The resurgence of Palestine – Abdaljawad Hamayel


March 20, 2011, By Abdaljawad Hamayel | Maan News Agency

For five consecutive years Palestinians have been in a state of nihilism. Politics, even as day-to-day talk, was completely derided and scorned.

Besides the few protests that took place in villages near Ramallah and Hebron, the rest of Palestine was plunged into an unprecedented silence. Checkpoints became a fact of life and the Israeli built “wall” became part and parcel of the territory and its landscape. Meanwhile European and American money poured in by the millions celebrating ‘Fayyadism’ as the new political genre that would transform Palestinian polity and remove any obstacles to Palestinian statehood.

On March 15, this manufactured nihilism finally broke and a new generation of Palestinian youth inspired by the protests in the Arab world embarked on a bold national campaign. They demanded the election of a new Palestinian National Council composed of all Palestinians everywhere, an end to the political division between Hamas and Fatah and a new strategy to confront the Israeli occupation.

The streets of Ramallah, Bethlehem, Hebron and Gaza buzzed with protesters reclaiming the Palestinian national movement and advocating a radical overhaul and change to the failures of the past 20 years.

Strategic failures began with the Palestinian leadership’s support of Saddam Hussein in his occupation of Kuwait and ended with a fractured Oslo agreement that resulted in the fragmentation and dissolution of the Palestinian national movement into a political authority dependent heavily on western financial support and legitimation.

This has radically weakened Palestinians’ ability to leverage power in negotiations or otherwise vis-a-vis Israel or any of the regional and international actors.

This free-fall from a largely independent national movement that fought Arab hegemony in the late 1960’s, to an amorphous, almost irrelevant political unit has been deepened by a geographic and political divide between Hamas and Fatah.

What Oslo effectively achieved for Palestinians was the illusion of state power, as if Palestine — which remains ‘non-existent’ — has already been erected and freed from the chains of occupation. This process is backed willfully or unintentionally by international political centers eager to use the ‘Palestinian card’ or in some cases subdue it — whether it is Iran, Syria or others in the case of Hamas, or the United States, Europe and tacit Arab and Israeli approval in the case of the West Bank.

These and other ideological and organic Palestinian political factors have a created a set of structural complexities that the nascent youth movement must grapple with.

There are no definite answers to what the best strategy is for Palestinians, and the Palestinian youth are very aware of this fact. Any rigid strategy will only weaken and divide the movement at this early stage. Some have already launched critiques to the slogans used by Palestinian protesters flooding the streets.

Palestinian youth groups, composed of a loose coalition of eager activists, synchronized their activities calling for a rational end to the irrational political divide. Not in an effort to legitimate either of the failed political parties, but to point out vehemently the failures and the narrow-mindedness with which they approach and have approached politics.

Do we negotiate or fight violently? What do we seek — the entirety of the Palestine mandate or simply the West Bank and Gaza? Do we return to popular struggle and nonviolence as in the case of the first intifada? And who represents Palestinians? And unfortunately, who is Palestinian — refugees, diaspora communities, Palestinians living in Israel or only those residing in the West Bank and Gaza?

Essentially the Palestinian national movement is dealing with the same questions that have repeatedly divided it since the establishment of Israel. Historically, answering any of these questions has led to division and bloodshed, and has made Palestinian ranks susceptible to foreign influence and hard-headed factionalism.

The only solution lies in revamping the entire PLO, not only to include political forces left out of it such as Hamas, and not only through the direct elections of the Palestinian National Council, but through institutionalizing a system of decision making by consensus, where power lies in coalition-building and where political extremes can meet at a political center.

Besides the democratic accountability that such an organization must uphold, it also has to enshrine institutional mechanisms that encourage compromise and dialogue, and a regular and steady change in leadership to curb the rise of any one person that can dominate Palestinian polity and divide it.

In this way, Palestinians can avoid falling into the same old trap of division at every juncture and of relying on the charisma or power of a specific individual, or, in recent years, of foreign meddling and support.

If Palestine is truly above us all, as the Palestinians often proclaim, then we must start finding institutional models that will help us practice what has been thus far an empty slogan.

Abdaljawad Hamayel is a Palestinian writer completing his M.A at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies.

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