Showing posts with label endorsement for president. Show all posts
Showing posts with label endorsement for president. Show all posts

Saturday, November 03, 2007



The Next President

The candidacy of comedian Steven Colbert for the Presidency of the United States, and more importantly the reaction to it, clarifies the political system in the United States as fairly irrelevant to the needs, opinions, and attitudes of its people.

Before discussing that, however, it is interesting noticing the reactions to it by those with a good degree of wealth and power and for whom the government works. Discussions have been quite passionate against him for his nerve and gall to mock our fine officials. He only filed in one state, one of the Carolinas, and intended to file as both a Democrat and a Republican. Why not? Well, the fee for the Democratic Party was, I seem to recall, $1,500 and for the Republicans it was about $26,000. His show only gave him $5,000 in expenses for such things, so he didn’t apply as a Republican. The Democrats met and decided to reject his status since he was a comedian (an intentional comedian as opposed to such unintentional comedians as Gulliani and Richardson). This could not be tolerated.

The campaign is not without precedent. In 1968, comedian Pat Paulson ran without filing and received about three million votes. The next time, he actually got on the ballot, so he was kicked off the air. Out of fear, I suppose. All of this simply indicates that that the majority of voters have little or no interest in the election, being unable to tell the difference between the parties.

I can tell the difference, usually. I can no longer affiliate myself with either of them, but originally I did vote for a peace candidate (LBJ). I am now over such folly.

The question now becomes, laughingly, why so few people do not vote. Well, because the candidates suck, that’s why. It is one of the job requirements. It is why Ralph Nader is still suing for the actions of the Democratic Party to keep him off the ballot in 2000.

Here is a news article from one of the few newspapers left in the “free world”. It describes the anti-Arab lobby and some of its recent activities. Norman Finklestein is involved.

*ZNet | Repression*

*Intellectual Terrorism*

*by Ghada Karmi; The Guardian; October 30, 2007*

The newest and least attractive import from America, following

on behind Coca-Cola, McDonald’s and Friends, is the pro-Israel

lobby. The latest target of this US-style campaign is the august

Oxford Union.

This week, two Israeli colleagues and I were due to appear at

the union to participate in an important debate on the one-state

solution in Israel-Palestine. Also invited was the American

Jewish scholar and outspoken critic of Israel, Norman

Finkelstein. At the last minute, however, the union withdrew its

invitation to him, apparently intimidated by threats from

various pro-Israel groups.

The Harvard Jewish lawyer and indefatigable defender of Israel,

Alan Dershowitz, attacked the topic of the debate as well as the

Oxford Union itself. In an article headlined “Oxford Union is

dead”, he accused it of having become “a propaganda platform for

extremist views”, and castigated its choice of what he termed

anti-Israel and anti-Semitic speakers.

Yet Dershowitz could have restored the balance as he saw it; he

was the first person invited by the Oxford Union to oppose the

motion but he declined due, as he put it, to “the terms of the

debate and my proposed teammates”.

Dershowitz’s article attacking the Oxford Union appeared in the

Jerusalem Post in Israel and Frontpage magazine in the US.

[Because of British defamation laws Cif has been advised not to

provide a link - Ed.] [See]

Dershowitz and Finkelstein were protagonists in a

much-publicised academic row in the US, though it is unclear

whether this has any relevance to the Oxford Union spat.

In solidarity with Finkelstein and to oppose this gross

interference in British democratic life, the three of us on the

“one state” side - myself, Avi Shlaim, of St Anthony’s College,

Oxford, and the Israeli historian Ilan Pappe - decided to

withdraw from the debate. This was not an easy decision, since

the topic was timely and necessary given the current impasse in

the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, where innovative

solutions are in short supply.

Dershowitz and the other pro-Israel activists may rejoice at

their success in derailing an important discussion. But it is of

little comfort to those of us who care about freedom of speech

in this country. Last May, Dershowitz interfered in British

academic life when the University and College Union voted

overwhelmingly to debate the merits of boycotting Israeli

institutions. He teamed up with a British Jewish lawyer, Anthony

Julius, and others, threatening to “devastate and bankrupt”

anyone acting against Israeli universities.

In another example of these bullying tactics, the Royal Society

of Medicine, one of Britain’s most venerable medical

institutions, came under an attack this month, unprecedented in

its 200 year history. It had invited Dr Derek Summerfield, a

psychiatrist (who has also documented Israel’s medical abuses

against Palestinians in the Occupied Territories), to its

conference on Religion, Spirituality and Mental Health. The RSM

was immediately bombarded with threats from pro-Israel doctors

demanding Dr Summerfield’s removal on the grounds that he was

and biased, and that the RSM’s charitable status would be

challenged if he remained. Intimidated, the RSM asked Dr

Summerfield to withdraw, although they later reinstated him.

The power of the Israel lobby in America is legendary. It

demonstrates its influence at many levels. Campus Watch is a

network that monitors alleged anti-Israel activity in US

academic institutions. The difficulties of promotion in the US

for scholars deemed anti-Israeli are notorious. The notable

Palestinian academic, Edward Said, was subjected to an

unrelenting campaign by pro-Israel groups at Columbia University

with threats on his life. His successor, Rashid Khalidi, is the

current object of the same campaign of vilification and attack.

Finkelstein himself has been denied tenure at his university and

everywhere else. The authors of a recent study of the Israel

lobby’s influence on US foreign policy have been called

anti-Semites and white supremacists. Former president Jimmy

Carter’s book, Palestine: peace not apartheid, has earned him

the label of “Jew-hater” and Nazi sympathiser. The British

publisher, Pluto Press, is likely to be dropped by its American

distributors, t! he University of Michigan Press, because

pro-Israel groups accuse it of including “anti-Semitic” (ie

pro-Palestinian/critical of Israel) books on its list.

Such activities are familiar in the US. People there are

hardened or resigned to having their freedom of expression

limited by the pro-Israel lobby, and the threats of Dershowitz

would cause no surprise to anyone. But Britain is different,

naively innocent in the face of US-style assaults on its

scholars and institutions. No wonder that those who have been

attacked give in so quickly, nervous of something they do not

understand. The UCU leadership, shocked and intimidated by the

ferocious reaction to the boycott motion from pro-Israel groups,

resorted to legal advice to extricate itself and announced in

September that a call to boycott Israeli institutions would be

“unlawful”. The Oxford Union jettisoned one of its participants

rather than stand up to the threats of its critics. The RSM

tried to distance the offending speaker from its conference to

protect itself from abuse.

All this is understandable, but it is exactly the wrong

response. Appeasing bullies like Dershowitz will not stop them.

It will rather encourage them to go further. The question is, do

we in this country want a McCarthyite witch hunt? If not, then

we must confront the bullies and expose them for the

intellectual terrorists they are, bent on destroying the values

of a free society. To do otherwise will invite the fate of all

repressed people, cowed and intimidated, hating their

tormentors, but too afraid to say so.

This is a scholarly article, with footnotes in it, but don’t let than deter you.

*ZNet | Israel/Palestine*

*Palestine Versus the Palestinians? The Iron Laws and Ironies of a

People Denied*

*by Beshara Doumani; Journal of Palestine Studies


October 30, 2007*

/An iron law of the conflict over Palestine has been the refusal

by the Zionist movement and its backers, first Great Britain and

then the United States, to make room for the existence of

Palestinians as a political community. This non-recognition is

rooted in historical forces that predate the existence of the

Zionist movement and the Palestinians as a people. Consequently,

there is a tension between identity and territory, with obvious

repercussions for the following questions: Who are the

Palestinians? What do they want? And who speaks for them? This

essay calls for a critical reappraisal of the relationship

between the concepts “Palestine” and “Palestinians,” as well as

of the state-centered project of successive phases of the

Palestinian national movement./

The emergence in 2007 of two Palestinian “authorities” in two

geographical areas—Hamas in Gaza and Fatah in the West Bank—has

given new urgency to several perennial questions: Who are the

Palestinians? In what sense do they constitute a political

community? What do they want? Who speaks for them? The nearly

century-long persistence of these questions highlights some of

the iron laws and ironies of modern Palestinian history that

merit consideration in discussions about the causes and

consequences of the current predicament and about how to come up

with creative strategies for achieving freedom, peace, and

justice. By “iron laws” I mean the formative historical forces

produced by the overwhelming asymmetry of power relations that

have imprisoned Palestinians in what Rashid Khalidi has termed

an iron cage.[1] By “ironies” I mean the paradoxes of history

that subvert nationalist narratives about the past. I argue that

iron laws and ironies point to the need for a critical

reappraisal of the relationship between “Palestine” and

“Palestinians” as concepts, and of the state-centered project of

successive phases of the Palestinian national movement.

Of Ironies and Iron Laws

The central dynamic or iron law of the conflict over Palestine,

since it began in the late nineteenth century, has been the

adamant refusal by the most powerful forces in this conflict—the

Zionist movement (later the Israeli government) and its key

supporters (first Great Britain, later the United States)—either

to recognize or to make room for the existence of Palestinians

as a political community. This nonrecognition has made it

possible for the twin engines of the conflict—territorial

appropriation and demographic displacement of Palestinians from

their ancestral lands—to continue operating largely unabated, as

they have for over a century. It also explains, incidentally,

Israel’s central public relations message, which is (as these

things usually are) the reverse projection of reality: namely,

that what needs to be recognized is Israel’s right to exist.

In this sense, the boycott of the Palestinian Authority by

Israel, the United States, and, to a lesser degree, the European

Union following Hamas’s electoral victory in January 2006 is not

a rupture but a continuation of a fundamental pattern in the

history of the conflict. This pattern has a long pedigree

stretching from the late nineteenth-century Zionist slogan of “a

land without people for a people without a land,” to the careful

political erasure of the indigenous inhabitants in the wording

of the 1922 League of Nations Mandate Charter for Palestine, to

the brazen denial of their existence as a political community

after 1948, as epitomized in Israeli prime minister Golda Meir’s

infamous 1969 statement, “The Palestinian people do not

exist.”[2] And the pattern has continued into the more recent

phase, with the iron-clad “no negotiations with the terrorist

Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO)” line of successive

Israeli governments (and, with fleeting exceptions, U.S.

administrations) from the 1967 war until Oslo in 1993; to the

“we will not negotiate with Arafat” mantra of the post-Oslo era;

and to the “Mahmud Abbas is too weak to talk with” trope that

circulated prior to the 2006 elections. Dov Weisglass, political

advisor to former Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon, summed up

this pattern as follows:

With the proper management, we succeeded in removing the issue

of the political process from the agenda. And we educated the

world to understand that there is no one to talk to. And we

received a no-one-to-talk-to certificate . . . The certificate

will be revoked only when this-and-this happens—when Palestine

becomes Finland.[3]

In other words, never—at least not until the fundamental

dynamics of land expropriation and demographic displacement have

run their course to the satisfaction of the Israeli ruling

elite, thus allowing Israel to finally declare its borders.

Paradoxically, the stubborn nonrecognition or erasure of

Palestinians as a political community is the product of

discursive and material forces that predate the existence of the

Palestinians as a people in the modern sense of the word: that

is to say, as a collectivity whose members assume a natural and

neat fit between identity and territory, the inevitable

expression of which is state sovereignty. This does not mean

that those who today call themselves Palestinians are not the

indigenous inhabitants of the territories that became Mandatory

Palestine in 1922. Rather, it means that instead of a natural

fit, there has been and continues to be an “out of phase”

tension between Palestine and the Palestinians, as if one could

exist only at the expense of the other. A feature of this

situation is a temporal lag whereby the Palestinians are

continuously one or two steps behind in their approach to events

at hand, and, consequently, systematically unable to frame the

rules of the conflict. Well before it would have been possible

for the Palestinians to attain them, the rules demanded a

nationalist consciousness in every mind and a land deed backed

by cadastral surveys in every hand as prerequisites for the

rights to claim the land, to speak, and to be recognized as a

political community. For the Palestinians, to accept these

prerequisites was to enter a race they could never win; to

refuse them was to be cast outside the official political

process (hence leaving “no one to speak to”).

There is no end to the ironies produced by this “out of phase”

tension. Four such ironies deserve special attention, for each

marks a watershed moment of both erasure and birth of either

identity or territory (but not of both simultaneously). The

first irony is that the establishment of a state called

Palestine represented a devastating defeat of the political

aspirations of those who would later become the Palestinian

people. Up until 1920, the creation of a separate political

entity in southern Syria was by far the least-favored option

among those who articulated specific political opinions

(admittedly a minority) during the last decades of Ottoman rule.[4]

The second irony is that the very creation of a Palestinian

state by the British through the League of Nations was

predicated upon the carefully crafted denial of the existence of

Palestinians as a political community. Thus, the long

negotiations between the British government and leaders of the

Zionist movement preceding the Balfour Declaration (1917) on the

status of “non-Jews” (over 90 percent of the population)

resulted in a formula whereby they were allowed only civil and

religious rights, while Jews were explicitly recognized as

having political rights. This formula was inserted verbatim into

the Mandate Charter, where the word “Arab” is never mentioned

and the word “Palestinian” appears only once (ironically, in

reference to facilitating “Palestinian citizenship” for Jews).

Rashid Khalidi argues persuasively that the nascent Palestinian

political organizations did not come to terms with the

implications of these developments—the formation of a

Palestinian state and their simultaneous erasure—until well into

the Mandate period. By then it was too late, and the

Palestinians became the only exception to the pattern of

decolonization of Arab lands after World War II. While it is not

clear what “too late” means in historical time if linearity is

not assumed, Britain’s active refusal to allow the Palestinians

to form the very institutions that the Mandate was charged with

developing, combined with the inability of the local leaders to

adapt a political culture honed by centuries of Ottoman imperial

rule in ways that could effectively counter British rule and the

Zionist project, underscore the tension between identity and

territory that has dogged Palestinians since the beginning of

the conflict. This tension is likely to continue as long as the

Palestinian national movement remains within the conceptual

terrain laid out by the Zionist movement and the imperial powers

that established the modern state system in the Middle East.

A third inversion rich with historical irony is that the very

destruction of Palestine as a state in 1948 marked the pivotal

moment in the formation of the Palestinians as a people. Of

course, the privileging of a Palestinian national identity over

other existing forms of identification had been gaining momentum

since the creation of a Palestinian state after World War I, and

there is no doubt that the Great Revolt of 1936–39 against

British rule made that process irreversible. Nevertheless, the

shared memories of the traumatic uprooting of their society and

the experiences of being dispossessed, displaced, and stateless

are what have come to define “Palestinian-ness.” They are also

what energized the second phase of the Palestinian national

movement, which eventually led the international concert of

nations, through the United Nations (minus Israel and the United

States), to recognize the Palestinians as a political community

and the PLO as its “sole legitimate representative.”

The fourth irony has not yet occurred, but very well may in the

near future: The Palestinians in the occupied territories are

being force-fed a state (or two) against their will after many

decades of demanding one. I say “against their will” because it

is difficult to imagine Palestinians willingly signing off on a

deal that gives up their right of return, all of East Jerusalem,

and half the West Bank in exchange for a state with no defined

borders, no territorial contiguity, no sovereignty, no economic

viability, no means of self-defense, and no control over

resources. In short, the formation of a Palestinian state as

repeatedly called for by U.S. President George W. Bush and

Israeli prime minister Ehud Olmert has become the vehicle for

preempting, rather than delivering, self-determination for the

Palestinian people.

Can the Palestinians Speak?

The tension between land and people that permeates these ironies

predates the modern era. In a general sense, this is partly due

to the fact that those who call themselves Palestinians have the

(mis)fortune of being indigenous to a rather small and

economically marginal landscape that is holy to the world’s

three major monotheistic religions and is a strategic land

bridge connecting the African and Asian continents.

Consequently, the inhabitants who tilled the fields, built the

terraces, and ran the neighborhood shops have a Janus-faced

relationship to the place they call home.

On the one hand, they have woven over the centuries a thick web

of specific and intimate relations to the land that informs the

entire range of their existence, from subsistence to self-worth.

Without it, they would be, according to a phrase given new

resonance by Edward Said, “out of place.” In rural areas, to

give but a small example, every noticeable geological

marker—whether a boulder, hillside, or spring—and every

significant manifestation of human labor on the land—whether a

garden, terrace, or olive grove—possessed a name that was passed

down the generations. These named markers are sites of memories

that anchor durable, discrete, and interlinked social spaces

(especially in the hill areas) where individuals and communities

are constituted; hence the strong regional identities that have

easily survived the nationalist turn and remain a strong

presence in Palestinian culture.[5]

On the other hand, this holy and strategic landscape is

vulnerable to the ideological abstractions and desires—hence,

appropriation in the name of God and civilization—of forces more

powerful than its inhabitants. Apart from the Crusades, the

penultimate moment of European appropriation of this landscape

(minus people) was the nineteenth-century transformation of a

collection of districts situated in two Ottoman provinces into a

European-dominated Holy Land.[6] Through a variety of scholarly

and religious enterprises that involved a great deal of walking,

surveying, digging, and building, the land was secured and

redeemed. (The passionate pursuit of the same activities by the

Zionist movement and the Israeli state is but a continuation of

this pattern.) In this manner, abstractions and desires were

transformed into a competing web of specific relations to the

land at the expense of the already-existing networks. For

example, biblical geographers, a new breed of academics,

diligently traced the footsteps of Jesus Christ, remapping the

terrain along the way, and ultimately shaped the borders of

Mandate Palestine. Like the archaeologists, pilgrims, and other

Europeans that populated the landscape in increasing numbers,

biblical geographers usually ignored the inhabitants altogether,

or else represented them either as unsightly and irritating

obstacles to modernity to be swept away or as pristine remnants

of a passing traditional society whose days were numbered. Thus,

the making of the Holy Land laid the discursive and material

foundations for the denial of the Palestinians’ right to exist

even before they became a people, and ensured the success of the

Zionist movement well before that movement was articulated.

What it means to belong to a Palestinian political community,

and how others perceive that belonging, became more complicated

after the disappearance of Palestine in 1948. Because the

massive territorial conquest and demographic displacement of

that catastrophe were but links in a chain of erasures, it is

not surprising that the Israeli government and the international

community succeeded, at least for a while, in transforming the

Palestinian struggle for independence and self-determination

into a de-politicized humanitarian “refugee problem.”[7] Thus,

and as a community denied, the Palestinians discovered that the

closer they came to finding their own voice, the more they were

perceived as a destabilizing force. This is why, for example,

Arab regime politics became characterized by a policy of

sacralization of Palestine in rhetoric and oppression of

Palestinians in practice, thus reinforcing the already-existing

tension between land and people.[8] The two iconic moments in

this regard were, first, the annexation of the West Bank (1950)

accompanied by the imposition of Jordanian citizenship on its

inhabitants (effectively criminalizing Palestinian nationalist

speech), and second, the founding of the PLO in 1964 by the Arab

League at the behest of Egypt’s Gamal ‘Abd al-Nasir for the

precise purpose of preempting a rising Palestinian national

movement from speaking for the Palestinians.

The takeover of the PLO by the Palestinian Resistance Movement

soon after the 1967 war and the historic “Gun and Olive Branch”

speech of Yasir Arafat at the UN in 1974—both of which

solidified the recognition of the PLO as the “sole legitimate

representative of the Palestinian people”—mark the moment when

the Palestinians came closest to speaking for themselves. I

hasten to add that as a national movement defined by exile, the

PLO never paid much attention to the Palestinians who remained

in what became Israel; neither did they develop an institutional

presence among them. Indeed, and in an ironic twist, these

Palestinians were shunned and ignored in the Arab world for

having stayed on their lands as citizens of an enemy state. As

for the Palestinians living under Israeli occupation after 1967,

the Fatah-dominated PLO leadership was interested in agents, not

partners. This being the case, it made concerted efforts to

prevent the rise of autonomous national political institutions

in the occupied territories, especially following the 1976

elections and the first intifada (1987–91). Thus, the PLO,

despite the strong popular support it enjoyed in the

territories, did not invest significant resources in political

mobilization and institution-building there until well after

Israel’s invasion of Lebanon in 1982.

Nevertheless, PLO leaders, especially Arafat, deserve credit for

reconstituting the Palestinian national movement and giving it a

voice. It is precisely this achievement, however, that was

abandoned with the signing of the Oslo Accord on the White House

lawn in September 1993. In yet another moment pregnant with

irony, the Declaration of Principles—which ostensibly recognized

both the PLO as an organization that represents the Palestinian

people and the principle of land for peace—directly led to the

virtual demise of the PLO and to the creation of new realities

on the ground that make a viable Palestinian state impossible.

It is true that by the time the Oslo Accord was signed, the PLO

was in a very weakened state. Arafat’s success in the 1970s in

pushing the Palestinian national movement toward accepting a

politically negotiated settlement based on a two-state solution

had prompted Israel to launch its 1982 invasion of Lebanon with

the specific aim of physically destroying the movement’s

infrastructure and easing the de-facto annexation of the

occupied territories. This goal was largely achieved a decade

later as the institutions of the PLO, abandoned in Lebanon and

hollowed out in Tunisian exile, were dealt a deadly blow as a

result of Arafat’s decision to support Saddam Hussein in 1990:

Arab and international financial and political support were cut

off, and the large, wealthy, and politically active Palestinian

community in Kuwait, a key pillar of the PLO, was forcibly

uprooted and dispersed. In any case, the desperate Oslo gamble

did not pay off. Almost fifteen years into the “peace process,”

it is clear that the Palestinians have failed, despite great

sacrifices, to give rise to a representative and effective

leadership capable of moving them toward statehood, to say

nothing of the right of return, equality, or prosperity.

Opportunity or Disaster?

Three recent watershed events—the removal of Israeli settlements

in Gaza (completed September 2005), the sweeping electoral

victory of Hamas (January 2006), and the failure of Israel’s

invasion of Lebanon (July–August 2006)— mark the beginning of a

new stage in the history of the Palestinians’ struggle for

national self-determination. When set against the background of

the U.S. military intervention in Iraq and Afghanistan, the

escalating U.S. campaign for the isolation and possible invasion

of Iran, and the recodification of political language along

sectarian and ethnic lines (especially the Sunni/Shi‘i binary),

these events pose an unprecedented challenge to the state system

in the Middle East that emerged after World War I, as well as to

some of the national identities consolidated over the course of

the twentieth century. Ironically, a Palestinian state might

come into being at a moment when this system seems to be on the

verge of imminent collapse.

The first watershed event is Israel’s unilateral and accelerated

imposition of its “end game,” or what it perceives as the final

status arrangements, including borders. The evacuation of the

Gaza settlements signals the beginning of the end of a

century-long process of demographic displacement and land

expropriation, the latest phase of which kicked into high gear

following the signing of the Oslo Accords. For the first time,

it is now fairly certain that some Palestinian lands will not

become part of Israel, and that roughly half the Palestinian

people will remain within the boundaries of Mandatory Palestine.

True, land is still being appropriated in the West Bank and East

Jerusalem, and tens of thousands of Palestinians have been

forced under the pressures of military occupation and settlement

building to leave their homes since the outbreak of the second

intifada in 2000.[9] True, Gaza is still under occupation, for

the redeployment merely turned it from a multi-room to a single

warehouse-size prison. And true, the unilateral withdrawal did

not bolster a two-state, land-for-peace trajectory. Rather, its

aim was to cement Israel’s annexation of East Jerusalem and

roughly half the West Bank, thereby preventing the establishment

of a viable Palestinian state.[10] Still, and partly as a result

of dogged resistance and demographic realities in Gaza (1.5

million Palestinians facing 7,000 settlers), one can say with

some confidence that the long-standing debate within the Zionist

movement between land maximalists and demographic maximalists is

almost settled. The political manifestation of this compromise

is the formation of the new Kadima Party, which as a result of

Israel’s March 2006 elections eclipsed the two major political

tendencies—Labor and Likud—that have dominated the politics of

the Yishuv (the pre-1948 Jewish community in Palestine) and

Israel since the early twentieth century. The demographic and

territorial manifestation of this compromise is the doubling of

the settler population in the West Bank over the past decade and

its consolidation into five major blocs. The logistical

manifestation is the construction of the multi-billion dollar

barrier, bypass, and movement-control system that facilitates

the integration of Jewish settlements in the occupied

territories into Israel, primarily by turning Palestinian

population centers into open-air prisons.[11]

The second watershed event is the sweeping victory of Hamas in

the Palestinian parliamentary elections held on 25 January 2006.

This victory marks both the official end of a half century in

which the Palestinian national movement was dominated by a

secular political culture, and the beginning of a new phase of

unknown duration in which an Islamist political culture will be

an integral, if not dominant, part of the movement. The election

was not in itself a major turning point. Rather, it was another

milestone in the ongoing slow-motion collapse since the 1990s of

the post-1948 phase of the Palestinian national movement. Other

milestones include the demise of the PLO as a viable institution

after Oslo; the suspicious death on 10 November 2004 of Arafat

(who can be considered an institution in human form); and the

implosion of his Fatah movement after four decades of dominating

the Palestinian national scene. Indeed, the internal corrosion

and lack of vitality of Fatah in its current configuration were

such that Hamas itself was surprised at the magnitude of its

electoral victory in January 2006, as well as by its rapid

military takeover of Gaza in mid-June 2007.[12]

On the regional level, Hamas’s victory is part of the larger

trend of political Islam’s ascendance through the iconic vehicle

of the secular liberal political order of the Enlightenment: the

ballot box. The incredible scenes of women supporters of Egypt’s

Muslim Brotherhood scaling walls to reach polling stations

sealed off by police in the November 2005 parliamentary

elections reveal a great deal about the determination of

Islamist parties, which have swept to victories in many

countries, most recently Turkey, to translate decades of

grassroots organizing into political power.

It is ironic that the most ruthless regime of political and

economic sanctions in recent history was imposed, in the wake of

the Hamas victory, on the occupied and not the occupier, and—of

all things—for the sin of following the very path of peaceful

and democratic change they had been urged to pursue. The

unwillingness to accept the results of free and open elections

dealt a fresh blow to the credibility of the international

community in the eyes of most Palestinians; it also killed any

hopes for a new political horizon raised by Hamas’s decision to

enter the political arena created by the Oslo Accord. The

sanctions buttressed an ever-tighter Israeli military siege

calculated to slowly fragment Palestinian society and to starve

the population into political capitulation. (Dov Weisglass

described this policy in the following way: “It’s like an

appointment with a dietician. The Palestinians will get a lot

thinner, but won’t die.”[13]) Consequently, the daily life of

Palestinians in the occupied territories, already on the verge

of a humanitarian disaster in Gaza, deteriorated at an alarming

pace.[14] The most frequently asked question in the five-star

hotel lobbies and conference rooms where international financial

and human rights organizations meet has become: When (not if)

will Palestinian society collapse? And what will be the

long-term consequences?[15]

The rise of political Islam in the Palestinian context has led

to mixed reactions. Those interested solely in anti-imperialist

credentials tend to see Hamas as the Palestinians’ last great

hope: an ideologically tight and disciplined organization that

has steadfastly opposed the Oslo Accord and refused to disavow

armed struggle in return for the kinds of privileges and special

treatment from Israel that the Fatah leadership enjoys. Hamas

also has a different mix of territoriality and identity than

Fatah. It stresses Arab and Muslim elements as much as, if not

more than, Palestinian ones, and it has not clearly committed

itself to a two-state solution along the lines of UN Resolution

242. To many, especially to the overwhelmingly refugee

population of the Gaza Strip, Hamas is seen as less likely to

bargain away the right of return or give up claims to Jerusalem.

It is important to remember, however, that historically, Fatah

fighters have carried out the vast majority of attacks on

Israeli military targets up to the second intifada, and roughly

50 percent of such attacks since then; Hamas, meanwhile, has

concentrated more on bombing civilian targets, carrying out

twice as many such attacks as Fatah. Hamas also has strong ties

to and receives aid from Arab regimes such as Saudi Arabia,

which in turn have strong ties to the United States. And

although this is no longer the case, there was for a while a

convergence of interests and a significant degree of

collaboration (during the 1970s and 1980s) between Israel and

the Muslim Brotherhood (later Hamas) in opposing the PLO.

Finally, while it is difficult to imagine what Hamas could have

done to escape the sanctions trap or to dissuade powerful

elements within Fatah from working closely with Israel and the

United States to sabotage their new government, there is no

doubt that Hamas made a strategic blunder by attempting to play

by two different sets of rules at the same time: as both the

government within the framework of the Oslo Accord, and as the

opposition to that very framework.[16]

In any case, there is more to Palestinian self-determination

than an anti-imperialist agenda. There is the question of what

kind of society Palestinians aspire to build, a question that

involves weighty economic, social, and cultural issues. Here

Hamas faces a dilemma. On the one hand, it has allowed many

Palestinians to transcend helplessness and deprivation by

combining social, moral, and political agendas in one political

language and by providing the infrastructure for realizing these

agendas at the neighborhood level. On the other hand, although

Hamas won partly because it is the most effective organizer of

grassroots civil society and self-help institutions in

Palestine, its worldview and tactics pose a major problem for

most international solidarity and civil society movements

(labor, feminist, human rights, and so on), which are grounded

in the principles of secular humanism and nonviolence.[17] Since

the Palestinians cannot possibly achieve freedom and

self-determination by themselves, it is imperative that they

come to grips with the following two questions. First, how can

they realize the progressive potential of international law and

human rights principles without subscribing uncritically to the

underlying epistemological foundations of these principles

(which, as we know from recent history, have also anchored

racism, imperial expansion, colonial exploitation, ethnic

cleansing, and genocide)? And second, how can the Palestinians

acknowledge and mine the progressive potential of the cultural

and religious traditions to which they are heirs without

ossifying them into defensive shields that reinforce internal


The third watershed event was Israel’s defeat by Hizballah in

the July 2006 war, albeit at a very high price for Lebanon as a

whole. If 1967 marks the peak of Israeli military power in the

region, 2006 marks its lowest ebb. The process of decline began

with the war of attrition with Egypt after 1967 and has

continued, despite apparent successes, through the 1973 war, the

1982 invasion of Lebanon, the forced withdrawal from south

Lebanon in 2000, and the reoccupation of Area A of the occupied

territories in April 2002. All these events point to a simple

truth: The use of violence to impose new realities on the ground

is yielding fewer and fewer dividends. In Iraq and Afghanistan,

as in Palestine and Lebanon, the cost to the United States and

Israel of sustaining a high level of coercion is becoming more

and more formidable. This can be seen not only in the increasing

resistance and radicalization in the Middle East and the Islamic

world as a whole, but also in the economic hemorrhage and, more

importantly, in the severe social and economic disparities that

are causing serious domestic discontent in these regions. The

terrorist attacks of 11 September 2001 made possible the

marriage between neo-liberalism and military adventure, but that

honeymoon is nearing an end. Sooner or later—probably later, and

probably after a series of horrors that will make the

hyper-violence of recent years look tame in comparison, for U.S.

and Israeli leaders still seem to be in denial about the

consequences of their failed policies of coercion—a process of

political negotiations will take root. The most important

long-term political commitment Palestinians can make at this

point is to figure out new and creative ways of preparing for

and framing these negotiations so as not to repeat the mistakes of


Active vs. Passive Strategies

Shortly before he died, Arafat made yet another of his “We are

not Red

Indians” remarks:

We have made the Palestinian case the biggest problem in the

world. Look at the Hague ruling on the wall. One hundred and

thirty countries supported us at the General Assembly. One

hundred and seven years after the [founding Zionist] Basel

Conference, 90 years after the Sykes-Picot Agreement, Israel has

failed to wipe us out. We are here, in Palestine, facing them.

We are not Red Indians.[18]

It is true. To this date, all settler societies that did not

manage to (mostly) wipe out or ethnically cleanse their native

populations have failed to maintain ethnic supremacy. It is also

true that Palestinians now constitute roughly half the

population within the borders of Mandate Palestine. But there is

no guarantee that this historical pattern will hold true for the

Palestinians, and in any case, waiting for historical laws to

work themselves out in the fullness of time is a passive

approach that glorifies tactics and disdains strategy. It

assumes that time is on the Palestinians’ side; that the higher

Palestinian birthrate will hasten a demographic solution; and

that meanwhile, steadfastness and refusal to accept defeat are

sufficient courses of action. This passive approach is a recipe

for failure, and it has failed.

It is easy to understand the temptations of this recipe, for its

primary ingredient is faith in truth and progress, and its

primary consequence is avoiding the thankless busy-bee life of

patient institution-building. Many of us would like to believe

that international law counts for something and will eventually

be adhered to. We would like to believe that achieving

self-determination in the age of decolonization is as inevitable

for Palestinians as it was for other peoples and that justice

will prevail. These beliefs, however, are not iron laws or even

necessarily realistic expectations. They are merely the products

of a positivist epistemological orientation and/or a moral

stance that guides action. We may have already seen the best

there is to see; there is no inevitability in the salvation of

the Palestinians. If the post-colonial era is any indication,

the success of anti-colonial struggles in achieving real

independence or economic development—or even in warding off

future colonial occupations—has been fleeting.

Passive strategy is also tempting for reasons having to do with

the convenient reluctance to abandon the primacy of the purely

political, and hence to embark upon painful reevaluations.

Foregrounding the political sidesteps the complex and sensitive

task of integrating social and cultural issues into the national

agenda on the pretext that there will be time enough to do so

later, a stance that has the effect of maintaining an internally

repressive and exploitative status quo.[19] It also makes it

possible to avoid the burden of having to understand global

cultural dynamics in general (and those of Israeli and U.S.

societies in particular) and of having to formulate fine-tuned

strategies for dealing with them. The reluctance to engage with

these crucial issues is partly due to the enormous pressures,

restrictions, and fast-paced changes that most Palestinians are

subjected to. Through mutual help and inventive strategies for

daily survival—primarily, though by no means exclusively, at the

family, neighborhood/village, and regional levels—they have

managed to endure and resist far longer than most observers

thought possible. But this all-consuming effort comes at a

price, insofar as it fosters a strong provincial, cynical, and

self-absorbed current in Palestinian political culture that

shuns the urgent need to look both inward and outward. Thus, the

Palestinians, though the weakest party in the conflict, have

tolerated successive leaderships that have been largely

co-opted, that have committed strategic blunders, and that have

acquiesced in rules specifically designed to preempt substantive

self-determination. Simply put, there can be no freedom or

justice without a broader definition of what constitutes the

“political” in a way that accords as much attention to

Palestinians as to Palestine, or without building coalitions

across international and psychological boundaries in ways that

inevitably involve a rethinking of what self-determination and

sovereignty mean.

Beyond the Identity/Territory/Sovereignty Matrix

I am aware that a postnationalist analysis of the modern history

of a people who have yet to achieve their national aspirations

is tortuous conceptual terrain, if not a political minefield.

Questioning the territorial dimension of peoplehood and the

meaning of sovereignty while the conflict is still “hot” could

be understood by some as challenging the very right of

Palestinians to Palestine, as well as undermining the political

language of self-determination that lies at the heart of the

Palestinian national struggle. These are not trivial concerns.

Israeli revisionist historians can afford to dismantle Zionist

nationalist mythology precisely because there is a

well-developed official Israeli historical narrative that can be

targeted, and because Israel is the superpower of the Middle

East, possessing a high level of self-confidence and

achievement. The Palestinians, by contrast, are by far the

weaker party in an ongoing conflict. Their material and cultural

patrimony, from places to place names, has been and continues to

be subject to a systematic process of physical erasure and

discursive silencing.

This, along with the absence of national institutions and a

succession of severe ruptures starting with the 1948 war, is why

Palestinian national narratives are fragmented and revolve for

the most part around two binaries: erasure/affirmation and

colonization/resistance. The first is obsessed with identity

politics and often assumes things that ought to be explained,

such as how the Palestinians became a people and what their

relationship is to place. The latter is absorbed by the

political confrontation with Zionism and often perches on the

moral high ground of victimhood while turning a blind eye to

internal contradictions.[20] For these reasons, neither

narrative genre can lay the foundation for a new mobilizing

political language informed by sensitivity to social and

cultural practices that produce and transform what it means to

be a Palestinian. These practices both reflect and transcend the

incredibly diverse contexts in which Palestinians live: whether

under foreign military occupation, as putative citizens of a

country built on the ashes of their history, or as refugees in a

hostile world.

The above provisional reflections on the changing nature of the

Palestinian political community emphasize a long-term

perspective, foreground the power of discursive formations, and

seek to promote a critical discussion of the

identity/territory/sovereignty matrix in the hope that this

exercise can point toward new political horizons.[21] The

motivation is as obvious as it is fraught with danger: We are at

the cusp of a watershed moment filled with potential

opportunities and very real dangers for the Palestinians. If the

Palestinians do not manage, sooner rather than later, to become

a united political community on the basis of a clear agenda and

effective strategies, their suffering as a dispossessed and

oppressed people will continue into the foreseeable future, with

severe consequences for themselves and for the region as a whole.

If history is any guide, there is room for agency and for an

active strategy even in the direst of circumstances. There are

already numerous calls for the revitalization and

reconfiguration of the PLO or for a new representative body— a

crucial first step. But there is little discussion of how the

new or reconfigured body will differ from the old PLO in terms

of institutional structure, goals, and program.[22] Three brief

comments, by way of conclusion, may be useful.

First, such a body should speak for the Palestinians, not just

for Palestine, and needs to be far more democratic and

demographically representative than its predecessor. It should

be grounded in all three major segments of the Palestinian

people today: the five million or so in the Diaspora, who

constitute one of the largest and oldest refugee populations in

modern times; the roughly 3.8 million in East Jerusalem, the

West Bank and the Gaza Strip, who have been living for over four

decades under a brutal military occupation; and the (usually

forgotten) 1.2 million Palestinian citizens of Israel, who

constitute almost 20 percent of that country’s population.

Mechanisms have to be developed to allow the voices of all these

Palestinians, especially those of the dispersed Palestinian

refugees, to be articulated and debated.[23] Reconstituted along

these lines, the new entity would be more accurately called the

Organization for the Liberation of Palestinians, not the

Palestine Liberation Organization.

Such a body should also be more politically inclusive. The

integration of Hamas and of the political tendencies of the

Palestinian citizens of Israel is the most pressing task. The

combination of a political and territorial split between Fatah

and Hamas, and the likelihood that it will only deepen in the

foreseeable future, have greatly raised the stock of a one-state

solution and made obvious the fact that change within Israel is

key. Palestinian citizens of Israel are well placed to

contribute to the formulation of effective strategies addressing

these two issues.[24] As to Hamas, it is by far the strongest

and most cohesive force in the occupied territories. It can be

ignored only at the expense of fragmenting the Palestinian body

politic, with negative long-term consequences.

Second, the new entity needs to implement creative long-term

strategies that rewrite the rules of the game and break iron

laws. It is important to pursue, link, and synergize three

parallel goals that do not have to conflict with one another: to

free Palestinians in the West Bank, Gaza, and East Jerusalem

from military occupation; to secure the right of Palestinian

refugee communities to return or to receive compensation; and to

promote equality and cultural autonomy for the Palestinian

citizens of Israel. While it is almost impossible to imagine how

Palestinians can make progress on these fronts without the

institutional infrastructure of a sovereign state on Palestinian

land, given the unlikelihood of such a state in the foreseeable

future, ways have to be found.

Third, Palestinians cannot afford to give up the moral high

ground by resorting to tactics and strategies that allow for

indiscriminate violence. Palestinians do have the right under

international law to use violence to end an illegal foreign

military occupation. They also have the legal and moral right to

defend themselves against those using violence to take their

lands or their lives. But this is a far cry from glorifying

armed struggle and deliberately targeting civilians for

political ends. What kind of society can be built on such

actions? How can grassroots mobilization take place if attention

and resources are focused on militias, especially when these

militias, unable to confront the Israeli military, have turned

on each other and on their own society? And what are the costs

of such actions in terms of how Palestinians are perceived by

world public opinion, especially in the two important arenas of

Israel and the United States?

All of the above calls for a rethinking of the

identity/territory/sovereignty matrix, beginning with the

obvious facts that Israelis now constitute a nation in Palestine

and that the Palestinian-Israeli conflict is not just a

Palestinian or Israeli concern. The conflict has been an

international concern from the League of Nations Mandate Charter

in 1922 and the UN Partition Resolution in 1947 all the way

through the International Court of Justice ruling on the

illegality of the Apartheid Wall in 2004. Whatever the strategy,

internationalization is bound to take place, at least as a

transitional phase. There is also no doubt that

internationalization requires compromises on the territorial

dimension of peoplehood and on sovereignty in the classical

sense for both Palestinians and Israelis. The questions are:

What kind of internationalization? And to whose benefit?

Besides, it may well be that by the time the Palestinians are

strong enough, statehood might not be the only or even best form

of self-determination in an increasingly global and

interdependent world, just as nationalism may not be the most

fruitful form of realizing justice, equality, and freedom for

communities bound by a single identity.

For a variety of reasons, the world has paid more attention to

this conflict than to any other in modern history. This

attention can turn the weaknesses of Palestinians into sources

of strength, and it can transform the “out of phase” tension

between identity and territory into a beacon for new political

horizons. The iron law and ironies of their history have made

the Palestinians a potent symbol of the dark side of modernity,

and the cause of Palestine has become a conspicuous element in

progressive movements across the globe. All those who have

experienced modernity not as progress and prosperity or as

self-determination and redemption, but as colonial occupation,

territorial partition, and demographic displacement, can

potentially see themselves in the Palestinian experience. But

harnessing the tremendous political energy of Palestinian

communities and their supporters worldwide requires the

establishment of a representative entity that can clearly

articulate what the Palestinians want and why, and can define

the parameters for strategic action. Coming up with different

strategies and the means to realize them involves, in turn, the

ability to imagine different futures and to move toward a

political culture that can see beyond the

identity/territory/sovereignty matrix.

/Beshara Doumani is professor of history at the University of

California at Berkeley. He wishes to acknowledge the detailed

comments by George Bisharat and Osamah Khalil that prompted many

changes to an earlier draft. He would also like to thank Nadia

Hijab, Rosemary Sayigh, Salim Tamari, and Issam Nassar for their

helpful comments. Due to space constraints, this is an abridged

version of a longer essay./


[1] Rashid Khalidi, The Iron Cage: The Story of the Palestinian

Struggle for Statehood (Boston: Beacon Press, 2006). In this and

earlier works, especially his book of essays on Palestinian

identity [Palestinian Identity: The Construction of Modern

National Consciousness (New York: Columbia University Press,

1997)], Khalidi has produced the dominant narrative framework on

the history of modern Palestinian nationalism and national


[2] Sunday Times (London), 15 June 1969, p. 12.

[3] Interview with Ari Shavit, Ha’Aretz, 8 October 2004.

Reprinted in Journal of Palestine Studies 36, no. 2 (Winter

2005), Doc. C.

[4] Khalidi, Palestinian Identity, chap. 7.

[5] For a discussion of social space and the specific material

and cultural networks that define them, see Beshara Doumani,

Rediscovering Palestine: Merchants and Peasants in Jabal Nablus,

1700–1900 (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1995).

[6] This argument is elaborated in Doumani, “Rediscovering

Ottoman Palestine: Writing Palestinians into History,” Journal

of Palestine Studies 21, no. 2 (Winter 1992), pp. 5–28.

[7] Gabi Piterberg addresses this issue in his essay “Can the

Subaltern Remember? A Pessimistic View of the Victims of

Zionism” in Ussama Makdisi and Paul A. Silverstein, eds., Memory

and Violence in the Middle East and North Africa (Bloomington:

Indiana University Press, 2006), pp. 177–200.

[8] Another way to express this tension is to say that the

Palestinian question as a whole became feminized. Arab regimes,

media, and, to a certain extent, popular culture bowed at the

feet of Palestine the She-Goddess but blamed the Palestinians

for “losing” Palestine and ruthlessly disciplined them for

“overstepping” or “misbehaving,” using the same language and

tone as a patriarch dealing with a female member of the family

or a troublemaking child. I thank Aftim Saba for a spirited

discussion of this issue with me (July 2007).

[9] Unofficial estimates put that number at 10 percent of the


[10] According to Dov Weisglass, Sharon’s chief of staff, the

plan “supplies the amount of formaldehyde that is necessary so

there will not be a political process with the Palestinians.” He

continues: “When you freeze [the peace] process, you prevent the

establishment of a Palestinian state, and you prevent a

discussion on the [Palestinian] refugees, the borders and

Jerusalem.” BBC News,

[11] From this perspective, the recurrent invasions of Gaza,

such as those of the summer of 2006 which led to the death of

hundreds of civilians and destruction of Gaza’s only electrical

station (not to mention bridges, agricultural areas, and other

infrastructure) is not a failure of this unilateral policy of

fixing borders, but a structural feature of a system of

long-term confinement that requires periodic reoccupation of the

prison space.

[12] It is possible that Fatah, as a movement encompassing a

variety of political ideologies and factions, could reemerge

invigorated. The often-stated desire of most of its members,

especially those in the middle ranks, for reform and a new

leadership led to the creation of two Fatah lists in the 2006


[13] Quoted by Gideon Levy, Ha’Aretz, 19 February 2006.

[14] The most damaging consequence of this isolation was the

drying up of funds needed to pay the salaries of civil service

employees, whose income is the backbone of the Palestinians’

struggle for daily survival.

[15] The excellent Web site of the Institute for Middle East

Understanding includes a detailed list of and links to major

reports issued by international and other organizations: See, for example,

Report 2007: Israel and the Occupied Territories, released on 4

June 2007 by Amnesty International; and the Report of the

Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights in the

Palestinian Territories Occupied Since 1967, John Dugard,

released on 22 February 2007.

[16] For example, instead of living up to its election slogan

(“change and reform”) by reconfiguring how the PA operates,

Hamas made an enormous number of political appointments to the

civil service in a short period of time, making it difficult for

most Palestinians to distinguish Hamas’s motivations on the

local level from those of Fatah operatives.

[17] For example, see the press release by MADRE, an

international women’s human rights organization: “Palestine in

the Age of Hamas: The Challenge of Progressive Solidarity,”

issued on 10 July 2007. The press

release contests neither the legitimacy of Hamas’s leadership of

the government after its electoral victory nor its

anti-imperialist credentials, and it calls for challenging

Israel and U.S. foreign policy. At the same time, MADRE has this

to say about Hamas: “Let’s be clear: Hamas’s long-term social

vision is repressive. Hamas is a movement driven by militarism

and nationalism. It aims to institutionalize reactionary ideas

about gender and sexuality, and it uses religion as a

smokescreen to pursue its agenda.” No doubt each one of these

claims can be contested and qualified, but each is worthy of

discussion and should not be ignored, for the mobilizing

language of contemporary politics shapes the lives of future


[18] Interview with Graham Usher, Al-Ahram Weekly Online, no.

715 (4–10 November 2004).

[19] This is an old debate within national liberation movements.

The most heated discussions in the 1970s and 1980s concerned the

status of women and the problem of prioritizing and linking the

political, social, and cultural issues around which they should

be mobilized.

[20] These binaries are discussed in some detail in Doumani,

“Rediscovering Ottoman Palestine.”

[21] I do not intend to instrumentalize these reflections for

the purpose of arguing for or against either the one-state or

two-state solution. Neither is even a remote possibility for the

foreseeable future. Taking an “agnostic stand” on the final

shape of a political settlement allows one to foreground

important issues otherwise buried by the internal logic of this

or that position. I thank George Bisharat for the phrase and the

insight. This was the basis for the special section we

co-edited: “Open Forum: Strategizing Palestine,” Journal of

Palestine Studies 35, no. 3 (Spring 2006), pp. 37–82.

[22] It is ironic that the leaders of Fatah (Arafat, then

Abbas), who had discarded the PLO in favor the PA as the body

that speaks for Palestinians (in effect leaving out half the

population from the political process), rediscovered the PLO

only after the January 2006 electoral victory put Hamas (not a

member of the PLO) in charge of the PA.

[23] The issues involved are addressed in detail by The Civitas

Project, directed by Karma Nabulsi. See Palestinians Register:

Laying Foundations and Setting Directions (Oxford: Nuffield

College, 2006).

[24] There is no reason, for example, why a Palestinian citizen

of Israel cannot become the leader of a reconfigured PLO.