Chronicle of the Middle East and North Africa

On the Debate over Palestinian National Options

Yasser arafat
PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat (C) addresses a crowd of 3,000 guests assembled on September 13, 1993 on the South Lawn of the White House to see Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) sign the historic Israel-PLO Oslo Accords on Palestinian autonomy. Flanking Arafat are U.S. President Bill Clinton (R), Israeli Prime Minister Yitzahk Rabin and Russian Foreign Minister Andrei Kozyrev. Photo: J. DAVID AKE / AFP

Majed Kayali

In light of the independent state option being no longer on the table, the Palestinian sphere, internally and externally, is witnessing extensive discussions regarding the feasibility of continuing with this option. These discussions pop out in a reality in which Israel continues to reinforce the occupation, settlements, Judaization, confiscation of rights, and assert itself as a Jewish state.

The Palestinian national movement had spent 47 years adopting the independent state option alongside Israel (since 1974). Fifteen years have passed since the transitional period for self-governance within which was the era of the Oslo Accords (1993) for five years. However, nobody knew when or how this period would end!

There are current discussions and writing circles, inside and outside the occupied territories, putting forward the necessity of overcoming this choice, and being open to other options, such as the one-state solution, whether in the form of a bi-national state, a citizenship state, or a secular democratic state. This discussion includes other options like seeking confederation with Israel or Jordan or a tripartite confederation among the three.

Such discussions contain many problems and difficulties due to many reasons. The list includes the absence of legislative entities and decision-making institutions to examine and decide on political options. Because of factional schism, the low level of democracy, and the predominance of slogans of political discourses at the expense of rational and realistic thinking, the discussion leads us to the following issues:

1- The dilemma of the Palestinian sphere does not rely on having a specific option. Instead, this dilemma is related to the availability of means that enable realizing this or other options. Moreover, it relies on managing the struggle to reach the objective in the most accurate and shortest possible way that minimizes losses. Over more than five decades, the Palestinian movement has not been able to obtain achievements that compensate for massive sacrifices made by the people. This fact cannot be only attributed to the defective balance of power and data in favor of the enemy. It is also related to the fragility of the internal structures, the weakness of managing the conflict with the enemy, and the humble ability to combine several options. Internal structures, management, and appropriate means play a significant role in materializing any option by widening options and developing deficient ones (with their subsequent dynamics) or minimizing losses at the very least. The internal factor played an essential role in the failure of the various options adopted by the Palestinians. The list of failures connected to that factor includes resistance to settlement, uprising, and negotiation, which explains that the human, financial and moral costs of the Palestinians’ struggle and suffering are not commensurate with the desired returns, if not against them!

2- Regardless of the theoretical dimension and desires, in practice, it appears that there is legitimacy to all the options presented. Options include: liberation, having an independent state in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, seeking a federal state, a tripartite confederation, bi-national or secular democratic state. In political action and comprehensive, complex, and protracted conflicts, it is impossible to rely on a specific one, but rather to be open to all options, provided that it reaches the desired end. In the Palestinian situation, political action should focus on undermining the manifestations of the Zionist project. We have to expose this project as a colonial, settler, and racist one with a functional political dimension. Consequently, all options should be employed to this end in the long run, albeit gradually.

Palestinians should not prefer one option over the others. They cannot afford to do that. Moreover, Palestinians have internal disputes over these options. If they stick to one option, the current status quo will prevail. Moreover, this will enrich the Zionist project with its political and socioeconomic manifestations. In other words, the independent state option should not contradict with seeking a secular democratic one. The previously mentioned two options should not contrast with the bi-national state option and vice versa. The determining factor here does not only depend on what we want, as it depends on the balance of power and international circumstances and what happens on the enemy’s internal front. Whether Utopian or realistic, all solutions are not achievable without a change in Israelis consciousness. Moreover, options are unattainable if we do not see a switch in the balance of power in favor of Arabs. And if the goal is to undermine Zionism with its institutions and manifestations, then reaching this distant goal requires gradations and mediation, paving or leading to it.

3- All circulated options include an unfair solution to the rights of Palestinians. These options rely on the existence of Israel and the Israeli national group. Consequently, the comparison between these solutions appears relative and is subject to the givens and requirements of each stage, as the matter is about searching for relative justice rather than absolute justice. Besides, the issue is not related to a decision that ends the conflict, as the solution of historical disputes does not end with resolutions and agreements. Such a conflict can take on changing shapes, not necessarily violent or eliminative, so there is no such thing as the end of the conflict here.

4- Any Palestinian choice in the future will remain dependent on the totality of political, economic, and social paths, developments, and transformations in the region, and thus on the future of existing or upcoming political formations and systems. Consequently, any option connects to the paths of political and socioeconomic separation or integration in the Arab region, especially in the Levant and Mesopotamia. For example, it is difficult to expect having an Israeli state or society on an isolated island or in ghettos in the region. The same applies to having a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza. Economic developments, paths of globalization, and economic integration are pushing towards more large-scale conglomerates, and our region probably will not be out of this process. Therefore, we should not leave the matter to chaos and spontaneity because it may lead to opposite and negative paths. In other words, openness to this vision presupposes control of developments in the region and directing them towards positive directions. On that basis, the complexities of the Palestinian situation presuppose the creation of new and innovative political equations to pave various paths towards the goal of undermining the Zionist project, with its racist ideological expressions and its aggressive manifestations, to solve the Palestinian and Israeli issues created by this project in the region.


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written by
Mohammed Abdullatif
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