Sunday, May 30, 2010

This Was Written in 1993, but the Catastrophic Results Warned Against Are So Evident Today; That's Why Edward Said Was a Great Thinker.

Yasser Arafat has failed to consult sufficiently widely, and has struck what looks like a poor bargain for the Palestinians

The PLO's bargain

By Edward Said
Al-Ahram Weekly, 9 September 1993

"The "historical breakthrough" announced recently by the PLO and the Israeli government is basically a joint decision to signal a new phase of reconciliation between two enemies; but it also leaves Palestinians very much the subordinates, with Israel still in charge of East Jerusalem settlements, sovereignty, and the economy. Though I still believe in a two- state solution peacefully arrived at, the suddenly proposed peace plan raises many questions.

The plan is unclear in its details (no one seems fully to grasp all its aspects), but plain enough in its broad outlines. Israel and the PLO will recognize each other. Israel will allow "limited autonomy" and "early empowerment" for Palestinians in the Gaza Strip and Jericho, a small West Bank town 90 kilometers away. Yasser Arafat is reported to be allowed a visit but not residence; a few hundred members of the Palestine Liberation Army, at present in Jordan, will be permitted to handle internal security, i.e. police work.....

Clearly the PLO has transformed itself from a national liberation government into a kind of small-town government, with the same handful of people still in command. PLO offices abroad -- all of them the result of years of costly struggle whereby the Palestinian people earned the right to represent themselves --are being closed, sold off, deliberately left to neglect. For the over 50 per cent of the Palestinian people not resident in the Occupied Territories -- 350,000 stateless refugees in Lebanon, twice that number in Syria, many more elsewhere -- the plan may be the final dispossession. Their national rights as people made refugees in 1948, solemnly confirmed and re-confirmed for years by the UN, the PLO, the Arab governments, indeed most of the world, now seem to have been annulled.

All secret deals between a very strong and a very weak partner necessarily involve concessions hidden in embarrassment by the latter. Yes, there are still lots of details to be negotiated, as there are many imponderables to be made clear, and even some hopes either to be fulfilled or dashed. Still, the deal before us smacks of the PLO leadership's exhaustion and isolation, and of Israel's shrewdness. Many Palestinians are asking themselves why, after years of concessions, we should be conceding once again to Israel and the United States in return for promises and vague improvements in the occupation that won't all occur until "final status" talks three to five years hence, and perhaps not even then.....

With the PLO in decomposition and conditions in the territories abysmal, there never was a worse internal crisis for Palestinians than the one that began this past summer- that is, until Arafat fled into the Israeli plan, which in one stroke propels him onto centre stage again, and rids the Israelis of an unwanted insurrectionary problem that Arafat must now work at solving for them. I admire those few Palestinian officials who bravely aver that this may be the first step toward ending the occupation, but anyone who knows the characteristic methods of Yasser Arafat's leadership is better advised to start working for a radical improvement in present conditions.....

To be recognised at last by Israel and the United States may mean personal fulfillment for some, but it doesn't necessarily answer Palestinian needs or solve the leadership crisis. Our struggle is about freedom and democracy; it is secular and, for a long time- indeed up until the last couple of years -- it was fairly democratic. Arafat has cancelled the Intifada unilaterally, with possible results in further dislocations, disappointments and conflict that bode poorly for both Palestinians and Israelis. In recent years Arafat's PLO (which is our only national institution) refused to mobilise its various dispersed constituencies to attract its people's best talents. Now it plunges into a new phase, having seemed to mortgage its future without serious debate, without adequate preparation, without telling its people the full and bitter truth. Can it succeed, and still represent the Palestinian nation?"

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