The brutal Israeli assault which Gaza has been - and continues to be - subjected to, goes beyond our wildest imagination, and on many occasions it has exposed the inadequacy of words for articulating reality. On the other hand, however, it is not understandable for engagement with this calamity to be limited to this understandable pain and anger.
Using rational analysis to perceive what has happened and is happening is also necessary. While Israel may be the instrument implementing the actions that have led us to our current state, it is not the only factor that should be considered in developing a full picture. In the same sense, to limit ourselves to polemics against Israel, without addressing other parallel fronts, is to preach to the faithful, especially when the polemics are written in Arabic and for Arab readers whose reservoir of hatred for Israel does not need an additional insult or two.
Pain does not justify ignoring its many causes. Rather, it is a reason to refer back to those causes time and again and to contemplate them. The urgency of responding to this need in the Palestinian context is amplified by what is now a long history of aggravating pain.
There is no escaping the need to consider the root of the matter that many want to shroud in silence: the structural weakness of the Palestinian cause’s negotiating position, which Israel has been extensively and ruthlessly exploiting. The result of Palestinians fighting Israel from within, given the immense military and technological superiority of the Jewish state, is a foregone conclusion. As for fighting from outside, as the Palestinians did between the late 1960s and the early 1980s, it leaves them face to face with states, communities, inclinations, and interests that have largely taken form and stabilized. Talk of “unity in battle,” “unified fronts,” and the “Arabness of the cause” will probably yield no more fruit today than it had during the civil wars in Jordan and Lebanon. Most recently, we saw how Hamas merely announcing the formation of what it called “The Vanguard of Al-Aqsa's Flood” in Lebanon caused an uproar and forced Hamas itself to walk back on its announcement.
No one understood these two lessons better than the late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, at least from the 1980s onwards. Arafat’s grasp of the situation led him to opt for the only option through which the Palestinian question could circumvent its structural weakness: he chose the route of politics, exploiting its contradictions, and playing the Arab and international political cards that are available. The First Intifada of 1987, which was peaceful, reinforced this choice, as it led to the Madrid Conference of 1991 and the Oslo Accords two years later.
However, the Syrian and Iranian regimes’ efforts to shut the door of politics to Arafat might be the most overlooked aspect of this conflict’s history, and it must be referred to and emphasized time and again. They did so on many occasions, thwarting the Palestinian-Jordanian agreement of the mid-1980s and drowning it in blood, after having prohibited Arafat from joining the Egyptian-Israeli Camp David Accords, and then actively seeking to undermine the Oslo process and the junctures that followed it.
These political attempts can be criticized, several flaws can be identified, and it would be very fair to call them unsatisfactory or compartmental. However, they alone could pave the way for a settlement with the potential to evolve and improve, besides being the only pathway to saving the Palestinians from two violent paths that lead to a dead end: confronting Israel with violence from within and confronting it with violence from without. After all, do we need to add that the worst political “capitulation” remains incomparably better than what Gaza is currently facing?
Today, if repudiating Israel’s claims by stressing that the conflict did not begin on October 7th is valid, it is equally valid to assert that closing political horizons and the accompanying stagnation and frustration explain much of the events that led to October 7th and the rabid retaliatory Israeli strikes that followed.
Arafat realized that the path of politics was obstructed by Hafez al-Assad’s seizure of Palestinians’ “independent national decision.” However, in the end, victory only belonged to those who had closed the path of politics and made it impossible for the Palestinians to have their “independent national decision.” Through the diligent efforts of radical Islamic forces and the deranged sentiments with deep roots in our political culture of those who believe that we are two steps away from “liberating Palestine,” the cause has become religiously charged in a way that makes a political resolution impossible. Politics, by definition, cannot solve problems of religion and theology.
Thus, only the need to understand can generate the caution required to avoid other catastrophic projects. However, it also creates a bulwark against the fantasies proliferating around us, which only aggravates the disastrousness of war by undermining our comprehension of it.