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Larbi Sadiki
Larbi Sadiki
Dr Larbi Sadiki is a Senior Lecturer in Middle East Politics at the University of Exeter, and author of Arab Democratization: Elections without Democracy (Oxford University Press, 2009) and The Search for Arab Democracy: Discourses and Counter-Discourses (Columbia University Press, 2004).
The internal Nakba
Internal divisions, such as the Fatah-Hamas split, have added to the Palestine's recent tragedy.
Last Modified: 18 May 2012 19:20
Splits within Palestinian society have exacerbated the suffering of all [EPA]


Exeter, United Kingdom -

More ink will be spilled on narrating, unpacking and grasping the Palestinian Nakba in years to come. The Nakba is infliction in its entirety: catastrophe, tragedy, loss, betrayal, hurt, colonisation and dehumanisation. It befell the Palestinians 64 years ago, when world powers accepted the founding of Israel while still denying Palestinian statehood.

However, it is a mistake to narrate the Nakba as a single and fixed experience of the catastrophe. Similarly, it is erroneous to frame the Nakba as being solely external. To do so is simply to demote the Palestinian people's agency.

In outlining the anatomy of internal Nakba, I consider the Fatah-Hamas split as one aspect that adds to the tragedy and loss of Palestine and Palestinians in recent history.

This may sound like an elastic term. It may mean different things to different Palestinians. Its imprecision is related to the fact that Palestinians of all walks of life experience Nakba either directly through experience of occupation and dispossession or by association, causing them the same feeling of oppression and tragedy.

There are those Palestinians for whom Nakba is a compound phenomenon: living with it daily from Gaza, the West Bank or from within Israel, suffering occupation and seeing the occupier daily. Others experience it from the refugee camps in various Arab states - Jordan, Lebanon and Syria. Palestinians in the diaspora live the tragedy from the margins, and the narratives transmitted by the elders diffuse the emotions generated by the Nakba across generations and territories of refuge.

It is the emotive aspect of the Nakba that makes it a non-territorial or material experience. It is like Palestine's "twin": Palestinians carry Palestine in their embroidery, poetry, gastronomy, literature, arts and migratory existence. However, they cannot do so without carrying the Nakba deep within their experience of Palestinian-ness. They "travel" Palestine by the Nakba and almost exclusively through it.

Palestinians mark Nakba day with protests

The Nakba is thus the common feeling that embodies Palestine, the body that frames Palestinian identity in territories where Palestinians exist in a state of permanent temporariness - waiting for Palestine and keeping it alive.

The Nakba stands as metaphor for the Palestinian "dreamtime", containing endless stories linking Palestinian-ness to land, the time of the creation of their nation and the time of "de-creation" when people and territory were de-linked. At this level, it is not an occasion to pity the Palestinian nation. Rather, it is cause to reflect. Integral to this reflection is to widen the interpretation of the Nakba in order to fathom its internal dimensions, which aggravate the calamity of dispossession and victimisation.

The 64th anniversary of the Palestinian calamity calls for taking part in the responsibility for it. The powers that be, including Fatah and Hamas, must reconcile and rally behind their common cause as one way of finding an honourable exit from their reciprocal intransigence. Just as disunity and mutual hostility shape and aggravate the internal Nakba, unity and mutuality could potentially dissolve it.  

Towards ownership

To reclaim the Palestinian cause in its entirety, part of the blame for the festering internal Nakba must be fully shouldered by the Palestinian leadership.

If this leadership is in the business of politics for a reason other than advancing the Palestinian cause, then they should exit it. If, by contrast, Palestine is the cause - and not Fatah or Hamas and the ideologies and leaders forming their projects - then Palestinians may once again let them off the hook, so that they do more good united than disunited.

Abbas, Erekat, Mashaal, Haniyeh and Zahhar must know that restoring Palestine as a cause celebre involves engaging in the toughest struggle for the minds and souls not only of local constituencies, Palestinian and Arab, but also global, including US and Israeli. This they cannot do when they are in such fundamental disagreement with one another. The struggle for Palestine seems to have ceased, ceding to a battle for Fatah to prevail over Hamas, and Mashaal or Haniyeh over Abbas. This is not the image of committed, scrupulous and serious freedom fighters the world respects or endorses.

Six agreements mediated by Arab actors have shown Fatah and Hamas to be parallel lines that intersect at no point. Both signed the 2005 Cairo agreement, the 2006 National Conciliation document, the 2007 Mecca Agreement, the Sana'a Declaration of 2008 and the Egyptian Paper for inter-Palestinian Reconciliation in 2009.

There is nothing new in blaming the Israelis, who are conspicuous colonists, or the US, whose officials' favouritism for Israel is not going to change. Simply put, Palestinian politicians cannot blame the US for not seeing eye-to-eye with them when Abbas and Mashaal, among others, behave like sworn enemies.  

No pain, no gain

Hamas and Fatah are both to blame for compounding the internal Nakba. Palestinians deserve far-sighted, courageous and candid leaders who can bring relief to their people and freedom to Palestine. No pain, no gain. In this sense, painful decisions and compromise are called for. In doing this, Palestinian leaders must understand that the Nakba has been shouldered by their steadfast and pain-indifferent people. They have lived with pain for 64 years, so that Palestine does not die as a cause, homeland and dream.

It is now the turn of Abbas, Mashaal and others to take a leaf from the book of the heroic Palestinian people. And to do this, they do not have to start from scratch or iron out differences. Rather, they should start with what is already agreed upon and treat their differences as integral to the business of politics. All that is needed now is to agree that Palestine is more sacred than themselves.

There are six agreements from which to distill a sense of clarity and purpose regarding how to ease the pain of the internal Nakba, the calamity of disunity and division. From the Mecca Agreement, forming a coalition government should be taken as a top priority. There is no Palestinian state and the enclaves of Ramallah or Gaza should not be bewitched by their sense of importance as some kind of home of sovereign statesmen ruling over independent realms. Therefore personalities should not matter more than the root cause of the Palestinian catastrophe: reclaiming people-hood and uniting Palestinians with their usurped land thus recognised under international law.

From the terms of the Doha Agreement, one finds affirmation for the urgency to reconcile the warring heavyweights of the Palestinian polity in a government of technocrats. Regarding the hint at the terms of good governance (without use of such language), the Doha Agreement has one vital merit: democratising the Palestinian Liberation Organisation (PLO). In this regard, the ball is in Abbas' court: he alone can, and should, make this important concession. All talk about elections would be futile - indeed putting the cart before the horse - if the overarching representative Palestinian body, the PLO, was not itself democratised radically, and urgently. This could allay the fears of Hamas and pave the way for methodical reform.

The same goes for the Doha Agreement's reference to ironing out problems having to do with human rights violations, free movement, and law-abiding and impartial institutions. Only a democratic and autonomous PLO could partake in reforming the Palestinian polity as a whole - and above all else stand as a robust and neutral political arbiter that may keep Fatah and Hamas honest and accountable.

Leading to reverse Nakba

The Palestinians still bleed, 64 years later. The internal Nakba, which is not intended to absolve Israel or the international community for their share of the blame in the Palestinian calamity, is a reality. Today Palestinians do not want Abbas, Mashaal, or Haniyeh to become any kind of legendary or mythical heroes, a Sheikh Yasin or an Arafat. At a time of desperation and protracted internal Nakba, and hopelessness before peace talks, Palestinians have every right to seek courageous and selfless leaders capable of relieving the catastrophe and renewing the hope of uniting people and land.

The sooner they do that, the better, lest the people power that ousted Mubarak and Ben Ali would soon be tested on Abbas and Haniyeh by the very people who sowed the first seeds of Arab revolt. Certainly, from Gaza - where electricity eludes Palestinian homes just as jobs evade their seekers from Ramallah to Khan Younis - the internal Nakba generates a high yield of revolutionary fodder.

Dr Larbi Sadiki is a Senior Lecturer in Middle East Politics at the University of Exeter, and author of Arab Democratization: Elections without Democracy (Oxford University Press, 2009) and The Search for Arab Democracy: Discourses and Counter-Discourses (Columbia University Press, 2004).

The views expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera's editorial policy.

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