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Palestine: Without Hope, We Are Lost!
Those who know something of my professional multi-disciplinary trajectory over the years also know that I earned a few of my political stripes from the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. This was at a time when the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians was the centrepiece of global interest well before journalists, pundits and politicians started focusing on the Arab uprisings.

4 December   |   2019   |   Subject  Middle East & North Africa (MENA)

But a recap first! As a toddler, I still recall listening to the Jordanian Hawker Hunters rumbling in the skies over Ramallah as they tried to defend their airspace from the Israeli Dassault Mirage III or Super Mystère jets during the Six-Day War of 1967. But 1967 was nothing short of a Pan-Arab Naksa (setback), and it was followed by the 1973 war, dubbed the Yom Kippur War by Israel, when many Palestinians thought that the Israeli military superiority had found its match. But this war was another defeat, and it was followed for Palestinians by a fresh but doomed irenic process. Oslo started with secret talks between Ron Pundak and Ahmed Qurei in Norway and eventually offered Palestinians the framework of the Declaration of Principles (Oslo 1 Accord) on interim self-government. Later (and I am jumping through many hoops here), we witnessed the Camp David Summit with Clinton, Arafat and Barak in 2000. This flopped too, and led to a second intifada or uprising in September 2000.

With the purportedly natural death of Yasser Arafat in 2004, and the Likud-led caustic realities in Israel, a new chapter started thereafter whereby Palestinians pursued their efforts for self-determination and an independent Palestine living next to Israel in full sovereignty, contiguity and security. But there was little chance of that as the lack of progress led to an increasing sense of despair and frustration amongst Palestinians and an enhanced land-grab arrogance by the Israeli political establishment.

Today, there is no peace prospect in the horizon. It is moribund. Rather, there is a US Administration that has defunded UNRWA and other NGO’s or charities that were helping Palestinians let alone recognised Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. It has for all intents and purposes sounded the death knell for refugees and as an icing on the cake has also opined that Israeli settlements on Palestinian lands are not illegal. Public International law has been sidestepped in one irresponsible swoop.

Parallel with the US-led one-sided efforts, it is also clear to me that many Arab rulers who were a backbone of the quest for Palestinian independence have forsaken their support, minus verbal statements, due to their distraction with other concerns. The EU offers financial sustenance to Palestinians, but it is far too diminished and also recalcitrant to play a political role.

So what is the response of the Palestinian political leadership? It lodges protests and expostulates against the measures undertaken by Israel. It also levels accusations against the US and other ‘brotherly’ countries. But does it act too? Or is the Palestinian political leadership - be it in Ramallah or Gaza - so glazed over by their own internecine feuds that they have mistaken the identity of their opponents and are busy with their Cain versus Abel fratricides? Have gerontocracy and self-interest overtaken the pursuit of the hopes by millions of Palestinian men and women in the occupied Palestinian territories?

I listen to the Palestinian leadership and their worldwide friends - some of whom I have learnt to know and respect also - suggesting that they are waiting for the right moment. But what is this kairos or right moment? And the right moment for what exactly? The defeat of Trump in the 2020 elections? The removal of Netanyahu and his replacement by Gantz or another candidate? In the meantime, and whilst there is a haunting freeze on soft diplomacy and people-to-people dialogue, the Israeli-Palestinian security coordination inter partes continues - a case of an occupied party aiding and abetting the occupier.

A couple of days ago, I watched an interview with Dr Azmi Bishara, a leading Arab intellectual and (formerly) an Arab Israeli parliamentarian who now runs the Arab Centre for Research and Policy Studies in Qatar. Hosted by Al-Araby TV, he addressed the questions e-mailed by many Arabs who had watched his earlier interview (in Arabic) where he spoke of the protests in Arab countries. In this follow-on interview, Dr Bishara robustly addressed the lamentable and - frankly - bewildering political state of Palestinian affairs today. He argued that the Palestinian Authority is now fighting terrorism rather than fighting an occupation and has forsaken the objectives of liberation for the sake of edifying an Authority.

So where does one go from here? Does one reform the Palestinian Authority or even dismantle it? Perhaps seize the International Criminal Court? Or heal the rift between the various Palestinian factions let alone between the PLO and its ancillary tools of Palestinian governance, in the hope of kick-starting a new phase? Do elections, whether legislative or presidential, signal the way forward? Could it be that another struggle against apartheid would consolidate intra-Palestinian solidarity? What are the prospects of the BDS campaign à la South Africa, and is it helpful or counterproductive? Alternatively, does one continue on the path of oblivion and irrelevance as Palestinian hopes are compromised and dashed anew?

Mahmoud Darwish is the Palestinian national poet who used Palestine as a metaphor for the loss of Eden, birth and resurrection, and the anguish of dispossession and exile. He once said, “Without hope, we are lost”. Palestinians cannot forsake hope. They owe it to themselves to pull their socks up and work together, not against each other. But can they, and will they?

© Dr Harry Hagopian   |   2019   |   4 December


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