Declaring Palestine: Revisiting Hope and Failure

When late Palestinian President Yasser Arafat read the Declaration of the Palestinian Independence just over 22 years ago, Palestinians everywhere were enthralled. They held on to his every word during the Palestinian National Council (PNC) session in Algeria on November 15, 1988. The council members incessantly applauded and chanted in the name of Palestine, freedom, the people and much more.

Back in Nuseirat, a refugee camp in Gaza, a large crowd of neighbors and friends watched the event on a small black and white television.

The Declaration of Independence read, in part: “On this day unlike all others…as we stand at the threshold of a new dawn, in all honor and modesty we humbly bow to the sacred spirits of our fallen ones, Palestinian and Arab, by the purity of whose sacrifice for the homeland our sky has been illuminated and our Land given life.”

Many tears were shed, as those watching the historic event recalled the innumerable “spirits of the fallen ones”. The Nuseirat refugee camp alone had buried scores of its finest men, women and children the previous year.

By then, the first Palestinian Uprising (December 1987) had swiftly changed a political equation that relegated both the Palestinian cause and Palestine Liberation Origination (PLO). Arab leaders had met in Amman in November 1987, where their discussions were focused almost exclusively on the Iran-Iraq war. The “central issue” of the Arabs didn’t even receive the usual lip service. The PLO leadership, exiled in Tunisia since the Israeli war on Lebanon in 1982, was being disowned, sidelined, and worse, discredited.

The Palestinian people watched in dismay – but not for long. Merely days after the disastrous Arab Summit, Palestinian streets erupted in fury. Tens of thousands took to the streets of the Gaza Strip, the West Bank, and even Arab towns throughout Israel, making their frustrations clear to everyone who contributed to their protracted misery and oppression.

While celebrating the people’s uprising, Yasser Arafat and the PLO leadership didn’t seem to have a concrete plan. They did, however, labor to seize the moment. PLO representatives were first consulted regionally and internationally, and then US and other Western powers attempted to court the PLO and to exact ‘compromises’. This ‘engagement’ was conditional, of course, as it continues to be till date.

The Palestinian Declaration of Independence was, then, a capitalization on all of this. Although it rekindled the ‘power of the people’ as a very relevant political factor in the Middle East equation, it also ushered the triumphant return of the PLO and Arafat.

“We call upon our great people to rally to the banner of Palestine, to cherish and defend it, so that it may forever be the symbol of our freedom and dignity in that homeland, which is a homeland for the free, now and always,” the declaration stated.

Abu Ashraf, of the Nuseirat refugee camp, was a poor man with six children. His barely treated diabetes had taken a toll on his body. Once a boxer who had competed at a ‘regional level’ (i.e. in other refugee camps in Gaza), his body was now contorted and withering. But when Arafat declared that the state of Palestine now existed – even if only on paper and largely symbolically – Abu Ashraf got up and danced. He waved his cane above his head and swayed around the room amidst the laughter of his children.

Around 100 countries now recognized “Palestine”. Ambassadors were deployed to new posts in many countries, excluding the US and European states. But this also seemed to matter little. Palestine had never sought legitimization from the very powers that had helped establish, sustain and defend Israel’s illegal occupation and violence.

The problem was that Arafat, his political party, Fatah and PLO leadership could only go so far. There was a subtle understanding among the ‘pragmatics’ in Fatah that without Western, and specifically American validation, a real, tangible Palestine could never follow the symbolic one. However, the US, the ultimate defender of Israel, had raised conditions, which the PLO readily accepted. The more conditions Arafat met, the more he was expected to meet. Among these were: acknowledging UN resolution 242, renouncing armed struggle, excluding PLO factions that the US considered too radical, and many more.

At first Arafat seemed to have a strategy: get some and demand more. But the concessions never stopped, and Arafat was constantly paraded following US demands. In return, he received very little, aside from, six years later, a Palestinian Authority that was merely responsible for managing small, disconnected, ‘autonomous’ areas in the West Bank and Gaza. The once glorious moment of independence was left at only that – a fleeting moment. Its political potential was prematurely and cleverly co-opted by US ‘engagement’, which yielded the Oslo agreement. Oslo, in turn, led to many disasters, which we are still witnessing today.

In late 2010 the fervor of recognitions returned, championed by Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas. This time around, however, there is little fanfare and no genuine hope for meaningful political initiatives. Abu Ashraf died in his mid-40’s, broken and penniless. His children and grandchildren still live in the same house, in the same refugee camp. A minor difference in their life is that the Israeli military occupation of past has been rebranded and replaced by a very tight siege. The soldiers are still nearby, just a few miles away in any possible direction. And these days there seem to be few reasons to dance.

What Palestinians do have today is a much gratitude to the Latin American countries that have recently joined the host of nations that recognize independent Palestine. Uruguay has promised to recognize Palestine in January 2011. Many Palestinians now understand that to capitalize on the growing international solidarity, the Palestinian leadership needs to free itself from the iron grip and political monopoly of the United States and embrace its partners of old, from the time before Oslo, the “peace process”, the Roadmap and all the other broken promises.

Ramzy Baroud is a journalist and the editor of The Palestine Chronicle. He is the author of five books. His latest is These Chains Will Be Broken: Palestinian Stories of Struggle and Defiance in Israeli Prisons (Clarity Press). Baroud is a Non-resident Senior Research Fellow at the Center for Islam and Global Affairs, Istanbul Zaim University (IZU). Read other articles by Ramzy, or visit Ramzy's website.

10 comments on this article so far ...

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  1. Ismail Zayid said on January 7th, 2011 at 2:01pm #

    The essence of the Palestinian 1987 Intifada is the determination of the Palestinian people to struggle to secure justice in their own homeland, with the simplest means they had, peaceful resistance. This resistance against a powerful foreign military occupation will stand, in defiance of the mighty power of the occupier supported by the US and its allies.

    As to Arafat, of the many errors he made, the Oslo Accord, as I stated publicly on Sept. 13, 1993, was a sell-out of the Plestine cause. How can it be acceptable to agree that the major issues of this conflict, namely, the Right of Return for the Palestinian refugees, Jerusalem, the illegal settlements, the borders, amongst others to be open for negotiation? That means Israel, the illegal occupier, has a say in the matter and, thus, being the power it is, will have, accordingly, the final say, and that is what has become the form. In that accord, the term withdrawal of the occupying forces was never mentioned. All there was, is re-depolyment…

    The current leadership, under Abbas, is falling in the same trap.
    To sum up, it has to be understood that Israel has no interest in reaching a genuine peace with the Palestinians. These so-called peace negotiations have gone on for decades to no avail. The answer must be the continuing determination of the Palestinian people to achieve a modicum of justice, with increasing pressure by the international community for compliance with international law.

  2. Rehmat said on January 8th, 2011 at 5:56pm #

    Noam Chomsky in his recent Op-Ed in the New York Times, titled ‘Breaking the Israel-Palestine Deadlock’, have come up with a novel way of helping the Zionist entity. He suggests that the current world-wide delegitimation of Israel momentum can be reversed by “those concerned with Palestinian rights should call for Israeli takeover of the entire West Bank, followed by an anti-apartheid struggle of the South African variety that would lead to full citizenship for the Arab population there”.

  3. hayate said on January 8th, 2011 at 6:25pm #

    What would Einstein say?

    ““Gordon Thomas, a British expert in the Mossad, confirmed in Britain’s Sunday Telegraph that Israel is responsible for this double murder destined to obstruct the Iranian nuclear program.”

    “Thomas states that all the Israeli assassination attempts in the last few years against personalities associated with the Iranian nuclear project have been committed by the Kidon (bayonet) unit. According to the Jewish newspaper Yediot Ahronot this unit is made up of 38 agents. Five of them are women. They are all between 20 and 30 years old and they speak several languages – including Persian – and they are able to come and go from Iran with ease. They are based in the Negev Desert.”

    In the days of the Diaspora, the left wing in the world united in solidarity with the people of Israel. Persecuted for their race and religion, many of them fought in the ranks of the revolutionary parties. The peoples condemned the concentration camps that the European and world bourgeoisie wanted to ignore.

    Today the leaders of the State of Israel practice genocide and are associating themselves with the most reactionary forces on the planet.”


  4. 3bancan said on January 8th, 2011 at 8:23pm #

    Rehmat said on January 8th, 2011 at 5:56pm #
    Imho rehmat misread the text. Let me quote it:
    //Given the scale of Israeli settlement of the West Bank, it has been argued for more a decade that the international consensus on a two-state settlement is dead, or mistaken (though evidently most of the world does not agree). Therefore those concerned with Palestinian rights should call for Israeli takeover of the entire West Bank, followed by an anti-apartheid struggle of the South African variety that would lead to full citizenship for the Arab population there.
    The argument assumes that Israel would agree to the takeover. It is far more likely that Israel will instead continue the programs leading to annexation of the parts of the West Bank that it is developing, roughly half the area, and take no responsibility for the rest, thus defending itself from the “demographic problem” – too many non-Jews in a Jewish state – and meanwhile severing besieged Gaza from the rest of Palestine.//
    Imho the meaning of the first paragraph is better expressed this way:
    “Given the scale of Israeli settlement of the West Bank, it has been argued for more a decade that the international consensus on a two-state settlement is dead, or mistaken (though evidently most of the world does not agree) AND THAT therefore those concerned with Palestinian rights should call for Israeli takeover of the entire West Bank, followed by an anti-apartheid struggle of the South African variety that would lead to full citizenship for the Arab population there”
    Also, his assertion “most of the world does not agree” [that the international consensus on a two-state settlement is dead] does not allow one to conclude that Chomsky is for a one-state solution. Rather the opposite.
    Imho he uses his – otherwise a little lame – comparison with South Africa only to stress his view that ONLY when the US ceases to support the Jewish military colony in Palestine “many prospects that seem remote might become suddenly possible”. Of course he is in the usual zionazi style exaggerating the military, economic and “cultural” (=Christian Zionism and Jewish Zionism) ties between the two. His sentence “There is also a powerful Israel lobby, though of course dwarfed by the business and military lobbies” shows the old “”antizionist zionist”” Chomsky will probably die an “”antizionist zionist””. The notion JUSTICE is totally unknown to him…

  5. Deadbeat said on January 8th, 2011 at 9:24pm #

    Thanks 3bancan for your analysis of the recent Chomsky diatribe. Chomsky will use every rhetorical trick in the book to shift the focus away from Jewish Zionism. From Chomksy it is implied that the biggest supporters of Zionism are John Hagee and Bill Gates.

  6. 3bancan said on January 9th, 2011 at 11:16am #

    Deadbeat said on January 8th, 2011 at 9:24pm #
    That was just a “correction” of Rehmat’s misreading. I don’t think Chomsky’s articles need an analysis as they are only an application of his zionazi views beautifully expressed in the interview []. (The same applies to his book “The Fateful Triangle”, which should be entitled “The fateful biangle” or even better “The invasion/colonization/genocide of Palestine by Jews”).

    “From Chomksy it is implied that the biggest supporters of Zionism are John Hagee and Bill Gates”
    Btw, look at these three paragraphs:
    //Critical cultural facts apply, too. Christian Zionism long precedes Jewish Zionism, and is not restricted to the one-third of the U.S. population that believes in the literal truth of the Bible. When British Gen. Edmund Allenby conquered Jerusalem in 1917, the national press declared him to be Richard the Lionhearted, finally rescuing the Holy Land from the infidels.

    Next, Jews must return to the homeland promised to them by the Lord. Articulating a common elite view, Harold Ickes, Franklin Roosevelt’s secretary of the interior, described Jewish colonization of Palestine as an achievement “without comparison in the history of the human race.”

    There is also an instinctive sympathy for a settler-colonial society that is seen to be retracing the history of the U.S. itself, bringing civilization to the lands that the undeserving natives had misused – doctrines deeply rooted in centuries of imperialism.//

    As the text stands one can see that Chomsky describes ONLY Christian Zionism, while Jewish Zionism is only MENTIONED in connection with Christian Zionism. The second paragraph is not a continuation of the description of Zionism, it describes ANOTHER “critical cultural fact”, ie “Jews must return to the homeland promised to them by the Lord” is to be understood as Chomsky’s OWN view/belief – of course he and his exegetists will argue that it is a kind of “reported speech” representing the view of the American population…

  7. Rehmat said on January 11th, 2011 at 9:07am #

    3bancan – The reason reason behind Rehmat’s misreading of Crypto-Jewish writers – is because Rehmat doesn’t work for the Israel Hasbara Committee.

  8. 3bancan said on January 11th, 2011 at 11:31am #

    Rehmat said on January 11th, 2011 at 9:07am #

    Wow, Rehmat seems to want to say that I “work for the Israel Hasbara Committee”…

  9. mary said on January 18th, 2011 at 5:59am #

    What game is being played here between Medvedev and Abbas? Any thoughts?

    Russian President Dmitry Medvedev is making a rare visit to the West Bank for talks with Palestinian leaders on how to revive collapsed peace process.

    This will be the first visit to the West Bank by a Russian president since 2005

    Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas is seeking Russian support for a tougher stance towards Jewish settlements at the UN Security Council.

    Mr Medvedev will meet Jordan’s King Abdullah in Amman on Wednesday.

    He had been due to go to Israel, but the plans were shelved after Israeli foreign ministry staff went on strike.

    Russia has suggested that it wants to play a more active diplomatic role in the Middle East, but correspondents say there has been little to show for its efforts so far.

    ‘Fundamental commitment’

    Mr Medvedev will travel through the occupied West Bank on Tuesday to the town of Jericho, where he will meet President Abbas.

    The BBC’s Jon Donnison in Jerusalem says that as well as trying to expand trade links, Mr Abbas will be keen to have his counterpart’s ear on the issue of the peace talks, which were suspended in September.

    “We are ready to demonstrate a responsible approach and share that responsibility with everyone”
    Sergei Prikhodko
    Foreign policy adviser to Russian president

    Palestinian diplomats say they are about to seek a UN resolution against continued settlement expansion in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, the issue which prompted the Palestinians to leave the negotiating table. As a permanent member of the UN Security Council, Russia has the power to veto resolutions.

    “The upcoming talks with the Palestinian leadership follow the logic of Russia’s fundamental commitment to reinvigorate international efforts to stabilise the situation and achieve peace in the Middle East,” the Russian government said in a statement ahead of the visit.

    Mr Medvedev’s foreign policy adviser, Sergei Prikhodko, said Russia was not so ambitious as to believe it could single-handedly resurrect the peace talks.

    “That would be a very high hurdle,” he told the AFP news agency. “We do not consider ourselves a messiah.”

    “We are ready to demonstrate a responsible approach and share that responsibility with everyone,” he added.

    The Quartet of Middle East peace mediators – the UN, US, European Union and Russia – will meet next month to discuss the peace process.


  10. mary said on January 18th, 2011 at 8:09am #

    Update on Ha’aretz published 16:20 18.01.11

    Medvedev: As we did in 1988, Russia still recognizes an independent Palestine

    Russian president makes announcement after meeting with PA President Mahmoud Abbas in West Bank; Israeli officials fear recognition will cause a domino effect of other states following Russia’s lead, including China.
    By Barak Ravid and Reuters

    Russia recognized an independent Palestinian state in 1988 and they would continue to do so today, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev said on Tuesday.

    “We made our decision then and we have not changed it today,” Medvedev said during a press conference after meeting with the Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in the West Bank city of Jericho.

    (Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, hold a press conference in the West Bank town of Jericho on Jan. 18, 2011. photo)

    This statement confirmed the fears of Israeli officials, who were concerned that the Russian president would affirm the Soviet Union’s 1988 recognition of a Palestinian state – a recognition that was based on the declaration of independence made by Yassir Arafat that year.

    Earlier in the day, Nabil Sha’ath, a Farah official, had hinted at Russia’s support for an independent Palestine during an interview with the Al-Hayat newspaper on Tuesday.

    The Russian president’s planned visit to Israel was canceled due to the Foreign Ministry strike.

    Medvedev’s statement is particularly significant, since Russia is a member of the Quartet of Middle East peace negotiators.

    One ministry official said that Russian recognition of a Palestinian state would be a severe blow to Israel that would cause a domino effect of other states following Russia’s lead, including China.

    A number of South American countries recently recognized a Palestinian state based on the 1967 borders.