Should Do Now
By Ali Abunimah
18 November 2004
first priority for Palestinian leaders now must be to defend their people
against Israel's relentless colonization and violence and not to negotiate
with Israeli guns to Palestinian heads. They must formulate a national
strategy to regain Palestinian rights enshrined in UN Resolutions, clearly
explain this strategy, and organize Palestinians and allies everywhere
to struggle for it, starting with full implementation of the ICJ decision
on the West Bank wall. Palestinians should seek to emulate the success
of the African National Congress that freed South Africans from apartheid
by confronting and defeating injustice, not seeking to accommodate it.
If the PLO and the
Palestinian Authority (PA) can transform themselves to take on this
role, they deserve the support of every Palestinian. If, however, they
plan to continue as they have before, they must dissolve. As constituted
by the Oslo accords, the Palestinian Authority harms Palestinian interests,
because it obscures Israel's responsibility as the occupying power without
providing any minimal protection for the people against Israel's continuous
onslaught. Its existence has allowed the spurious agenda of "reform"
to trump Israel's obligations under the Geneva Conventions and UN resolutions.
Palestinian leaders should no longer accept the responsibility for governing
Palestinians on behalf of the occupying power. Israel should bear the
full cost of its choices.
Yet the conventional
wisdom says that Yasir Arafat's death provides an opportunity to revive
the Palestinian-Israeli peace process. Realities such as Israel's refusal
in word and deed to withdraw and allow the establishment of a genuine
Palestinian state in the occupied territories have simply been ignored.
Dov Weissglas, the most senior advisor to Israeli premier Ariel Sharon,
explained in early October that Israel's Gaza "disengagement"
plan, which has been embraced by the bankrupt international peace process
industry, is actually a ruse to kill--not advance--any peace process.
Weissglas said, "when you freeze that [peace] process, you prevent
the establishment of a Palestinian state, and you prevent a discussion
on the refugees, the borders and Jerusalem. Effectively, this whole
package called the Palestinian state, with all that it entails, has
been removed indefinitely from our agenda."
any "opportunity" for peace through the establishment of a
Palestinian state depends either on a clear change of Israeli policy
or a clear willingness by the United States and the international community
to force Israel to change its policy. So far, the only policy announcement
to come from Israel is that it plans a posthumous "anti-Arafat
crusade" in the media.
President Bush has
has already shattered hopes that in a second term, freed from re-election
concerns, he might pressure Israel. At his November 12 press conference
with UK prime minister Tony Blair, Bush was asked if Israel should at
last implement a freeze on West Bank settlement expansion. He side-stepped
the question, placing the entire burden on the Palestinians: "I
believe that the responsibility for peace is going to rest with the
Palestinian people's desire to build a democracy and Israel's willingness
to help them build a democracy." Bush also stated that peace "can
be reached by only one path, the path of democracy, reform and the rule
of law." There is no sign yet that the EU or Arab states intend
to challenge his approach.
Yet at the same
time, Bush and Blair declared support for elections in the occupied
territories -- a position seemingly in tune with Palestinian aspirations.
But elections present both dangers and opportunities.
At a minimum, fair
elections require international intervention to protect the Palestinians
from the occupier and ensure all candidates have fair access to PA-controlled
media and are free from intimidation whether by Israel or the PA. The
danger is that snap elections in the West Bank and Gaza, under Israel's
crushing rule, will offer no fair opportunity for new Palestinian leaders
with new strategies to emerge. Elections must provide a genuine contest
and not be mere plebiscites confirming the post-Arafat appointments
of failed old guard figures like PLO chairman Mahmoud Abbas and Prime
Minister Ahmed Qureia and their backers who control the PA apparatus
with money and guns. Ominously, The New York Times reports that Israel,
under American pressure, has already released $40 million in blocked
PA funds to "strengthen the position" of the old guard.
In the best case,
from Israel's perspective, the old guard confirmed in place by flawed
elections would continue to offer disastrous concessions as they did
throughout the Oslo period. And at worst, they would simply become new
scapegoats to whom Israel and the US will deliver impossible demands
and then heap blame when they are inevitably unfulfilled. Palestinian
leaders must no longer accept this assigned role.
also demand elections in the diaspora as well the occupied territories.
Arguably Arafat's greatest mistake is that after signing the Oslo accords,
he abandoned the PLO's base in exile. Millions of Palestinians were
disenfranchised and the negotiating position of the Palestinian leadership
severely weakened because it could not claim that it had to refer any
agreement back to its people.
the United Nations and host countries would be essential to successful
diaspora elections. The recent Afghan election, in which 740,000 refugees
in Pakistan voted, proves it can be done. Currently, almost four million
Palestine refugees are registered with UNRWA. All exiled Palestinians
should have the right to vote and be elected to a Palestinian national
assembly with the sole authority to approve any future peace agreement.
This would be in
the best interests of Palestinians because it would strengthen and hold
accountable any eventual Palestinian negotiating body by ensuring it
accepts no deal which compromises basic rights, particularly the rights
of refugees. This is exactly why such elections would be strongly opposed
by Israel, the United States, the EU, and the Palestinian old guard.
But now is the time
for Palestinians to set their own agenda, to build a new movement, and
to see who among their self-declared allies really has their freedom,
democracy and rights at heart.
Ali Abunimah is
a co-founder of The Electronic Intifada.