?WHAT IS TO BE DONE
“The recent conference organized by the [Ramallah/Beirut-based independent research center] Institute of Palestine Studies (IPS) on the twentieth anniversary of the 1993 Oslo accords made little headway in answering the question: ‘What is to be done?’,” writes Hani al-Masri in the leading Palestinian daily al-Ayyam.
This does not mean that the conference was not successful in its aim of diagnosing the Palestinian condition; but it covered more ground in diagnosis than in reflecting on the future and proposing solutions. There is a widespread belief among the Palestinians-- especially their elite-- that a diagnosis of the ‘disease’ has been completed and that all that remains is to prescribe the effective treatment. But the diagnosis remains inadequate and heatedly disputed, despite the long time that has passed and the catastrophes, wars, sacrifices, conferences, studies, and dialogues that have occurred meanwhile.
An accurate diagnosis of the situation as it exists today would have covered half the road towards finding the required treatment. Had the diagnosis been correct and agreed upon, the Palestinian leadership would not have resumed the negotiations [with Israel] on terms that are even worse than before, and despite the fact it is precisely such negotiations that have brought us to our current catastrophic situation in the full sense of the word.
We may, for the sake of argument, suggest that the Palestinian, Arab, regional, and international climate on the eve of the Oslo Accords made them inevitable. But that would not be true. The IPS conference proved that Oslo was not an obligatory pathway, and that it could have been avoided. A better – or less bad – agreement could have been reached. A review of the conference’s papers and discussions is sufficient to prove that.
The current climate is better than what existed on the eve of Oslo. This is evident from the persistence and growth of the international solidarity campaign in support of the Palestinian cause and the first signs of the return to a multi-polar world accompanied by a relative retreat in the American role and Israel’s status within U.S. strategy. Moreover, and although the stormy ongoing Arab developments have harmed the Palestinian cause in the immediate sense, they bear the beginnings of a historical process whereby Arab citizens have begun to play a growing role after realizing that they can bring about change. This will be to the benefit of the Palestinian cause in the long-run because the Arab peoples’ expression of their free will and the establishment of democratic regimes in which they enjoy dignity and national independence cannot but produce a positive yield for the Palestinians, whose cause is intimately linked to the Arab causes.
Israel, after all, is not just a state that was established at the Palestinians’ expense. It is the hostage to dependence, backwardness, fragmentation, and tyranny. All these changes have begun to be reflected in the early signs of a new ‘Yalta’ – as the U.S./Russian agreement over Syrian chemical weapons and the U.S./Iranian rapprochement suggest –aimed at dividing up the world and the region again. So, if the Palestinians are not an effective party that takes initiatives and understands the importance of its role and the value of collective popular action and its great effect, the world’s new map will be redrawn at their expense.
Had the Palestinian been unanimous in rejecting or finding a way around the Oslo Accords, they would have behaved differently from how they are behaving today. It is not just that the Accords have failed to achieve their aims; they have achieved the aims of the Israeli right. This is despite the fact that the Accords were signed by [Israeli] leftist hands.
The left went away, but the right continued to cling to Oslo because it absolved it of the need to offer a final status solution, and because it allows it to pursue its colonial, settlement, occupation, and racist path. Oslo, after all, remains alive and well because Israel wants it to be so in order to ensure that the Palestinian commitments that arise from it continue to be honored. As for Israel’s commitments, most have been set aside a long time ago.
The majority of Palestinians curse the Oslo Accords. But they live under their roof and fear their collapse. The internal [Fateh/Hamas] Palestinian split and certain parties in the Palestinian camp are effectively pushing for the renewal or development of these Accords or even their continued survival, despite the fact that we have achieved the status of an observer-state at the UN and despite the ongoing Arab, regional, and international developments. And the argument that is made in defense of all this is that these Accords are the only possible alternative.
‘There is no alternative’: This is the statement fired at everyone who urges seeking an alternative. For this reason, we find that most of those who are opposed to Oslo do so only in verbal terms. Whether directly or indirectly, they end up supporting its continued existence on the grounds that ‘nothing better is on offer,’ and because – as they claim – the only alternative would be to dissolve the PA and return to struggle in all its forms. And this is very unlikely, not to say impossible, which only prolongs Oslo’s life.
This sort of logic traps the Palestinians between a rock and a hard place: Either the dissolution of the PA, armed struggle, and a return to the Palestinian National Covenant and the national front that the PLO used to embody; or preserving the PA and ‘indulging it to the maximum’ while honoring the unfair security, economic, and political commitments to Israel. This includes a commitment to renew the negotiations in the manner they have been renewed, arguing that the best that can be achieved is to improve the PA’s performance and honor its commitments towards the Palestinian people, just as it has honored its obligations towards Israel and the international community. But this is impossible because it requires honoring conflicting commitments.
Yet there is nothing strange about this. There are those, after all, who explain Oslo’s failure by reference to the Palestinians’ faulty performance both in terms of leadership and negotiating tactics, and because Hamas and Islamic Jihad sought to foil Oslo by means of suicide attacks and other methods. But they do not explain Oslo’s failure by reference to Israel’s extremism, aggressiveness, racism, and the Zionist project’s refusal to reach a settlement – despite the fact that the Palestinian side has already offered its share of concessions as ‘a first deposit’ in return for its mere acceptance as an interlocutor even before Israel was ready to reach such settlement. Moreover, Israel continues to refuse to pay what it owes, and is getting more and more extreme and intransigent by the day.
If what we are experiencing is catastrophe incarnate – which it is – there is no room for hesitation regarding the need to consider urgent action aimed at overcoming the situation that has transformed the Oslo Accords into the sole available option.
It is true that political reality, the balance of power, and what is possible (and impossible) may limit our ability to bring about change and control its pace and phases. But the need to change the existing situation should not even be subject to debate or doubt: The conflict is long and there is no patriotic solution at the gates – neither via a Palestinian state along the 1967 borders nor via one state on mandatory Palestine.
The question is this: What will enable the Palestinians to take initiative and act in order to secure their recognition as players and accompany them along the path towards their national salvation: Continuing down the Oslo path or sidestepping it?
The Palestinians disagree even about finding an answer to that question. The fact that the prevailing view at the IPS conference rejected Oslo, should not disguise the reality that indicates that there is still a deep disagreement over the path that should be taken. Furthermore, this has yet to crystallize to the point of developing clear and radically different strategies that are distinguished from each other in terms of their policies and practices, and that would enable us to test their correctness and effectiveness on the ground. That is a mission for the various national institutions, forces, and leaderships, and the elite, think-tanks, and research centers can contribute to achieving it.
If the alternative is not immediately apparent, then it ought to be built step-by-step because whoever does not have an alternative must accept what is on offer. In other words, surrender. A victim may be imprisoned, forcefully displaced or killed. But nothing justifies committing suicide. The ‘golden’ recognition of Israel without Israel recognizing Palestinian rights, the commitment to abandon and forsake ‘terrorism,’ and the adoption of bilateral negotiations with unilateral American sponsorship are tantamount to nothing more or less than political suicide. This is unacceptable under any circumstances.
It is not possible to choose or justify what exists and to urge eternal cohabitation with it or to sermonize about what needs to happen without the securing the ability to achieve it. But why not combine what is possible with what is needed? Achievement of what is possible would then draw the achievement of what is necessary that much closer. It is possible to rebuild the Palestinian national movement, Palestinian representation, and the PLO on the basis of the new reality and the experience gained, as well as based on the formation of Palestinian groupings that have their own distinctive characteristics without denying what unites them all.
It is possible to start with the existing condition of the PA, not in order to endorse it or merely improve it, but in order to alter it. This is to be achieved by a gradual reconsideration of the PA’s structure, mission, and commitments, because it is impossible to honor the PA’s commitments towards Israel while honoring its commitments towards its people at the same time. And this process of reconsideration should be conducted while being prepared for all possibilities, including dissolving the PA if that proves necessary, or its collapse amidst the confrontation that will necessarily break out if the Palestinians were to adopt new options and alternatives.
If the Palestinian state is not a stone’s throw away, why do we not replace the continuing diminution of the Palestinian cause via a state-like discourse, with a discourse based on rights – without rushing to abandon the aim of ending the occupation and establishing a Palestinian state? Why not pursue Oslo till the very end, not by consolidating it on the ground, but by completing the Palestinian UN path, giving priority to ending the inter-Palestinian split, and adopting popular resistance and Israel boycott campaigns? And this should be coupled with a call for comprehensive, collective, and multiparty negotiations based on international law and all UN resolutions, provided they are held within the framework of an effective and continuous international conference with full powers based on a short timeframe and a binding implementation mechanism.
“We have no time to waste. Our land, people, rights, and holy sites are being lost. The alternative is to preserve what we have, maintain our steadfastness on the land, and limit our losses and the damage done to us as a prelude to making progress on the path towards national salvation,” concludes Masri.