By Ramzy Baroud
A critical shift in the Palestine-Israeli conflict is now underway. The shift promises an endgame for the Israeli plot in Palestine, and a possible collective response from the Palestinian people.
Every Palestinian uprising in the past — from as far back as the late 1920s to the second Intifada in 2000 — has been sparked by a single event, which was a critical accumulation of numerous prior events that forced Palestinians to act en masse. Such a moment is now approaching.
Current developments in Palestine include the complete bankruptcy of the Palestinian leadership, futile unity talks between major Palestinian factions, Israeli attempts to finalise its long-orchestrated colonial designs in the West Bank and occupied Jerusalem, and a failure of the international community to impose any real pressure on Israel. The high hopes some Palestinians pinned on Arab revolutions — and their sense of political clarity — have also been dissipating.
Since its establishment in 1994, the Palestinian National Authority (PNA) was a lost cause. Palestinian novelist Susan Abulhawa aptly described the Palestinian leadership as “doing little more than pick up the trash and keep people in line while Israel steals more and more of our land.” In fact, the PNA has done a terrific job in that regard, as many of the Palestinian inmates in Israeli prisons have also served time in PNA jails.
Israeli politician Yossi Beilin, one of the original manufacturers of the Oslo accords, is pleading with PNA President Mahmoud Abbas to disown Oslo, which he describes as a ‘farce’. “Dissolving the Palestinian National Authority and returning daily control to Israel would be an action nobody could ignore…Do not hesitate for a moment!” he wrote, as quoted in the Christian Science Monitor on May 3. Expectedly, Abbas refused. His government is busy shutting down media outlets affiliated with Abbas’ rivals. So much for the institutional and political reforms promised early last year.
The PNA is politically bankrupt as well. After months of heightened expectations surrounding Abbas’ moving UN speech last September, the big finale was a letter to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu this month. According to the letter, Israel is undermining the PNA’s power (cited in Bloomberg, April 17). Now the PNA is playing the waiting game. “The Palestinians will wait for the Israeli response and also will wait for the Americans to come up with any ideas to help push forward the peace process,” opined Palestinian political analyst Khalil Shaheen. As if not enough waiting has already taken place for the last two decades.
Meanwhile, Israel is moving forward with a clear vision regarding its overall objectives in the Occupied Territories. On April 24, an Israeli ministerial committee approved three colony outposts — Bruchin and Rechelim in the northern part of the West Bank, and Sansana in the south. Although all colony activities in the West Bank and occupied East Jerusalem are considered illegal by international law, Israeli law differentiates between sanctioned colonies and ‘illegal’ ones. This distinction has actually proved to be no more than a disingenuous attempt at conflating international law and Israeli law.
Since 1967, Israel placed occupied Palestinian land, privately owned or otherwise, into various categories. One of these categories is ‘state-owned’, as in obtained by virtue of military occupation. For many years, the ‘state-owned’ occupied land was allotted to various purposes. Since 1990, however, the Israeli government refrained from establishing colonies, at lease formally. Now, according to the Israeli anti-colonist group, Peace Now, “instead of going to peace the government is announcing the establishment of three new colonies.” Every physical space in the Occupied Territories — whether privately owned or ‘state owned’, ‘legally’ obtained or ‘illegally’ obtained — is fair game. The extremist Jewish colonists haven’t received such empowering news since the heyday of Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon.
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The move regarding colonies is not an isolated one. The Israeli government is now challenging the very decisions made by the Israeli Supreme Court. On April 27, the Israeli government reportedly asked the high court to delay the demolition of an ‘unauthorised’ West Bank outpost in the Beit El colony which was scheduled to take place on May 1. The land, even by Israeli legal standards, is considered private Palestinian land, and the Israeli government had committed to the court to take down the illegal outposts — again, per Israeli definition — on the specified date.
Michael Sfard, an attorney with Yesh Din, which reportedly advocates Palestinian rights, described the request as “an announcement of war by the Israeli government against the rule of law.” More specifically, “they said clearly that they have reached a decision not to evacuate illegal construction on private Palestinian property.”
Abbas is not just ‘out of ideas’, as described by the CSM, but is desperate for a lifeline that could breathe some life into his authority. The Palestinian people, however, seem eager to find an alternative that transcends the PNA. The irony is that Palestinian resistance is resurfacing among the most physically confined: hunger strikers in Israeli prisons, whose numbers on April 17 included over 1,500 inmates. “The newest heroes of the Palestinian cause are not burly young men hurling stones or wielding automatic weapons. They are gaunt adults, wrists in chains, starving themselves inside Israeli prisons,” reported Jodi Rudoren in the New York Times on May 3.
These gaunt, chained adults are finally succeeding in unifying Palestinians in the occupied territories and the diaspora. As tens of thousands rally in solidarity with their cause, factionalism and politics are taking a backseat, at least for now.
Palestinian uprisings don’t necessary regain stolen land, or free long-incarcerated prisoners. What they do often achieve is the mending of divisions, the reassertion of national rights and the re-articulation of political discourses. More importantly, a new uprising produces a new generation of leaders. This will come as an urgently needed change in Palestine’s political and revolutionary landscape.