By Ramzy Baroud
Waiting on Israeli society to change from within is a colossal waste of time, during which the suffering of an entire nation – torn between an occupied home and a harsh diaspora – will not cease. But what are Palestinians and the supporters of a just peace in Palestine and Israel to do? Plenty.
Those who counted on some sort of a miracle to emerge from the outcome of the recent Israeli elections have only themselves to blame. Neither logic nor numbers were on their side, nor the long history laden with disappointing experiences of “leftist” Israelis unleashing wars and cementing occupation. Despite a few differences between Israel’s right and the so-called left on internal matters, their positions are almost identical regarding all major issues related to Palestine. These include the Right of Return and the status of occupied Jerusalem to the illegal settlements.
But Palestinians are not without options. Sure, the odds against them are great, but such is the fate of the oppressed as they are left between two options: either a perpetual fight for justice or unending humiliation and servitude.
First, the most difficult obstacle to overcome is the stronghold of Mahmoud Abbas and his corrupt circle on Palestine’s political discourse at home. This is not an outcome of Abbas’s particular savvy or the genius of his class. The post-Oslo circle only exists to maintain the status quo: US interests and involvement as a mediator in the conflict, Israel’s security – thus the constant crackdown on Palestinian opposition and resistance – and ensuring that the Palestinian Authority (PA) has a reason to exist for the sake of ensuring the many privileges that come with the job.
Second, for that to take place, the very ailments that have afflicted Palestinian society for years, leading to the creation of the ineffectual PA in the first place, would have to be confronted heads on. One such condition is factionalism, which has to be overpowered by a collective that defines itself first and foremost as Palestinian.
Factionalism, in its current form, has destroyed much of the social fabric of Palestine. It has divided the already divided people into fragments making them easy to be controlled, manipulated, suppressed – and when necessary – besieged. 67 years are just too long a period for a nation that lives mostly in exile, trapped or confined behind walls, to sustain its political identity and remain unified around the same “constants” without proper leadership.
Third, such seismic change cannot come easily. It must be gradual and part of a national initiative. It must be a conversation that brings friends and rivals not to divide material perks, useless “ministries” and worthless “government” posts, but rather to mend the broken unanimity that once existed. In fact, once upon a time, Palestinians were not united or disjointed around the frivolous “peace process,” but instead around “national constants,” where the Right of Return took central stage.
The transition from disunity and chaos into something visionary and not confined by short-term political interests, must be smooth, calculated and led by respected Palestinian figures, not those with hands soiled by blood and corruption.
Fourth, one major issue that must dominate the new political discourse is the Right of Return for Palestinian refugees, guaranteed by international law. The issue is not only essential in its centrality in the lives of millions of Palestinians suffering in Syria, Lebanon and elsewhere, but is also essential to any sensible understanding of the conflict and its resolution.
The struggle in Palestine doesn’t date back to the war of 1967, but the Zionist takeover of Palestine between 1947-48 that resulted in nearly a million refugees, the expropriation of their land, homes, rights and the attempt at erasing any evidence of their existence.
By marginalizing the Right of Return, one diminishes the very roots of the conflict, and any serious attempt at reconciling the painful past with the equally agonizing present.
Fifth, Palestine 48 must be fully incorporated into national agenda. The Palestinians of 1948 have always, and will remain a major component of the Palestine question and the Palestinian struggle for freedom and human rights. The fragmentation between the communities were imposed by calculated political realities, enforced by Israel or circumstances. That said, the issues have never been truly separated: the plight of Palestinians in Israel, those under military occupation in the occupied territories, and refugees in the diaspora all go back to the same historical point of reference – the Nakba of 48. These common struggles continue to be sustained by Israel, its racist laws, its military occupation and its refusal to adhere to international law.
Without the Palestinians of 48, the Palestinian national identity will remain politically fragmented and scarred. The persistence and collective strength of that population is an important asset, and their struggles are part and parcel of the struggle and resistance of Palestinians in the occupied territories and those in the diaspora.
Sixth, resistance must be respected.
The term “resistance” once dominated references made by Palestinian leaders in yesteryears, but was purposely marginalized following the signing of Oslo in 1993. That was driven by two subtle understandings that resistance was ineffective, and that to achieve a degree of validity and stateliness in the eyes of their US benefactors, the new rulers of Palestine needed to abandon seemingly unsophisticated references to a bygone era.
Yet without resistance there is only submission and defeat, which is precisely what took place. Only popular resistance in the West Bank and Jerusalem, the steadfastness of 48 Palestinians, crowned by the legendary resistance of Palestinians in Gaza under a harsh siege and repeated wars, continue to frustrate Israel. Yet, the harsher Israel tries to destroy Palestinian resistance, the more emboldened Palestinians become, for resistance is a culture, not a political choice.
Seventh, BDS must continue to grow, bridge gaps. Resistance is part and parcel of the ongoing global campaign, to boycott, divest from and sanction Israel. The outcome of the Israeli elections, and the rise of a more self-assertive Palestinian political collective by 48 Palestinians, would mean that BDS must enlarge its mission, not just rhetorically by practically as well.
The BDS movement had already emphasized equality for 48 Palestinians as a main objective that is as vital as all other objectives. The Joint List Arab party which won 13 seats in the Knesset solidified the relationship between Palestinian Arab communities within Israel as the BDS movement has to a large extent solidified the rapport between Palestinian communities across political and geographical divides. But more is needed. The new self-assertive Palestinian community in Israel deserves greater engagement.
Finally, one State must become the rally cry for equality and freedom.
The more empowered and racist Israel becomes, and the deeper it digs into the roots of its Apartheid and racist institutions and walls, the more obvious the answer becomes: a state for two peoples with equal rights. Both Palestinians and Jews exist in that very space, but they are governed by two sets of laws that make peaceful co-existence impossible. In order to speed up the achievement of that moment and lessen suffering, Palestinians have some urgent work to do.
It is time for Palestinian communities everywhere to surmount ideological, factional and political divides, reach out to one another, unite their ranks, and harness their energies, for no matter how deep the divide, Palestine is, should and will always be one.