Palestine and the politics of hope

Palestinians should consider the late Edward Said’s strong support for a one-state solution.

Palestinian intellectual Edward Said became a staunch proponent of a one-state solution [AP]

Towards the end of his highly anticipated speech at the United Nations General Assembly, Mahmoud Abbas quoted the late Palestinian national poet Mahmoud Darwish, saying: “Standing here, staying here, permanent here, eternal here, and we have one goal, one, one: To be.”

These are staggeringly emphatic words spoken by a leader who has somewhat gained the legitimacy and respect of his people with the hero’s welcome to the West Bank that he received on his return. After delivering what is considered by some political leaders and analysts to be an oratory tour de force – by Abbas’ standards, of course – his speech followed in the rhetorical footsteps of his charismatic and problematic PLO predecessor Yasser Arafat. Against the backdrop of the demoralisingly pessimistic tone of Obama’s speech, as well as the resolutely uncompromising attitude that Netanyahu exhibited, on the face of it, Abbas had uttered some measured words. Well, not quite.     

Placed in the context of a letter that actually watered down the political aspirations of Palestinian self-determination, the existentialist quality of Darwish’s repetitively haunting lyrics are diminished. By almost begging the international community to be accepted, not even as a fully-fledged state, Lebanese journalist and blogger Khodor Salameh bluntly but correctly calls it “a silly joke”. He concludes in his article for Al Masry Al Youm: “There will be no state for Abu Mazen, his aides, or rivals. There will be no state in September.”

There will be no state for Abu Mazen, his aides, or rivals. There will be no state in September.”

– Lebanese journalist Khodor Salameh

Espousing an optimistic discourse that the moment was the beginning of a “Palestinian Spring”, Mahmoud Abbas declared that he was speaking “on behalf of the Palestinian people in the homeland and in the diaspora”. Yet the fatalistic and despondent analysis put forward by Salameh and other diasporic Palestinian commentators, such as Ghada Karmi and Ali Abunimah, contradicts Abbas’ enthusiasm.

The argument for the one-state solution gets lost among the plethora of commentary about whether or not this is a shrewd political move to advance the Palestinian cause in the international arena. This solution is dismissed as a utopian ideal that cannot even be put on an imaginary negotiating table, simply because its radical stance conflagrates the decayed dynamics of the failed peace process.

The luminary and unflinchingly brave Palestinian intellectual Edward Said, who had been an ardent proponent of the one-state solution late in his career, passed away eight years ago on the same weekend that Abbas took to the podium. Said’s lucid arguments are sorely needed now more than ever, because “what to many Palestinians is either an incomprehensible cruelty of fate, or a measure of how appalling are the prospects for settling their claim, can be clarified by seeing irony as a constitutive factor in their lives”.

Profoundly meditating on the performative aspects of speech as a literary theorist, Said explains that “to speak [as Abbas just did in front of the General Assembly] is to move yourself towards another, your opposite and your guest … the irony of this is that you can never directly come together with another”. The political geography of not being able to “come together with another” is embodied in the architectural edifice of the towering Israeli separation wall that cuts across towns and villages in a calculated rationale for not only isolating the Palestinians from the Israelis – but also from themselves. The recent announcement by the Israeli government approving the building of 1,100 settler homes solidifies the position that negotiation in an asymmetric relationship is, in fact, a form of negation.

With the Obama administration firmly planting itself as one of the more militaristically postured leaderships in United States history – think of al-Awlaki and bin Laden’s assassinations, and more importantly, the almost daily drone attacks in Pakistan, Somalia and Afghanistan – any prospects for a Palestinian homeland are categorically excised.

Yet, in the words of Said, “we might well ask from this perspective if any cause can ever really be lost”. Delivered in 1995 as the Tanner Lecture on Human Values, Said arrived at this prophetic conclusion after he methodically listed a litany of failures and frustrations, personal and political, with regards to the Palestinian question. He details his own intense involvement and public defection from the PLO because of its increasingly infantile politics of bowing to unrealistic Israeli and US pressures.

There is always the comforting hope that existence is resistance.”

Nevertheless, this episode of disavowal strengthened and sharpened his already critical faculties, causing him to arrive at the one-state idea as a realistic solution. This is what is needed at the moment: a new beginning, away from the follies of leaders. In his magisterial book Beginnings: Intention & Method, Said lays out what he means by a beginning: “A consciously intentional, productive activity, and that, moreover, it is activity whose circumstances include a sense of loss.”

What should be advocated during the hopelessness of this UN bid is a mature revival of secular co-existence that takes into account the complexities on the ground of fluid citizenship, such as Palestinians who live in Israel as Israeli citizens. This can happen through movements such as the Boycott, Divest, Sanction campaign, in partnership with other grassroots Israeli organisations such as B’Tselem and Ta’ayush, but also through initiatives such as East-West Diwan, which Said heroically set up with his musical interlocutor Daniel Barenboim. Amid the sluggishness and stalling of revolutions in the Arab world, which started with so much political passion from the youth, there is always the comforting hope that existence is resistance.

Farid Y. Farid is a final year doctoral candidate at the University of Western Sydney and a freelance writer.

Follow him on Twitter: @FaridYFarid

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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