Al Zaytouna Centre for Studies and Consultations held, on 28/6/2012, a one-day seminar entitled “The Crisis of the Palestinian National Project and its Prospects.” The seminar was held in Coral Suites Hotel in Beirut with the participation of a number of politicians, intellectuals, experts, academicians and those interested in the Palestinian issue.
The seminar, which comprised three sessions, addressed the dilemma of the Palestinian national project. The first session presented the vision of Fatah, Hamas and the Palestinian left whereas the second session presented a critical reading of the crisis in addition to the experience of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) and that of the Palestinian Authority (PA). The third session tackled the impact of the changes in the Arab world on the Palestinian reconciliation and national project and the latter’s susceptibility to the Israeli impact. It further addressed the influence of the external factor, especially the US, on the decision making process and the best ways to deal with such influence.
The Opening and the First Session
Prof. Dr. Mohsen Mohammad Saleh, the general-manager of al-Zaytouna Centre, opened the first session by welcoming the participants and giving an overview of the topics to be tackled in the discussion. He pointed to the stalemate in the peace process, the disruption of the Palestinian resistance, the failure of national reconciliation in addition to the Palestinian interaction which is not commensurate with the changes in the Arab world. He stressed the need for discussing the crisis of the Palestinian national project in order to determine the prospects for resolving the above mentioned issues.
Dr. Saleh wondered about the extent to which the ideological difference affects the course of Palestinian national work and how it is possible to mitigate its influence.
He stressed the need for rearranging the Palestinian priorities and creating an environment that includes Palestinians from all political spectrums, stressing the need for a serious critical reading of the experience related to the national project. He also called for restoring the Palestinian, Arab and Islamic dimension of the Palestinian issue.
The first session, which was moderated by the researcher and media person Nafeth Abu Hasna, discussed the vision of Fatah, Hamas and the Palestinian left. These views were simultaneously displayed by Ref‘at Shana‘ah, Fatah’s secretary in Lebanon, Usama Hamdan, head of the Hamas International Relations Department and Dr. Maher al-Taher, the member of the Political Bureau of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) and leader of its branch outside Palestine.
Shana‘ah said that since its inception, Fatah has always been concerned with liberating the land and leading all factions and he mentioned the importance of Yasir ‘Arafat’s role in the Palestinian struggle. Shana‘ah then talked about the outcome of the Oslo Accords and how the PLO and PA face the Israeli violations and internal division. He summed up presenting Fatah’s vision of the national project including the return to the Prisoners’ Document, finding a new strategic formula that combines popular resistance, negotiations and the rebuilding of the PLO, ending the Palestinian schism and the need for unity in order to face the challenges apart from narrow partisan interests.
For his part, Usama Hamdan asserted that Hamas’ perception of the Palestinian national project is different from that of Mahmud Abbas.
The reasons that led to the crisis of the national project were explained by Hamdan, and these included the absence of a unified frame of reference for the Palestinian people and the lack of political partnership. He added that the PA has pursued a tactical course that is prone to pressure and does not mind presenting concessions.
Concerning Hamas’ vision for resolving the crisis, Hamdan called for the agreement on one definition for the Palestinian national project, putting the Palestinian internal house in order, launching comprehensive resistance, assessing the negotiations experience, restoring the Arab, Islamic and international dimension of the Palestinian issue, developing decision-making mechanisms and freeing the Palestinian leadership from Israeli hegemony.
Dr. Maher al-Taher stressed that the Palestinian arena is witnessing a diverse and deep crisis noting that the Palestinian national project has made a dangerous strategic turn after the 1967 and 1973 wars. He opined that the Oslo Accords have participated to exacerbating the crisis of the national project and foiled Palestinian unity while paving the way for presenting more concessions. Al-Taher considered the involvement of the resistance movement in politics a strategic mistake.
The PFLP solution of the national project crisis, according to al-Taher, is to have a strategic position and a clear vision that puts an end to the schism. He added that there must be an agreement on resistance as a strategic choice and he called for reinstating the motto of ending the occupation and liberating Palestine.
The second session, which was moderated by Mr. Jawad al-Hamad, the general-manager of the Middle East Studies Centre in Amman, included a critical reading of the crisis of the Palestinian national project, the PLO and PA experiences. Working papers were presented by Dr. Hussein Abu al-Namel, the Palestinian researcher, Prof. Dr. Mohsen Mohammad Saleh, and Munir Shafiq, the general coordinator of the Nationalist Islamic Conference.
Dr. Hussein Abu al-Namel stressed that the Palestinian factions have never had a national project in the real sense of the word as there is a difference between the Palestinian political society and the Palestinian society at large. He added that there is also difference between those who see the Palestinian national project as the liberation of Palestine from the River to the Sea and those who believe this project is limited to the establishment of the state on a part of the Palestinian land.
Abu al-Namel also mentioned that the objectives of the Palestinian national project have changed. The crisis of the Palestinian national project is not only represented in its impotency to achieve its goals but it has to do with the fact that the concerned parties have failed to recognize their responsibility for the failure. He finally stressed that the most serious dimensions of the Palestinian national project is the security dimension due to the mistaken understanding of security as mere military action.
For his part, Munir Shafiq said that any experience is judged by its outcome. The PA, he said, has passed through three stages: the first from 1994 to 2000, the second from 2000 to 2005 and the third from 2005 to the present.
He mentioned that late President ‘Arafat has moved in the second stage to the side of resistance and Intifadah whereas the PA became useless in the third stage. Shafiq wrapped up demanding the dismantling of the PA, to announce Gaza as a liberated area that would fight the occupation, and to benefit from the Arab Spring.
Dr. Saleh saw that the PLO is a Palestinian national achievement as an all encompassing umbrella. He attested that the dilemma regarding the PLO can be summarized in the following: the lack of representation of all Palestinian factions, the absence of popular participation, the weak approach to intellectuals and independent figures, the methods of selection and appointment within the Organization, weak institutional work especially that of the legislative and executive institutions within the Organization, the decision-making process within the PLO, the decline of its role versus that of the PA in addition to the lack of frame of reference and the agreements it has signed which most Palestinian factions do not agree to.
Dr. Saleh called for a group of measures to reform the PLO and enhance national work which he summarized in the following: restoring the PLO’s role as an umbrella for all factions across the political spectrum, finding a mechanism for regulating the differences in vision among these factions, determining the external influence on the Palestinian decision-making and establishing a genuine Palestinian project for building confidence among the different parties, and agreeing on a Palestinian charter that defines the priorities of Palestinian national work.
The last session was moderated by the journalist Jihad al-Zein and discussed the impact of the changes in the Arab world on the Palestinian reconciliation and national project, the Israeli impact on the Palestinian decision-making and the probability of isolating it in addition to international influence, especially from the US, on the Palestinian decision-making process and the best way to approach it. During this session working papers were presented by Dr. Majdi Hammad, President of the Lebanese International University (LIU) and expert on international issues, Ahmad Khalifah, the researcher at the Institute for Palestine Studies and Dr. Ibrahim Sharqieh, a fellow in Foreign Policy at Brookings and deputy director of the Brookings Doha Centre.
According to Dr. Hammad, the Arab uprisings have put the region on the verge of major changes. He added that these uprisings, which seem to prioritize freedom, social justice and dignity over national issues, aim at building new national systems based on democracy. Hammad added that this democracy in its turn represents the best way to get over the state of deterioration created by the dictator regimes where subjugation to Israel was only one of its many manifestations. Further, overcoming this state of decline would create new Arab awareness with Palestine at the centre of its concerns. This has mainly appeared as the motto “the people want to oust the regime” was accompanied with “the people want to liberate Palestine” being chanted in different Arab squares. Accordingly, Hammad concluded, the Palestinian issue will be at the fore of expected external changes and here appears the importance of the revolution in Egypt in particular.
For his part, Ahmad Khalifah talked about the Israeli impact on the Palestinian decision-making and the possibility of isolating this impact.
He asserted that the Zionist movement considers that its project seeking to establish a Jewish state on the “Land of Israel” has not been accomplished yet. In light of the right wing control in Israel, it is being sought at faster pace and with more ferocity.
Khalifah added that the Zionist movement is keen about preventing the establishment of a Palestinian state since it contradicts with the movement’s project. This movement is also keen about the continued control on the West Bank until a new transfer of the Palestinians from the West Bank takes place.
In the context of Israeli influence on the Palestinian decision-making, Khalifah opined that Israel has succeeded in lowering the ceiling of the Palestinian demands (from the project of liberating the whole Palestine to accepting a state on the 1967 lines followed by more concessions). They also succeeded in changing the core of the Palestinian decision through the PLO’s National Covenant and changing the Palestinian strategy towards the Israeli occupation which is trying to force Hamas to recognize Israel through accepting the Quartet’s conditions. He pointed that one of the tools used by Israel to influence Palestinian decision making is its use of military force, its control of Palestinian economy by keeping it dependent on Israeli economy and on foreign aid.
For his part, Dr. Sharqieh tackled international influence, especially by the US, on the Palestinian decision and the likeliness to curb this impact. He said that such influence depends on a set of factors such as the US’s monopoly of the negotiations’ frame of reference, allowing the presence of local pawns (Mubarak’s regime as an example), marginalizing concerned international bodies (United Nations General Assembly-UNGA, International Court of Justice and the International Criminal Court) and using others to dedicate the American hegemony and monopoly (UN Security Council) and marketing a negotiations system which might be specially tailored for the Palestinian-Israeli negotiations (including the imbalance of power and biased negotiator..) and founding ethical system and international standards to classify peoples’ demands, where these criteria would be used to define which demands are legitimate and which are not.
On the international level, Sharqieh said that the American influence is based on founding PA institutions that are dependent on international financial aid. He added that the US has worked to create a local culture which is concordant with the international vision for peace settlement (focus on everyday life concerns and the emergence of “Fayyadism”) and transferring the Palestinian national project to one that presents services and promises economic prosperity. This ultimately meets with Netanyahu’s vision for the economic solution. Sharqieh also added that Hamas and the opposition have failed to overcome the American-international definition of terrorism and that they are isolated in the Palestinian arena.
As for foreign influence, Sharqieh presented a number of ideas to isolate the American factor. Most notably, he called for benefiting from a state of political détente with international powers, develop new strategies that deal with the American role which has shifted from hegemony to leadership, engaging Palestinian political institutions in decision-making, the need to change the theory of the “begging negotiator” and benefit from the Arab dimension, especially after the Arab revolutions. He also called for determining the Arab impact on American decision-making and pursuing an address with the West that balances between the language of the victim and the right and wrong on one hand, and the language of interests on another hand. Finally, Sharqieh urged Hamas to review its speech and activity on the international level.
At the end, Prof. Dr. Mohsen Mohammad Saleh thanked the participants lauding the ideas and recommendations presented in the discussion for ending the crisis of the Palestinian national project. Dr. Saleh hoped that the discussion would help reach a solution for the crisis and contribute to serving the Palestinian issue and those working for it.