Israel and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) announced an agreement of normalizing diplomatic relations between them, grandiosely billed by Reuters as “a move that reshapes the order of Middle East politics from the Palestinian issue to Iran.”
I don’t know about Iran (it called the accords shameful), but I can tell you with certainty that this agreement will reshape nothing in the “Middle East politics from the Palestinian issue.” It will only entrench the status quo.
The agreement is clearly meant to salvage a piece of Israel’s and Trump’s maneuvering re “The Deal” that had fallen through when the international community pushed back against the big annexation reveal. It is meant to endow both leaders with some political capital and line the pockets of the UAE.
Israel had already suspended its plans to annex parts of the occupied West Bank but had increased its harassment of Palestinians in terms of daily house demolitions in Jerusalem, olive-tree burning and similar horrors by its deployed cohort of deranged Jewish “settlers,” mass incarcerations of Palestinian cultural workers, students, and political activists in the West Bank.
All the world, “nations, groups and individual stakeholders in Israeli-Palestine conflict,” had one thing or another to say about the agreement. But Palestinians are unanimous in agreeing that this new development does not serve the Palestinian cause and ignores the rights of the Palestinian people. [See Hamas on UAE-Israel deal: Treacherous stab in back of Palestinians.]
“A vision of comprehensive liberation is emerging among today’s activists for justice in Palestine.”
What we don’t hear much of in the news is how the Palestinians themselves are reshaping the Palestinian issue, as recently made apparent by two articles.
One is a piece titled ‘Uphold Palestinian struggle in all its forms’ in The Electronic Intifada by Khaled Barakat, a Palestinian writer and activist who had been subjected to a political ban and excluded from Germany for his political activity and expression on Palestine.
Confronted by new repressive attacks, a vision of comprehensive liberation is emerging among today’s activists for justice in Palestine as the most useful and effective form of resistance.
Palestinian resistance has been fragmented as a result of Israel’s sustained propaganda that first managed to ban militant Palestinian political groups as terrorist groups on the world stage and then proceeded with a vicious and successful campaign to halt alternative Palestinian political activity as “front groups” for these banned political parties, thus stopping them in their tracks as well.
Palestinian resistance in any form at all — even the simple expression of the right to boycott and refuse trade and interaction with and exploitation by a colonial power — is smeared as unacceptable, bigoted and potentially criminal… In order to effectively undermine this attack, it is necessary to not only debunk false claims but to reject their very foundation. Association with the Palestinian armed resistance and its political parties is not a cause for shame or a justification for repression… The potential momentary relief found by distancing from or disavowing the armed resistance is fleeting at best…Any meaningful defense of the Palestinian people must clearly uphold the right to resist colonialism by all means, including armed struggle — and support efforts to remove Palestinian resistance groups from lists of “terrorist organizations.” Political and media campaigns for the Palestinian cause must work consciously to uphold the legitimacy of and normalize the armed resistance.
The legitimacy of armed struggle to liberate a people from colonial and foreign domination is moreover well recognized in international law. Indeed, the same European states that now seek to criminalize and delegitimize Palestinian resistance celebrate as heroes their own World War II resistance fighters. The European Union also officially celebrates Nelson Mandela, an unapologetic practitioner of armed struggle.
The second piece that indicates how Palestinians are reshaping their struggle is in Al Shabaka, The Palestinian Policy Network. The Policy Circle Report is titled ‘Reclaiming The PLO, Re-Engaging Youth’ and explores the following questions: “How can the PLO maintain accountability as both a national liberation movement and governing body? How might Hamas and Islamic Jihad be integrated after decades of exclusion? What models of Palestinian youth leadership can be further developed?”
Following is the report’s conclusion in its entirety, subtitled From Crisis to Opportunity:
The Palestinian national movement is at its lowest ebb since its launch in the 1960s. Yet such an acute crisis brings opportunities that must be grasped: That is the main message of the papers in this report and of the broader Policy Circle convened by Al-Shabaka.
The authors stress that the time is past due to reclaim the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) as the national representative of the Palestinian people, and that Palestinians must seek ways to reverse the steady encroachment on the PLO’s leadership and resources by the Palestinian Authority (PA) created under the Oslo Accords — a PA that now oversees truncated pieces of the Occupied Palestinian Territory (OPT) as the draconian Israeli occupation forces illegally annex and settle the land.
- This section draws on a background paper by Al-Shabaka Senior Policy Fellow Yara Hawari.The premise underpinning the work of the Policy Circle is that, as hollowed out as the PLO is, the Palestinian people currently have no alternative but to reclaim it as their national representative. The authors are not blind to the decades of PLO failings and the organization’s weaknesses today. They not only analyze some of the key causes but also propose doable solutions. Three of the papers have tackled the structure, functions, mission, and representativity of the PLO, thus providing a good grounding in the organization’s challenges and potential. This sets the stage for the remaining papers to address the promise and challenges of youth leadership.
- To begin with, Belal Shobaki skillfully traces the evolution of the Islamist movements Hamas and Islamic Jihad, both excluded from the PLO since their founding despite representing many Palestinians. He recalls the efforts finally made to bring them into the fold at the Cairo convening of 2005, which resulted in the Cairo Declaration — which is yet to be implemented. It is useful to note that all the groups at the convening “believed that maintaining the PLO’s irrelevance was tantamount to political suicide.” Since that time, key documents by Hamas (in 2017) and Islamic Jihad (in 2018) call for rebuilding the PLO on democratic rather than Islamic grounds, further facilitating their integration.
- Nijmeh Ali broadens the discussion to the need to secure, once again, the involvement of all Palestinians in their national movement. She recalls how this was achieved in the early years when the PLO’s representativity and legitimacy came through engagement and by decision-making through consensus rather than by voting. Ali depicts what she calls the PLO’s disengagement from the Palestinian people, initially the refugees and exiles in the diaspora (the PLO could not formally represent the Palestinian citizens of Israel) and eventually the Palestinians in the OPT. The urgent questions that need to be addressed concern the PLO’s political project and which Palestinians it seeks to represent. Until these core questions are resolved, attempts at reform will not achieve their intended objective.
- The question of leadership is at the heart of Fadi Quran’s analysis. Rather than echo the sterile discussion of who will be the next leader, he insists that the transformation of Palestinian leadership requires rekindling a sense of agency in both individuals and communities, and thus expanding leadership across every level of society. Based on a review of how the present situation evolved, Quran draws on his experience as an organizer as well as examples from other revolutionary movements to propose the model of leadership that will best serve the cause. He terms this “leadership through resistance,” emphasizing that such resistance must be “moral, strategic, and effective.” However, youth leadership building programs often end up co-opting youth and undermining democratic leadership. There are many examples from Palestinian history and other movements to counter this. Most importantly, leadership will need to wield the discursive power of a narrative that defines the movement with a unifying vision of what is possible.
- Quran’s essay is complemented by the analysis of a compelling example of youth leadership by Dana El Kurd, who has made a study of youth movements. In her paper she zeroes in on the Palestinian Youth Movement, which launched in the US yet succeeded in building a transnational movement for some years before refocusing on the US and establishing linkages with other US movements striving for rights and justice such as Black and Native American movements. Kurd’s analysis lead to some key findings, including the importance of recognizing the variations in lived experience so as to overcome obstacles, and of centering youth to maintain the vibrancy of a movement and its ability to grow.
- Marwa Fatafta builds on all of the above. She points out that even if implemented the 2005 Cairo Declaration would merely divide the cake amongst the present 12 Palestinian factions rather than engage the people. She emphasizes the absence of any effective accountability mechanism during the PLO’s lengthy history despite the divisive decisions made on the people’s behalf. Fatafta issues a clarion call to delink the PLO from the PA and restore its mandate, something Israel’s attempts to strangle the Palestinians in the OPT makes not only imperative but possible. She also suggests some practical steps to achieve accountability.
- This report comes at a critical moment. Israel is seeking to legalize its occupation of the territories it conquered in 1967 with the support of the US administration which, under President Donald Trump, has already recognized Israel’s annexation of Syria’s Golan Heights and approved Israeli plans for further annexation of the OPT. The Palestinian leadership rightly rejected the plan but continues to hold on to a political line (the Oslo parameters) that has led the Palestinian people to one of their most vulnerable points in history. Moreover, the Palestinian leadership is still misplacing its hopes in actors who have demonstrated over many decades that they do not have the political will to deliver on Palestinian rights.
- It has never been more pressing to consider reclamation of the PLO as a leadership that is representative of the Palestinian people in all their geographic, social, and political realities. This report highlights the most urgent issues to be addressed in order to do so, including reconciliation between political factions, mechanisms of representation and accountability, and leadership models. Such steps can take us toward reclaiming the PLO and the goal of liberation.
Rima Najjar is a Palestinian whose father’s side of the family comes from the forcibly depopulated village of Lifta on the western outskirts of Jerusalem and whose mother’s side of the family is from Ijzim, south of Haifa. She is an activist, researcher and retired professor of English literature, Al-Quds University, occupied West Bank.