Political Science and Public Administration Department, American University of Beirut
P.O.Box: 11-0236, Riad El Solh Beirut 1107 2020 Lebanon
In a single stroke of abrasive behavior Ariel Sharon, Israel's ill-famed personality, has undone seven years of painfully slow progress toward peace between Arabs and Israelis. In an unusually crude and inconsiderate move, he defiantly desecrated al-Aqsa Mosque, Islam's most revered site in the Holy Land. And as if his already bloated record of complicity in massacring Palestinians and hysterical display of hate for Arabs were not enough, he seemed intent on crowning his infamous career with another Intifada. Sharon ought to be thanked by Arabs, for his raw display of hate, racism, and pompous arrogance are exactly what the Palestinians—seriously injured in their national pride and marginalized by Israeli over-bearingness—needed to rid themselves of the shackles that have immobilized them for long.
The Arab people of Palestine have endured a century of callous Western scheming, racist Zionist invasion, and indifferent, sometimes collusive, Arab reaction. Hardened by the bitterness of displacement, loss of status, and discrimination, the Palestinians today find themselves in the midst of an uneven struggle with the Hebrew state. Timid Arab rulers, overawed by an erratically behaving, unipolar international system, heighten the Palestinians' plight. The Palestinians in the 1980s valiantly rebelled, during the years of the first Intifada, against their onerous occupier, but eventually halted their struggle as the mirage of peace promised hope and redemption. The Madrid Conference of 1991 produced nothing, due to Israel's intransigence. Ecstatic over the destruction of Iraq as a regional power and the strangling of Arab will to stand up to Israel or to dare say no to the U.S., the Jewish state effortlessly dismissed its neighbours' quest for conciliation. Instead, it presented them with an empty peace package they were sure to refuse.
Palestinian hope dissipated as Israel deplorably transformed peace talks into an exercise in attending to procedures and the minutes of details, eventually trapping the PLO in Oslo. The icy Arafat-Rabin handshake at the White House Lawn in 1993 put the peace talks between Palestinians and Israelis on a derailed track further hindered by psychopathic Israeli snipers' killing of Palestinian children. Once again, the Palestinians fell victims to geopolitics and the balance of power. Excruciating talks with Israeli negotiators, haunted by paranoid security concerns emanating from the torturous past of Jewish interactions with Europeans, bewildered the Palestinians. They made previously inconceivable concessions to make peace work with inexplicably hesitant Israelis. They abandoned their right to armed struggle and recognized the Jewish State—the state that had been so ruthlessly planted in their midst solely at their expense. The Israelis rewarded them by accelerating the construction of Jewish settlements in Gaza and the West Bank, making the latter look more like a slice of Swiss cheese than the territory of the imagined Palestinian state.
The Israelis seek nothing less than total Palestinian capitulation. How can real peace take place between an aggressive state ideology (Zionism) and a people (the Palestinians) stripped of the right to think in terms of a political identity or to make basic demands for a semblance of statehood? It is this total picture of Israeli insensitivity and inattention, U.S. sloppy foreign policy, and typical Arab official neglect that has finally convinced the Palestinians to launch a second uprising, which the man in the street prefers to call the “Independence Intifada.”
The Israelis fear the new Intifada, even though the overwhelming majority of its casualties are Palestinians. To this effect, they do not seem to mind frantically killing demonstrating children in the hope of halting it. They understand that national struggle, especially if it assumes a mass level, is bound to achieve its objectives. The U.S. administration mightily fears it as well. It demonstrates the incoherence of Washington's decision-makers and the shallowness of their foreign policy formulation, a casualty of domestic special interest exigencies. Needless to say, weary Arab ruling elites, afraid of the thought of political change in their own countries, do not particularly like their disenfranchised peoples to watch Palestinian stone throwers. The new era of satellite TV viewing, with its heavy politically relevant content, is causing tremendous unease among largely illegitimate rulers who do not wish to see their populations learning by imitation.
The pressures will mount on the uninspiring Palestinian leader, Yassir Arafat, to quell the new Intifada. A leadership that has wasted it bargaining chips acquiesces too soon, for it has already entrusted its destiny to the wolf in sheep's clothing. History tells us that sustained national struggle gratifies the aspirations of those willing to sacrifice and take the risk. For a century, the Palestinian people have displayed unlimited capacity for struggle in search of statehood. It is time that they persevere; this may very well be their last chance. Opportunities present themselves, but not often.
(Submitted 14 October 2000)
© The Arab World Geograppher