By Ramzy Baroud
"The Palestinian declaration of independence of 1988 in Algeria was structured in a way that would allow the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) Executive Committee to devise foreign policy, thus representing the Palestinian people in any future settlements with Israel. The signing of the Oslo Accords in September 1993 and onward demoted the function of the Executive Committee and eventually undermined the import of the PLO altogether, concentrated the power in the hands of a few at the helm of the Palestinian Authority (PA): the late President Yasser Arafat and a clique of business contractors and ex-revolutionaries turned wartime profiteers.
That combination destroyed the achievements of the first Palestinian uprising of 1987-1993 in ways that Israel could only dream of: It cemented a faintly existing class society, destroyed the impressive national unity achieved by the Palestine-based leadership of various parties, hijacked the people's struggle, reducing it to mere slogans, and damaged Palestinian credibility regionally and internationally. Israel, of course, enjoyed the spectacle, as Palestinians bickered endlessly and as the PA's security carried out daily onslaughts against those who opposed the autocratic methods of the government, desperately trying to demonstrate its worthiness to Israel and the United States.
The U.S., Europe and Canada responded with a most inhumane economic siege, and a promise to punish anyone daring enough to aid the Palestinian economy in any way. Succumbing to pressure, even Arab neighbors helped ensure the tightness of the siege. Some in Fatah seemed also determined to ensure the collapse of the government even if at the expense of ordinary Palestinians. The so-called liberated Gaza, once hoped to be the cornerstone of Palestinian independence, was deliberately turned into a hub of lawlessness and violence, where hired guns ruled the streets, threatening the safety of an already crushed people.
But Hamas, too, was learning the harsh reality of being in the position of leadership. Unlike Arafat, Hamas wanted to seek support from its Arab and Muslim milieu, the devastatingly unexplored strategic alliances undermined by the PA's reliance on the West. But even Hamas itself seemed unaware of the extent of weakness and political deficiency of the Arabs and Muslims, who could barely assert their own rights, much less that of the Palestinians. Hamas learned, the hard way, that the U.S.' rapport with Israel would hardly weaken even if an entire nation must go hungry and hospitals run out of badly needed medicine. That hard lesson in real politic is what the Palestinian government is now scrambling to learn, amid dismay and confusion.
This quandary was the cause of distraught for my friend, and should be for anyone who wishes to see a real and lasting peace. If any peace settlement fails to adhere to the democratic concept, according to which Palestinians wish to govern themselves, then Palestinians should ready themselves for another Oslo-style agreement, imposed from the top and rubber stamped by the PLO's Executive Committee, long-devoid of its democratic principles and dominated by the elitist few.
I, too, am worried. The Palestinian democratic experience should not be squandered again."