Surreal Politik

Could anything be weirder for Palestinians than that the current intifadas, today’s uprisings against illegitimate rulers, are taking place in Tunisia and Egypt? That Arabs in Tunis and Cairo are closer to democratic self-rule than they are? Is this a dream? Whose dream? Will we wake up from it?

Where is André Breton when we need him? Breton, author of The Surrealist Manifesto, thought Surrealism—the creative expression of dreams–revolutionary. Most of the painters, filmmakers, actors, playwrights, poets, and musicians who went in for one form or another of the post-War-to-End-All-Wars movement were indeed leftist troublemakers. The movement split when the Dadaists opted for anarchism, and the Surrealists joined the new Communist Party. The rare exception was the Salvador Dali who sided with General Franco. Before long, of course, Breton and company ran afoul of the proletarian strictures of Socialist Realism and were booted from the Party by Stalin.

Nearly a century later, the handle on Surrealism remains slippery. The movement was partly a reaction against the “rationalism” that allegedly underlay European art and culture, and that had culminated in the Great War. And yet unlike Dadaism, Surrealism was not simply a negation (anti-art) but a positive expression of the human subconscious. Breton was much influenced by Freud; the unconscious was to be the conscious source for imagination and inspiration. There were some silly experiments with “automatic” painting and writing that produced no one’s best work (but perhaps stimulated what came to be called stream of consciousness in fiction writing). There were also the extraordinary early films of Luis Buñuel and Jean Cocteau, the photography and art of Man Ray, the plays of Garcia Lorca, the paintings of Max Ernst (later banned by the Nazis as “decadent”). Breton’s dream was for the conscious and unconscious to fuse; fantasy would join the quotidian in “an absolute reality, a surreality.”

Surrealism, now and forever. Just as Palestinian authorities began another drive to declare independence, and another drive to get the United Nations Security Council to declare Israeli settlements illegal, the “Palestine Papers” appear (thanks to Al Jazeera and some unnamed leaker). Just as efforts to wade through the nearly 1700 documents of the Papers get going, young, educated, and desperate Arabs set themselves on fire in a surreal politics of frustration.

At the same time, we have the exciting and unsettling news that arrived just prior to the human bonfires. Brazil, Argentina, Bolivia and Ecuador formally recognized Palestine as an independent state within its 1967 borders in December. Chile and Venezuela followed suit in January with Uruguay and Paraguay said to be next. Mexico, Peru, and Nicaragua are reported to have recognition under consideration.  Brazil went to so far as to have Mahmoud Abbas lay the cornerstone in Brasilia for the first Palestinian embassy in the New World.

Israel denounced the diplomatic moves as “seriously harmful” to the peace process, and the US called them “premature” and “not helpful.” With the disappearance of generals from Latin American politics, it’s become harder for the US and Israel (which had close relations with the American-backed terror regimes) to keep the campesinos in line. And that of course is the source of horror in Tel Aviv and Washington as Arab despots appear on their too long in coming, thieving and murderous ways out.

But wait a Ramallah minute—haven’t we been here before? As Ramzy Baroud recently wrote:

When . . . Arafat read the Declaration of Palestinian Independence just over 22 years ago, Palestinians everywhere were enthralled. They held onto his every word during the Palestinian National Council session in Algeria on November 15, 1988. The council members incessantly applauded and chanted in the name of Palestine, freedom, the people and much more. Back in Nuseirat, a refugee camp in Gaza, a large crowd of neighbors and friends watched the event on a small black and white television. The Declaration of Independence read, in part: “On this day unlike all others…as we stand at the threshold of a new dawn, in all honor and modesty we humbly bow to the sacred spirits of our fallen ones, Palestinian and Arab, by the purity of whose sacrifice for the homeland our sky has been illuminated and our Land given life.” Many tears were shed, as those watching the historic event recalled the innumerable “spirits of the fallen ones”. The Nuseirat refugee camp alone had buried scores of its finest men, women and children the previous year.

Declarations of Palestinian independence are surreal too, pretty dreams fused to the everyday humiliation of life under occupation. Or are they? If surreal, then why did the House bother passing Resolution 1765 which directed the Obama administration to oppose a “unilateral” declaration of free Palestine? What, for that matter, of the similar resolutions that passed both House and Senate in 1999? Don’t do this unilaterally (again), commanded the courageous American lawmakers, as if there were a menu of choices before Palestine’s Founding Fathers (in 1988 or today). But if not surreal, then where is Palestine?

Failing to heed its betters in Washington, the West Bank Palestinian leadership plowed ahead on the recognition front. The recognition of more than a hundred countries around the world is not enough for Israel and the United States; the PA thus turned to the UN Security Council for a recognition resolution. The vote is tentatively scheduled for September. Palestinian foreign minister Riad Malki is rounding up votes. Palestine will not exist until Israel and the United States say so.

Obama’s failure to stop Netanyahu from building further colonies weighed heavily on the Palestinian leadership in December. Shamed by the Palestine Papers (rightly or wrongly), the Palestinian Authority moved to have the United Nations Security Council settle the question of settlements by (again) declaring them illegal. This occasioned another rush in Congress, this time led by New York Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, to have the United States veto the resolution.

Surrealpolitik forces Palestinian leaders to grasp at straws. Palestinian Permanent Representative Riyad Mansour said, “Our objective is to convince our American colleagues that there is value to having this resolution adopted in the Security Council,” he said. “We are not there yet.” The Palestine Papers show Palestinian negotiators to be incredibly patient. “The purpose of this resolution,” said Mansour, “among other things, is to try to remove this obstacle from the path of the peace process so we can go back to negotiation in an atmosphere that is conducive to increasing the chances for success.” It’s surreal that the United States Congress believes it must interfere with this effort.

Today’s final instance of surrealpolitik takes us to real, existing Palestine. Palestinians are as thrilled by the Arab uprisings as any other people in the region. As Mazin Qumsiyeh tells us, thousands came together the other day in Gaza City, Bethlehem, Ramallah, Jerusalem and Beit Omar to show solidarity with their brothers and sisters in Egypt and Tunisia. They were met by plainclothes and uniformed security forces, harassed, intimidated, and arrested. This was not a dream but a nightmare.

STEVE BREYMAN teaches “War in Afghanistan” at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. Reach him at breyms@rpi.edu


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Steve Breyman was a William C. Foster Visiting Scholar Fellow in the Clinton State Department, and serves as an advisor to Jill Stein, candidate for the Green Party presidential nomination. Reach him at breyms@rpi.edu

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