Here’s the saddest story of them all, one about a generation of leaders — tasked with representing a cause that at one time in modern Arab history was seen as the habitual landmark by which Arab political culture found its bearings — who went from being heroes to being zeroes. I’m talking about the decline, fall and descent into irrelevance of todays Palestinian leadership.
And here’s the stark case in point. Last Thursday, Mahmoud Abbas, the president of the Palestinian National Authority (PNA) — a position that wields little national authority under foreign rule — was in Germany on an official visit.
While meeting there with Angela Merkel, he effusively thanked the chancellor for her support of “the two-state solution” and for her country’s “generous contribution” to the Palestinian people’s health services, education and civil society institutions. (Germany, one of several foreign donors that underwrite the survival of the PNA, contributed $122 million (Dh448 million) to the group last year, making it one of the biggest donors.)
“We are ready to sit with Israel at the negotiating table to arrive at a two-state solution,” he meekly told reporters at a news conference with Merkel, projecting the image of a distracted octogenarian tidying up the kitchen while the house burnt down around him.
For starters, consider the burning house in Gaza. In 2015, the United Nations issued a lengthy report that showed how that tormented strip of land will literally become unfit for human habitation, a place where, by the year 2020, life for the two million souls who live there will become unlivable. Folks, that’s a few months away!
Then consider that other burning house in the West Bank, populated by roughly three million Palestinians, where last Sunday the Israeli regime’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, doubled down on an election campaign pledge to annex the Israeli colonies there, including those outposts built deep inside the occupied territory and effectively ruled out as laughable the prospect of Palestinian statehood.
West Bankers don’t have to wait till 2020 to see their life under occupation become unlivable, as that of their counterparts’ in Gaza has become. It already is so — though the suffering of West Bankers is different in kind but the same in degree as that of Gazans.
As for the burning house Palestinians inhabit in exile, where you will find roughly five million of them still clinging on to their Right of Return — a right they insist on wresting control of, regardless of whether they exercise it or not — is in limbo.
My true quarrel here is not with the wanton, brazenly anti-Palestinian policies embraced by Washington. The US is a big power, and no big power in history, from imperial Rome to Colonial Britain, has ever conducted its foreign policy while driven by a politico-moral impulse. What serves its big power interests is what goes, and the devil with morals.
Nor do I blame Zionism, which came to Palestine with the well-defined, publicly declared intention of disenfranchising Palestinians of their lands, leading to their expulsion. You cannot blame the beast of prey for being a beast of prey.
Rather I blame Palestinian leaders for how they took our cause into their custody and debased it, and then rendered it hollow. Darwinian natural selection tells us how limbs atrophy through lack of use. Well, the will-to-meaning embraced by a people can also wither in a society that depletes its people’s resources of feeling.
Thank you Palestinian leaders, you the old guard, who set out, after the Battle of Karameh in March 1968, like knights in shining armour imbued with lofty claims, to liberate your people, only to end up exchanging revolutionary élan for the ever increasing tawdriness.
And do you really think we, ordinary Palestinian folk, give two-pence what Mahmoud Abbas — who cannot lead a new generation of Palestinians — a generation that has supped its fill at the whetstone of persecution under occupation and in exile — said at a press conference in Berlin last week?
The Palestinian leadership, I say, has long since forfeited the right to speak for us, about us or from us. What this leadership has done, by failing to deliver the rights its people crave, and, worse, by falling into the garb and glove of our oppressors, is unforgivable and will forever remain a dark marker in the geography of our historical soul.
— Fawaz Turki is a journalist, lecturer and author based in Washington. He is the author of The Disinherited: Journal of a Palestinian Exile.