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September 30, 2009

Palestinians' choice: unity or annihilation

Alan Hart

Alan HartWith Israel’s leaders considering what more must be done to destroy Palestinian nationalism, and with President Obama’s effort to kick-start a peace process obviously going nowhere, Palestinian friends are asking me what I think the Palestinians could and should now do to improve their prospects for obtaining an acceptable amount of justice.

My view is that the Palestinians would be well advised to wind-up (close down) the discredited Palestine National Authority (PNA), and put policy making and implementation into the hands of a reconstructed Palestine National Council (PNC).

The latter, which used to be called the “Palestinian parliament in exile”, would be re-constructed, refreshed and re-invigorated by elections in every place where there are Palestinians - the occupied West Bank including East Jerusalem, the Gaza concentration camp and the diaspora.

This, it seems to me, would provide the Palestinians with what they most desperately need now - UNITY.

When it came into being in May 1964, the PNC (as I explained in my book Arafat, Terrorist or Peacemaker?) was intended to be nothing more than a puppet of the frontline Arab states, with Eygpt’s President Nasser the puppet master.

The documented truth about Nasser and Israel - one of many truths denied by supporters of Israel right or wrong - can be simply stated.

From the moment he came to power in a bloodless coup in 1951, Nasser wanted, and in secret seriously explored the prospects for, an accommodation with Israel.

On the matter of how to deal with the Zionist state, he was, in fact, a pragmatist. Despite some stupid Arab rhetoric to the contrary, rhetoric which enabled Zionist and imperial Western spin doctors to paint him as the “Hitler of the Nile”, Nasser had no intention, ever, of fighting Israel to liberate Palestine.

And the major Western powers knew that. (So why did he take arms from the Soviet Union? He wanted Eygpt to be strong enough to prevent Israel imposing its will on him by brute force, and the Americans refused to supply him. When, after much hesitation and still with great reluctance, Nasser turned to the Soviet Union for arms, his message to Israel was, in effect, “I want you to know that attacking Eygpt and other Arab states  will not be a cost free option.”)

The truth about the stance of the rest of the Arab regimes prior to the creation of the PNC in 1964 can also be simply stated. None of them had any intention of fighting Israel to liberate Palestine.

The Palestine file had been closed, mainly by Zionist terrorism and ethnic cleansing in 1948/49 and, in their minds if not their hearts, the Arab regimes shared Zionism’s hope that it would remain closed.

Put another way, the Arab regimes, more by default than design, were requiring the Palestinians to accept their lot as the sacrificial lamb on the altar of political expediency. If the Palestine file was ever re-opened - if there was a regeneration of Palestinian nationalism - a confrontation with the Zionist state and its Western backers would one day be inevitable. And that was to be avoided at any and all costs.

As it actually happened, the PNC was brought into being not so much to prevent a regeneration of Palestinian nationalism - that process was already underway, but to prevent it resorting to armed struggle which would give Israel, in the name of fighting “terrorism”, the pretext it wanted to strike at the frontline Arab states and take more Arab land. (Arab leaders didn’t have to be mind readers. Zionism’s ambition, the creation of a Jewish state from the Litani River in Southern Lebanon to the Jordan River, was a matter of record). 

In other words, the PNC as conceived by Nasser was to be a mechanism for giving the Palestinians hope while preventing resurgent Palestinian nationalism becoming the tail that wagged the Arab dog and provoked an unwinnable war with Israel.

Nasser’s containment policy failed for two related reasons.

The first was that Yasser Arafat and other leaders of the embryonic Fatah movement were fully aware that the Egyptian President had no intention of allowing the Palestinians to take matters into their own hands and initiate pin-prick attacks on Israel (hit-and-run missions) of their own.

The second was that Israel’s massively disproportionate reprisal attacks on the frontline Arab states - reprisals for Palestinian pin-prick attacks - were totally counter-productive because they gave the embryo Palestine liberation movement (the authentic one) the oxygen of publicity Nasser was seeking to deny it.

Without Israel’s reprisal attacks, the Arab street would never have known that there was a real Palestine liberation movement in-the-making. Abu Jihad, the co-founder with Arafat of the first Fatah cell, told me the IDF was their “best recruiting sergeant”, and that without Israel’s reprisal attacks the frontline Arab states most probably would have succeeded in their efforts to strangle the organisation that became Fatah at birth.

It was actually the security services of Eygpt, Jordan and Lebanon, not those of Israel, which made the first attempts to liquidate Arafat and his organisation.

Fatah and all it represented would have been destroyed if Syria had not given Arafat and his military colleagues a safe haven. Syria’s motives were far from noble. In their rivalry with Nasser, its leaders wanted to possess and play the Palestinian card for their own ends, but they, too, had no intention of letting the Palestinians drag them into an unwinnable war with Israel.

Apart from the fact that Israel’s political and military hawks had been waiting for a pretext to complete the unfinished business of 1948/49, the 1967 war happened in large part because of the naivety of Arafat and Abu Jihad, the two men who did most to give life to Fatah.

They presumed that if only they could provoke a confrontation with Israel, make the Arab armies fight, the Zionist state was bound to be defeated. So for Arafat and Abu Jihad in particular, the humiliating defeat of the Arabs in six days was a revelation like no other. For Arafat especially it was also the beginning of a journey into the reality of Israel’s existence as the military superpower of the region.

When subsequently Arafat and his fighters gave that superpower a bloody nose at the battle of Karameh, a fleeting moment of victory that made Fatah and its fighters heroes in the hearts of the humiliated Arab masses, Nasser decided that he needed Arafat as much as the Fatah leader needed him. That opened the way to an honest dialogue between the two of them.

Nasser told Arafat that before the 1967 war it had been his hope that he could negotiate Israel back to the 1948 Armistice borders.

After the 1967 war, Nasser said, the best he could hope to do was prevail upon the international community to oblige Israel to withdraw from the newly occupied Arab territories in accordance with the letter and the spirit of 242, the Security Council’s land-for-peace resolution.

Nasser was also explicit about what was required from Arafat and his leadership colleagues if they wished to be taken seriously by the international community. They had to be realistic.

What did that mean?

They would have to come up with a policy for an accommodation with Israel inside more or less its pre-1967 borders, in accordance with 242. If they did that, and in the event of an Israeli withdrawal, Nasser promised he would do his best to persuade King Hussein to let the Palestinians have the West Bank, with the Gaza Strip, for a mini state of their own.

To make sure that Arafat got the message about the need for the Palestinians to come to grips with the reality of Israel’s existence, Nasser arranged for him to be part of an Egyptian delegation to Moscow under an assumed name.

Nasser knew precisely what he would hear from the lips of Soviet leaders - that they, like their American counterparts, were committed to Israel’s existence and security inside its pre-1967 borders. Those were the words Arafat did hear and they marked the end of his journey into reality.

In February 1969 Arafat became the chairman of the Palestine Liberation Organisation, which was dominated by Fatah, and, with Nasser’s blessing, an authentic PNC (not the puppet of the Egyptian leader’s creation) became its supreme organ.

It was subsequently to take Arafat ten long years to persuade first his Fatah leadership colleagues and then the PNC to back his policy of politics and unthinkable compromise with Israel. (The compromise was unthinkable at the outset because it required the Palestinians to legitimize Israel’s existence and make peace with it in return for only 22% of the land they are claiming with right, legal and moral, on their side).

Arafat’s task of convincing his Fatah leadership colleagues that they had to compromise and be prepared to settle for a mini state of their own on the West Bank and Gaza was assisted by the 1973 war.

It created the scenario for Nasser’s successor, Anwar Sadat, who launched his “war for peace” in collusion with U.S. Secretary of State Kissinger, to be sucked and suckered by American diplomacy into making a separate peace with Israel.

When it became clear that Kissinger had Sadat under control and that Egypt would make peace with Israel, Arafat’s leadership colleagues had no difficulty in concluding that the PLO would be abandoned by even the Arab states if it did not come up with a political programme the Arab regimes could support without putting their relationship with America in complete jeopardy.

But the task of getting the PNC to endorse his policy of politics and compromise with Israel required Arafat to perform a miracle of leadership. He performed it over five years, from 1974 to 1979.

There were two overtures to the main performance.

The first, in October 1974, was the decision of an Arab summit meeting in Rabat to recognize the PLO as the only legitimate representative of the Palestinian people. (In advance of that summit, Kissinger, who wanted the PLO to be marginalized and destroyed, tried and failed to persuade key Arab leaders to use their influence to prevent any recognition of it).

The second, a month later, was Arafat’s dramatic appearance at the UN in New York. His “gun and olive branch” speech to the world body was a coded but clear signal that he was ready for peace with Israel on the basis of a two-state solution.

This was, in fact, the message Arafat had been sending to Israel’s leaders for months through secret emissaries. (Kissinger tried to prevent Arafat’s appearance at the UN, but in this particular game of chess he was checkmated by Saudi Arabia’s King Feisal, the only Arab leader who was not afraid, in his own way, to tell Kissinger to go to hell. Which is no doubt why Feisal was assassinated).

If Arafat had been asked by Israel then, November 1974, to deliver the compromise he was signalling, he could not have done so. The PNC still had to be persuaded and probably an easy majority of its available 300 members from all over the world were strongly opposed to the compromise. (PNC members in the occupied territories were not available because Israel refused to allow them to travel).

One by one, and when circumstances allowed, Arafat summoned each and every available member of the PNC to Beirut for a private conversation behind closed doors.

Some told him to his face that he was a traitor to the cause and would be assassinated if he proceeded with his policy of unthinkable compromise. When he failed in a first conversation to persuade rejectionists to give him a commitment to vote for compromise when the time came, he asked them to go back their diaspora homes, to think over what he had said, and return when he called them again for another conversation.

It’s worth noting that for nearly two of those five years of the Great Conversation between Arafat and individual PNC members from all over the world, the PLO was caught up in the first round of the civil war in the Lebanon in which, unknown to Western reporters, Arafat was playing the role of mediator as well as fighting for his own survival.

For much of the rest of the period Arafat was organizing the PLO’s defenses as the Israelis escalated their attacks on Lebanon. (Israel’s message to the Lebanese was: “If you were not giving shelter to Palestinian terrorists, we would not be attacking Lebanon. In your own best interests, you should turn against the Palestinians and kick them out.”) And still Arafat found the time to receive and lobby each and every available member of the PNC.

After the PNC’s critical debate and vote on his policy of politics and compromise, I had the first of many meetings with Arafat.

“I kept a record of the time I devoted to those conversations,” he told me. “It was a total of 550 hours over the five-year period.” As he came to the end of the story of his struggle to sell compromise, he extracted a notebook from his hip pocket. “It’s all here,” he said with triumph. “Let me tell you the figures… 296 votes FOR the mini-state formula, ONLY FOUR AGAINST. Imagine that! We have turned our people around. No more this silly talk of driving the Jews into the sea. Now we are prepared to live alongside them in a little state of our own. It is a miracle.”

Arafat himself was the miracle worker. No other Palestinian leader could have done it.

With his policy of politics and compromise then endorsed by the PNC, the highest decision-making authority on the Palestinian side, Arafat was at the height of his powers.

He could have delivered the compromise necessary from his side for peace on terms which any rational government and people in Israel would have accepted with relief.

The problem was that Arafat did not have a partner for peace on the Israeli side.

The most successful terrorist leader of modern times, Menachem Begin, was in power in the Zionist state; and he was stuffing the occupied West Bank with settlers to make it impossible for any future Israeli government to withdraw for peace.

And that was a manifestation of an underlying truth - Zionism is not interested in peace on any terms the vast majority of Palestinians and most other Arabs and Muslims everywhere could accept. (The essence of Zionism’s philosophy of doom was once put into words by its one-eyed warlord, General Moshe Dayan. “It’s them or us”, he said).

Let us now fast-forward to the present day.

As I have previously written and often say (it bears repeating), Zionism’s own end-game strategy for a solution to the Palestine problem now leaves nothing to the imagination.  

Israel’s leaders still believe that by means of brute force and reducing the Palestinians to abject poverty, they can destroy Hamas and break the will of the Palestinians to continue the struggle for their rights.

The assumption being that, at a point, and out of total despair, the Palestinians will be prepared to accept crumbs from Zionism’s table in the shape of two or three bantustans, or, better still, will abandon their homeland and seek a new life in other countries.

In my view the conviction that Zionism will one day succeed in breaking the Palestinian will to continue the struggle for an acceptable minimum of justice is the product of minds which are deluded close to the point of clinical madness.

Some say that nuclear-armed Israel is on its way to becoming a fascist state. I think the more appropriate terminology is lunatic asylum.

The question that’s almost too awful to think about is something like this: What will the Zionists do when it becomes apparent even to them that they can’t destroy Palestinian nationalism with bombs and bullets and brutal repressive measures of all kinds?

My fear is that they, the Zionists, will go for a final round of ethnic cleansing - to drive the Palestinians off the West Bank and into Jordan and beyond.

That, I fear, could very well be Zionism’s final solution to the Palestine problem. If that happens, the West Bank will be turned red with blood, mostly Palestinian blood. And honest reporters will describe it as a Zionist holocaust.

That’s what I mean by “Annihilation” as in the headline over this article.

I know that my Gentile fear on this account is shared by some eminent Jewish critics of Zionism and, for example, I’ll name two of those I am privileged to have as dear friends and allies in common cause, it being to tell in the truth of history.

Dr. Hajo G. Meyer is an Auschwitz survivor. His latest book is An Ethical Tradition Betrayed, The End of Judaism.

In it Hajo expresses his dismay at what he sees as the “moral collapse of contemporary Israeli society and the worldwide Jewish community as a whole.”

He compares Israel’s current policies with the early stages of the Nazi persecution of Germany’s Jews.

He stresses that he is not seeking to draw a parallel between Israel’s current policies and the Nazis’ “endgame” - the slaughter of six million European Jews.

He is merely trying to point out, he says, “the slippery slope” that eventually led to this catastrophe, and the necessity of “foreseeing the possible consequences” of a policy that oppresses and marginalizes the Palestinians in their own homeland.

Professor Ilan Pappe is Israel’s leading “new” or “revisionist” (honest) historian and the author of The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine.

Ilan has described Israel’s policies for oppressing and suppressing the Palestinians as “genocide in slow motion.”

In conversations and on public platforms he has shared with me, he has also stated that it’s by no means impossible that what I describe as a Zionist holocaust could happen.

But that was yesterday.

In conversation today (an hour ago), Ilan indicated the extent to which he has updated his own analysis. He said (having just returned from Israel) that he is now in no doubt that if Israel’s mad men are allowed to have their way, the ethnic cleansing of Israeli Arabs will be the curtain-up to Zionism’s Final Solution to its Palestinian problem.

As things are, and unless they are pushed to do so by informed public opinion (by manifestations of real democracy in action), I think it is unrealistic to expect the governments of the major powers either to use the leverage they do have to call and hold the Zionist state to account for its past crimes, or to intervene to prevent the crimes it will commit in a foreseeable and, in Ilan’s words, “very bloody” future.

It follows, or so it seems to me, that the Palestinians of the world must now become united and fully engaged in the political struggle not only to improve their prospects for some justice, but also to play their necessary part in stopping the probability of a final round of Zionist ethnic cleansing.

The obstacle to Palestinian unity on the occupied West Bank and in the Gaza Strip concentration camp is not Hamas.

There is no mystery about its real position. If at any time in the last year or two Israel had said and meant that it was ready in good faith to negotiate a full and final peace on the basis of a genuine and viable two-state solution - one that would see Israel back to more or less its pre-1967 borders with Jerusalem (preferably as an open, undivided city) the capital of two states, Hamas’s leaders would say, “Let’s do the business”.

And they would have meant it because they had no choice - because, as they knew, a genuine and viable two-state solution was still what the vast majority of Palestinians in the conflict zone were prepared to settle for. (Though for how much longer this will remain the case is a very good question).

  • The right of return for the refugees - those Palestinians and their descendants who were dispossessed of their homes, their land and their rights in 1948/49 and again in 1967 - did not have to be the obstacle to peace Israel asserts it to be. When Arafat and his senior leadership colleagues came to grips with the need to make peace with Israel on the basis of a genuine and viable two-state solution, they accepted but could not say in public that the right of return would have to be confined to the Palestinian mini-state - i.e. not to Israel inside more it less its pre-1967 borders. That would have meant, they knew, that probably not more than 100,000 refugees would be able to return to their homeland. The rest would have to be compensated… The information in this paragraph is essential for understanding, but the point being made here is academic because, as things are today, the idea of a two-state solution is dead, killed by Israel’s still on-going colonisation of the West Bank including Arab East Jerusalem.

The obstacle to Palestinian unity on the West Bank and in the Gaza concentration camp is not difficult to identify.

It’s in the fact that under the leadership of “President” Abbas and his Fatah colleagues, the PNA became, more by default than design, an instrument of Israeli-and-American (and Western European) policy.

Israeli-and-American (and Western European) policy required Hamas to be marginalized and destroyed and the PNA was content to go along with this policy. (Why did Hamas take on and defeat Fatah in Gaza? Fatah was planning, with American encouragement and Israeli assistance as required, to crush Hamas. It moved first with what the Israelis, if they had been initiating an attack, would have described as a pre-emptive strike).

Whether Abbas remains in power or not, the PNA, like Fatah (and the regimes of the existing Arab Order), will continue to be regarded as impotent and discredited by many if not most Palestinians everywhere.

That alone is a good enough reason for the PNA to be put out of its misery and for Palestinian policy making and implementation to be put into the hands of a reconstructed PNC.

But there’s more to it.

In their claim for justice, the Palestinians have 100% of right, legal and moral, on their side.

If this claim was properly presented and pressed by a credible Palestinian leadership, by definition a democratically elected leadership duly authorized to act on behalf of ALL Palestinians EVERYWHERE, it would be much more difficult for the governments of the major powers, the one in Washington DC especially, to go on supporting Israel right or wrong. (Unconditional support which is not in anybody’s best interests including those of America and the Jews of the world).

I hate clichés but some of them are expressions of great wisdom.

United the Palestinians will stand. Divided they will fall and, in the conflict zone, might be annihilated.

Alan Hart is an author, former Middle East Chief Correspondent for Independent Television News, and former BBC Panorama presenter specialising in the Middle East.

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On July 7, 2024 in Toronto, Canada, Dimitri Lascaris delivered a speech on the right to resist oppression.

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