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Arabs’ alienation from the Palestinian cause

The Arab street has removed itself from Palestine and Palestinians, but it cannot — and should not — turn a blind eye to the slow, agonising death by suffocation of two million innocents in Gaza

Gulf News

Bankruptcy is an oft-used escape route in the business world. It rarely works, however, in the political world.

On May 11, another blood-soaked Friday for Palestinians protesting along the Gaza-Israel border, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, in a surreal display of disconnect from reality, chose not to be home attending to his people’s immediate needs, but 13,000km away in Santiago, Chile, speaking at a press conference alongside Chilean President Sebastian Pinera, reiterating the commitment of the Palestinian National Authority (PNA) to “future negotiations on a two-state solution”.

Have the Palestinians been abandoned by the world, including — as some in the public debate aver — by that part of it we call the Arab world? And more relevantly, have they been abandoned by their own leadership, made up of two sundered, warring authorities that have evinced abundant ineptitude at leading? The answer, sadly, is an affirmative yes. One thing is clear: Never before in their long history of struggle have the Palestinian people been more isolated, more helpless and more forsaken than they have been in recent years.

A century ago, soon after the Balfour Declaration was issued, the struggle for Palestine acquired a status of pre-eminence in the Arab heartland, engaging the essential repertoire of its people’s consciousness — a struggle that resonated with connotations and echoes from their history. Thus, as a case in point, when on February 14, 1945, the then Saudi king Abdul Aziz met the then president of the United States, Franklin D. Roosevelt, aboard the USS Quincy on the Suez Canal (the first time a US president met a Saudi king), the Saudi monarch devoted virtually the entire meeting to articulate his concerns about the fate of Palestine, along with similar concerns that other Arabs had, living in countries that stretched from the Atlantic Ocean to Euphrates River.

No other cause that anyone knew of could command so wide a context of social response — until recently, when “Palestine fatigue” began to grip the ‘Arab street’, and the regrouping of geopolitical realities in the region began to dictate their own dynamics. Today, when Palestinians get slaughtered or maimed in the hundreds — during mass demonstrations called, evocatively, ‘The Great March of Return’ — the Arab world is out to lunch!

Absent, all the way from Rabat to Cairo, Baghdad to Beirut, and everywhere else in between, are the demonstrations, the sit-ins, the fund-raising events, the impassioned speeches and panel discussions that accompanied the first and second Intifadas (uprisings), in 1987 and 2000, respectively, held in solidarity with the people of Palestine.

To be sure, this apathy was hastened by the brazen excesses and dismal failures of the Palestinian leaders themselves, whose piteousness at leading — certainly since 1994, when they first arrived in Gaza to head the newly-formed PNA, aided by nine intelligence services — elicited bitter laughter from ordinary Palestinians and disdain from Arabs at large.

Truth be told, when it comes to Palestine, one should not blame the US for its unconscionable stand on the issue, including its recent decision to move its embassy from Tel Aviv to occupied Jerusalem. The US is a big power and big powers, all the way from imperial Rome to colonial Britain, have never conducted their foreign policy with a politico-moral impulse. Thus, why blame the beast of prey for being a beast of prey? One should instead blame those tasked with leading, but who have failed, who have subverted the Palestinian cause by reducing it to a fragment, thereby alienating those in the Arab world and beyond who otherwise would’ve continued to exhibit fervent support.

The problem here is that sometimes people conflate leaders for causes. There is evidence to support that phenomenon. You will recall reading about the alienation of European and American Marxists, from Marxism in the late 1930s and 1940s, who turned away with nauseated disbelief at the excesses of leaders in the Soviet Union and were repelled by revelations about the Gulag, the labour camps and the show trials during the so-called Great Purge. Though these Marxists wavered emotionally and doubted intellectually, they ended up conflating Stalinism with Marxism, and distancing themselves from their long-held beliefs. (Note how in late 1995 Libyan authorities expelled thousands of Palestinians resident in the country, dismissing many from their jobs and confiscating their homes, in order to punish the Palestine Liberation Organisation for making peace with Israel — an extremist case of conflating complicit leaders for innocent people.)

“The problem with the Palestinian issue is that sometimes people conflate leaders for causes.””
-Fawaz Turki
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Yet, the Marxist model remains a vibrant critique of political economy and the dialectic of history, while the Soviet Union was left by the wayside. As if reflecting on that notion, an Economist article, published in December 2002, was tellingly titled, ‘As a system of government, Communism is dead or dying [around the world], but as a system of ideas, its future looks secure’.

So it is with the Palestinian cause, which retains its seriousness and vitalising moral poise — so long as it is not conflated for the shopworn cliches of those who lead it. Regardless of how far the Arab street has removed itself from Palestine and Palestinians, it cannot — and it should not — turn a blind eye to the slow, agonising death by suffocation of two million innocents in Gaza.

Meanwhile, we hope the weather was clement in Santiago while President Abbas was there on his official visit on May 11, when dozens of Palestinians were dying or sustaining permanent injuries, as they called for freedom at the Gaza-Israel border.

Fawaz Turki is a journalist, lecturer and author based in Washington. He is the author of The Disinherited: Journal of a Palestinian Exile.

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