Palestinians are in a quagmire the likes of which, hyperbole aside, they have never, ever had to face in their modern history — a mare’s nest they appear at first blush, to have no way out of, around or through. They are left high and dry, alone and helpless, having lost whatever weight they had had in the balance of power, and thus leverage in determining their future.
Time to strike out and pin blame on the guilty party, I say, especially this month, which marks the anniversary of the signing of the Oslo accord on the White House lawn 25 Septembers ago, under pallid fall skies and amid effusive handshakes.
Should one blame the United States for all this, for its unshakeable patronage over the years of Israel’s in-your-face demands. I say no. Decidedly no. The United States is a big power, and no big power in history, from Pharaonic Egypt to Ancient Greece, Imperial Rome to Colonial Britain, has ever conducted a foreign policy driven by a politico-moral impulse. Rather, a big power’s standard operating procedure has always been this: What’s in it for us, what serves our global interests? The devil with high-minded rectitude. If it takes lying, thieving, conniving and back-stabbing to serve these interests, a big power will do it without a second thought.
Consider, among many others, this one case in point, when in 1916 the United Kingdom and France, during their heyday as colonial powers, promised Arabs independence from Ottoman rule if they joined in the war effort against the axis forces — which Arabs did — only to discover after the war that the promise was worthless, since these two not altogether honourable powers had gone behind the Arabs’ back and signed the Sykes-Picot Agreement (to which the Russian Empire assented) that saw them carve up the Levant between them in a manner responsive to their strategic interests.
That’s the way of big powers, so why blame the United States for its policies in our region?
And, no, I do not blame Israel either for the failure of the Oslo accord. Israel is an ethnocracy defined by core colonialist principles in its ideology. From day one, at the First Zionist Congress in Basel, Switzerland, in 1897, Zionism called for the creation of a ‘Jewish’ state in Palestine, a land already inhabited by another people. The Zionists’ political platform was clearly articulated for the world to read: Zionists intended to establish in Palestine a state predicated on the land alienation, leading to the expulsion from their ancient patrimony, of the Palestinian people — for how else do you create a “Jewish” state in a land inhabited by a majority population of non-Jews? The policy never changed, for Zionists have, let’s face it, remained faithful to the ideals of their colonial project. So why blame the beast of prey for going after the Oslo accord with a wrecking ball? Rather I blame Palestinian leaders, and Palestinian leaders only, for the quagmire the Palestinian people have found themselves in over the last quarter century. A small group of uninitiated PLO officials went to Oslo unprepared for the monumental task before them and, without a single expert in international law at their side, signed an ambiguous agreement that did not even include — as it should have, from the get-go — a clause mandating a stop by Israel to the building of colonies in the occupied territories.
A handful of men, I say, who were way in over their heads in the diplomatic world, decided, then and there, without input from, let alone approval by, the Palestine National Council, the Palestinian parliament in exile, the fate of a whole nation. And the Palestinians were rewarded with a repackaged form of the old occupation.
Now consider the rewards Israel got from the deal: A peace agreement with Jordan, that came with no price tag for the Israeli entity, and diplomatic recognition by countries all around the Third World, countries that hitherto had held back at extending it since 1948. After all, the argument went, if the Palestinians themselves recognised Israel, and are now that entity’s “peace partners”, why shouldn’t we?
But the greatest reward Israel received was that it would now be the Palestinian National Authority’s duty (yes, I think that’s the right word here) to take on the burden of controlling dissent, or any form of resistance to the occupation, in the autonomous zones. And what a reward! “That the Palestinian [National] Authority has endured and the peace process has collapsed attests to how much Israel has gained”, reported the New York Times in a front page news report on September 13. “Oslo made the Palestinians responsible for policing themselves in the West Bank, which has led to vast improvements in Israeli security from terrorism in recent years at little cost to Israel. It gave the authority responsibility for providing services like sanitation and hospitals that would otherwise cost Israel, as the occupying power, hundreds of millions of dollars. And it has allowed Israel to postpone, seemingly indefinitely, a broader withdrawal from the West Bank”.
Meanwhile, the best that these Palestinian leaders can hope to clinch for their people, by way of a “Palestinian state” — should Palestinians behave, eat humble pie, take on the chin and sign on the dotted line — amounts to demilitarised cantons, without contiguity, and that is only after they’ve recognised Israel as “the nation state of the Jewish people”, a demand never required of other parties Israel had signed peace agreement with before.
In short, our enemies have succeeded thanks to the blundering of these folks, who are still schlepping around in the West Bank and Gaza, unaware that they are a sad excuse for what passes for a national leadership.
Yet. Yet, the success of our enemies at this moment of immediacy in history is not the last word on our struggle, nor is the failure of this generation of Palestinians to achieve its goals the terminus of that struggle. It all rests with the ability of the next generation to start all over again, this time more astutely — having learnt from their failed history, thus positioning themselves, as we say, not to repeat it.
Palestinians will still be around, in the homeground as in the diaspora. We ain’t going nowhere far from where are roots are.
Fawaz Turki is a journalist, lecturer and author based in Washington. He is the author of The Disinherited: Journal of a Palestinian Exile.