The excitement that accompanied the rejection of the original composition of the Palestinian government by the Palestinian Legislative Council last week blurred the fact that there was no debate about the purpose of the new Palestinian government.
There was no challenge to the way the Palestinian governments since 1994 have perceived their function as “governments of the nascent state.” It is a concept that has been accepted alongside the belief – once shared by many Israelis – that all it takes is a vaguely worded agreement to create a dynamic that will necessarily lead to a state. In other words, the belief that the liberation of the territory in which that state will exist will take place on its own.
But it is precisely the thesis of Oslo, that the process would inherently lead to a Palestinian state worthy of the name, that collapsed. The Oslo years proved that Israeli governments exploited the period of negotiations to strengthen the settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. That construction, which goes on to this very day, undermines the chance to reach a peace agreement based on an independent Palestinian state beside Israel.
In the Oslo years, Yasser Arafat and the bridesmaids of the agreement were eager to behave as if there already was a state and not even one in formation. Arafat loved the title “President of the State of Palestine,” and enjoyed nurturing the mechanisms of power and coercion that belong to real states. With a limited budget, he continued paying disgraceful salaries to the employees most vital for a future Palestinian state, particularly health and education professionals. Thus he gave up the necessary conditions for the process of national liberation: creating social solidarity and investment in the human potential of all social classes.
The mechanisms of charity and corrupt racketeering were able to thrive precisely because the PA’s leadership gave up any attempt to create a welfare society, meaning a decent distribution of wealth, and in that way win the confidence of the public.
European countries and the U.S. also wanted to see a state in “Palestine.” They dumped the dreary duty of treating Israel as an occupying power, which continues to control all the land reserves of the nascent state. Like today, at the London meeting, they invested efforts in monitoring the early failures and corruption of the Palestinian regime. Like today, in London, alongside the sloganeering about two states, they allowed Israel to continue its blatantly corrupt and anti-democratic actions: the theft of the land of the Palestinian people. With their generous contributions to the PA, they regulated and continue to regulate the levels of damage done by the occupation.
It was not the liberation of their people that guided the thinking of Arafat and his senior associates, but the the control over that people.
Thinking about liberation means that the oppressed party, the occupied people, still has room to maneuver despite the unequal balance of power. It does not mean “armed struggle,” and certainly not terror attacks in Israel, or competition of the type that existed between the Palestinian organizations over who would better deliver vengeance, acts of vengeance that proved to be a dismal failure over the last four years.
Thinking about liberation does not mean giving up transparency, and does mean the appointment of worthy people suited to their positions. Thinking about liberation, in the context of the Israeli occupation, means enlisting the entire public and the institutions into a campaign of ongoing civil disobedience. It means nationalizing the individual creativity that exists among the majority of Palestinians for the purpose of the struggle against the Israeli occupation.
Thinking about liberation must challenge the countries of the Western world so they reject the awful melange created by Israel – occupation, colonialization and ethnic discrimination. That kind of rejection would also be real support for peace and for the future of the Jewish people in the region. The Palestinians can, for example, create a new set of priorities in the tradition of donations, so that those stop subsidizing the occupation.
Civil rebellion means giving up investing donation funds in the inferior infrastructure as long it is limited to Palestinian enclaves and does not take place in Area C (which is meanwhile under Israeli security and civilian control), and instead investing those donated funds in people: improving the health and education system, a supreme emphasis on the refugee camps and the villages, temporary “importing” of quality teachers and doctors from overseas, supplementary educational courses for teachers and doctors, identifying and opening classes for all the illiterate, and lengthening the school day.
Thinking about liberation would have turned the “Ministry for Civilian Affairs” from a symbol of hated collaboration with the occupation into the vanguard of the popular civil uprising. A nation that can withstand unceasing shelling and chronic lack of food can find ways to undermine the self-confidence of the bureaucracy of the Civil Administration through the distribution of permits for every vital activity, if the people’s leadership proves that it is interested in liberation and not in the symbols of statehood.
The Palestinian people is capable of withstanding terrible trials and tribulations: physical, psychological and economic. It can certainly face those trials if they become a means within the context of planned, coordinated and deliberately led strategic action meant to break the rules of the game that faked peace and statehood, rules that were set down in the days of Oslo and are coming back to deceive us now once again.
Amira Hass is the author of Drinking the Sea at Gaza.