Destroying Palestinian nationalism from within

Ramzy Baroud

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Imagine several armored vehicles belonging to the Palestinian Authority’s (PA) security apparatus in the West Bank raiding an Israeli border village on the eve of a new round of peace talks with Israel. Further, imagine President Mahmoud Abbas defending the killings on the ground saying the measure was taken for the protection of the Palestinians. Would the Israeli delegation return for talks with handshakes and smiles?

The answer to this question is a resounding NO. Despite the Aug. 26 Israeli raid on the Qalandia refugee camp, north of Occupied Jerusalem, the killing of three and the wounding of others, why did the Palestinians return to the table for the fourth time during August? Of course, that was not the only lethal attack to take place during the “peace talks” and it surely will not be the last insult to this peace process.

Granted, Palestine is an occupied nation, and its leadership possesses fewer advantages than its Israeli counterpart; but in negotiations, any negotiations, that take place under such humiliating circumstances, can Abbas and his chief negotiator Saeb Erekat reasonably expect any fair outcome from these meetings, the kind that would bring dignified peace after a decades-long military occupation?

Illogical Palestinian concessions

Of course not. Yet Abbas continues to offer more concessions in ways that defy any logic and the history of diplomacy altogether. After volunteering last year to terminate any claims to historic Palestine during an interview on Israeli TV, his statement was rightly understood as a direct dismissal of Palestinians’ right of return to their land occupied in 1947-48, he is still unrepentant. “The Palestinians would abandon historic claims to land that are now in the state of Israel in the event of a far-reaching peace deal,” he told a group of Israeli parliamentarians, as summed up by The Guardian on Aug. 23.

Israel was never one to give up trying to mold local Palestinian leaders as alternatives to elected Palestinians

Ramzy Baroud

Abbas, who serves no purpose aside from filling the U.S.-entrusted role of a “moderate” Palestinian and would go to any length to sustain his corrupt donors’ funded authority, has no vision, but rather an assortment of confounded ideas about peace, justice and international law. He doesn’t even seem to fully grasp the timetable set forth for the negotiations. See below:

“We wanted the meetings … to take place every day or every second day, and not once a week or every 10 days like the Israelis want. I don’t know why they don’t want to. We don’t have much time.”

Although his term as the president of the PA has expired and his authority doesn’t enjoy a speck of democratic credentials, he makes concessions in the name of his people. In fact, it has been conventional wisdom that the Oslo-styled peace process is long dead as far as its chances of achieving any peace — just or otherwise — are concerned. Israel has made it crystal clear that no such thing as a peace agreement is present on its agenda. In fact, in August alone, the Israeli government announced bids for the construction of 3,000 more housing units in illegal Jewish settlements. Abbas himself, although playing along for non-altruistic reasons, is aware of that. “I can’t say that I’m optimistic, but I hope we aren’t just wasting our time.”

That said, and although irrelevant as far as its declared reasons for finding a fair solution to the historic conflict, Oslo is not dead as a culture. That outcome of Oslo is very much alive. It continues to define Palestinian political bankruptcy and split Palestinian society. It has polarized Palestinians around factional and geographical lines.

Israeli plans

History is laden with failed Israeli experiments aimed at destroying the Palestinian national project from within. In 1976, the Israeli government, then led by Yitzhak Rabin, conducted local elections in the West Bank and Gaza. It was a classic Rabin move aimed at stripping the PLO and nationalist leaders of any validity in the occupied territories. Israel had by then made-up another group of Palestinian “leaders,” which consisted mostly of traditional heads of clans, a small, self-seeking oligarchy that historically accommodated whatever foreign power happened to be ruling over Palestinians at the time.

Israel was almost certain that its allies were ready to sweep the local elections, but it miscalculated. National candidates won an overwhelming majority. The attempt to create an early version of Abbas and his PA was a complete failure.

But Israel was never one to give up trying to mold local Palestinian leaders as alternatives to elected Palestinians or internationally recognized representatives of the Palestinian struggle. In 1978, Israeli leader Menachem Begin established the Village Leagues, giving its members relatively wide powers, including approval or denial of uplift projects in the occupied territories. He armed them and also provided them with Israeli military protection. But that too was doomed to failure. “The league members [were] widely regarded as collaborators by their fellow townspeople and villagers [and by 1983] Israel had begun recognizing the artificial nature of the Village Leagues and acknowledged the failure of the efforts to create political institutions capable of mobilizing Palestinian support for the occupation,” wrote Ann Mosely Lesch and Mark Tessler in “Israel, Egypt and the Palestinians: From Camp David to Intifada.”

But, a revamped version of the Village Leagues and clan-like political apparatus; Abbas’ authority, is working too well for reasons that require a separate discussion. For now, however, Palestinians will have to face up to the inescapable reality that their leadership has completely acquiesced and their continued silence is an affirmation of that defeat.


Palestinian-American journalist, author, editor, Ramzy Baroud (www.ramzybaroud.net) taught Mass Communication at Australia's Curtin University of Technology, and is Editor-in-Chief of the Palestine Chronicle. Baroud's work has been published in hundreds of newspapers and journals worldwide and his books “His books “Searching Jenin: Eyewitness Accounts of the Israeli Invasion” and “The Second Palestinian Intifada: A Chronicle of a People’s Struggle” have received international recognition. Baroud’s third book, “My Father Was a Freedom Fighter: Gaza's Untold Story” narrates the story of the life of his family, used as a representation of millions of Palestinians in Diaspora, starting in the early 1940’s until the present time.

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