Amr
Palestinian writer and politician

In 1976, the Israeli government decided to make a political move that carried a degree of risk when it allowed and encouraged conducting local elections. They reckoned that it could produce leadership alternatives that would limit the Palestine Liberation Organization's influence and compromise the legitimacy of its representation of the Palestinian people within and outside Palestine.

At the time, stances that opposed the principle of holding elections under occupation emerged. Nonetheless, political realism that had imposed itself on the political leadership at the time, headed by the pragmatist Yaser Arafat, chose to accept holding elections, reckoning that it could only produce what the Palestinian people wanted and elect those whom they chose to run their municipalities and village councils, fortifying their resolve to stay on the land.

The elections were held; the Israelis lost their bet, and the Palestinians won theirs. The elected municipalities and village councils turned into a credible and robust arm of the PLO, which drove the Israelis to fight the elected members and pass legislation banning the heads and members of the councils from establishing links with the PLO or participating, even symbolically, in its national councils.

The local council elections of 1976 and the accumulation of the elections’ had positive implications for the calls for resistance, which manifested themselves in the First Intifada that had been efficaciously and ably led by the National Steering Committees and concluded with the Oslo Accords. In turn, the Oslo Accords initiated the phase of autonomous rule that was still linked to the primary national objective, establishing a Palestinian state on the entirety of the territory occupied in 1967. This limited autonomy didn’t take the Palestinian issues off the agenda, which had been referred to as “status quo issues”, the most prominent of which were” refugees” and “Jerusalem”.

Oslo collapsed on both its parties’ heads, as the Labor Party, the state’s founder and the venture’s creator, vanished. The initiative for a Palestinian state, which was supposed to have emerged after a 5 year “transition period,” collapsed. Oslo’s promises and the hopes it raised were replaced with the total deterioration of the Palestinian Israeli relationship. The living conditions of the Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza also deteriorated, and the solution was reduced to Trump’s initiative, in which the Palestinians do not obtain the bare minimum fundamental rights.

After every catastrophe that faces the Palestinian political class, which is still made up of factions that used to be armed revolutionary, a question arises: What is to be done, and what are the options?

The answer often boils down to reiterating unrelated cliche slogans that are far from reality on the ground, which has completely changed from what it had been during the organization’s days of prominence when it had been leading an intense and armed struggle active inside and outside the occupied territories.

As well as the repetition of slogans, mechanisms of limited fruitfulness are proposed. These include forming committees to discuss ways to address challenges, calling for festivals to declare our rejection and condemnation, and then, repeating calls for ending division without crystallizing even a single step to spring hope that an achievement may be forthcoming after 14 years of failure, not merely to end separation; but to prevent its transformation into separation.

The framework of festivals, dialogue, and meetings, the latest of which brought the General-Secretaries together in a Zoom meeting on how to face the challenge raised by the US and Israel in their relentless pursuit of expanding Arab normalization. Nothing will change the miserable situation we are currently in... based on experience; nothing more than a statement similar to the many statements that have already been issued without effect is expected.

The only option being overlooked - because many see it as a threat to the rigid framework, which, despite its deficiency maintains sanctity and the ardent protection of many beneficiaries - is bringing together all the internally and externally scattered cards that Palestinians can play. This will not be attained by merely bringing the Secretary-General’s together in a meeting, or through Hamas’ symbolic participation in a festival or protest. Rather, this could be achieved through a program that first and foremost restores the national institutions that have either been neglected or abolished at the National Authority and PLO levels. The authority lost its legislative council, and the PLO no longer plays its role, which is supposed to be stronger and more effective than that of the authority at managing Palestinian affairs on all levels. While followers have forgotten the fact that the organization has more legitimacy than the authority and more sweeping prerogatives over political issues… None of this or anything else can be restored by the secretary-generals’ meetings on Skype or Zoom, although they acknowledge their factions’ emptiness and lack of popular support. Fateh and Hamas, the two pillars of Palestinian political life, are the only exceptions, as they are political lines, not factions.

National institutions are recuperated through legislative and presidential elections. Those elected, whose legitimacy derives from the ballot box, would then address all internal and political issues. They would constitute the nucleus for furthering the Liberation Organization’s development, since they would be de facto members in the National Council, thereby taking the critical step of developing both institutions and reinvigorating them and allowing them to exert greater influence on Palestinian life, embracing the national project.

The route I am suggesting is not a magic solution that will provide an easy fix to the complex impasses facing the Palestinians, but it is the only feasible one at a time of complete impasse. Israel, which does not wish to see any kind of Palestinian resurgence, would take steps to obstruct such a critical and major initiative. But it will manage to hinder the process if the Palestinians are determined to go ahead with it. More importantly, if the Palestinians treat the general elections as a mechanism for defying the occupation rather than an occasion for conciliation, as had been the case during the Oslo honeymoon period that is gone and will never come back. This is the only choice Palestinians have left. The elections’ results would allow them to focus on solving their internal problems by reviving their elected national institutions. As to the issue of political negotiations, that curtain had closed, and there is no point in waiting for a miracle to bring it back. Even if they were revived as a result of unexpected developments, there would be no harm in the Palestinians entering these negotiations with better internal conditions and an improved political system.

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