Michael Riordon

the view from where I live

48. “We will not buy anything within a closed bag.”

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Two weeks from now Palestinian officials will seek statehood status from the UN General Assembly.  Maybe.  What kind of state are they seeking?  Who knows?  It’s a secret.

According to the urgent call for transparency that follows below, issued yesterday by the Palestinian Grassroots Anti-apartheid Wall Campaign, the official secrecy that continues to shroud the initiative poses grave dangers to the Palestinian people, over whose heads and behind whose backs it has been packaged.

The governments of more than 100 countries have already declared their support for the idea of a Palestinian state – of some kind.  On the other hand, Israel continues to escalate its high-level manoeuvring to kill the initiative, and US officials faithfully vow that they will never allow it to happen.  Whatever it is.

Among progressive commentators, debate rages, and ultimately comes down to this:  ‘The statehood initiative is the best chance Palestinians will ever have to achieve even a measure of freedom’ versus ‘this will officially lock Palestinians forever into a disconnected series of prisons, or bantustans (as in apartheid South Africa), or Indian reserves (as in North America).’

By my own reading of history, I’m more convinced by the second argument than the first, but really it’s hard to say, because no one except a few select Palestinian officials know what the proposal contains.   Which is the problem, as outlined in the call below.

A note about the source:  The Palestinian Grassroots Anti-apartheid Wall Campaign is a coalition of Palestinian non-governmental organizations and village popular committees that work hard and courageously to stop and eventually to dismantle the Apartheid Wall, and to resist the Israeli military occupation and colonization of Palestinian land.

Much of what we hear about Palestine and Israel is the official version, dropped on us from above.  This call comes from the ground where people live, behind the wall.   Please read it through.  It’s an eloquent testament to clear thought and real democracy:

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 [Palestinian National Authority] 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. Instead of supporting its people in the struggle, the PNA 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 [announced by the Turkish government this week] to bring the siege on Gaza before the same international court?  Why is the Goldstone report not being 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.

Author: Michael Riordon

Canadian writer and documentary-maker Michael Riordon writes/ directs/produces books and articles, audio, video and film documentaries, plays for radio and stage. A primary goal of his work is to recover voices and stories of people who have been silenced or marginalized, written out of the official version: First Nations (aboriginal) youth, Mozambican farmers, inmates in Canadian prisons, traditional healers in Fiji, queer folk across Canada, Guatemalan labour activists. Michael also leads courses, workshops and seminars for community organizations, trade unions, schools, colleges and universities.

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