What Palestinians Want
As Palestinians wonder about what they could do next, they would do well to remember that their starting point is a double failure shaped over the past decade.
The first of the two failures is that of Al Fatah, which has dominated Palestinian politics since the 1960s and exercised control over the Palestinian Authority in the wake of the Oslo accords.
At some point in its history, Al Fatah may well have devoted its energies to a grand, though so far futile, struggle to create a Palestinian state. Since 1991, however, Al Fatah has been principally interested in one goal: its own survival and the prosperity of the elite that sustains it. With the late Yasser Arafat showing the way, Al Fatah has kicked its former national aspirations into tall grass. Each time its narrow interests clashed with the broader interest of the national struggle, Al Fatah clung firmly to the former and jettisoned the latter.
Al Fatah, and beyond it the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), which it controls, have danced to every tune of the day in the same way western teen-agers go for pop "tubes" of the season.
The Oslo accords were designed to drown the fish, that is to say bury the national aspirations of the Palestinians under tons of paper. The PLO adopted them with excessive zeal.
Then we had the so-called Road Map, presented by President George W Bush, a kind of political bikini, revealing everything except the essential. Again, the PLO, and Al Fatah, bought into it without a flutter.
Finally, we had the "two states" formula, also presented by Bush. The PLO adopted this as a slogan but did all it could to prevent any step towards achieving it.
Arafat's departure from the scene did not change the essentials.
The Palestinian Authority has continued to be mired in corruption of a kind and scale that, if even partially true, would put the Mafia to shame.
Worse still, Al Fatah and the PLO have adopted a reactive posture on the central issue of the Palestinians' future.
They have endorsed every so-called peace initiative but have never come out with one of their own. Their strategy is simple: keep talking to the Israelis, make the Americans happy with a few gestures, and bamboozle the Arabs and the Europeans into loosening their purse strings. Above all, do not forget to line your own pockets.
When pressed to take a position, PLO officials often come out with the insipid assertion that they want nothing but "the full implementation of United Nations' resolutions". This is the lazy man's answer, a position taken by anyone without a clue about the issue. The youngest of those resolutions is already 40 years old. Isn't it time to admit that they are not going to be implemented anytime soon?
Al Fatah and the PLO have failed to develop a strategy either for peace or for war. They live on a day-to-day basis, passengers of a phantom ship caught in the fog, going nowhere. The price is paid by ordinary Palestinians whose daily lives have been transformed into infernal experiences played out in the context of countless personal tragedies.
The second failure is the work of Hamas, the Islamist movement that seized power in Gaza in a bloody putsch and provoked the recent costly fight with the Israelis.
The way it behaves, Hamas appears not to be interested in Palestine as such. It opposes the "two states" formula and rejects the nationalist discourse in favor of the rhetoric of global jihad. It is the only major Palestinian political organization whose name and acronym include no mention of Palestine. If it has any discernible aim, it is the destruction of Israel, rather than the creation of a Palestinian state.
When it comes to corruption, Hamas has little to envy Al Fatah. The only difference is that Hamas-style corruption is slightly more "democratic" in the sense that boasts a bigger clientele.
If Al Fatah regards Palestine as a business, Hamas sees it as a cause. What is missing in both cases is the perception of Palestine as a national aspiration unsullied by business considerations and rising above ideology.
Dependent on Israel and the United States, Al Fatah is no longer capable of developing an independent strategy. It cannot rescue the issue of Palestine from becoming a sideshow in the broader power struggle in the Middle East.
Hamas, for its part, has become dependent on the Khomeinist regime in Tehran. This is how a commentator, writing for the official Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA), out it in an analysis: "Hamas is applying the lessons taught by Imam Khomeini . Its war is our war, the war of the Islamic Republic against World Arrogance."
When Hamas and Al Fatah fight, Palestinians kill one another in a proxy war on behalf of the Islamic Republic in Iran and the United States. When pronounced with a foreign accent, Palestine, the magic word supposed to unite all Palestinians, divides them.
The Khomeinist regime regards Palestine as part of its glacis, and is trying to re-arm Hamas. The Western powers, led by the US, try to solve the problem by signing larger and larger checks. They do not realize that it is not money that Palestinians want but freedom and self-determination. Most Palestinians would rather be poor in their own state than rich under foreign occupation.
Can the Palestinians regain their independence of action? Can they stop fighting one another on behalf of foreign powers? Can they develop a national strategy that could be pursued in the political and diplomatic arena?
Both Al Fatah and Hamas have failed. Neither has anything to offer the Palestinians besides more suffering and disillusionment. A re-composition of the Palestinian political scene has become an urgent necessity. The Palestinians need a strategy that reflects their own national interests rather than the interests of rival powers in the region.
Amir Taheri's new book, "The Persian Night", is published by Encounter Books, New York and London.
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