Palestinians united?

Palestinians say new strategies must emerge to strengthen the struggle for their rights.

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Major questions over the future of the Palestinian struggle persist [EPA]

For many, the Palestinian national movement is in crisis.

Palestinian-Israeli “peace negotiations” are failing, while Israel’s construction of West Bank settlements continues to eat up Palestinian land. In Ramallah, the political legitimacy of Mahmoud Abbas’ Palestinian Authority government is exhausted. Divisions between Palestinian political factions complicate efforts to find a unified, national strategy.

Major questions over the future of the Palestinian struggle persist.

The second annual conference of research centers in the Arab world was organized by the Arab Centre for Research and Policy Studies from December 7-9 in Doha under the theme “The Palestinian Cause and the Future of the Palestinian National Movement”.

Al Jazeera asked conference participants to answer this question: In the face of many challenges, what strategy should the Palestinian national movement take in the future?

Salma Karmi-Ayyoub: Criminal barrister in London, former head of international litigation project at Palestinian human rights organisation Al-Haq

From my legal-human rights perspective, whatever political solution we advocate, the concept of rights has to be incorporated into the language of our advocacy.

Salma Karmi-Ayyoub [Al Jazeera]

Universal jurisdiction cases [are] the tail-end of a whole load of legal initiatives, such as in the United Nations, membership in international bodies, [International Criminal Court]… all of these legal initiatives have to become central to our strategy for achieving national liberation. The legal tools are there, we just have to make use of them.

The battle that goes on, on the diplomatic level, between Palestinians and Israelis is to do with legitimacy: We must continue to make the case that our cause is moral and that our claims for national liberation are valid. We have international law on our side. The more we ground our demands in the concept of our inalienable rights, the more legitimate is our struggle.

A lot of [Palestinians] on the ground, and [Palestinians] in the Diaspora, I believe, have become less concerned with the idea that there has to be a two-state solution, or what exactly the political model is going to be to resolve the conflict. I think we’re now more concerned with the realisation of our rights, and we recognise that we have to go back to the basic principles: That we are a colonised nation that deserves to achieve true national liberation and self-determination.

Afif Safieh: Palestinian diplomat and Palestinian Authority’s roving ambassador for special missions

Afif Safieh [Al Jazeera]

We are a people of 12 million. This demographic dispersion is the symptom of our tragedy and our ordeal, but it can be a source of political empowerment if we strategise correctly.

Today, we should create a very sophisticated network of interaction between the different components of the Palestinian people. It should have been done years ago, but it’s better late than never… It has to become a sophisticated network of interactions between the different components of Palestinian society: the 1.5 million Palestinians within Israel, the 4.5 million in West Bank and Gaza… and the 6 million or beyond Palestinians scattered over the four corners of the world.

We have to find a way of inviting in – and it has been done – Hamas and Islamic Jihad, which are movements that were created in the last 20 years, so were not there at the beginning of the [Palestinian Liberation Organisation]. We have to incorporate them because they are players in the Palestinian political [and] sociological arena.

Work is being done [towards this], but unfortunately too slow. It’s important because we want to have that body, the PLO, be all-inclusive. It’s the political umbrella. It’s our address, so we need to incorporate Hamas and Islamic Jihad.

Up until now, we seem to have been condemned to either have unity of the different factions, but no strategy, or to have a strategy but at the expense of unity. We should aim at having unity and a strategy, hence the need for an intensive, political, intellectual, strategic discussion.

Diana Buttu: Palestinian lawyer, legal advisor to the Palestinian negotiating team from 2000-2005

If we’re talking about what the future of the Palestinian national movement is, it’s this idea of bringing it back to basics, focusing more again on [Palestinians] as a people in all of the various places in which they currently reside, all of the problems that they face, and not falling into the fragmentation that the Israelis have set up for us.

Diana Buttu [Al Jazeera]

In my opinion, I think one of the things that has been most absent for the past 20 years is the idea of developing a legal strategy: a legal strategy that challenges Israel, a legal strategy that brings into play all Palestinians and a legal strategy that has at its core this idea of upholding Palestinian rights rather than compromising them.

One of the problems that I feel has happened over the past 20 years is that there’s been this real rush to focus on negotiations. And in the rush to focus on negotiations, at its core is this idea of compromise. What I think has been missing is this idea of focusing on decolonisation. And the reason I think this is important is because in the rush to focus on compromise, the compromise issue takes attention away from what Israel is really about and it puts us and the Israelis as though we’re somehow on par, as though this is just a simple dispute.

Focusing on decolonisation brings it back to basics and begins to demand from Israel and from the international community that we not separate out Israel’s actions in the West Bank and Gaza Strip from those inside [the state], but that we view this as an entire process of Israel trying to actually get rid of Palestinians and take their land.


Alaa Tartir: Palestinian youth activist, Program Director of Al-Shabaka: The Palestinian Policy Network

Alaa Tartir [Al Jazeera]

A paradigm shift that is happening over the last few years is actually the youth movement. A major feature of this youth movement is [that] it really does not have borders. Over the last three years, we see a new link between all Palestinians: between the Palestinians in [Israel], between the Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank, and even outside.

That feature is a major source of optimism. Of course here we are not talking about big numbers and big quantities or masses in the streets, but what we are talking about is a great quality.

If we look at historical evidence from all over the world, the change happened from a small group of highly qualified, and committed and dedicated people. It all starts with a small group. This is exactly what’s happening at the moment.

I’m not saying that there will be a revolution tomorrow, but I’m saying that the seeds for a proper change [are] already taking place. Me as a Palestinian youth myself, when I see this link between the different localities of the Palestinians, it brings hope.


Dr Nadim Rouhana: Director General of Mada al-Carmel: The Arab Center for Applied Social Research in Haifa

We are in a transitional period, and transitional periods have some vagueness, but they have some potential too.

Nadim Rouhana [Al Jazeera]

[Palestinian citizens of Israel] have the feeling that it’s impossible to achieve equality within a state that sees itself as the state of the Jewish people, and they are connecting what’s happening to them with what’s happening in the West Bank and Gaza. It’s not a matter of identity anymore because they regained their identity as Palestinians. It’s a matter of awareness.

And the awareness now is: This Zionist project is having an impact on all parts of the Palestinian people, and we are part of that people who is on the receiving side of the project. This is a different awareness, [a] different consciousness, and I think it’s getting stronger and stronger within the Palestinian communities.

Many Palestinians in the West Bank now are saying: You Palestinians inside Israel are going to be leading the project. I think this is too ambitious. I think what Palestinians in Israel want, and what they can do, is take part in re-defining the project. If they do that from their position inside Israel, that means that they will be contributing to uniting the Palestinian people – we are one people; uniting the Palestinian geography – we are one geography; and uniting the Palestinian national movement because the national movement until recently did not see the Palestinians in Israel as part of their constituency.

So by being part of defining the project, they are imposing this on the Palestinian thinking and Palestinian national movement and that by itself is revolutionary. I think it would be a revolutionary change in the Palestinian consciousness.

Opinions collected by Jillian Kestler D’Amours. Follow her on Twitter: @jkdamours