A turning point in the struggle?

May 26, 2011

With the protests on the anniversary of the Nakba--or catastrophe, as Palestinians refer to the 1948 ethnic cleansing campaign that established Israel on their land--plus plans for solidarity action in June, the Arab Spring has clearly spread to Palestine. Omar Barghouti, a Palestinian activist and author of Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions: The Global Struggle for Palestinian Rights, talked with Eric Ruder about what the future holds.

WHAT DO you think is the significance of the Nakba protests?

THE PAST Nakba commemoration protests looked more like a Palestinian refugees' Intifada. Whether in the occupied Gaza Strip or West Bank, among Palestinian citizens of Israel or at the borders of historic Palestine, the majority of the heroic peaceful protesters were refugees yearning to return to their homes of origin as stipulated under international law.

This may well be a turning point in the Palestinian struggle for freedom, justice and self-determination as it reminds the world that the attempt at Oslo to reduce the Palestinian people to those living under occupation in the West Bank (including Jerusalem) and Gaza has completely failed.

From now on, it will be much more difficult for Palestinian or Arab politicians to ignore that the right of return for refugees is at the very core of the question of Palestine.

WHAT IMPACT has the Arab Spring had on the struggle for Palestinian rights?

THE MAIN lesson learned from the Arab peoples' revolutions so far is that when a critical mass of the oppressed transcend their long-entrenched fear and decide to fight for their rights, for justice and dignity, nothing can stop them. Palestinians had reached that conclusion well before most Arabs, in fact.

Protesters outside the Israeli embassy in Cairo on the day of international demonstrations commemorating the Nakba
Protesters outside the Israeli embassy in Cairo on the day of international demonstrations commemorating the Nakba (Nicole Salazar)

Many of the Arab revolutions' leaders admit that the Palestinian liberation struggle was their main inspiration. However, due to more than 17 years--since the 1993 Oslo Accords--of systematic American, European and Israeli corruption and cooptation of a whole class of Palestinian politicians and intellectuals, the Palestinian culture of resistance and heritage of struggle was distorted, undermined and almost lost for the new generation of youth.

The Arab Spring came as a rude awakening, shattering this sense of hopelessness and powerlessness that had been engrained in many for so long, giving young people hope that they can indeed make a difference and even change the world.

The refugees' Intifada is a direct result of the Arab Spring, in my opinion, in addition to other factors that have made Palestinian peaceful resistance come back to life--the BDS movement and the popular resistance against Israel's illegal wall and colonies.

Specifically, the Egyptian revolution's success in deposing the dictator--in overcoming hurdles and marching forward on the path of uprooting the whole tyrannical regime that turned Egypt into an obedient servant of Western imperialism--carries a lot of potential for positive impact on the Palestinian struggle for self-determination.

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Hear Omar Barghouti at Socialism 2011 in Chicago, speaking on "Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions: The global struggle for Palestinian rights." Check out the Socialism 2011 website for more details.

The promised opening of the Rafah border crossing between Gaza and Egypt will have an immediate effect of not only relieving Israel's hermetic and deadly siege of Gaza, but also announcing the dawn of a new era of Egyptian independence of Israeli and U.S. dictates.

This, more than anything else, will change the rules of the entire game, so to speak. By brokering a unity agreement among Palestinian political parties, Egypt has already served notice to Washington and Tel Aviv that the good old slave is shaking off his shackles, if not yet fully emancipated.

WHAT IS the meaning of the recently announced "unity" agreement between Fatah and Hamas?

THE AGREEMENT is an important step toward taking the Palestinian people out of the political abyss into which the unelected and unrepresentative Palestinian "leadership" has thrown us for years. It is not sufficient, though, as it is obscure on two accounts.

First, the agreement did not, as far as I can tell, spell out the basic and comprehensive rights of the entirety of the Palestinian people, focusing instead on "power sharing" (under occupation!).

Second, it did not promise any more enfranchisement of the Palestinian people in order to have a democratic say in shaping our future. In return for some concessions to Hamas in deciding the next Palestinian Authority (PA) government and appointing some ministers, Mahmoud Abbas was largely given a carte blanche to carry on with his visionless, futile and terribly harmful "diplomatic" endeavors, which perpetuate a patently faulty view that through subservience and undermining basic Palestinian rights, we can convince the U.S. to give us some form of a state we can call our own.

This cannot be good for the Palestinian people and our struggle for our rights. Crucially, the so-called security cooperation between the PA and Israel, the most damaging and perfidious aspect of the Oslo Accords, is posed to continue, as Hamas seems to have conceded its previous demand to end it as a condition for unity.

WHAT'S BEHIND the push for a September vote on UN recognition of Palestinian statehood?

THE PALESTINE Liberation Organization (PLO) is the official representative of the Palestinian people that purportedly handles foreign policy for the Palestinian people. I think the PLO still insists on going to the UN in September, despite Obama's recent public--some say, humiliating--rebuff.

However, no matter what transpires then, the world cannot but recognize that statehood over the 1967 territory, even if the occupation regime were to end tomorrow, would address only part of the inalienable rights of a minority of the Palestinian people, those in the occupied territory.

This is good but evidently insufficient, and cannot be considered by any stretch of the imagination an end to legitimate Palestinian claims for other basic rights. Without addressing the right of Palestinian citizens of Israel to full equality, which means effectively ending the Israeli system of apartheid, and the right of our refugees to return to their homes of origin, a just and therefore sustainable peace cannot possibly be realized.

Moreover, whether or not a Palestinian "state" is recognized in September, the obstinate fact remains that Israel, with more or less the same level of endless U.S. and European Union support, will continue its occupation, settler colonialism and apartheid against the Palestinian people, with the same criminal impunity and complicity.

The key to achieving our rights, then, is resistance. Without that, we cannot possibly hope to attain our freedom and self-determination. Boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS); popular struggle; mass mobilization of refugees and others; and diplomatic pressure campaigns to end Western complicity in Israel's violations of human rights are all needed more than ever to force Israel to abide by international law.

No colonial power has ever given up its privileges and system of oppression voluntarily--it must be coerced. Israel, most certainly, is no exception to this historical rule.

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