News reports have it that Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza launched a campaign to protest the ceremony at the White House in Washington, formalising the normalisation of relations between Israel and the two Gulf states of the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain.
With hyperbole often an integral part of their semantic fashion of expression, some Palestinian officials — borrowing from the iconic speech by US President Franklin D. Roosevelt to a joint session of Congress on December 8,1941, condemning Japan’s surprise attack against the American naval base in Hawaii — have taken to calling it a “day that will live in infamy”. Other officials came up with even more inflammatory statements, which made them sound more like circus barkers than dignified political leaders devoted to the stewardship of their community’s struggle for statehood.
Meanwhile, sundry activists announced on Sunday, reportedly with the blessings of the Palestinian National Authority, that they had formed a group called The United National Leadership of Popular Resistance — reminiscent of the Unified National Leadership that operated during the first intifada in the late 1980s — consisting of representatives of various groups, whose goal would be to “demonstrate” the Palestinian people’s opposition to the peace deal.
My, my! I for one don’t get it. Here are Palestinian leaders accusing Arabs of adopting a political version of beggar-thy-neighbour when their own leaders had shown themselves ready and willing, almost exact 27 years ago, on September 13, 1993, to sign the Oslo Accords on the White House Lawn, which paved the way for, indeed encouraged, neighbouring Jordan and countries in Africa and elsewhere in the Third World to equally formalise relations with Israel.
Let’s face it, since the 17th century, raison d’Etat, or the management of state to state relations, has been, as the French philosopher and member of the Academie Francaise, Jean de Silhon, put it in 1634, a “mean between what conscience permits and national interest requires”. National interest, at the end of the day, is really what bakes the cake. Everything else is icing on it. That’s the “political arithmetic”, in this column’s view, that animates the diplomatic maneuvers of nations.
Look, I’m nowhere done being a Palestinian activist, old geezer though I may be. No one has yet been able to dissuade me of the notion that the Palestinian people are the injured party in the dispute. Nor, conversely, has anyone been able to persuade me to doubt the fact that, for the last century or so, the Palestinian cause has been a core national interest and a moral priority for the Arab world.
But the Arab world is tired of waiting for Godot — tired of how Palestinians have failed to meet the challenges of modernity as their leaders dilly-dallied and engaged in several self-destructive bouts of inter-communal mayhem, reducing themselves, in the bargain, to bit players.
The sad, sad fact is that Palestinians, over several generations, since they initiated their struggle for national independence a century ago, have been cursed by one failed leadership after another (the doctoral dissertation is yet to be written that explains this phenomenon), a succession of leaderships that held out to their people a goal, a hope, a visionary promise that these Palestinians readily stretched their muscle to the utmost to reach, only to see it all slip, again and again, just out of range of their racked fingers. Thus, in their acceptance of suffering and sacrifice as being a part of a covenant with history, Palestinians became the “conscience” of the Arab world, forcing upon it ideals, demands and norms
of conduct out of natural grasp — namely that only when Israel is defeated the grime will be scoured from the tired earth Arabs inhabit.
Today Arabs appear to be saying this to Palestinians: Your struggle, made inert by a self-serving ruling elite, whose vision of liberation has gone bad in the teeth, is now the sick man of the Middle East. That is, reform or perish. Arabs are not a re-incarnation of Vladimir and Estragon, waiting patiently for Godot, who, as we all know, never arrives.
As Emiratis and Bahrainis enthusiastically watch their leaders sign a historic agreement with their Israeli counterparts in the White House. I, as a Palestinian, will watch the ceremony with bewildered irony, pondering over the many turning points in modern Palestinian history that we failed to turn with — pondering how, as we dithered, and dithered some more, history showed us that it had its own dynamic, its own implacable laws and that, like time and tide, it waits for no man.
— Fawaz Turki is a journalist, lecturer and author based in Washington. He is the author of The Disinherited: Journal of a Palestinian Exile
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