Al-Ahram Weekly Online   17 - 23 September 2009
Issue No. 965
Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875

Samir Ghattas

Let's try something else

The "Ben-Gurion of Palestine", Salam Fayyad, wants a state before one is established. Is his third way right, asks Samir Ghattas*

In three months time, we'll mark the anniversary of UN Resolution 181 of 1947, which provided for the partitioning of Palestine into two states, a Jewish one and an Arab one, with Jerusalem being an international zone.

David Ben-Gurion agreed to Resolution 181 although it gave him 56 per cent of historic Palestine on which he had hoped to establish the Jewish state. The area given to the Jews didn't include any of the biblical sites sacred to the Jews. It didn't include Hebron, the traditional burial place of Abraham. It didn't include the West Bank, which the Jews refer to as Judea and Samaria. It didn't even include Jerusalem, seat of the alleged Third Temple.

The Arabs rejected the partition scheme. Since then, the Palestinian state, originally envisioned on 42.4 per cent of historic Palestine, has shrunk to 22 per cent or less of the original whole -- even before it has seen the light.

The Arabs and Palestinians yearn for a Palestinian state, and have gone about achieving it in more than one way. But so far, every single strategy they have adopted has failed.

The first strategy lasted from 1948 to 1967. It aimed at creating a Palestinian state on the entire historic land of Palestine, assuming that Israel would be defeated and annulled. This strategy failed twice, in 1948 and again in 1967. The late president Gamal Abdel-Nasser, who fought in the first war, agreed after the 1967 defeat to UN Resolution 242. This was a turning point in the Arab-Israeli conflict. It was Resolution 242 that gave birth to all the peace treaties and settlement schemes that followed.

Having agreed to 242, the Arabs focussed on the "removal of the traces of aggression". This policy implicitly entailed three points. First, the Arabs practically recognised Israel's existence, simply because Resolution 242 involves "acknowledgement of the sovereignty, territorial integrity and political independence of every State in the area and their right to live in peace within secure and recognised boundaries." Second, the task of the Arab armies from then on would be confined to liberating the land occupied in 1967, and not the land taken earlier to that date. Third, the Palestinian state, if created, would coexist with Israel, rather than supplant it.

This strategy was eventually replaced by a new vision that Fatah had been promoting since its birth in 1965. Fatah embraced a long-term war of liberation, Algerian or Vietnamese style. No longer would regular armies be asked to liberate Palestine. The job would be accomplished by resistance groups seeking to create a unified democratic state for Israel; one in which Muslims, Christians and Jews could live together. This objective remained theoretical, and Fatah took no practical measures to turn its long-term war of popular liberation into a daily practice.

After the 1973 War another shift happened with the Palestinians declaring their intent to create a Palestinian authority on any part they may be able to free from Israel's occupation. In 1988, the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) declared the establishment of a Palestinian state. Many countries recognised the declaration, but the state failed to materialise.

After the Madrid Conference in 1991 and the Oslo Accords of 1993, a third strategy took shape, one in which negotiations became the main method of creating a Palestinian state. Still, negotiations kept running into snags, the most memorable of which was the failure of the Camp David summit between Arafat and Barak in 2000.

For a while, Yasser Arafat tried to combine negotiations with armed resistance. This too didn't work. It wasn't long before Hamas sprang onto the scene, declaring negotiations over and armed resistance to be the only way ahead.

Much has been said about the failure of the negotiations option. And yet few dare to address the failure of armed struggle. To put it bluntly, armed struggle has been a disappointment. Since 2003 and to this day, little has been achieved through armed struggle. Actually, for the past four years or so, few Palestinian military operations have been conducted against Israel, and Israel's losses have been minimal, if not non- existent.

Consequently, Hamas has sought to engage in the political process rather than oppose it. It has indeed sought to benefit from the self-rule situation created by the Oslo Accords. For the time being, Hamas is trying to shore up its power base in Gaza; some say that it wants to set up a mini-state in Gaza.

Currently, Fatah and Hamas have one thing in common. They are both trying to rein in armed struggle and have practically outlawed all attacks on Israel. Just as General Keith Dayton supervises military arrangements in the West Bank, General Ahmed Al-Jaabari of the Hamas-affiliated Qassam Brigades enforces a ban on military operations against Israel in Gaza.

Interestingly enough, General Yoav Galant, head of Israel's southern military command, is pleased with what Hamas is doing in Gaza. A few days ago, he told the Israeli press that attacks on Israel have reached their lowest level in the past 15 years.

The domestic divisions Israel is experiencing under Netanyahu have made negotiations a harder option, thus diminishing hopes for the creation of an independent Palestinian state. And with armed struggle at a dead end, Palestinians need to start looking at other options.

To break the impasse, Prime Minister Salam Fayyad proposed a plan that goes beyond the options of negotiations and armed resistance. In August 2009, while submitting his government's programme, he pledged to create an independent state within two years through a strategy that I shall call the "evolving state". According to Fayyad, the Palestinians need to prove to themselves as well as outsiders that they can run a state of their own. To do that, they should start by building and developing the various institutions that a modern state requires and run them in a smooth manner and in keeping with the requisites of civil society, democracy, and political pluralism.

The Palestinian state, Fayyad pledged, would fight corruption, streamline security, and generally act as a successful model of good governance. By doing so, the Palestinians would refute any argument for the postponement of the creation of their independent state.

Before reviewing the reactions to Fayyad's ideas, I must note that they are not completely unprecedented. The Zionist state used this same "evolving state" strategy before 1948. Zionist organisations at the time turned the local Jewish community in Palestine into a state-in-waiting, one equipped with viable economic, political and military agencies.

I must also note that the main weakness of Fayyad's strategy is the crucial difference between his project and that of the Zionist movement. The Zionist movement had the backing of major countries, Britain initially and then the US. Even the Soviet Union gave the Zionists substantial help during the early years.

Some of the objections made so far to Fayyad's plan are valid, but critics have mostly focussed on details rather than substance. And few have come up with a better or more viable plan.

Speaking for the EU, both Tony Blair and Javier Solana supported Fayyad's plans. But Israel's foreign minister, Avigdor Lieberman, criticised the new Palestinian strategy and promised to stop it in its tracks. For his part, Israel's president, Shimon Peres, praised the strategy and described Fayyad as the "Ben-Gurion of Palestine".

The EU alone cannot provide adequate backing for this strategy or stop Israel from undermining it. Nor can it guarantee that the probationary two-year period would end up in international recognition of an independent Palestinian state.

There is, however, a way around that. A form of internationalisation, along the lines successfully adopted in Kosovo and Namibia, may provide a way out of the current impasse. This is the option we must consider now. The strategies of negotiations and resistance have failed. We all know that, but are yet to admit it. Let's try something else.

* The writer is director of the Maqdis Centre for Political Studies, in Gaza.

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