I am Palestinian and I have a dream

Palestine Update 430

I am Palestinian and I have a dream

Every time I read how Martin Luther King Jr. had a dream that came true, to a certain extent, I feel hopeful again that my dream of the return of the desperate Palestinian refugees, scattered in all corners of the world, will eventually come true, so that we can live together in peace as we used to before the occupation. During the pre-Zionist era, Muslims, Christians, Jews, non-believers and followers of other religions lived harmoniously in Palestine without having any sectarian or ethnic issues.

I dream to do like the Germans who pulled down the Berlin Wall, reuniting families which had been torn apart and rebuilding homes that were split in two.

I have a dream that I can live in my homeland after liberating it from the brutal occupation. A country ruled by an egalitarian system where values of justice, equality and freedom are paramount, where there are fair elections in which no candidate or voter is afraid of being attacked or abused because of his or her political position, where people are not identified according to social class.

I dream of a homeland where people belonging to one country are not – even implicitly – sorted into a first privileged class that enjoys all the benefits and a crushed second class that struggles to obtain the most basic rights.

I dream to harvest the olive trees in the land that my grandfather left us and have no strange settler coming to ruin my property, humiliate me and deliberately destroy my trees. He might even burn it down, setting a part of me ablaze.

I have the right to walk freely in the towns and villages of my occupied country without being stopped at “security checkpoints” to show my papers to a soldier who might or might not let me pass, depending on his mood, while having pleasure in seeing my exhaustion and suffocated breath as I surrender to the instructions of his weapon and the status quo.

I have a dream of walking comfortably while I visit the Rosh Hanikra Grottoes and the wall of Acre, before taking a swim in the beaches of Haifa; and then heading to Mount Carmel to fill my lungs with fresh air. In the evenings, I would rest in Nazareth and continue my journey through the centre and south of the country, tasting the oranges of Jaffa and embracing the corners of Al-Aqsa Mosque, the destination of Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him)’s nocturnal journey and ascension to the heavens (the Isra and Mi’raj), before passing by the Church of the Resurrection in Bethlehem, home of the Cradle of Jesus (peace be upon him).

I dream of visiting Gaza when the siege is lifted and eating some of its famously delicious strawberries and spicy food, although I cannot handle chilli dishes. I heard a lot about the peppery flavours of the city’s gastronomy that made me so curious to taste it.

Palestinians and their Leadership: Restoring the PLO (Excerpts)
by Marwa Fatafta on December 8, 2020

 In its early years, the PLO spearheaded the national liberation movement and succeeded in bringing Palestinian resistance factions under one umbrella following the defeat of 1967. It also created community structures and associations in refugee camps, Palestinian diaspora community organizations, and major development institutions. This approach kept the PLO going from the 1960s to the 1980s, with several notable successes along the way, including reaffirming the Palestinians as a globally recognized people, with the PLO as their sole legitimate representative. Yet liberation and self-determination have not been achieved, and there has not been accountability for that failure either under the leadership of the late Yasser Arafat or that of Mahmoud Abbas. Rather, even now, the discussion of the current leadership crisis remains hostage to personalities. The frequently asked question is: what happens after Mahmoud Abbas? This not only reflects the personalized nature of the Palestinian leadership, but also dismisses the Palestinian polity from the equation.

The original purpose of mobilizing Palestinian communities was the struggle for the liberation of Palestine. Indeed, Article 11 of the Palestinian National Charter (1968) stated that “the Palestinians will have three mottos: national unity, national mobilization, and liberation”. This mission gave the PLO a solid source of legitimacy and power. However, its mandate came under scrutiny once the Palestinian National Council (PNC) formally shifted the political strategy from the struggle for liberation of all of Palestine to a two-state solution at its 1988 meeting in Algiers.

The shift in PLO strategy has meant three things. First, by abandoning the struggle for liberation of all of Palestine and focusing on the goal of statehood, the PLO moved its political weight and focus from the Palestinian diaspora and refugee communities to the West Bank and Gaza. This began the disconnect between the Palestinian people and their representative, which was further deepened by the failure of the Oslo Accords, signed between Israel and the PLO in the 1990s, and the creation of the PA. Second, the change in the PLO’s mission did not translate into a change in its organizational and decision-making structure, resulting in further paralysis and inefficiency. Even though the PNC had allocated seats to Palestinian intellectuals, trade unions, women’s groups, students, and other organized bodies – and some seats were independent or were held by other factions – many were affiliated with Fatah, which had dominated the PLO since 1968.

Given that the leadership of the PLO was not elected, the selection of representatives for its various bodies became an exercise in power sharing rather than a reflection of the changing composition of the Palestinian polity. This explains, in part, the PLO’s domination by Fatah and the exclusion of the Islamic movements of Hamas and Islamic Jihad.  The agreement between 12 Palestinian factions in 2005, known as the Cairo Declaration, emphasized the need to reform the PLO based on consensus of all Palestinian factions. Third, the initial social contract between the PLO and the Palestinian people was to mobilize Palestinians for armed struggle and national liberation. But the statehood project marked an abandonment of this goal for one in which only some Palestinians were to be served as “citizens” by their government.

The PA provided the administrative, organizational, and political foundation .  In addition, the influx of foreign aid ensured the PA’s place as the governor of the Palestinian people in the West Bank and Gaza, and the de facto Palestinian representative in relations with Israel and the “peace process.” The relevance of the PLO to the national movement thus further diminished and the Palestinian communities in refugee camps and in the diaspora were increasingly marginalized. In short, despite the PLO’s mandate of representation, fortified by international recognition in 1974, there have never been any accountability mechanisms within the PLO that would enable Palestinians to be consulted on divisive political decisions made on their behalf.

A Path to Renewal?
At a time when there is a clear vacuum in leadership, we must ask what should be done to bring the PLO back to relevance. Firstly, and most importantly, the PLO must be completely separated from the PA and, secondly, accountability mechanisms must be instituted and play a major part in the functioning of the PLO.  Separating the PLO from the PA is essential for several reasons. For one, in the personalized non-democratic rule of the PLO chair and PA president, current and prior, the institutions of the PLO and the PA have become his extended arms, serving to consolidate his rule and to implement his decisions.

Although the statehood project has not succeeded, many Palestinians still see it as one of the possible ways to fulfill Palestinian self-determination. An increasing number of Palestinians believe that the national project must revert to that of a single democratic state in which full reparations are made and all are equal. Palestinians need to generate considerable power, and that strength cannot be generated without the PLO. However, to be effective, the PLO must be accountable to the Palestinian people. The concept of accountability stems from the idea that those who are entrusted with power and authority to serve a constituency must answer to them on how they are using their authority and resources, regardless of whether they are elected or appointed. It also means that constituents have the right to access and question their work and decisions, and to be able to express approval or dissent.

There are three critical elements for any accountability: transparency (making decisions, plans, and resources open for the public); answerability (representative leaders must provide justifications for their decisions to their people); and enforceability (there is a form of “punishment” when representatives fail, such as not being reelected or prosecuted by independent internal institutions). Another equally important dimension of accountability is the link between the people and the authority that represents them. The door must be open to all Palestinians to represent their people if elected or selected to do so freely and fairly.

Palestinian embassies and representative offices are often overlooked in this regard. The PLO’s international status is still solid and has been strengthened since the UN’s recognition of Palestine as a non-member observer state in 2012. The Palestinian political sphere has always been unique in its circumstances. Indeed, it is this uniqueness which requires imagination and adaptability, particularly in the face of a fierce military occupation and discriminatory regime that denies refugees their right of return and Palestinian citizens of Israel their right to equality.

The contemporary history of the Palestinian people holds abundant examples of success in mass political organization and mobilization, such as the Palestinian uprising against the British mandate in 1936-39, the early years of the PLO itself, and the First Intifada. These and other experiences can serve as a reminder and a guiding compass of the Palestinian people’s ability to shape their own future.