Palestinians hold their leadership accountable in UN bid, long to be heard
Grassroots International’s partner, Stop the Wall, released a statement today as Palestinian leaders prepare to present a statehood initiative at the UN General Assembly. Below, Stop the Wall reflects on past failed negotiations—that left out Palestinian civil society concerns and voices—and demands a transparent and participatory process leading up to the closed-door meetings in New York that could largely define their future. An urgent call for transparency and participation At not more than 15 days from the UN General Assembly session on Palestine, during which the Palestinian official leadership will present an initiative on the Palestinian state to the world community, many pros and cons are being hotly debated. Yet, even without entering these debates, one of the most serious concerns is the fundamentally flawed process underlying the UN bid. It appears to be a distressing déjà-vu of past mistakes.
At two weeks from the crucial date of September 21 still no one knows what the text and details of the proposed initiative at the UN are. As many Palestinian organizations, intellectuals, and activists have stated, we will not and cannot support an initiative, the content of which we do not know. The core of the issue is the fact that our leadership has moved this initiative forward without any open discussion about it and now wants the Palestinian people to blindly support it. This is indicative of a much deeper problem within the Palestinian body politic and begs an urgent call for transparency, accountability, and popular participation.
Palestinians all remember the moment in 1993 when the Palestinian leadership took everyone by surprise presenting them with the fully negotiated Oslo Accords. After decades of struggle, sacrifice, and suffering of a people in its entirety there was trust in the leadership. We believed them when they assured us that the Oslo Accords were a step towards the attainment of our rights. Nobody was really informed about the Paris Accords, the economic agreement that completed the Oslo Accords and further strangled Palestinian life.
In the following twenty years, the same people that negotiated Oslo continued negotiations in secretive meetings and without any publicly and collectively agreed upon terms of reference. As the Palestine Papers published by al-Jazeera ultimately revealed, the many rumours told about those endless negotiations behind closed doors were real: far too many times our negotiators have negotiated about our rights themselves rather than for ways to attain them.
Today, the “peace process” and the associated negotiations are almost unanimously considered a failure, an instrument at the hands of Israel to continue the colonization of our land, the theft of our resources, and the displacement of our people. On top of it, the Oslo process was a circus mirror depicting occupation and apartheid as peace and understanding. However, the same people responsible for the two decades of failed “peace” process ask us now once again to trust another initiative, the risks and content of which is still kept away from the public.
It almost seems as if the Palestinian official leadership does not want to acknowledge the massive gap that separates it from the people; as if it wanted us to forget that the elections for the PNA and Palestinian Legislative Council did not provide accountability and legitimacy because of Western interference, that the structures of the PLO have been lingering in neglect since the early nineties, and that their representativity has been eroded. All the while, the Palestinian leftist parties are seemingly caught in the same position of indecision as in 1993, unable to propose an alternative or even to offer a significant intervention on this issue. Thankfully, Palestinian society as such has learned two lessons from the past two decades: first, where the destiny of an entire people is concerned, the people must have their word and second, don’t believe in processes without aims and deadlines.
Unsurprisingly, one of the founding demands of the Palestinian youth movement that has emerged in the wake of the Arab Spring is the call for immediate and direct elections to the PLO National Council to allow peoples’ participation in the political processes. Yet another generation of Palestinians is growing to pick up the struggle from where we brought it to and to join the popular resistance. However, once again the Palestinian leadership expresses the same attitude of arrogance in front of its people. The PNA instead of supporting its people in the struggle continuously seeks to limit and control popular mobilization in the areas under its administrative control. Confrontations with the occupation are curtailed in an attempt to transform popular resistance into a manifestation of support for this or that initiative. As a result, true popular resistance today is only growing in areas C, where the PNA does not exercise any police presence.
While there is certainly a wide consensus within the Palestinian people that a shift in strategy away from negotiations is overdue, there is as well an urgent need to collectively, democratically, and openly discuss where to go next. Rethinking and re-strategizing of the Palestinian struggle is indeed necessary and cannot be left in the hands of a few. The Palestinian leadership must not lose the notion of service to its people and expect instead that the people serve the leadership.
The proposed move at the UN might potentially – depending on the still opaque content of the proposal – be a monumental shift away from the national liberation struggle towards a dispute between a factual and a virtual state, a move that could jeopardise venues for claims regarding Palestinian refugee rights and change structures of official representation. Others argue that instead the UN initiative does not touch on any of these issues and would only bring Palestinians more opportunities to hold Israel accountable in international forums. This begs the question why the PLO has so far not used the instruments already at hand. Why in seven years has there never been any attempt at activating the decision on the legal consequences of the Wall issued by the International Court of Justice on July 9, 2004? Does the PLO actively support Turkey in its intention to bring the siege on Gaza before the same international court? Why is the Goldstone report not used to hold Israel accountable for its war crimes?
In conclusion, the current UN initiative marks the peak of a crisis within the political structures of representation and urgently requires short term and long term responses. In the short term, we need immediate clarity on the exact content of the UN initiative and an open and inclusive forum of discussion where popular and expert concerns are taken seriously and integrated into the proposal; a forum that includes Palestinians and their political and social expressions from all over our homeland and from the diaspora. In the mid and long term, direct elections for the National Council of the PLO and a general reversal of the current attitude of our leadership towards greater respect, trust, and support for the struggle of the people are essential. Only in this way can we build new processes that make possible a true consensus on a post-Oslo Palestinian national strategy.
If in the coming two weeks our leadership shows readiness for a truly transparent, accountable, and participatory process then not only will the UN initiative profit from it, but this approach could open the way to a restructuring of the Palestinian body politic, close the gap between the leadership and the people, and lay the basis for an effective rethinking of the Palestinian national strategy.
Until then: we will not buy anything within a closed bag.