Palestine may be fragmented. But let's remember whose fault that is.
- By Mouin RabbaniMouin Rabbani is a visiting senior fellow at the Institute for Palestine Studies in Washington, D.C.
In his commentary anticipating a Palestinian initiative to promote statehood at the United Nations, Aaron David Miller chooses to focus almost exclusively upon the realities of Palestinian political and demographic fragmentation. But rather than providing an explanation of how these divisions have come about, or recommending means to overcome them, Miller instead suggests that on their account Palestinians remain unworthy of freedom.
The fact of the matter is that Humpty Abu Dumpty did not accidentally fall off a wall; he was purposefully shoved off the edge of a cliff, beaten to a pulp, and then bombed to smithereens. As for the king’s men, as Miller well knows, they made no effort to put him back together again, instead providing the gang responsible for his torment a steady supply of crack and endless rounds of ecstatic applause.
Miller’s analogy fails on another count as well. Despite the extraordinary traumas of 1948 and 1967 and numerous lesser ones between and since, the Palestinians managed to build and maintain a reasonably coherent national movement that until the early 1990s was perceived as genuinely representative by a clear majority within virtually every Palestinian constituency. The fragmentation that, for Miller, today defines Palestinian existence and should therefore limit Palestinian aspirations, was therefore until fairly recently all but irrelevant.
The most important culprit in this respect has been the Oslo process. Among its many mortal sins, it subordinated the Palestinian Liberation Organization to the Palestinian Authority (PA) and in so doing marginalized that majority of Palestinians that does not reside in the West Bank or Gaza Strip, and national to local interim agendas. Oslo not only institutionalized existing differences and gave them political dimensions that previously were all but non-existent; it additionally fostered new divisions.
Among these has been the Fatah-Hamas schism, which Miller characterizes as fundamentally ideological. Yet there is ample evidence these two movements no longer differ all that much in their political programs, and are primarily involved in a struggle to control the PA and its dwindling resources. This conflict additionally needs to be seen in the context of the West’s open encouragement of Palestinian political fragmentation and even civil war, and its active obstruction of national reconciliation.
Put differently, fragmentation is a symptom of Palestinian dispossession, and Miller surely knows better than to promote it as its cause and suggest that resolving it is a prerequisite to sovereignty.
How then, does one address the Palestine question? Rather than a process to end occupation and negotiate the implementation of Palestinian self-determination on the basis of agreed principles, the Oslo process has been a device to perpetuate occupation ad infinitum. It is tantamount to a never-ending succession of exams administered to the Palestinians by an Israeli headmistress acting under the authority of a besotted American board of education, the purpose of which is to give Palestinians an opportunity to demonstrate they are worthy vassals.
Should Palestinians be required to negotiate their right to emancipation, or is theirs the cause of a colonized people with an inalienable right to self-determination, entitled not only to pursue their rights by any and all means consistent with international law, but also with the support of all who claim to endorse a two-state settlement?
Given the total bankruptcy of two decades of bilateral negotiations under unilateral U.S. custodianship, what would Miller have Palestinians do? It seems excessively partisan to oppose not only what Miller terms Palestinian armed struggle, but also Palestinian popular resistance, and even Palestinian diplomatic initiatives. Is there anything Palestinians might do to undermine Israeli control and achieve their fundamental rights independently of the American supervision Miller would be prepared to support?
While the Palestinian leadership is going to New York mainly as a tactical maneuver, the value of a U.N. initiative is that it can produce the beginning of a strategic transformation. One in which the Palestinians withdraw from that fraudulent charade known as negotiations and instead focus on rebuilding the national movement while ensuring the internationalization of the struggle for Palestinian self-determination. In this respect, it is high time the United States cease interposing itself as the embodiment and personification of the international community when all but less than a handful of the United Nations’ 193 members see things rather differently than Washington does.
Palestinians should act not in order to resume negotiations from a position of strength, but rather to ensure the implementation of what should never have been negotiable in the first place, whether with Israel or its lawyers.