Not since the 'Nakba'

The fighting among Palestinian factions in the occupied territories demands leaders who can offer hope.

By DAOUD KUTTAB
October 15, 2006 21:53
3 minute read.
Not since the 'Nakba'

palestinian flag 224.88. (photo credit: AP)

 
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Palestinians living in the occupied territories [Palestinian Authority] are clutching at straws these days. The month-long civil servants' strike, which has crippled all public institutions and kept hundreds of thousands of Palestinian students in the streets, does not seem any closer to a resolution. Palestinian weapons meant to be used for self-defense [against Israel] have become offensive weapons. Political parties and military factions are not able to agree on any clear minimum program. Worse of all, the use of violence to solve the most mundane dispute threatens the national fabric of the Palestinian society. Every day there is news about people being killed, officials being shot at, clubs being burned, telecommunications centers being destroyed. Even religious sites, once believed to be above any internal dispute, are now targeted. Following the recent controversial statements by the pope a number of churches were burned. In an anonymous leaflet the small Palestinian Christian minority in Gaza was physically threatened. NO ONE SEEMS to have been held to account for these crimes and vandalism. Even for the burning churches - which almost all Palestinians reject - no individual or group has been punished. If arrests did take place, this would be the kind of news the population is dying to hear in order to feel reassured that there is someone in Palestine who takes the oath about caring for life and property seriously. Recent intra-Palestinian killings in Gaza have rightly attracted much attention. Statements from political, religious and community leaders have denounced these attacks; but again, no one has been arrested for killing the protesters in Gaza, or for the revenge attacks against supporters of Hamas in the West Bank. News coming from Gaza points to the fact that, for the first time, the local population has responded angrily to the use of live ammunition by ministry of interior police by literally throwing stones at its troops. The angry reaction to the attempts to break up the public workers' strike seems to have been the main reason for withdrawal of the armed police loyal to the Hamas Minister of Interior. NATURALLY the situation in Palestine cannot and should not be seen in isolation from the larger context. The Israelis and the US, as well as Arab countries, have contributed in different ways: the Israelis through their continued illegal and immoral occupation, the Americans by backing this occupation and refusing any dealings with the democratically elected Hamas-led Palestinian government. Some Arab countries are to be blamed for agreeing to contribute (directly or indirectly) to the unjust siege on Palestine. The six-point agreement between President Mahmoud Abbas and Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh was reportedly rejected by Damascus-based Hamas politburo chief Khaled Mashaal. Similarly, according to Egyptian officials, the prisoner exchange deal worked out with the Israelis was derailed because of outside interference. A PLO source in Ramallah equates the group's present situation with that in the past, when the diaspora-based Yasser Arafat would try and force the outside parties to deal with him. The only difference today is that Hamas's leaders in exile don't have the overwhelming public support the PLO had at the time both in Palestine and within the Arab world. Abbas doesn't have many legal solutions to deal with the situation. Palestinian law, approved for the purpose of limiting Arafat's powers, doesn't give the president the right to dissolve parliament; nor is there any political party law that would require parties running for office to accept a set of basic issues. Even though the present Basic Law talks about the PLO as the Palestinian reference point, Hamas officials continue to refuse to accept the international agreements signed by the PLO, arguing that they would only recognize the PLO when it is reformed. Some believe this condition is meant to reflect Hamas's willingness to accept the PLO only if it can control it. THE ANGER of Palestinians in the streets of Gaza and the West Bank is certainly not limited to one party. Both Fatah and Hamas, both president and prime minister, are responsible for the situation the Palestinians find themselves in. And while Palestinians don't remember any worse time in their recent history - with the exception of the Nakba [the establishment of the Jewish state] in 1948 - there is still an opportunity to redress the situation. Palestinians are looking everywhere for a sign of hope and change. They are grasping at anything to prevent the entire society from drowning in chaos, internal fighting and self-destruction. What is required is statesmanship, courage and leadership to do what is right, not just what is feasible.

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