By: Dr. Mohsen Moh’d Saleh. 

A lot of people do not pay attention to the intellectual, cultural and civilizational contents that the terms we use carry, as well as to the political and religious standpoints they express… In many instances, certain terms become widespread and prevalent because the media or many political, cultural and artistic personalities have espoused them…The ordinary person deals innocently with them, either because he does not understand their background, or because they are easy to use in expressing the idea or the point he is trying to make; even if they carry within them inaccurate or distorted contents.

Regarding the Palestinian issue (and from a supporting stand to it), in the past years, some of the often repeated terms were inaccurate or “non innocent,” having the objective of restructuring the Palestinian, Arab and Islamic awareness, in a manner consistent with the political tracks of the peace process… while many people reuse them without realizing their implications.

A glaring example of this is that for many years Arab regimes and the media refused to use the term “Israel” when referring to the “entity” that was established in 1948 on a large part of the land of Palestine, using terms such as: “the enemy,” “the Zionist entity,” “the Israeli entity,” “the occupation”… or at least, the term “Israel” would be placed between quotation marks to indicate lack of recognition. But now the term “Israel” is used without embarrassment and without quotation marks.

Some may hold the view that there is “no dispute in terminology” without realizing that terminology is part of the educational process and the cultural, psychological and civilizational formation. Moreover, the notion of “no dispute in terminology” applies when the issue is related to a single or convergent cultural and cognitive framework. However, the term becomes part of the identity and the education, guidance and mobilization process when the issue is related to a quarrel with enemies.

Among the problematic terms that have been in circulation for years and have become widespread, is the term “the two parts of the homeland.” Its users intend by it the West Bank (WB) and the Gaza Strip (GS). If there is “innocence” in the use of this term, it can perhaps be attributed to a wish to stress the national unity between the Palestinian Authority areas or the “promised” Palestinian state through the peace process. But as to Palestine or the perception of the Palestinian people, to limit the term “homeland” to WB and GS, which represent only 23% of historic Palestine, is a misconception, as it simply removes the 1948 occupied Palestine from the “homeland” concept. This constitutes an implicit recognition of the “Zionist state,” and gives a negative and opposite meaning to the principle of the Palestinian right of return to the “homeland”; because, in its essence, the right of return is to the 1948 occupied land.

There is nowadays a frequently used third term, which is “Palestinian territories.” At first glance, it seems to be an ordinary term; however, it is used by many politicians and the media to signify WB and GS, or the territories run by the Palestinian Authority. This is clear when the news or some politicians report the visit of a certain personality to Israel, and then his heading to the Palestinian territories; as though Israel itself is not established on usurped Palestinian territories. This term gives false connotations, especially if used along with the term “Israel” (the 1948 occupied Palestine).

The fourth term is “the West Bank and Jerusalem.” To all appearances, it seems to carry a positive connotation by stressing Jerusalem. However, it must be pointed out that East Jerusalem is part of WB and that Israel had annexed it administratively in 1967, and officially in 1980; and thus it separated it from WB. The term “the West Bank and Jerusalem” serves this state of separation desired by the Israeli occupation. Therefore, whoever wishes to place positive emphasis on Jerusalem and give it prominence, let him say “the West Bank, including Jerusalem.”

There is a fifth term, the use of which has declined in recent years, but it still exists, it is “Israeli Arabs” or “Israeli Palestinians.” The problem here is associating the 1948 occupied Palestine inhabitants with the Zionist state that was established on their land; which was established recently against their will, while they are the indigenous inhabitants of this land. Initially, they should be referred to as the inhabitants of the 1948 occupied Palestine, or in brief, the 48 Palestinians. There are other possible terms such as “the 48 Arabs” which gives nationalistic significance without eliminating the Palestinian national identity. The same goes for the use of the term the “Palestinians beyond the Green Line” or in short the “Green Line Palestinians” to denote the Palestinians residing in the 1948 occupied territories, considering that the Green Line is the demarcation line set out in the Armistice Agreement with WB and GS.

As for the term the “Palestinian fundamentals,” it has become one of the terms that carry different connotations pursuant to the Palestinian parties that use them. The Palestinian fundamentals unanimously approved for many years by the Palestinians and their leaders are essentially based on the premise that all the land of historical Palestine belongs to the Palestinian people that have the right to rule it and sovereignty over it. Therefore, there will be no recognition of the Zionist entity or of it having any right to the land it occupies. Dealing with the right of return of refugees to their homes, villages and cities from which they were expelled, is considered a national fundamental right over which there will never be compromise or bargaining. The concept of “fundamentals” was shaken when the PLO agreed to recognize the partition of Palestine resolution no.181 in 1947, as well as Resolution 242, during the Palestinian National Council’s nineteenth session in Algiers in 1988. This concept also sustained a severe blow upon the signing of the 1993 Oslo Accords that included recognition of “Israel” and giving up the 1948 occupied Palestine. This was confirmed during the Palestinian National Council held in Gaza in 1996 that agreed to amend by canceling all the articles of the Palestinian National Charter that are contrary to the Oslo Accords… which are in general most of the Charter.

Nevertheless, the leadership of the PLO and that of the Palestinian Authority (i.e., the Fatah leadership) continue to talk about “clinging to fundamentals,” after having wasted the main fundamental, that which pertains to the land. Added to that is the risk of relinquishing the fundamental related to refugees, if a final peace settlement was concluded with the Israeli entity, especially in light of the Geneva Document signed in 2003 by Fatah leaders and others from the Palestinian Authority close to the Palestinian decision maker, and which includes relinquishing the right of return. Thus, it has become the right of the observer to ask, which fundamentals are you talking about? And to what national charter are you adhering?!

From a seventh viewpoint, there are certain terms that were used in the Palestinian schism and internal conflict between Fatah and Hamas. These are mostly linked to the issue of “Palestinian legitimacy” and who represents it. What comes under this is the following, during the period beginning with the Palestinian schism in the summer of 2007 until the formation of the national unity government early in June 2014, much of the media were talking about “the government of the Palestinian Authority” when it came to the government appointed by President Mahmud ‘Abbas (headed by Salam Fayyad then by Rami Hamdallah) with Ramallah as its headquarters. But when it came to the government that continued to carry its duties in GS headed by Isma‘il Haniyyah, it was dubbed “the Hamas government.” Consequently, the government that ran GS was accused of being a “coup” government, announcing that GS is “a hostage” of Hamas; and some even spoke of GS as a “rebel” region.

We are not here concerned with going into the legal and political polemics; for we simply wish to point out that dealing with terminology did not pursue a systematic dimension, it rather expressed political stances; wishing  to give legitimacy to one party and deny it to another. According to the Palestinian Basic Law (the constitution), the government is formed by the party that wins the elections, which is in this case the Hamas Movement. No government becomes “legitimate” until it gains approval from the Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC), an overwhelming majority of which are Hamas members as well. The Palestinian president has the right to name and appoint the prime minister, but he cannot give the government “legitimacy.” The Basic Law indicates that the deposed government becomes a caretaker government pending the formation of a new one; and it is on this ruling that the Haniyyah government in GS had relied.

When President ‘Abbas formed an emergency government headed by Salam Fayyad, he overlooked the issue of “caretaker government.” He also changed the emergency government into an ordinary one, without ever going to the PLC to confirm it and give it “legitimacy.” The Ramallah government continued to exercise its powers for seven straight years, without approval, accountability or control by the PLC, as ‘Abbas refused to call on it to convene; and that is because he knew beforehand that the PLC will topple his government during the first session it convenes; and that this council will give legitimacy to a Hamas led government or at least approved by Hamas. If there is anyone who objects to a caretaker government that lasted seven years, he should also object to an emergency government that lasts the same period, or to any government that overrides the legislature in the Palestinian Authority system. Thereupon, if we are to call the government in GS “the Hamas government,” we should call the government that ruled in Ramallah during the same period “the Fatah government” or “the Abbas government”…

The Fatah leadership has certainly benefited from its leadership of the PLO, its presidency of the PA, its ratification of the Oslo Accords, and its pursuit of the peace process to win the support of the Arab and international community to its side; and to have most of the media chant the terminology that fits the “legitimacy” that it adopts.

Notwithstanding the presidency’s insistence on its right to nominate the prime minister, and Hamas’ insistence that the government, its formation and its accountability are the responsibility of the PLC that Hamas leads, the term “legitimacy” was used in managing political differences.

A last remark, even though Palestinians in general, with all their factions, are in agreement on the PLO as an umbrella that brings them together and represents them, there is considerable disagreement about continuing or ending the validity of leading institutions and the members who occupy positions in the National Council, the Central Council and the Executive Committee. For these leaders and members were selected more than twenty years ago; and their presumed terms have expired long time ago. And in spite of the Cairo Agreement of March 2005, which provides for the restructuring and activation of the PLO, this has not yet been done; while there are factions (Hamas, Islamic Jihad…) that represent about half of the Palestinian people are not represented in the organization. Thus, we find ourselves facing a problematic situation, in which certain parties monopolize “legitimacy,” adopt the peace process, join the negotiations in the name of the Palestinian people, and are ready to make historical concessions… even before putting the internal Palestinian house in order to embody the true will of the Palestinian people.

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This article did not seek to list all the terms that have problematic connotations, rather it sought to shed light on a number of terms that deserve the attention of politicians, journalists and researchers, so that matters related to the Palestinian issue would be expressed more accurately and objectively.


The Arabic version of this article appeared on Al Jazeera.net on 27/2/2016.


Al-Zaytouna Centre for Studies and Consultations, 8/3/2016


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