Al-Ahram Weekly Online
4 -10 April 2002
Issue No.580
Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875 Current issue | Previous issue | Site map

Whispers to shouts

Palestinian unity is not the problem, says Nayef Hawatmeh -- Arab support is what is lacking

The events in occupied Palestine are not surprising. Conspiratorial silence, even US collaboration with Sharon's bloody attempts to crush national resistance: we in the DFLP have grown accustomed to these. For over a year now, military operations and political gimmicks have been used to "contain" the Intifada. Slogans were crafted especially for that purpose: Stop the violence, implement the Tenet plan. The aim was to force the Palestinians to accept solutions that suit Sharon and his friends. What is surprising is the timidity of Arab protests. The Arabs are having trouble speaking out. And, when they do speak, they are barely audible.

Sharon's reaction to the Beirut summit of 27 and 28 March was concise and devastating. Israel's war machine summarily dismissed an Arab peace initiative that lacked articulation and leverage. The Arab proposal was mired in generalities, open to interpretation and misinterpretation -- particularly true with regard to the right of return. The initiative portrayed Resolution 194 as a basis for negotiations, not a solution to the refugee problem. Yet over 62 per cent of the Palestinian people are refugees, inside or outside Palestine.

Sharon's dismissal of the Beirut summit should make the Arabs think about what they can do. Now is the time for them to draw on their potential, in defence, oil, finance and the economy. Only by tapping Arab potential can the peace initiative traverse the clutter unscathed and draw on the energy of the Palestinian resistance. This is a war of attrition: the war of the new millennium. The Palestinians, in their struggle against occupation and colonisation, are reaching to the sky.

Sharon's current offensive has the blessing and protection of President George W Bush and his Republican administration. The Arabs are still fumbling for an audience. The language of interests seems to have evaporated in their conversations with the United States, which continues to give material support and political cover to Israel's war.

On the morning of 31 March, while Bush was returning from a pleasant out-of-town weekend, he renewed his support of Sharon, calling on Yasser Arafat to do more to stop "Palestinian terror." Bush's remarks were an insult to the Arab peace initiative -- but that was also because the initiative lacked conviction or leverage. For the proposal to work, the Arabs' capabilities have to be vitalised, to an extent surpassing that seen during the 1973 War. Arab borders should open once again to guerrilla action, neglected since the Oslo process started a decade ago, and to the forces of democracy, peace, and liberation.

With these events unfolding on the Arab and Palestinian fronts, momentum is developing on the Israeli street. Peace activists are speaking out in the name of international law, condemning the genocide and warning that Sharon is leading Israel into an abyss. Palestinian and Jewish activists have crossed the 1967 lines to protest Sharon's repression and challenge the siege on the occupied territories.

Unfortunately, we cannot depend on activism to end the tragedy. The influence of the Jewish peace movement is still limited. The right wing (Biblical and secular) and the Zionist "left" still dominate Israeli politics, while the mainstream is edging inexorably to the right.

The Palestinians, meanwhile, are united, both inside and outside their homeland. Those living in the Diaspora want only to go home and help their besieged compatriots. They cannot, because the Arab countries impede their movement and prevent the struggle from coalescing, throughout the Arab world.

We, the Palestinians, face a moment of truth. The Palestinians are the deciding factor in the region. There will be no peace settlement, no stability, and no security in the Middle East unless the Palestinian people have security and stability. Our national unity has been baptised in blood and sacrifice.

The Palestinians stand united, minor disputes engulfed by the flood of events. We have tasks to complete in order to consolidate our position. Our national unity hinges on collective decision-making at the highest level. We have to think collectively, not as isolated individuals. We need to revive our national institutions in the framework of the PLO -- the institutions that were put on hold in Oslo in September 1993.

Our people, inside and outside the homeland, who have come together in the past 18 months, are entitled to representation within a collective, PLO-based decision-making framework. The PLO has been suspended in mid-air for almost a decade. Only a broad national coalition can lead all our people, inside and outside Palestine.

On the Arab front, we hope (or is this merely wishful thinking?) that a serious policy will emerge. The Arab regimes should allow the people to speak their mind. They should allow political parties and national liberation forces to act, instead of dispersing protestors with tear gas. The pulse of the streets should set the rhythm of a different Arab position. That is the ammunition that can push back the occupation. It is sad to see protests flare up across the world in support of the Palestinians, while the regimes of this region keep our people on a short leash.

The Arab leaders should speak to their people, and listen to what the people think of Israel's aggression and the siege on Palestinian towns and Arafat's headquarters. The Arab leaders should state their position on US collaboration with this Israeli aggression -- a collaboration summed up pithily in the recent statements by Bush and Colin Powell. While the US president and secretary of state are making such statements, Arab leaders are simply wringing their hands and waiting for the Americans to keep their promises.

National, democratic, left-wing, and Islamic forces in the Arab countries are faced with difficult choices. They have a responsibility to pressure their governments through mass protests until they break their code of silence. Arab countries should recall their ambassadors from Washington to protest US policy. They should sever ties with Israel and expel its ambassadors. They should take the US administration to task for any delay in the implementation of the UN Security Council Resolution of 30 March calling for the withdrawal of occupation forces from all Palestinian towns.

The Arabs should back their initiatives up with actions. They should let guerrilla forces mass on the Arab borders of Palestine and engage the enemy on the land of historical Palestine -- not just the land occupied in June 1967. And Sharon should be prevented from waging war on occupied Palestine's Arab neighbours.

* The writer is secretary-general of the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine.

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