By Hasan Afif El-Hasan
Since the First World War, life of the Palestinians has been routinely impacted by wars, and unfortunately, they were always the losers including the wars that they could have been won. They allowed others to make crucial decisions for them, but most important, they allowed incompetent and factionalized political elites to lead them. In the fourth war on Gaza since 2006 that was precipitated by Israel to destroy Hamas, the Palestinians were able to fight back and neutralize the Israeli army until the ceasefire took place. That can be huge victory and a turning point in the Palestinian’s struggle to end occupation. But the Palestinians stand to lose this war if they do not learn from their previous mistakes, and allow Israel to accomplish with the help of Palestinian and Arab leaders what it failed to achieve in the war.
Britain and France, victors of World War I, redrew the map of the Arab lands and declared their commitment for supporting the establishment of a national home for the Jewish people in Palestine. They ignored the opinion of a million Arab Palestinians with centuries-old roots living on the land of their devotion. The Palestinians were big losers in World War I. Ironically, the Hashemites, who claimed to speak for all the Arabs, including the Palestinians, were close allies with the British during and after the war. The region was divided into small satellite states dependent on great powers for their defense, and the Arabs have not been in control of their destiny since then. The Palestinians had to struggle against Britain and the resourceful Zionists, and contend with their incompetent leadership since then.
During the British Mandate period, Palestinian major national parties were established and manipulated by the influential Jerusalem families of Al-Husseini and Nashashibi, with pan-Islamic or pan-Arab sentiments. The Husseinis formed the “Arab Higher Committee” (AHC), and in 1932, they founded the Palestine Arab Party. Not to be upstaged by their rivals, the Nashashibi family established the “National Defense Party.” The two competing parties dominated Palestine’s politics during the Mandate.
The first popular armed uprising against the British and the Jewish immigration was led by a mosque preacher, Izz al-Din al-Qassam. He called for a holy war against the British and the Zionists. Militarily, al-Qassam rebellion was brief and futile. Before he had time to act in any major military operation, he and many of his companions were killed, and the rest of his men were captured by a mixed team of British and Arab police in 1935. Al-Qassam’s death unleashed a general strike followed by the 1936-39 Palestinian armed revolt. In its early stages, the uprising was effective and the British lost control in many towns, but once the Husseinis stepped in and brought it under their control, the Nashashibi clan and their supporters declared their opposition to the revolt. The Palestinians became divided among themselves and a bloody civil war ensued where victims of Palestinians-on-Palestinians unwarranted violence included prominent members of civil societies, village leaders and educators. The strike and the 3-year revolt exposed the failure of the Palestinian traditional leadership to overcome their personal and tribal feuds and face the real challenge united. The uprising of the fragmented Palestinian society was destined to failure. When the revolt was crushed, there were significant human and economic losses among the Palestinians and no concessions from the British. The Palestinian economy was devastated, more than 5,000 killed in battles or executed, 14,000 wounded, 5,679 detained, and many were exiled. While the British disarmed the Arabs, they allowed the Jews to arm them-selves; the Jewish Haganah militia began manufacturing its own arms and developed a formidable quasi-military force that would fight and defeat the Arab armies in 1948 and establish the State of Israel over seventy-eight percent of Palestine.
Once the Mandate was terminated, the UN General Assembly passed a resolution to partition Palestine into two states, a Jewish and an Arab, and international regime for Jerusalem area. David Ben Gurion accepted the resolution on behalf of the Jews, but the Palestinian leaders rejected it, although they did not have a plan to defend their communities. The Palestinian leaders had wasted their energy fighting each other and they never established the institutions for a future state, whereas the Jewish community had been laying the foundations of their state including a military force. As early as 1922, while the Palestinian leaders were feuding with each other, the Jewish community had its own elected political assembly, community councils, religious and social organizations.
In the 1947-48 Arab-Israeli war, the Palestinians surrendered the crucial decisions for their defense to the member states of the Arab League. The conflict was perceived as an invasion of the newly-born Israeli State by the armies of five states. Israeli leaders and supporters portrayed Israel as a weak state, besieged and attacked by overwhelming Arab armies. This weakened the Palestinians’ case in world opinion. But because of personal animosity among the Arab States corrupt leaders, there was no plan or strategy for defending the Palestinian people. The 500,000 Jews in Palestine were able to provide more fighting men and women than all the ill-prepared Arab armies combined. The real problem with the Arab regimes was their conflicting interests and their distrust of each other’s intentions. Israel was able to defeat the Arab military contingents one at a time while the rest were watching. Israel captured and held more than 2,000 square miles over and above the areas allocated to it by the UN. Four of the Arab States (Egypt, Lebanon, Jordan, and Syria) involved in the war signed Armistice Agreements with Israel. Iraq withdrew its troops and handed over its sector to Jordan’s Arab Legion without signing an armistice agreement.
The Arab states lost the war militarily but the Palestinians had to deal with its lasting consequences. Thousands were massacred by the Jewish militias; more than 750,000 Palestinians were expelled from their homes and became refugees; the West Bank and East Jerusalem were unified with Jordan; and Gaza Strip was administered by Egypt. Nineteen years after the establishment of Israel, Arab States lost another war with Israel.
The 1967 war lasted only six days, but it has changed life, geography and politics in the region for ever. When the guns fell silent after the disgraceful defeat, all historical Palestine, Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula, Syria’s Golan Heights, and Lebanon’s Shebaa Farms, became under Israeli control, and the Pan-Arab project of President Nasser came to an end. The Palestinians were once more the big losers; they had to struggle against the brute force of occupation, the apartheid, the land confiscations, the settlements, the annexation, the restrictions on people and merchandise movement, and the siege.
Demonstrations, strikes, and throwing stones at Israeli military occupation symbols were common place in Gaza and the West Bank after the 1967 war. The groundwork for uprising was set when thousands of Palestinians had been protesting the deportation of “Islamic Jihad” activists, weeks before the outbreak of the 1987 “First Intifada.” Then a fatal traffic accident in Gaza, where an Israeli truck hit a car killing four Palestinians, triggered the first Palestinian popular uprising (Intifada) against the Israeli occupation. The weapon was mostly stones thrown by the youth at the Israeli occupation soldiers who responded with live bullets, arrests and beating. The “Intifada” focused the world’s attention on the plight of the Palestinian people under the ruthless Israeli occupation. Hundreds died and thousands were wounded and tens of thousands were jailed, but the important consequence of the uprising was the emergence of indigenous leadership in the occupied lands that would overshadow the PLO leadership living comfortably in Luxury villas at the beaches of Tunisia. The new leaders led the protest against the occupation and many were ex-prisoners in the Israeli security detention centers.
Recognizing the failure of the Arab regimes and the PLO establishment to make any attempt to liberate the newly occupied lands and intimidated by the Israeli brutal reprisals, local Palestinian leaders toyed with different ideas to change the status quo. After the 1991 Gulf war and the liberation of Kuwait, the US exploited the good relations with the Arab States by trying to negotiate the Arab disputes with Israel including the Palestinian issue. The US hoped the end result of the bi-lateral negotiations would end the isolation of Israel and the Palestinians’ uprising. The negotiations on the Palestinian issue were held in Washington D.C. between non-PLO Palestinian delegate from the West Bank and Gaza headed by Haider Abdel-Shafi and delegation from Israel headed by Eli Rubenstein. After realizing that the Palestinian “Intifada” cannot be suppressed by force, the Israeli government under Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin wanted to have peace with the Palestinians, but on its own terms that were not acceptable by Abdul-Shafi negotiators. With the talks in Washington reaching dead end, Israel decided to negotiate in Oslo with another Palestinian team from the ranks of the PLO who might be less intransigent in opposing Israel’s demands. According to Avi Shamir, the Israeli director of military intelligence suggested in 1992 that “Arafat’s dire situation, and possible imminent collapse made him the most convenient interlocutor for Israel.”
To get the best deal, the Israelis chose to negotiate with the PLO leaders, who were eager to return to what the Israelis called “disputed territory,” rather than with the inside Palestinians who insisted on commitment to unconditional end of occupation. The recognition given by Israel to Arafat and his team was the price to extract concessions on key issues. Once Oslo process began, the Washington talks faded away, and the PLO signed on the fatally flawed Oslo agreements. The agreements did not refer to Israel as an occupier nor asked for the end of occupation, removal of settlements or freezing settlement activities, the return of East Jerusalem, and the Palestinian refugees’ right of return. The Palestinian youth won the “First Intifada” but the Palestinian leaders surrendered in Oslo and the Palestinians lost their gains in the “Intifada”. Twenty years after the signing of Oslo, more negotiations and concessions by the architects of Oslo,Jewish settlers population has more than doubled and the prospects of having a Palestinian state has diminished even after major concessions to Israel on borders, settlements, Jerusalem, the right of return and “Israel’s security.”
The war on Gaza can be a turning point in the Palestinian struggle against occupation if there is no return to the status quo. Bringing Gaza Strip under the Palestinian Authority Mahmoud Abbas is a return to the status quo, albeit in a new form. It is too difficult or may be impossible to reconcile the declared policy of the de facto present leadership of the Palestinian Authority (PA), and the strategy needed to deal with the new phase of the Palestinian struggle. While the Palestinian people in Gaza, the West Bank and the Diaspora call for resisting the military occupation, the corner stone of Abbas policy is the collaboration with the same occupation forces. The security coordination is US-financed PA intelligence and security forces work closely with Israeli occupation forces and Shin Bet secret police to suppress any Palestinian resistance to occupation. Martin Indyk, the career Israel lobbyist put in charge of the “peace process” by US President Barack Obama said at an Israel lobby think tank in Washington recently: “The IDF [Israel Defense Forces] and the Shin Bet now highly appreciate Abbas’s ongoing work with them.”
Israel demands returning Gaza to Abbas rule to allow it accomplish with his help what it failed to achieve in the war. His leadership is part of the problem, not the solution. The resistance in Gaza is a consequence of the failure of his leadership to end the occupation, the colonization, the annexation, the killing, the detention, the refugeehood, the siege and starvation. A leadership that acts as the policeman for the colonialists cannot liberate a nation from occupation. Iincompetent and factionalized political elites will lead the Palestinians to more of the same, defeats. History repeats itself!
- Hasan Afif El-Hasan, Ph.D. is a political analyst. His latest book, Is The Two-State Solution Already Dead? (Algora Publishing, New York), now available on Amazon.com and Barnes & Noble. He contributed this article to PalestineChronicle.com.