By Bayan aI-Hut, 11 January 1994, in al-Hayat
(translated into English and published in Middle East International, 21. Jan. 1994)
Before the end of that protracted year for the Palestinians, 1993, the UN General Assembly adopted for the first time in its history a unanimous resolution endorsing the PLO as the leadership body of the Palesinian people.
The unanimity meant that the resolution was supported by Israel as well as its superpower sponsor the United States, which for 30 years denied recognition to a Palestinian movement that was never out of the headlines. The question why the recognition came now, and whether the PLO is the same organisation today as it was when its activities used to shake the entire world community, whether at the height of the INTIFADA or even amid military defeat at Israel’s hands in 1982. Is the PLO still a "liberation" organisation at all ?
Clearly, American recognition of the PLO was only extended after it undertook a wholesale transformation … that stripped its slogans, charter and policies of any notion of "liberation", retaining the word only as the middle part of its title as a deception …
The point is that there has been no change at all in the US policy of total support which so often caused it to side with Israel – often entirely alone or along with a mere handful of other states – against the vast majority of nations when voting on UN resolutions on the Palestinian question. Even at the aforementioned latest session of the General Assembly, a resolution was passed declaring Israel’s settlements in the occupied terrotories to be obstacles to peace and condemning its expropriation of Palestinian land and water and its deportation policies. It was supported by 143 nations. Twelve countries abstained, and only three opposed the resolution: The United States, Israel and the Marshall Islands!
So American policy has not altered in the least. It is the PLO that has changed. The ‘coup’ that brought this about must go down as one of the strangest in history. It was not a <putch> by an army or political party, but one carried out by the PLO’s own leadership against the very charter that brought the organisation into being, and against the struggle which is led for many long years. It is hard in such circumstances to replace one charter or constitution with another, hence the legal dilemma facing the PLO.
Not that anyone has – yet – withdrawn recognition from the PLO. On the international stage, what happened was the precise opposite. The list of countries recognizing the PLO was augmented by two – the US and Israel – who before 13 September 1993 stood in the opposite camp.
But matters cannot be assessed so superficially …. What has taken place is far worse than it appears on the surface. The Gaza-Jericho accord is a product of the lopsided equation imposed by the imbalance of power between the Arabs, specifically the Palestinians, and Israel. The strength of American support for it and Israeli satisfaction with it is matched only by the peace at which the PLO we have known for the past 30 years is disappearing. Even its name, which has yet to be amended, has become meaningless as it switches from an organisation promising liberation to, at best, an agency for limited autonomy …
The ‘disappearance’ can be felt by Palestinian refugees on a day-to- day basis wherever they may be. Those who have struggled and lived for decades in the hope of eventual return have been stunned to witness the PLO slashing its own wrists and abruptly curtailing its legal and moral commitments, even to the families of martyrs, and dismayed by the deathly paralysis that has gripped its social and medical institutions. As for the closure of PLO embassies and offices in capitals throughout the world, nobody believes that this is response to a financial crisis. How could it be when the PLO is being inundated with money, albeit money that has been earmarked for the "inside" alone? One cannot find words to adequately describe the shock felt by diaspora Palestinians, which overshadows even their long-standing sense of exile, at this feeling of being consigned to oblivion. The PLO’s institutions, embassies and authority are no more, and the refugees have been dropped from its new list of concerns.
As for Palestinians, still living in their own country, they too have been sensing the feebleness of the PLO’s authority caused by its many blunders. They wonder how the world can applaud leadership that cannot even protect their children from the guns of Israeli settlers and soldiers. Those of the "inside" who backed the Gaza-Jericho accord did so because they supported the freedom they were promised from occupation. But the occupation persists. They also wanted democratic Palestinian government. But there is no sign that they can expect anything more in this respect than repeat of the experience of the past: Not just the absence of real democracy within PLO institutions, but the steady abolition of those insti tutions themselves.
Finally, they hoped the accord would allow the refugees and displaced relatives to come home to their country. They dreamt of reuniting their people, only to discover that even the reunification of the families was subject to Israeli veto. And they have found out that instead of being allowed to exercice their rights as part of a people, they stand to be transformed into little more than a tribe: Not one living in an Arab desert of the sort that gave the world a nation, Islam, and the Qur’an, but an Israeli "desert" with settlements for sand dunes. Just as nobody can tell where the wind will sweep the desert dunes next, so they cannot know when and where the next settlements will arise and encroach on them. Their tragedy is summed up in the prevalent feeling that neither their freedom nor their very existence can be assured any longer. There has been not a single undertaking that the Israeli government will not resort to the weapon of "transfer".
Can all this happen with the PLO remaining what it was and retaining its legitimacy? Certainly not … How can that legitimacy shine forth on the international stage, as hitherto closed doors of capitals and places are thrown open to PLO leaders for the first time, while the PLO everyday loses more of its own people’s freely offered support?