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Palestine’s new status: Rerun of history or new strategy?
Published Friday 07/12/2012 (updated) 15/12/2012 21:22
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Palestine has become a "non-member state" at the United Nations as of Thursday Nov. 29, 2012. The draft of the UN resolution beckoning what many perceive as a historic moment passed with an overwhelming majority of General Assembly members: 138 votes in favor, nine against and 41 abstentions.

It was accompanied by a passionate speech delivered by Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. But decades earlier, a more impressive and animated Palestinian leader, Yasser Arafat sought international solidarity as well. The occasion then was also termed ‘historic’.

Empowered by Arab support at the Rabat Arab League summit in October 1974, which bestowed on the Palestine Liberation Organization, the ever-opaque title "the sole legitimate representative of the Palestinian people", Arafat was invited to speak at the UN General Assembly.

Despite the fervor that accompanied the newly found global solidarity, Arafat's language singled a departure from what was perceived by Western powers as radical and unrealistic political and territorial ambitions.

In his speech on November 13, Arafat spoke of the growing PLO’s legitimacy that compelled his actions: "The PLO has earned its legitimacy because of the sacrifice inherent in its pioneering role and also because of its dedicated leadership of the struggle.

"It has also been granted this legitimacy by the Palestinian masses ... The PLO has also gained its legitimacy by representing every faction, union or group as well as every Palestinian talent, either in the National Council or in people’s institutions."

The list went on, and, despite some reservations, each had a reasonable degree of merit.

The same however can hardly be said of Abbas’ Palestinian Authority, which exists as a result of an ambiguous ‘peace process’ nearly 20-years ago.

It has all but completely destroyed the PLO’s once functioning institutions, redefined the Palestinian national project of liberation around a more ‘pragmatic’ – read self-serving – discourse that is largely tailored around self-preservation, absence of financial accountability and a system of political tribalism.

Abbas is no Yasser Arafat. But equality important, the Arafat of 1974 was a slightly different version of an earlier Arafat who was the leader of the revolutionary Fatah party.

In 1974, Arafat made a statehood proposal that itself represented a departure from Fatah's own previous commitment to a ‘democratic state on all Palestine’.

Arafat's revised demands contained the willingness to settle for "establishing an independent national state on all liberated Palestinian territory". While the difference between both visions may be attributed to a reinterpretation of the Palestinian liberation strategy, history showed that it was much more.

Since that date and despite much saber-rattling by the US and Israel against Arafat’s ‘terrorism’ and such, the PLO under Arafat’s Fatah leadership underwent a decade-long scrutiny process, where the US placed austere demands in exchange for an American ‘engagement’ of the Palestinian leadership. This itself was the precondition that yielded Oslo and its abysmal consequences.

Arafat was careful to always sugarcoat any of his concessions with a parallel decision that was promoted to Palestinians as a national triumph of some sort. Back then there was no Hamas to stage a major challenge to the PLO’s policies, and leftist groups within the PLO structure were either politically marginalized by Fatah or had no substantial presences among the Palestinian masses.

The field was virtually empty of any real opposition, and Arafat’s credibility was rarely questioned. Even some of his opponents found him sincere, despite their protests against his style and distressing concessions.

The rise of the PLO’s acceptability in international arenas was demonstrated in its admission to the United Nations as a “non-state entity” with an observer status on Nov 22, 1974.

The Israeli war and subsequent invasion of Lebanon in 1982 had the declared goal of destroying the PLO and was in fact aimed at stifling the growing legitimacy of the PLO regionally and internationally. Without an actual power base, in this case, Lebanon, Israeli leaders calculated that the PLO would either fully collapse or politically capitulate.

Weakened, but not obliterated, the post-Lebanon war PLO was a different entity than the one which existed prior to 1982. Armed resistance was no longer on the table, at least not in any practical terms. Such change suited some Arab countries just fine. A few years later, Arafat and Fatah were assessing the new reality from headquarters in Tunisia.

The political landscape in Palestine was vastly changing. A popular uprising (Intifada) erupted in 1987 and quite spontaneously a local leadership was being formed throughout the occupied territories. New names of Palestinian intellectuals were emerging. They were community leaders and freedom fighters that mostly organized around a new discourse that was created out of local universities, Israeli prisons and Palestinian streets.

It was then that the legend of the Intifada was born with characters such as children with slingshots, mothers battling soldiers, and a massive reservoir of a new type of Palestinian fighter along with fresh language and discourse.

Equally important, new movements were appearing from outside the traditional PLO confines. One such movement is Hamas, which has grown in numbers and political relevance in ways once thought impossible.

That reality proved alarming to the US, Israel and of course, the traditional PLO leadership. There were enough vested interests to reach a ‘compromise'. This naturally meant more concessions by the Palestinian leadership in exchange for some symbolic recompense by the Americans.

The latter happily floated Israel’s trial balloons so that the Israeli leadership didn't appear weak or compromising. Two major events defined that stage of politics in 1988: On Nov 15, the PLO’s National Council proclaimed a Palestinian state in exile from Algiers and merely two weeks later, US Ambassador to Tunisia Robert H. Pelletreau Jr., was designated as the sole American liaison whose mission was to establish contacts with the PLO.

Despite the US’ declared objection of Arafat’s move, the US was in fact pleased to see that the symbolic declaration was accompanied by major political concessions. The PNC stipulated the establishment of an independent state on Palestinian 'national soil’ and called for the institution of “arrangements for security and peace of all states in the region” through a negotiated settlements at an international peace conference on the basis of UN resolution 242 and 338 and Palestinian national rights.

Although Arafat was repeatedly confronted by even more American demands – that truly never ceased until his alleged murder by poison in Ramallah in 2004 – the declaration was the real preamble of the Oslo accords some few years later.

Since then, Palestinians have gained little aside from symbolic victories starting in 1988 when the UNGA “acknowledged” the Algiers proclamation. It then voted to replace the reference to the “Palestine Liberation Organization” with that of “Palestine”.

And since then, it has been one symbolic victory after another, exemplified in an officially acknowledged Palestinian flag, postage stamps, a national anthem and the like.

On the ground, the reality was starkly and disturbingly different. Fledgling illegal Jewish settlements became fortified cities and a relatively small settler population now morphed to number over half a million settlers. Jerusalem is completely besieged by settlements, and cut off from the rest of the occupied territories.

The Palestinian Authority established in 1994 to guide Palestinians towards independence became a permanent status of a Palestinian leadership that existed as far as Israel’s would permit it to exist. Polarization caused by the corruption of the PA and its security coordination with Israel lead to civil strife that divided the Palestinian national project between factional and self-serving agendas.

The support that ‘Palestine’ has received at the United Nations must be heartening, to say the least, for most Palestinians. The overwhelming support, especially by Palestine’s traditional supporters (most of humanity with few exceptions) indicates that the US hegemony, arm twisting and Israeli-US propaganda was of little use after all.

However, that should not be misidentified as a real change of course in the behavior of the Palestinian Authority which still lacks legal, political and especially moral legitimacy among Palestinians who are seeking tangible drive towards freedom, not mere symbolic victories.

If Abbas thinks that obtaining a new wording for Palestine status at the UN would provide a needed political theater to justify another 20 years of utter failures, then time is surely to prove him wrong.

If the new status, however, is used as a platform for a radically different strategy that would revitalize a haggard political discourse with the sole aim of unifying the ranks of all Palestinians around a new proud national project, then, there is something worth discussing. Indeed, it is not the new status that truly matters, but rather how it is interpreted and employed. While history is not exactly promising, the future will have the last word.

Ramzy Baroud is the editor of Palestine Chronicle.
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1 ) Bob Jacobson / USA
07/12/2012 15:34
After 64 years of failure in armed struggle and negotiations, Palestinian policies have only managed to move Israel further toward precluding the possibility of a Palestinian state. And each time the Palestinian leadership alters their strategy, that fails too. Perhaps it is time for a fresh look at the issues and present Israel an option they cannot refuse. After 64 years, the leadership must have the courage to present reality to its people, moving from what is desired to what is possible.

2 ) @ Bob-1 / USA too
07/12/2012 16:34
-a- There is NO that "Israel cannot refuse", but
-b- "It is time for a fresh look at the issues and present Israel an option," that it can accept, but "after 64 years, the leadership" of
-c- Neither side wants to make permanent "what is possible", rather than "what is desired", so
-d- Palestine will remain in the status and sovereignty of today
(non-member UN observer, with Gaza/Area A, shared Area B sovereignty),
and Israel as a UN member, with sovereignty over the rest !!!!

3 ) Doomed / Failure
07/12/2012 21:52
It matters NOT whether it's an old or a "new strategy",
but only if it has a chance of success, and since
Only Negotiations and Compromise can succeed,
the UN Bid was Doomed to be just another Failure !!

4 ) Deborah / USA
08/12/2012 00:50
"Perhaps it is time for a fresh look at the issues and present Israel an option they cannot refuse." Unfortunately, Israel isn't rational and it hasn't been nor will it likely to be accepting even of a series of bantustans called a Palestinian state, let alone something in conformity with international law--i.e. a state along the 67 borders.

5 ) Brian Cohen / Israel
09/12/2012 09:57
Deborah, the "67 borders" do not exist. You are nothing more than another amateur observer pretending to know something that turns out is factually wrong. The 1949 lines are armistice lines, not borders. These are the mythical "1967 borders" you and other people ignorantly refer to. You clearly do not know international law, which demands that warring parties negotiate a peace treaty and decide on borders between themselves. Your comments are wrong and do not bring peace or a solution closer.

6 ) Colin Wright / USA
09/12/2012 21:44
In 1947, the UN brought into legal being and assigned borders to two states: a Jewish Israel and an Arab Palestine. These borders still have legal status, and in fact Israel for her part accepted them. Legally all that has to happen is that a group needs to be recognized as embodying this already legally real Palestine. One should then be able to use the peace-keeping machinery of the UN to eject Israel from those portions she has occupied illegally.

7 ) Colin Wright / USA
09/12/2012 21:46
To Brian Cohen #5 'These are the mythical "1967 borders" you and other people ignorantly refer to. You clearly do not know international law, which demands that warring parties negotiate a peace treaty and decide on borders between themselves.' It's equally clear that you don't know international law either. Israel's legal borders remain those she accepted in 1947. You're right about the 1967 'borders' not being legal, though.

8 ) Colin Wright / USA
09/12/2012 21:48
To Bob Jacobson #1 'Perhaps it is time for a fresh look at the issues and present Israel an option they cannot refuse. ' Perhaps it is time to realize that the problem is Israel herself, and if she won't withdraw to the borders she herself accepted in 1947, work to eliminate her entirely.

9 ) Colin Wright / USA
09/12/2012 21:55
Re Brian Cohen #5 'You clearly do not know international law, which demands that warring parties negotiate a peace treaty and decide on borders between themselves.' What a fatuous definition of 'international law.' Leave it to a Zionist to say something this mendacious.

10 ) Colin Wright / USA
09/12/2012 22:42
The next step will be when (too late) Israel and her supporters start trying to pretend that the '1967 borders' are the reality, rather than attempting to seize all of Palestine. Then point out that all they're actually legally entitled to is what they themselves agreed to in 1947. Then they'll refuse that...until (too late)...and then this twisted nightmare will finally be over. All that's really needed is continued Israeli greed and intransigence...and we can count on that.

11 ) Yehuda Solomon / Israel
13/12/2012 03:22
@ 4), You're 100% right. We are not rational, logical or sensible in our behavior towards this whole damn Israelite/Palestinian conflict. If we were, we WOULD go back (at least) to the 1967 armistice lines and stop settlement-building/development in the W. Bank, allow the return of all Palestinian refugees and willingly give eastern Jerusalem back to the Palestinians as their capital. With everyone then being given equal citizenship in Israel, we would then need to establish a U.S.- (cont.)

12 ) Yehuda Solomon / Israel
13/12/2012 03:23
style, secular constitution guaranteeing equal rights for all. So, rationally, logically and sensibly, we should end up being (at least politically) a United States of the Mideast, right ??? (What should we then call ourselves ??? ... Israelestine ???). So THAT'S our problem. We're just too damn IRrational, ILlogical and NONsensible or else this whole damn problem could be solved in 5 minutes, right ??? (I am being sincere here, NOT sarcastic.) Yes, that IS the truth. @ 10), Too (cont.)

13 ) Yehuda Solomon / Israel
13/12/2012 03:24
late for what ??? For Palestinian population growth to overwhelm us so we end up begging for the 1967 borders to go back to ??? ... and, failing that, then beg for the 1947 U.N. Partition Plan borders ??? ... I know you've read them, so haven't you learned a damn thing from ANY of my posts why (despite ANY Palestinian population growth west of that Jordan River) none of that camel crap will ever happen ??? ... Ramzy, EXCELLENT essay but here's the answer to your title: a FAILED strategy.

14 ) Broigas / Denmark
13/12/2012 10:17
Even if the Jewish State of Israel no longer existed. The divisive Arabs will still be killing each other.

15 ) Colin Wright / USA
15/12/2012 21:43
Anyway, Haaretz reports that 40% of all Israelis would leave if only they could. Aside from what this does to the Zionist argument, it makes the road clear. Just help the Jews to leave, and peace will come to the Middle East.

16 ) Yehuda Solomon / Israel
17/12/2012 21:07
@ 15), Really ??? ... So what ??? ... So let's go even further. Let's assume they WOULD go. Guess what ??? That would mean the rest of us (those who'd definitely remain) would wish 'em "Good Luck !!!" and tell 'em don't let the door kick 'em in their yored (Hebrew for leaving, going out, of Israel .. it's the opposite of aliyah, which means entering, going up, to Israel) ass on the way out. Hell, it just might make our job of Israelites like myself a whole lot easier.
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