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Nearly five years have passed since the Palestinian people transformed their hunger for long denied rights into a commanding display of will and valor: Al-Aqsa Intifada. I don’t claim nor will I attempt to offer a thorough examination of the second Intifada, but wish only to suggest a feasible entry to the intricate subject.
First, the uprising was not a local experience by any standards. Not only did it impose itself in the arena of regional and international politics, but it also grew in value and meaning to become a central icon in the emerging global consciousness of a new generation in the West as well as other parts of the world, from Latin America, to Africa to Southeast Asia.
Thus, and despite the uniqueness of the Intifada to those who have lived it, one simply cannot ignore its outreach nor diminish its outer dimensions, which have been, even before the official manufacturing of the State of Israel in 1948 on the remains of Palestinian lives, utterly crucial.
The State of Israel, as Edward Said and others have long argued, existed in Zionist awareness and was deliberately transformed to become an essentially Western priority before the actual physical construction of the state on the yet to be destroyed hundreds of Palestinian towns and villages. Therefore, a deconstruction process was, and is still of essence if Palestine is to duly become, not just a Western, but in fact an international priority.
How to go about making it an international priority is an entirely different topic. What I wish to register here is that despite the Palestinian uprising’s initial success in breaking away from the over-internalized and self-defeating political discourse brought about by the dominant sector of the PLO and later by the Palestinian Authority, the same failing approach has been adopted again, and thus the Intifada is being discredited, if not silenced altogether.
Second, the Palestinian struggle has been woven together, with all of its failures and triumphs by successive generations of Palestinians inside and outside the occupied territories. Therefore, any mandate over an historic settlement with Israel would have to take into account the millions of Palestinians in neighboring Arab countries and those scattered the world over.
A PA president, elected by a decisive or a modest majority has no exclusive mandate over critical matters that touch all Palestinians in Diaspora, especially the issue of the right of return for Palestinian refugees. That right ” enshrined in international law, notably in UN Resolution 194 of Dec. 11, 1948 and reconfirmed numerous times since then ” is the cornerstone of the Palestinian struggle, and discarding it is tantamount to an historic validation of the very racially prejudiced principle that invented and reinvented Palestinian catastrophes throughout the years.
Third, there is the issue of Palestinian constants. Various historic periods in the Palestinian struggle and the different stages of the Arab-Israeli conflict have greatly shaped the prevailing priorities of the time. In the early stages of the conflict, due to the absence of a major Palestinian political voice, the problem was confined to that of refugees and the immediate humanitarian calamity created by their displacement. There was no Palestinian nation to speak of, no shattered prospects of a statehood to urgently restore, and no unified Arab front with a decided agenda to bring about such a likelihood.
That said, one could hardly overlook the existence of a Palestine, neither figuratively nor metaphorically, in the minds of Palestinians since their earliest generations in the twentieth century. The existence of that Palestine can be argued on more than a material basis ” a nation that called itself Palestinian is one. But since much earlier dates Palestinians knew what Palestine was and what it meant to them, they recognized its boundaries, geographical uniqueness and political reality and prospects. They revolted as a nation and celebrated as one. Not even the uprooting of nearly a million Palestinians in 1948 has changed that identity nor has it disfigured that relationship. In fact, it could be argued that the bond between Palestine and the Palestinians evolved to a higher level of consciousness following their forced departure in the mid and second half of the past century.
One of the many challenges posed by the Oslo process however, was the molding of a considerable political culture that no longer adheres to fixed constants. Anything can be negotiated, bargained and “resolved”, depending on the level of Israel’s cruelty in dealing with Palestinian political tenacity ” or inflexibility by a different definition ” and the American pressure to make a one-sided “compromise” possible. The likely growth of this “pragmatic” political culture can prove devastating and paralyzing in the quest for a politically sovereign and territorially meaningful Palestinian state, and if not confronted and overpowered, another self-destructive political “compromise” is likely to impose itself on the truly representative Palestinian struggle.
Fourth, the coming period is likely to witness the return of a cluster of, I dare to term, “intellectual middlemen” among Arab and Palestinian intellectuals in the West, and most markedly in the United States. This group is often active at Congressional hearings and is given extra airtime on television and additional space in national newspapers, with the purpose of breaking the ranks of Palestinian activists abroad. But much more dangerous is their willful involvement in yielding Palestinian rights while giving the false impression that they speak on behalf of the Palestinian people.
Finally, it must be stated that Palestinian resistance, which for the most part has been a nonviolent and popular movement, shall continue as long as the circumstances that contributed to its commencement remain in place. In fact, Israeli oppression is now crossing the traditional boundaries of daily murders and small-scale land confiscation. Under the deceptive “disengagement” from Gaza smokescreen, West Bank lands are being vigorously expropriated while Israel’s Separation Wall, illegal according to the International Court of Justice decision of July 2004, is swallowing up whole towns and villages. This reality, as history has taught us, is only a prelude to another popular Palestinian response, which is already echoing with the angry chants of destitute farmers whose lands are being affectively annexed by the encroaching Israeli wall.
Regardless of how historians choose to chronicle the second Palestinian Intifada, it will always be remembered by most Palestinians, as well as by people of conscience everywhere, as a fight for freedom, human rights and justice; it will remain a loud reminder that popular resistance is still an option ” and one to be reckoned with at that.
RAMZY BAROUD is a veteran Arab-American journalist. He is the author of the upcoming volume entitled, “A Force to Be Reckoned With: Writings on Al-Aqsa Intifada.” To receive Baroud’s weekly syndicated column, write to: firstname.lastname@example.org