Palestinian politicians are the makers of their own tragic demise

In the occupied territories and abroad, political factions once known for a clarity of purpose now look old and exhausted

Palestinian politicians are the makers of their own tragic demise

The Palestinians hold countless heated and bitter debates about their conditions, choices, and destinies. This has been the case for about a hundred years. The problem now is that so few of these debates are clear, direct, or realistic.

The factions – especially Fatah and Hamas, and to a much lesser extent Popular and Democratic Fronts and other groups on the left – dominate the discourse. It is evasive and leads nowhere. The discussion seeks only to justify the failures of the factions by covering up all the gaps between them and their problems and shortcomings.

The discussion does not explain why there are so many factions. They proliferate primarily because many of them fail to represent multiple segments of the Palestinian people, either at home or abroad. The factions are without a place in both the peaceful struggle against Israel and the military one.

Most no longer have a distinct intellectual or political identity. They are over half a century old, making them exhausted, with nothing more to offer. The founding principles of most of the groups have entirely disappeared, while the armed struggle is no longer applicable from abroad, leaving refugees excluded from Palestinian politics.

The Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) has been sidelined. The two most essential factions have turned into authorities, each within its own territory – Fatah in the West Bank and Hamas in Gaza – despite the continued occupation. Palestinian rights have been reduced to establishing a state in part of the land for part of the people with part of their rights.

There is a crisis within Palestinian politics. It is not only related to the legitimacy of the national movement, but also to disagreements then divisions within it and the way it has developed from one form of struggle into another. It is a profound and comprehensive crisis affecting everything from methods of work to internal relations, the character of the entities involved and the discourse between them.

This crisis is not new. It did not start with the division between Fatah and Hamas. Nor did it begin with the Oslo accords. Those are all manifestations of conditions which go further back, to when the Palestinian national movement accomplished all that it was capable of in its early stages, between the mid-1960s and the mid-1970s.

In short, and after 58 years, the Palestinian national movement has reached a zero outcome -if not less- in its conflict with Israel. This is true at all levels and despite all the suffering, sacrifices, and heroism of the Palestinian people everywhere

That was when the Palestinian people were mobilised and united in a political crucible – the PLO. It imposed the Palestine cause on the Arab and international agenda.

Since then, nothing has happened that can be considered a national achievement, except for the first Intifada of 1987 and 1993, although that was a result of internal politics, helped by the influence of the Palestinian national movement abroad. And the role from overseas soon turned negative, as in the part it played in the Oslo Accords of 1993.

Talking about the right to return to the homeland has become an attempt to cover the destruction of the spirit of the PLO when it became an authority, turning its fighters into employees working for civil or security agencies under the control of the occupation. Remember, amid all this talk of returning now involves land that was unoccupied when the factions were established, including the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

The Palestinian national movement was launched with the assumption that Palestine was the central cause of the 'Arab Nation'. Unfortunately, this premise has not been proven or has disintegrated in practical experience.

There are problems with the concept of the Arab nation itself. It is hypothetical and lacks real significance in the Arab world. But even if these difficulties are set aside, the way in which Arab regimes dealt with the Palestinian cause was lacking, in how its politics were used and consumed.

They dealt with the Palestinians themselves as problems, in terms security, political and their humanitarian needs. Arab regimes distinguished between the cause and its people.

Later, they moved from political investment in the cause to political indifference in real terms, when various regimes normalised their relations with Israel at different levels, without asking Israel to offer anything beneficial for the Palestinians in return.

That helped determined the Palestinian hypothesis that Palestine was the gateway to peace and the bridge to link the Arab world to Israel.

The situation at the international level was no better.

After the end of the Cold War, when the US dominated the international regime, the Palestinian cause receded on the list of global priorities. Many countries friendly to Palestine have also adopted close relations with Israel because of its status and technological advancement. This includes Russia, China, India, and African countries.

In short, and after 58 years, the Palestinian national movement has reached a zero outcome -if not less- in its conflict with Israel. This is true at all levels and despite all the suffering, sacrifices, and heroism of the Palestinian people everywhere, which includes the lack of a uniting national home, the disintegration of the concept of the unity of the Palestinian people, and the departure from the inclusive narrative based on the Nakba of 1948.

Most grievously, the Palestinians have nothing left to bet on among the prevailing factions and the authorities of the West Bank and Gaza.

The Palestinian leadership, the dominating political class in the PLO, and the authority are now preventing change and soe doing everything to weaken the Palestinian communities, at home and abroad.

The president himself -- the decision-maker and the head of the three authorities in PLO, PA, and Fatah -- is in his late eighties. He has held those positions for 18 years, twice as long as the late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat spent as a head of those entities between 1994 and 2004.

Finally, after that unfiltered look at the reality of Palestinian politics, there is an even more bitter version of events that could be told. The time for a pivot toward optimism may come once we have recovered from the experiences we have had so far.

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