The time is now to unify all fronts of the Palestinian struggle and to set an agenda for an interim unified programme of goals and demands, writes Nayef Hawatmeh*
Forty years of modern revolutionary movement, preceded by 60 years of uprisings, rivers of blood and mountains of dead -- this is the story of Palestine's suffering.
One hundred years of struggle against Zionist colonial enterprise; an enterprise that led to the creation of the state of Israel in 1948 and the ongoing expansion of that entity by a colonising populace via alliances and collusions with great powers old and new.
We lost 77 per cent of the land of historic Palestine. More than two-thirds of the Palestinian people were driven to neighbouring countries and abroad. In June 1967, the armies and leaderships of frontline Arab states received a debilitating blow. Today, we fight the repercussions of those drastic losses so many years ago.
The current "freedom and independence" movement did not begin in 2000. We reached the Al-Aqsa Intifada after decades of building up our revolutionary movement in resistance factions and the PLO (Palestine Liberation Organisation). It was during these decades that we succeeded in reconstituting the character of the Palestinian national entity, in unifying the people behind the goals of self- determination, the creation of an independent state with its capital in Jerusalem and the right of return for Palestinian refugees, and in bringing our unified programme to the forefront of the regional and international agenda. This was our answer to the defeat of 1967. It was our alternative to the disintegration of Arab unity in arms following the October 1973 War and the 180-degree volte-face towards partial and separate solutions and piecemeal steps.
Nonetheless, developments have forced stubborn realities on the course of the revolution and the nature of our resistance. Overcoming these starts in a boldly honest and comprehensive process of introspection. Today, a conflict is in progress over "the powers accorded to the Palestinian Authority (PA) under Basic Law" for resolving the worsening crisis between "the institutions of the presidency and the cabinet" and "the six blocs of parliament". The only possible solution to such a conflict is to arrive at a consensus over a single national agenda to which all factions and forces of the people commit themselves, and to create a broad-based national coalition government whose task will be to implement the political, social and security points on this agenda.
We must begin in the understanding that there exist certain "laws" that successful national liberation movements must follow if they are to lead their people to victory. The Palestinians, also, must abide by these laws. Foremost among them is the need to safeguard national unity over factional agendas. Too many contradictory factional interests can only lead to internal conflicts and ultimate failure. We must give careful attention to how the Zionist enterprise achieved that enormous colonial result of the creation of the state of Israel, why this state has succeeded in becoming a regional power and in forging ahead with its expansionist designs through the Judaisation of Jerusalem and the intensification of settlement construction in the West Bank and the Golan Heights. Most importantly, in the course of our study we must be courageous in self-criticism.
The pillars of Zionist success are four: unified strategy; unified interim aims and objectives; internal unity consolidated by means of democratic elections based on proportional representation; and the internationalisation of the Israeli enterprise by means of durable international alliances at the cost of the Arab cause which is addressed in bilateral and partial accords and agreements. On the other side, the Arabs, Palestinians and the Islamic world do not have a unified strategy, lack unified interim aims and objectives, and lack internal cohesion founded on democratic institutions whether at the state or regional level. Nor do we have a set of international alliances founded upon higher common interests capable of promoting our legitimate rights in accordance with international resolutions and executive mechanisms. As a result, we have been consigned to bilateral negotiations that reflect prevalent balances of power and to failures of these negotiations and agreements while all the demands and resolutions of Arab and Islamic regional conferences and popular movements swing back and forth in the wind.
Every national liberation movement, from Vietnam to Algeria to South Africa, has had to fight and then negotiate; the same has applied to every colonising power. The crucial question in every case was whose agenda prevailed and which international resolutions and balances of power were called into play. It follows, therefore, that the solution to our problem of unity does not reside in conflicts over powers accorded to the executive or legislature. Rather, it resides in building upon the Cairo Declaration through a new comprehensive national dialogue. The purpose of this dialogue is to bring into being a long lacking unified political programme, after which it will be possible to derive a unified negotiating position based on international resolutions and the Arab peace initiative.
Two steps are required to resolve the current crisis of "two heads at the helm". The first is to hold a West Bank and Gaza national dialogue conference, as called for by resistance factions and the speaker of the Legislative Council.
PA President Mahmoud Abbas should convene this conference as soon as possible. The second and perhaps more important step is to compose, by way of national dialogue convention, and in accordance with the resolution adopted unanimously in Cairo in March 2005, a unified national council for the PLO by means of fully proportional democratic elections and then to draft a unified interim programme for all the Palestinian people -- in Palestine and abroad -- and to elect a coalition executive committee (effectively a unified national government for all Palestinians) which in turn would elect its chairman.
The foregoing represents the application of the "laws" that should guide any national liberation movement. If we do not apply these laws we will continue to languish in the vicious circle of power struggles in the occupied territories, upon which only 36 per cent of the Palestinian people live while the other 64 per cent reside in the Diaspora with no effective say as to their fate. After all, what is the meaning of the "right of return" if we ignore the very people who sustained tens of thousands of deaths in the revolutionary struggle, who built the greater PLO coalition, who sustained the greater resistance movement since June 1967 and held out against all the wars of repression and extermination aimed at breaking the back of the resistance and the right to return?
For decades we -- by which I mean all Palestinians, all Arab and Islamic peoples, and all democratic and humanitarian minded peoples in the world -- have been seeking the means to defeat colonialism, to secure a democratic nation on every inch of occupied territory, and realise the right of refugees to return to their homeland in accordance with international law. As we continue to pursue these goals today we would do well to learn from the experiences of Lebanon and its national unity government, Iraq and its comprehensive national coalition, and South Africa and its struggle against apartheid. These experiences tell us that we must set to work to transform our slogans into collectively agreed upon strategies, plans of action and mechanisms of implementation. This must be the immediate task of all Palestinian forces in Palestine and abroad -- the task of creating the conditions for the ultimate victory of our cause.
The first condition, which cannot be stressed enough, is national unity. This has been the prerequisite for victory of every revolutionary and national liberation movement in the world. The Lebanese people would never have achieved what they have had it not been for national unity, both before and after the expulsion of the Israeli occupation from Southern Lebanon. Hizbullah, Amal and all other national forces in Lebanon merit the highest praise for their concerted efforts in the pursuit of a unified political strategy that combined resistance and negotiations and worked hand-in-hand with regional and international backing, ultimately producing UN Security Council Resolution 425 and the drawing of the so-called "blue line" between Lebanon and Israel.
Today, again, we must congratulate the Lebanese people for their National Dialogue convention, an embodiment of their indispensable unity that overrides notions of "government and opposition" and "majority and minority". In Lebanon, there is a majority bloc, known as the 14 March camp, and there is a majority government headed by Prime Minister Al-Siniora. The National Dialogue, nonetheless, which went into session several weeks ago, remains the forum for ensuring that all parties remain cemented behind a set of commonly held goals and principles.
The second condition is the solidarity of neighbouring countries with the Palestinian people in the common struggle to free all occupied territories (in Palestine, the Golan Heights and Lebanon). The third is the unified solidarity of the peoples of the Islamic world with the people and forces fighting on the frontlines. The forth is the active sympathy of international civil society, a condition that can be realised by drawing on the fact that many peoples and nations are engaged in struggle against American imperialist arrogance.
Only through the provision of the foregoing conditions for victory will it be possible to ensure that the spirits of the martyrs, orphaned children, widowed spouses and all ranks of the people see the expulsion of the occupation and gain the capital right to return to their homes, to determine their own fate and to live in freedom, independence and dignity.
Returning now to the occupied territories, we congratulate Hamas and ourselves for their parliamentary victory. We further declare our full support for the Hamas government against all forms of imperialist pressures and Zionist colonialist oppression, and we will fight, as we always have, all attempts to drive the Palestinians to their knees through starvation or other forms of collective punishment.
The Palestinians in the occupied territories are currently under siege. This onslaught was set into motion in March 2002, when Sharon reinvaded and reoccupied the territories that had been handed to the PA. It reached new heights with the blockade of Yasser Arafat's compound, which lasted until the death of this great freedom fighter; a leader who joined more than 70,000 people who have died for the sake of Palestine since 1967. Today, the siege has intensified with the aim of forcing the Palestinians to bow to new realities and give up more of their territory in the West Bank and Jordan Valley, all of which are parading beneath the Israeli government's sobriquet of "consolidation and unilateral disengagement".
The only way to avert this grim fate is to implement a strategy of national salvation, which begins with the reunification of the Palestinians within the occupied territories and the unification of all Palestinians, in the territories and abroad, within the framework of an all-embracing democratically structured PLO. This proportionately representative "government for all Palestinians" will be our safeguard against internal dissension and power struggles, such as the futile fight over the distribution of powers. Only by means of unification will we be able to wield both the weapon of politics and the politics of arms, put into effect the lessons of Lebanon and Iraq and attain our aspirations for national salvation, the right of return, the right to self- determination and the right to dignity in an independent Palestinian state with Jerusalem as its capital.
*The writer is secretary-general of the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine (DFLP).
Source: Al-Ahram Weekly (11 - 17 May 2006).