A Comment by Tony Sayegh
A lot has been said and written on the occasion of the 40th anniversary of the 1967 war. In this comment I would like to focus on the impact of that war on Palestinian nationalism and its relationship with the Arab regimes.
In 1948 the Palestinians relied mostly on the Arab regimes and their armies to forestall the Zionist takeover of Palestine and to protect the rights of the Palestinians who were emerging from under the 30-year British Mandate. The Palestinians should have known better than to trust their destiny to corrupt regimes that were mostly still directly or indirectly controlled by Imperial Britain. This was certainly the case with Egypt, Jordan and Iraq.
Following the defeat of the Arab armies and the Nakba of 1948, Palestinian refugees who were scattered in various Arab countries still kept hoping and waiting for the Arab regimes to enable them, one way or another, to return to their homes in Palestine. Of course, it was misplaced hope and trust, but the Palestinians in their scattered trauma had few options. The underlying hope was that the corrupt regimes would be swept aside sooner or later and the new nationalist regimes would have the ability to help the Palestinians restore their rights.
For a period, events seem to be moving in the right direction with the military coups in Egypt (1952) and Iraq (1958) bringing to an end corrupt monarchies controlled by the British. One exception was the corrupt Hashemite kingdom of Jordan, which not only survived but extended direct control over the Palestinians in the West Bank by annexing the West Bank to Jordan. The Gaza Strip, the only remaining part of Palestine not annexed, was administered by Egypt.
The rising star of president Nasser of Egypt and his pan Arab rhetoric, gave hope to the Palestinians that he would be able to develop the political, economic and military strength to help them restore their lost rights and return to their homes in Palestine. The brief unity between Egypt and Syria stirred hopes of eventual Arab unity which would make the Arabs a force to reckon with. The key point is that from 1948 to 1967 the Palestinians placed all their hope in the Arab regimes and waited. Little did they know that those regimes were not up to the challenge and were interested instead in controlling their Palestinians and in using the “Palestinian cause” to enhance their own regimes. Nasser even created the forerunner of the PLO in 1964 and put it under the control of a Palestinian quisling.
The war of 1967 changed all of that. The key Israeli/American objective in attacking Egypt was to crush Nasser and his military and to show the ineptness of his regime. The bigger targets were Arab nationalism and pan Arabism. The crushing defeat of the Arab regimes in Egypt, Syria and Jordan was a watershed for the Palestinians. They finally realized that the Arab regimes were useless scarecrows, unable to protect themselves, let alone help the Palestinians restore their rights.
Shortly after 1967 rapid growth of the Palestinian resistance took place. At various levels, political, economic and military, great ferment was taking place among Palestinians everywhere. They finally realized that they had to rely on themselves. A great sense of Palestinian nationalism was emerging. Even the Palestinians in the Diaspora were integrated in this new movement. There was a great sense of unity and togetherness.
Being leaderless for so long, the Palestinians latched on the first Palestinian leader who presented himself as a true Palestinian leader, independent of the Arab regimes. That, of course, was Yasir Arafat, who was far from being independent of the Arab regimes. In fact he was totally dependent on Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and the various Arab oil producers. His cleverness was to keep his ties with the same corrupt regimes while at the same time presenting himself to the Palestinians as a revolutionary. It worked thanks to the power of his money to buy and influence various Palestinian organizations.
The crowning achievement for Arafat was the 1974 Arab summit in Rabat, Morocco, in which all Arab leaders, including the king of Jordan, agreed that the PLO (under Arafat) was the sole legitimate representative of the Palestinians. Those were heady times for the Palestinians which witnessed Arafat addressing the United Nations.
The reality, which most Palestinians refused to believe or to deal with, was that Arafat managed (thanks to Saudi money) to become just another regime. The Palestinians, under his control, were not allowed to establish a true revolutionary movement that would find natural alliances with other emerging Arab revolutionary movements. Naturally, this led to the bitter defeats in Jordan (Black September, 1970) and the expulsion from Lebanon (1982).
The final capitulation of Arafat was his acceptance of the Oslo agreement in 1993, his forming of the so-called Palestinian Authority, and his move to the West Bank. The Oslo agreement was a pivotal turning point for the Palestinian movement, the beginning of the end of the PLO as a real liberation movement. By accepting Oslo, Arafat agreed to become a quisling of the occupation and he willingly established repressive “security” services whose real function was to repress resistance and act as a de-facto extension of the occupation.
Now the Palestinians have come around a full circle. There is little of substance left of the PLO and most Palestinians do not regard it as representing them anymore. There is no one organizing and speaking for the Palestinians in the Diaspora. The Palestinians in the refugee camps are left to be slaughtered by the Lebanese Army while the so-called PA supports that Army and does nothing to help them. The situation in the occupied areas is not any better, with struggle over a non-existent Authority and some Palestinian mercenaries fighting other Palestinians, with arming by the U.S., Israel and the same corrupt Arab regimes.
So, it is back to the future. With the Palestinians fragmented and leaderless it is no wonder that the Arab regimes are stepping forward to speak for the Palestinians and to control them. We had the Mecca agreement bought by Saudi petro-dollars to forge the so-called “unity government.” Next we witnessed the launch of the much more dangerous “Arab peace initiative,” which effectively removed the Palestinians from the decision making and instead allowed the Arab League as represented by the Arab “Quartet” (KSA, Jordan, Egypt and the UAE) to normalize relations with Israel at the expense of the Palestinians and their right of return. Is it any wonder that proposals are being floated that would see troops from the Arab League controlling Gaza and Jordanian forces working jointly with the IOF in suppressing any Palestinian resistance on the West Bank?
I should say that it is primarily the fault of the Palestinians for never learning the right lessons. We thought that the lesson was learned in 1967, but it clearly was not.