This week, the news that all the Palestinian factions were meeting might have been a hopeful sign, since Zogby Research Service (ZRS) polling shows that what Palestinians most want from their leaders are unity and a strategy that will move them toward realisation of their rights.
It was, therefore, somewhat disappointing to read reports of the speeches delivered at the gathering, since they appeared to be long on denunciation and short on strategy or vision.
By focusing their wrath on the recent UAE-Israel accord, the Palestinian leaders missed the mark.
The UAE’s move to normalise to stop annexation is not the cause of Palestinian woes; it is a symptom of the state of affairs that has for too long plagued the noble cause of justice for the long-oppressed Palestinian people.
While a few observations are in order, first I must relate a story I have never told before.
It was in the early 1990s and I was in Tunisia to meet Palestinian leaders. I had been asked by the White House to inform them of our Builders for Peace project – an effort launched by then Vice-President Al Gore to help grow the Palestinian private sector.
At one point in our conversation, a senior leader began speaking of the importance of communications and power in serving the Palestinian cause.
Mahmoud Darwish, a famous poet, intervened saying that vision was also needed.
The leader waved his hand dismissively saying “No, it’s not important.”
I’ve often thought about this exchange because that moment was like a metaphor for what had gone wrong with the Palestinian cause and its then-visionless leadership.
They had lost their spark and their way after repeated costly setbacks: Black September in Jordan, their use of horrific acts of terror against innocents, their expulsion from Beirut in 1982, and their foolish embrace of Saddam in 1990.
Some of these were massive blunders on their part, while others were not exclusively of their making. In any case, the spark was gone, no longer lighting up the way forward.
I have written before of how I first fell in love with Palestine in the early 1970s. I caught the spark in 1971 during my time in Lebanon’s and Jordan’s refugee camps, where I was deeply moved by the stories of the 1948 expulsion, witnessed the resilience of the people whom I met, and was captivated by their longing to return to their homes.
Today, it is with sadness that we must acknowledge that the Palestinian movement is without a clear vision or a strategy to move forward.
What ZRS’ polling tells us is that Palestinians have lost hope. They cling to their desire for independence but don’t see how their current leaders will get them there. This has had a spillover effect in the broader Arab World. Arabs still care deeply about Palestinians, but they too see no way forward and have lost respect for the Palestinian leadership.
Most Arabs continue to support the Arab Peace Initiative, but acknowledge that it has borne no fruit. Neither has the Arab boycott. If these efforts had moved the needle towards realisation of Palestinian rights, it might have been a different story. Alas, they did not. Majorities across the region tell ZRS they want Arab leaders to try another approach.
Palestinians now fear that the UAE move may open the door to other Arab states normalising relations with Israel.
I have heard some commentators lament that the move towards normalisation represents the “obliteration” of the Palestinian cause. That is nonsense.
As long as the majority of people between the river and the sea are Palestinian Arabs; as long as this majority is denied their rights to live as full human beings with equality and justice; and as long as Palestinians are dispersed throughout the world and denied their inalienable rights to their ancestral homes and inheritance – the Palestinian issue cannot and will not die.