Document-Full original textt: Israel MK Azmi Bishara column: Intifada needs
more than rhetorical support, entire Palestinian population should .. act
in terms of national liberation
Surviving the odds - Israel's humiliation of Arafat is not the end of hope.
It could be the beginning, argues Azmi Bishara* -- but only if the
Palestinians change their approach
[17 December 2002: Attorney General Elyakim Rubinstein will ask the Central
Election Committee to disqualify the Arab list Balad (National Democratic
Alliance) from competing in the Knesset elections because its goals
contradict the Jewish-democratic nature of the state of Israel and because
it supports organizations fighting against Israel.]
AL-AHRAM WEEKLY 6-13 Feb.'02
One need hardly be a specialist to see that the Palestinian national
struggle is in a tight spot. The crisis is unprecedented, long-term, and
perhaps fateful. Even the language we use betrays this fact, for most of it
is carried over from the Oslo accords, now practically dead and buried. The
Oslo accords assume that the Palestinians have a political entity engaged in
peace talks with the occupiers. The Palestinians have a state-in-waiting
with commitments, mostly regarding security, to Israel. The accords,
however, make no specific mention of an Israeli freeze on settlements. So,
the number of settlers has been on the increase for the past seven years --
since Oslo. Israel, for its part, has never been eager to observe or even
maintain the Oslo process.
As a national liberation movement, the Palestinians have hope, or at least
room to manoeuvre. As a state-in-waiting, they are in a fix. Yasser Arafat
is under siege and the Arabs cannot do anything about it. They cannot even
get him to attend the upcoming summit in Beirut. This is one problem, but
not the only one. The main assumption of Oslo was that the United States
would act as a fair broker between Israel and the Palestinians. Lately, it
has been taking its cue solely from the Israelis. As Israel throws off all
vestiges of restraint, the Palestinians find themselves under a full-scale
Whether or not Arafat goes to the Arab summit is a symbolic question. It
says much about where the Palestinians and Arabs stand. What if the Arabs
fail to get Arafat to Beirut? What will our theorists make of that? Most
likely, we will hear that enough is enough and the Palestinians should give
in. This is what the Oslo theorists have been saying for quite some time,
anyway. So how does the Intifada fit into the equation?
The Intifada is the antithesis of Oslo. It was sparked off by the
contradictions inherent in the accords. The Israelis, growing impatient with
the Palestinians, elected a general who opposes Oslo, and whose entire
security policy is geared toward undermining the accords. Sharon wants to
alter the course of the negotiations and sidestep the final status issues
mentioned in Oslo. He is doing everything he can to dispossess the
Palestinians and break their resolve. Recently, he decided to appropriate
Palestinian funds deposited in Israel in accordance with agreements reached
in Paris, as compensation for the losses the Intifada is inflicting on
As for the Americans, they have simply lost interest in the "fair broker"
role on which Oslo was based. Washington distanced itself from the
Palestinians when they rejected its proposals on final status matters. After
11 September, things got worse. Right now, Washington is treating Israel as
a guest of honour at the international free-for-all against terror.
Of Oslo, not much is left, save the despair of Arab analysts. But is this
the right time for despair? I do not think so. Many Israelis are questioning
their army's actions in the occupied territories. Many are growing aware of
the failures of Sharon's security measures. Many are also wondering why Arab
suicide bombers continue to cause mayhem on Israel's streets.
This is the time to recapture the spirit of national liberation, to
resurrect the language and tradition of national liberation that are still
alive in the memory of Third World countries and Europe's former imperial
powers. Only in this language can the current situation be grasped. Israel
is trying to stifle the Palestinian leadership. This is nothing new. Many
national liberation movements have undergone similar experiences. Their
leaders were sent to jail. They were prevented from attending international
conferences. The hosts of these conferences were unable to do anything about
it. Still, the struggle continued.
The Arabs who disapprove of the Intifada, however timidly, are the same ones
who once lamented the Arab rejection of Camp David. They were peddling
despair even before Arafat was placed under house arrest. What they fail to
see is that the current situation cannot be explained by reference to Oslo's
texts, or to commitments and who broke them. The Arabs and Palestinians are
facing a watershed. The entire Palestinian population should decide to speak
and act in terms of national liberation. The Palestinians cannot keep
alternating between two languages: that of Oslo and that of national
liberation. The duality of language is counterproductive. It may have
placated Washington for a while, but it has done little to rally
international support for the Palestinian struggle.
What we have now is open war against the Israeli occupation. The man who
ignited this battle was aware of the fragility of the Arab situation, and he
struck while the iron was hot. But this is no reason to despair. The case
for resistance, even against difficult odds, remains as valid as ever. We
all know that the United States saw Palestinian struggle as mere terrorism
in the 1960s and 1970s, long before 11 September. This did not deter the
resistance then, and it should not now. Much has changed, but one thing has
not. The Israelis were occupiers before 11 September. They are occupiers
It is certainly necessary to address Israeli, American and European public
opinion. But the Palestinians must stay on target. The question of terror
should be addressed, for it is a serious one. Both victims and perpetrators
are judged in the context of an international campaign against terror.
Therefore, resistance must be dissociated from terror, in both objectives
and methods. There is no historical, political, or social resemblance
between the Palestinian liberation movement and the actions of the Taliban
or Bin Laden. It is easy to make this point, but well nigh impossible to
convey it when pro-Israeli propagandists are working overtime to portray the
Palestinians as crazed and violent.
Here is one example of how to fight back. Visits to the occupied territories
by a delegation of European solidarity groups or international figures
supportive of national liberation can accomplish much by way of countering
pro-Israeli propaganda. European delegations have never visited the Taliban.
Pro-national liberation activists never demolished road blocks with Bin
Laden. The Palestinians can use their political experience to reverse the
negative propaganda tide. It should not be hard for them to get European
supporters to stand with them at the barricades. This will remind the world
that the propagandists who justify the occupiers and defame the victims have
gone too far.
On the other hand, the potential supporters of the Palestinian people -- the
same people who stood staunchly by the African National Congress during its
struggle against apartheid -- cannot support a cause that lacks clarity of
purpose. They cannot take the side of a people who use one set of terms for
negotiations and another for struggle. It is time to challenge Sharon's
policies. He has succeeded in undermining Israeli-Palestinian agreements,
and failed to provide a viable political option. He has also failed to bring
peace or security to the Israelis. The Palestinians, through continued
struggle and clarity of purpose, can bring about political change.
Since the United States launched its "war against terror," Arab pleas have
become pathetic, if not outright embarrassing. Even the Israelis are
puzzled. The Arabs have failed to present any realistic vision; and the same
goes for the Israelis. Shimon Peres, having won precious time for Sharon by
keeping the political option alive, has faded from the picture. Despite
Israel's recurring government crises, the Labour Party has done nothing to
challenge Sharon's policies and present the Israeli public with new
political options. I see no hope that Israel's internal dynamics can bring
about change. Some Israelis, it is true, blame Sharon for provoking the
Palestinians and undermining the very security he claims to protect. But
these are few and far between. There is no political force in Israel at the
moment capable of formulating an alternative political programme.
A section of the Labour Party, in cooperation with Meretz, has tried to get
the Palestinians back on the Camp David track. The idea was to incite the
Labour Party to break ranks with the "national unity" government and go
before the Israeli public with a political agenda acceptable to the Arabs.
The Labour Party, of course, was accused in 1999 of presenting Israelis with
a platform that proved unacceptable to the Palestinians. It is unlikely,
therefore, that this scheme will work. The Palestinians who rejected these
ideas when presented by an elected Israeli government, are unlikely to
accept them from a runaway segment of the Labour Party.
The only thing that would entice the Labour Party to quit the government and
bring the crisis into the open is some pressure from Washington. This, too,
is unlikely. The United States and much of Europe seem indifferent to the
crimes committed by the Israeli occupation forces. Even France, which
challenged the European diplomatic siege on Arafat, is not pressing the
Here is where the Arab role comes into play. The Arabs, with some resolve
and coordination, can influence US and European policies. The Arabs also
have an overpowering incentive. Their tolerance of Sharon's policy is only a
further step toward harsher treatment, not just by Israel but also by the
United States. This is the Arabs' moment of truth. If they accept the
current situation, their problems will get worse.
The US media, now unabashedly conservative, is using free association to
tarnish the image of all Arabs: Arabs, Muslim, Palestine, terror, Saudi
Arabia, Syria, Egypt are now interchangeable terms. The US's moral (or
immoral) identification with Israel is unprecedented. It has given Sharon a
free hand, and is dragging the region into an abyss. Under these
circumstances, the Palestinians' only hope is to resist. They must keep the
embers of hope burning. Hope is the fine line between resistance and
suicide, between resistance and utter capitulation. The Palestinians have to
show the other Arabs the way forward.
The Intifada, however, needs more than rhetorical support. The Lebanese
resistance won the battle against Israel thanks to the genuine backing of
both Syria and Iran. Without it, victory would have been impossible. And the
Lebanese resistance were fighting from their own homeland, inside a
sovereign state, against Israel's divided governments and public.
The Palestinian resistance faces harsher conditions. It has no Arab
strategic depth. Its base is not a sovereign state. It is caught inside
Israel's strategic sphere. And there are as yet no substantial divisions
within the Israeli government and public. Currently, the Palestinian
resistance is an act of rejection, more defensive than offensive. Israel,
meanwhile, is on a rampage. Its aim is to break Palestinian resolve and
annihilate Palestinian rights for good, perhaps in the hope that new
Palestinian "partners" will appear.
The Palestinians can go on resisting the Israelis, but they need the Arabs'
material, moral, and especially political backing. Arab pressure is the only
hope for a change in US and European policy. In the aftermath of 11
September, Arab support is a matter of survival -- for both the Arabs and
* The writer is a Palestinian citizen of Israel and a member of the Knesset.