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VIEWS AND VOICES
A "peace process" that crushes Palestinian lives
Where is the alternative?

October 13, 2006 | Page 8

Dr. HAIDAR EID teaches in the English Department at Al-Aqsa University in Gaza.

REALITY FOR the Palestinian is not multifaceted. Political reality for her/him is no longer about the art of the possible. Economic reality for him/her is poverty. In a word, reality must be written with no inverted commas.

Palestinian reality is, and must be, expressed through direct intervention, through a challenge to the Israeli occupation in its various forms--be it ugly, that is, military occupation, or beautified, as in Oslo.

The accumulation of frustration which followed the myth of the so-called "peace process," and the illusion that the Oslo Agreement would bring peace and prosperity, as well as the inability of politically castrated leaders to face reality and behave in a principled manner by retreating and declaring the total failure of their alternative, have all contributed to the eruption of the Al-Aqsa Intifada and the subsequent success of Hamas.

The masses have found out that "peace" does not mean prosperity for all, that their lexical and literal understanding of "peace" is different from the metaphorical understanding of the Israeli government's--that "peace" as a "signifier" has nothing to do with peace "the signified." The meaning is in the mind of the beholder who thinks that he has the power to force the beheld to adopt his--the beholder's--interpretation.

Therefore, according to Dubya and his secretary of state, Palestinians are to blame for the failure of all negotiations, the continuation of violence and for Hamas' rise to power. Hence, the Palestinians must be taught a lesson and face the wrath of their masters, Israel and the United Sates.

Palestinian protest demonstrations that erupted in 2000 were confronted with live ammunition, rubber bullets, tanks and helicopter gunships. The "CNNized" media, however, kept repeating the American-Israeli mantra by blaming the victim.

For Palestinians and Arabs, the Al-Aqsa Intifada became the ongoing evidence of the failure of the Palestinian Authority and the American-Israeli gamble with people's rights and--as the late Edward Said put it--the end of the peace process. The ordinary Palestinian citizen has learned that negotiating with the brutal occupier in the hope of creating a just peace has proven to be a failure.

So the question to be asked of Palestine and the Arab world is: Have all other alternatives to the Israeli occupation been exhausted? Put differently, is negotiating with the hegemonic occupier, on his terms and under the current imbalance of power the only option we are left with? Does conflict management mean either Israeli peace or war? For how long are the Palestinians, and the Israelis for that matter, expected to accept an illusion that no other people would accept or even call "peace?"

I ask these questions knowing very well that the current leadership of the PLO, the chairman in particular, begs to differ. Now that the Intifada has come to an end and Gaza has been transformed into a concentration camp; and now that Palestinians have managed to make the world see what Oslo really means; and now that some Oslo supporters--both leaders and intellectuals--no longer know what to do any more with the radical changes that have swept the political scene, a comprehensive alternative has to be offered.

This alternative program should deal with the political reality on the ground and, at the same time, function as a conscious political program for a third Intifada. The second Intifada was in dire need of this concrete program since neither the sleeping left nor the paralyzed right-wing leadership of the PLO had been able to provide leadership--immediate, strategic or programmatic. Hence the rise of Hamas.

My contention is that the success of the second Intifada in bringing down and exposing Ehud Barak's government, in attracting the attention of world public opinion to the true nature of the apartheid regime that is being constructed as a result of the Oslo Accords, and in mobilizing movements of solidarity throughout the Arab and Islamic worlds points to the urgent necessity of an alternative program based on a political vision.

Unfortunately, the Hamas government does not have one. This program must express the challenge that both aborted Intifadas posed to the occupation in its different forms, and at the same time relate to the questions posed by Palestinians dispossessed in 1948 concerning their national and political rights.

Within this context, the failure of all previous Israeli-Palestinian meetings is a very obvious indication of what this alternative must consist of--a set of points that relate to the political and national rights of 1967 Palestinians, the right of return of the Diaspora refugees and the civil rights of the 1948 Palestinians. It is precisely in these points that the failure of the Oslo Accords lies.

Minimal national rights cannot be reached without the dismantling of the Jewish settlements and the withdrawal of the Israeli army from the West Bank, both of which are inseparable from the right of Palestinian refugees to return and the right of 1948 Palestinians to express their national identity in a secular democratic society. These are not in contradiction with international law, but rather with the successive American governments' interpretation of that law.

Having had the United States as the only mediator, and ultimate sponsor, is undoubtedly the major pitfall of the Oslo Accords and the "road map." The combination of political vision and practical measures on various fronts--i.e., the West Bank and Gaza, 1948 Palestine, Arab World, and international solidarity--is the precondition for the materialization of such a program.

Within the same context, one of the most positive characteristics of the Al-Aqsa Intifada is the rise and fall of some dissident voices from within Fatah and their (relatively) progressive direction as expressed in their political discourse, represented in the fiery speeches of Marwan Barghouti and Hussam Khader in the early years of the Intifada. It is not a coincidence, then, that both leaders have been in incarcerated in Israeli jails.

For a short time, an alternative seemed to be emerging from not only the margins, but also the core of the Palestinian Authority--an alternative that had declared its separation from Oslo and its legitimizers.

Such an alternative should have been incorporated into the alternative program I have been arguing for. Voices such as those of Adel Samara, Ahmad Qatamesh, Salman Abu Sitta and the other signatories of the Petition of the Twenty, in addition those to Azmi Bishara and the Fatah dissidents--to mention but a few--could have come up with such an alternative program.

This, alas, did not happen. And we are left within what is represented as a Hamas-Fatah dichotomy with no viable alternative to their programs.

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