"Recent seminars, conferences, and brainstorming sessions held by Masarat (the Palestinian Center for Policy Research and Strategic Studies) and other think tanks and institutions to discuss the strategy required to confront the Netanyahu government have raised many issues, ideas, and thoughts," remarks Palestinian commentator Hani al-Masri on the independent Palestinian news-portal www.masarat.ps.
But overall, they reflect a general Palestinian condition of fragmentation widespread disorientation, despair, distrust, and uncertainty about everything, despite the impressive steadfastness and resistance of the Jenin and Nablus refugee camps and the phenomenon of emerging brigades, including Lions' Den, once again confirming that the Palestinian people are determined to carry the banner, wave after wave, and generation after generation. However, the concern and even despair stems from the fact that this is a spontaneous, localized phenomenon that has not been generalized and lacks ideas and a vision to regulate it, a broad front to back it, a strategy to guide it, and a unified command to lead it. And because it contends with a PA that seeks to eliminate or contain it, it is likely to be a new victim of the split.
Disorientation is most clearly evident in the approach to the most important issue, the national project. A lack of direction is apparent when each person presents a national project tailored to suit them or their faction, clan, city, or place of residences, leading to a plurality of perspectives. This is another major obstacle to unity and even coordination between the Palestinian factions. If the national project is indeterminate or disputed, how can it be achieved? Without an agreed upon national project, no unity can be established, and without unity, no victory can be achieved.
As a matter of fact and principle, the national project should be a constant that is not subject to change and alteration with changing conditions, circumstances and interests. What does change are the plans, tools and strategies adopted at each phase to achieve it, on the basis of striving to achieve maximum gains possible at each phase and then moving onto the next and so on, without abandoning our natural, legal and historical rights and major national goals.
The proponents of the perspective that the historic national project is constant and unchanging because it is rooted in the real, historical narrative and not a fabricated one, believe that the Palestinians are not required to present a new national project every year or at ever phase, but rather that the original project remains the same until it is achieved.
We need to revive the national project. The only part that changes is the programs adopted to suit various phases and circumstances in conformity with the balance of power, changing conditions, new information, and learned experiences. The basic principles of the national project are complete liberation, the right of return, self-determination for all Palestinian people, as provided in the national charter adopted at the PLO's founding and the revisited charter adopted after the revolutionary factions, especially Fatah, took charge of the PLO in the wake of the 1967 defeat and the 1968 Battle of Karameh victory.
The change and development that has occurred and may occur is in the approach to resolving the Israeli question – or how Israeli Jews fit into the historic solution – within the framework of this project. It is no longer possible to ignore them or to propose casting them into the sea, returning them from whence they came, or treating them as subjects and taxing them, especially since the majority of Israelis today were born in Palestine and are not responsible for the actions of their fathers and forefathers. For this reason, the Palestinian revolution proposed the idea of establishing a democratic state in the wake of liberation and the defeat of the settler-colonial project, a state in which all citizens live equally, whether they are Muslim, Christian, Jewish, secular, or atheist.
Likewise, the national charter must be rewritten in a manner that does not harm basic rights, introducing concepts that facilitate freedom, social justice, equality between citizens, and democracy in all its tenets, above all the separation and independence of powers, regular elections, respect for human rights and freedoms, respect for the rule of law, and the integration of national and democratic missions.
The problem began when basic rights and major objectives were overlooked in the charter so as to obtain recognition of the PLO as the sole legitimate representative, leading to attempts to change it as one of the costs of seeking a settlement and achieving minimal rights by securing a Palestinian seat at the negotiation tables and conferences, in light of the ever present and growing risk of the Palestinian factor being eliminated in favor of Arab and non-Arab roles and alternatives.
Obtaining recognition of the institutional role and representation was prioritized at the expense of rights, especially on the eve of the signing of the Oslo Accords and in the aftermath. There was a widespread perception that since Yitzhak Rabin's government recognized the PLO as the Palestinian people's legitimate representative and the establishment of a self-governing authority on Palestinian soil, and since PLO leaders, cadres, and factions returned to the homeland, this meant Israeli recognition of minimal rights. But this is not true at all. There is a big difference between the two.
There was also a widespread perception that it is possible to reach a compromise on the full goals and historic rights in all of Palestine, the right to self-determination for the entire Palestinian people, and the right of return for refugees, in exchange for the establishment of a state on the 1967 borders.
It turns out, as many could see from the beginning, that this is a major illusion. There is a big difference between the former and the latter. The PLO was granted recognition so it could be tamed, declawed, stripped of its trump cards, neutralized as the embodiment of national and collective Palestinian rights, and pushed to concede rights. As we know, this attempt brought us to the disastrous situation in which we find ourselves. This explains the widespread state of despair. Our full rights were relinquished without even diminished rights being achieved, at least. The state has not materialized, and the PA has been eternally consigned to self-rule. Its rule is undermined and it is threatened with collapse and dissolution unless it integrates more and more wholly into the Israeli security system. The PLO has not been maintained and has become a shell devoid of substance and role. The state has not actually materialized on the ground despite its declaration and despite the fact that it should be a non-negotiable right, nor has independence been achieved. Instead, Israel is advancing down the path to extend its sovereignty over all of Palestine by accelerating steps to annex the West Bank, especially Area C.
Faced with this miserable fate of the negotiation track and Oslo Accords and the split into two rival establishments locked in a conflict that has come to overshadow everything else, what do we do? Instead of engaging in critical thinking and self-reflection, undertaking a profound, bold reassessment of the experience, and drawing lessons and takeaways, instead of acknowledging mistakes, faults, and the danger of free concessions, harmful illusions, losing bets, recklessness and risk-taking, instead of recognizing the need to radically change course by returning to the original national project embodied and rooted in the unity of the cause, land, people, and the historical narrative, we find subservience to individual, factional, regional, and partisan interests, compounded by ignorance, intellectual and cultural backwardness, and a failure to perceive the changes that are taking place and that may come.
There are those who want to keep us stuck in the same cycle or plunge the cause into another cycle that amounts to the other side of the Oslo coin. They respond by recognizing the situation and adapting to it instead of striving to change it. Some Oslo proponents and supporters have even begun to say that the two-state solution is dead, and the alternative is one of two choices.
The first choice is to accept what the occupation offers, because something is better than nothing and better than the complete erasure of the Palestinian identity, role and rights. This offer is for the PA to continue to exist in its current shackled form and play a functional role in service of the occupation as a final solution under Israeli sovereignty, lest the PA collapse and be replaced by local authorities or administrations. The reasoning is that the presence of a million settlers in the West Bank has completely put paid to the possibility of establishing a sovereign Palestinian state on the 1967 borders with Jerusalem as its capital.
The other choice is to accept the other side of the Oslo coin by floating a one-state solution and agreeing to second-class citizenship in a Jewish state. So instead of striving to defeat the settler-colonialist occupation project and dismantle the racist system of discrimination, they promote the advantages of making Palestinians citizens of Israel on the grounds that over time this may change the nature of the state and turn it into a democratic state for all citizens or a binational state, or as a tactic to push for the revival of the two-state solution, despite the fact that 99% of Israelis oppose granting citizenship and full rights to the Palestinians. This means that their only proposal is to accept the fait accompli and a PA under Israeli sovereignty.
The problem with the proponents of this approach is that they believe Israel's actions and the facts it is establishing on the ground afford the occupation rights and saddles it with obligations, as if those facts are final and not subject to change or replacement. These facts, if perpetuated and adapted to, do not in fact provide the possibility of either a Palestinian state on the 1967 borders, or a Jewish one between the river and the sea without Palestinian rights, or a single democratic state divested of Zionism and the racist settler-colonial project. Rather, they open the door wide to the full establishment of a 'Greater Israel' that does not recognize Palestinian rights, even as second-class citizens, by enforcing different regulations until the suitable opportunity arises to displace the Palestinians. Those who argue that displacement is impossible should reflect on the significance of the burning of Hawara and the settlers' changes to displace the indigenous population, as well as the provision in Trump's deal to displace residents of the 'triangle' [Arab towns in Israel near the Green Line] to the West Bank. They would also do well to remember the millions of Syrians that fled or were displaced within their country and abroad.
The bulwark against displacement is a unified, active Palestinian position as part of a realistic, national, democratic vision and strategy and a united, resolute leadership backed by a unified Arab stance and global support – all conditions that have yet to be fulfilled.
Based on the foregoing, one of the key lessons learned from the history of the conflict, especially after the settlement train launched in the wake of the 1973 October War, is that one cannot achieve through negotiations what could not be obtained without them. Therefore, the entire doctrine of various solutions, in particular the two-state and one-state solution among others, was a failure from the outset and based on illusions. There was never an Israeli partner for these solutions. Even during the golden age of Oslo, neither Shimon Peres nor Yitzhak Rabin, the leaders of the 'peace camp', advocated the establishment of a Palestinian state. In fact, when the latter was asked prior to his assassination what he would give the Palestinians in a final settlement, his response was basically half of the West Bank. When told that the Palestinians would never accept this offer, he replied that in that case, each side would keep what it has. In other words, the occupation would continue and Israeli sovereignty would endure.
Despite the foregoing, it was not a bad idea to adopt a program to establish a national authority with jurisdiction over every inch of land that is liberated, because the 1967 territories have a different political and legal status than the rest of Palestine on which Israel was founded, despite being part of the single Palestinian homeland. This status was enshrined in UN resolutions rejecting the occupation and calling for its end, and it differs from the status of Palestinian as a whole. The world, even brethren and friends, recognized Israel but did not recognize its occupation, on the grounds that the vast majority are citizens (the indigenous population) in the West Bank and Gaza Strip compared to a minority of colonial settlers, and in light of a global movement joined and backed by the two world poles at the time, U.S. and the Soviet Union, and Arab support for negotiations and a settlement, which continues to cast a dark pall to this day.
The start of the decline emerged with the shift from a program of national liberation, to a Palestinian state without relinquishing full rights at first, to the acceptance of UNSC Resolutions 242 and 338, which do not address the roots of the Palestinian cause but rather the effects of the June 1967 war, to the signing of the Oslo Accords, in which the Palestinian negotiation team made major concessions in return for recognition of the PLO, the establishment of a self-governing PA, and the promise of a five-year negotiation period on a final solution without agreeing on the content of that solution, including the release of detainees or any reference to a Palestinian state. It was only natural for this to lead to the current outcome: A self-governing PA as a final solution and political and geographic partition without political prospects.
Without a broad national revival and commensurate change in the Arab, regional and international environment, it is not possible to shift from the national independence approach to the approach of building one state on the ruins of the settler-colonialist project. one-state approach on the ruins of the colonial project; All that would do is enable the occupation to devour the West Bank more quickly and at a lower cost. The main battle taking place is over the West Bank. Abandoning the battle directly or by getting distracted with other battles does not strengthen the one-state option, but only provides cover to the single racist, settler-colonialist state that Israel is establishing through various legal and political regulations that govern our people in the Israeli interior, Jerusalem, and the West Bank, and also control the Gaza Strip through blockade and aggression.
There are international political and legal achievements entailed in the resolutions passed by the Security Council, General Assembly, and various other UN agencies, including the Human Rights Council, the International Court of Justice, and the International Criminal Court. Palestine is recognized by the UN as an 'observer state' and 14 countries recognize the state of Palestine. We cannot just throw all this for nothing. Options must be built. They cannot be achieved merely by verbalizing them. Building options requires major local, regional, and international effort, which in turn must start with dealing with reality in order to change it. Glossing over the situation or becoming resigned will only perpetuate, not change it.
Is there anyone who opposes setting goals such as ending the occupation of the entire West Bank and the Gaza Strip, securing the right of return, reparations, and the right to self-determination, individual and national equality, overthrowing the apartheid regime, and enabling the Palestinians in diaspora and refugee communities to retain their national identity and defend their civil rights?
I think not. These goals complement each other, they are compatible with special missions and the balance of power, and they do not compromise, but rather uphold, the principles that unite all Palestinians.
Working to achieve these goals in synchronization and in tandem and achieving one or making progress down that path may serve other objectives. Those who consider achieving the independence of the state of Palestine a transitional step on the path to a radical democratic solution will have no argument with those who oppose that goal in favor of upholding one state built on the ruins of the racist, settler-colonialist occupation project.
The crisis Israel is suffering from reveals its inevitable fate as a hostile entity implanted in the Arab world, which rejects it and will continue to reject it until it achieves victory against it. It is not an ordinary, normal country, but the embodiment of a settler-colonialist project that bears the seeds of its own annihilation. But this will not happen based on predictions or prophecies or superstitions about Israel meeting its demise in 2027 or otherwise, but as the result of a confluence of internal and external factors. This may take ten, twenty, or fifty years, but what is certain is that the world is changing, and the region and Israel are changing along with it. Not all these changes are to the benefit of the Palestinians or to their advantage alone.
"Therefore, the Palestinians must change insofar as it is possible to enable them to leverage Israeli, regional and international changes in their favor," concludes Masri.