Sunday,23 September, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1229, (15 -21 January 2015)
Sunday,23 September, 2018
Issue 1229, (15 -21 January 2015)

Ahram Weekly

Bring the Palestine National Council back

The Palestinians, including the diaspora, need to speak with one voice, else the Palestinian cause could soon be forever lost, writes Alan Hart

Al-Ahram Weekly

The headline over my last article, on 29 December, was “For the occupied and oppressed Palestinians, UN means Useless Nations.” The following day the UN Security Council itself confirmed my analysis by refusing to consider a resolution submitted on behalf of the Palestinians calling for an end to Israeli occupation within three years.

Lawyer John Whitbeck hit the nail on the head with the statement that the Security Council had demonstrated that “it is as much of a whorehouse as the US Congress.” In this article I am going to suggest what I think must now happen if Palestine is not to become a lost cause.

My starting point is that the Palestinians have nothing concrete to gain from seeking to advance their cause through the

International Criminal Court (ICC). Even if it did determine that Israel (as well as Hamas, for “balance”) had a case to answer for war crimes and other violations, the Zionist state’s leaders would ignore the court’s findings and the US would prevent action to call and hold Israel to account.

Although they have the right in international law to resort to force to resist occupation, the Palestinians have nothing to gain and much more to lose from violence. Palestinian violence on a significant scale would give Israel’s leaders the pretext to speed up their ethnic cleansing programme and even, perhaps, to go for a final ethnic cleansing.

So what must happen to change the dynamics of the conflict and give the Palestinians real hope that their almost superhuman steadfastness, their refusal to surrender on Zionism’s terms, will deliver them an acceptable amount of justice?

The assumption on which my answer is based is that only the major powers have the leverage to cause Israel’s leaders to end their defiance of international law and become serious about peace on terms the Palestinians could accept.
The problem is that governments are not going to use this leverage unless and until they are pushed to do so by public opinion, by manifestations of real democracy (citizen concern and care) in action.

In America, for example, and as I put it in my book Zionism: The Real Enemy of the Jews, nothing is going to change unless and until members of Congress are more frightened of offending their voters than they are of offending the Zionist lobby and its allies.

According to a poll conducted for the Brookings Institution last November, US public opinion is shifting. When asked for their preferred solution to the Israel-Palestine conflict, 34 per cent of those polled said their government should push for one state with equal citizenship. That was up from 24 per cent the previous year. Among those who support a two-state solution, 66 per cent said they would support one state if two states were not possible.

The key question is this: What can be done to give greater and unstoppable momentum to the pushing process underway in America and Europe to cause governments to use the leverage they have to end Israel’s defiance of international law and oppression of the Palestinians?

In my view, what is needed most of all is the dissolution of the Palestinian Authority (PA) and handing back to Israel complete responsibility and accountability for its occupation. This would impose significant economic, security and other burdens on Israel.

Its leaders would respond in the only way they know how: with more and more brutal repression of the occupied Palestinians. Yes, that would mean more suffering of all kinds for them, but it would also add fuel to the slow-burning, global fire of anti-Israel opinion.

In other words, the more an arrogant, sickeningly self-righteous and brutal Israel demonstrates its contempt for international law and its rejection of the Palestinian claim for justice, the more the pushing process required to cause governments of the major powers to act would gather momentum.

For their part, the occupied and oppressed Palestinians could help to sustain this momentum with peaceful demonstrations across the occupied West Bank and throughout the Gaza Strip’s open-air prison.
For maximum impact in Europe and America, I think the demonstrations should be silent, with the message of the demonstrators conveyed by placards held aloft. The messages would include “End the occupation!” and “We want our freedom!”

Something like that on at least a weekly basis would convey a powerful message to the outside world and all the more so if the Israeli Defence Forces (IDF) and armed illegal Jewish settlers sought to break up peaceful and silent Palestinian demonstrations with tear gas and bullets.

Then there’s the question of Palestinian leadership. After the dissolution of the PA, who could provide it and what form should it take? Initially, the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) Executive Committee would provide it, but much, much more than that is required if the Palestinians are to be enabled to speak to power with one credible voice.

The Palestinian diaspora needs to become politically engaged and put its act together in order to bring the Palestine National Council (PNC) back to life. Once upon a time this now sidelined parliament-in-exile represented Palestinians almost everywhere in the world and was the supreme decision-making body on the Palestinian side.

It was not without flaws, but it was more democratic than not, and that’s why the authoritarian Arab regimes feared it. Even Arafat at the height of his power was accountable to the PNC. It did, in fact, take him six long years to persuade a majority of PNC delegates to endorse his policy of politics and compromise with Israel. That happened towards the end of 1979.

The PNC vote in favour of Arafat’s policy — the two-state solution — was 296 for it and only four against. From then on the Palestinian door was open to peace on terms that any rational government and people in Israel would have accepted with relief.

For the PNC to be brought back to life there would have to be elections to it in communities throughout the Palestinian diaspora as well as the occupied West Bank and the Gaza Strip.

The composition of the Palestinian diaspora by countries and population is roughly the following: Jordan, 2.9 million; Israel, 1.6 million; Syria, 800,000; Chile, 500,000; Lebanon, 490,000; Saudi Arabia, 280,245; Egypt, 270,245; USA, 270,000; Honduras, 250,000; Venezuela, 245,120; UAE, 170,000; Germany, 159,000; Mexico, 158,000; Qatar, 100,000; Kuwait, 70,000; El Salvador, 70,000; Brazil, 59,000; Iraq, 57,000; Yemen, 55,000; Canada, 50,975; Australia, 45,000; Libya, 44,000; Denmark, 32,152; UK, 30,000; Sweden, 25,500; Peru, 20,000; Columbia, 20,000; Spain, 12,000; Pakistan, 10,500; Netherlands, 9,000; Greece, 7,500; Norway, 7,000; France, 5,000; Guatemala, 3,500; Austria, 3,000; Switzerland, 2,000; Turkey, 1,000; and India, 300.

The prime task of a restructured and reinvigorated PNC would be to debate and determine Palestinian policy and then represent it by speaking to power with one credible voice. If the Palestinian diaspora does not become politically engaged to bring the PNC back to life, I think it is more than possible that future honest historians will say that by default it betrayed the occupied and oppressed every bit as much as the Arab regimes have done.

Without a new strategy to change the dynamics of the conflict and how it is perceived in America and Europe, I really do believe that Palestine will become a lost cause. There will be some who will say (as a few Israeli Jews have already done) that the Zionist state is in the process of committing suicide and that justice for the Palestinians is inevitable.

Perhaps, but just as likely (in my view, more than likely) is that the coming years will see an exodus of Jews from Israel, leaving behind a neo-fascist hardcore that will be prepared to threaten the region and beyond with nuclear destruction.

On the basis of what Prime Minister Golda Meir said to me in an interview I did with her for the BBC’s Panorama programme, it would not be an empty threat. I asked her to clarify a point she had made. I said: “Prime Minister, I want to be sure I am understanding what you have just said. You did mean that in a doomsday situation Israel would be prepared to take the region and the world down with it?”
Without a pause for thought, she replied in her gravelly voice, “Yes, that’s exactly what I am saying.”

The writer is a former ITN and BBC Panorama foreign correspondent who specialised on the Middle East and covered conflicts around the world.

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