In the sci-fi film Land of the Lost, scientist Rick Marshall says in a sad voice that he is a coward who is afraid of declaring his scientific theory publicly. His smartest student, Holly Cantrell, replies: “No, you are not a coward, you are a man of vision,” and persuades him to share with her the adventure of looking for a lost land and a lost people. Despite many difficulties and obstacles, they find them.
There is a divide between visionaries who fear people’s reactions and visionaries willing to make decisions that might shock others. Of course, this division varies from one person to another, and from one era to another. But until the visionary with courage and who is able to be decisive and challenging comes along, hesitation is the status quo.
This is the effect of the divisions between Palestinian leaders on the majority of the people, and it’s worse than last week’s snowstorm in the region.
Must Palestinians pay for the changing loyalties of their leaders? Is their fate to pay for changes in alliances and the conflict of interests among certain allies?
The simple answer is yes. The evidence is there in the history books. Examples include the decision by the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, Amin al-Husseini, to take Hitler’s side, under the illusion that a Nazi victory would lead to justice for the Palestinians in their fight against the British Balfour Declaration. Then there is the support of the leaders of some Palestinian factions—and not only Yasser Arafat—for Saddam Hussein’s disastrous invasion of Kuwait, because they believed in opposing foreign intervention in Arab affairs and that the Iraqi president would win any war he started—and if that were true, they thought it could only be beneficial to the Palestinian issue.
Infighting between innocent parties
Between the eruption of the Second World War and the end of the Cold War, leaders of the various Palestinian factions lit the fuse that caused infighting between innocent parties who sacrificed their lives on the orders of their leaders. Some of these leaders later lived a life of luxury.
The streets of Amman and other Jordanian cities, as well as those in Lebanon, witnessed those events, where differences were settled with assassinations. Then Palestinian blood was spilt by Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank while the Palestinian independence project was still in its infancy.
When history writes the story of the Palestinian tragedy objectively and impartially, the likelihood is that it will include many serious questions about the behavior of leading officials at various stages, who put the interest of their parties and their personal loyalties—even their personal interests in some cases—ahead of the interests of Palestinians, as a people and as an issue.
The ‘unknown quantity’
Yes, Palestinians welcomed the launch of Fatah in early 1965, as it was seen as a new start following the wreckage of the diaspora camps. Despite the movement’s initial pledge not to interfere in the internal affairs of Arab states, it became drawn into the arena of Arab conflicts soon after the defeat of Egypt, Syria and Jordan in 1967.
As the movement enjoyed the euphoria that followed the first Palestinian–Israeli confrontation in the Jordanian town of Karama, Fatah became a main player, known as the “unknown quantity,” intent on securing a foothold in the Arab arena.
Other organizations had ideological affiliations and were linked to specific regimes, and therefore it was not difficult to drag most of the constituents of Palestinian resistance into interfering in the internal affairs of more than one Arab country. The result, of course, was entering into bone-breaking wars and paying the price for them.
The international responsibility for the Palestinian tragedy—from the Basel Conference in Switzerland in 1897 to the Balfour Declaration in 1917 and through to the end of the British mandate to facilitate the creation of Israel in 1948—precedes by a long time, and greatly exceeds in terms of damage, Palestinian leaders’ responsibility for what happened to their own people from the mid-1960s to the present day.
The former was a result of a conspiracy with understandable motives at a time when the interests of all the participating parties coincided. So what would be Palestinian leaders’ justification now, if they were asked why they failed to understand the interests of their people, or why they failed to deal flexibly with changes on the ground during various events, especially after the October War in 1973?
Some might say each event has its own circumstances, and that what may seem to be possible now may also have been impossible then. This is true, but what enables a leader to lead is having qualities others lack, such as being able to use their popularity to take action that seems impossible, or even forbidden, but which stems from a vision capable of being appreciated by future generations.
For example, we can say that the Palestinian leadership, instead of chasing an independent decision in the diaspora could have insisted that Jordan and Egypt should remain responsible for the liberation of the West Bank and Gaza, in keeping with United Nations Resolution 242 and in adherence to the rights of two states with full membership of the U.N.
After that, the establishment of a Palestinian state would have become an Arab issue. However, such a stance required the courage to announce a future Palestinian vision, instead of wasting more time and more land and fighting over what has yet to be lost.
This article was first published in Asharq al-Awsat on Dec. 21, 2013.
Bakir Oweida is a journalist who worked as Managing Editor, and written for several Arab publications based in London. His last executive post was Assistant to Editor-in-Chief of Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper, responsible for Op-Ed section, until December 2003. He can be reached on firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com
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