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Entre deux mondes : les hommes d’affaires palestiniens de la diaspora et la construction de l’entité palestinienne

Sari Hanafi

Annexe II. The palestinian crisis : the way out

Texte intégral

I. General

1There is no doubt that the Palestinians are in a crisis.

2The "peace process" has ground to a hait and the Oslo agreement is collapsing in a heap of the dashed expectations of the hopeful and the grim machinations of the cynics. On both side of the Israeli-Palestinian divide critics and opponents of the Rabin-Arafat démarché are becoming stronger and more vocal. The U.S. and Russia, the two sponsors of the process, are preoccupied by other concerns. In the larger Arab-Israeli context, the easy gains have been painlessly made peace with Jordan, representation with Morocco and Tunisia, while the tougher challenges remain peace with Syria and Lebanon, regional economic cooperation. Even Rabin and Arafat who initially provided the needed thrust to keep the process moving are losing enthusiasm for it. Clearly, if the "peace process" is to survive, resuscitation may be enough. The process may have to be reconstructed from the rubble of Oslo.

3On the Palestinian side, not only is Arafat leadership in crisis, but the Palestinian people themselves are also at a crossroads. Having acquiesced in the Oslo agreement with resigned disappointment, they were unwilling or unable to help the Arafat leadership dynmize the process and thereby seek to achieve an acceptable measure of success in the West Bank and Gaza Strip (WBGS). More than twenty months later, and having left Arafat to mismanage the affair and turn it into a dismal failure, they fïnd themselves lacking the will or the ability to displace him for more acceptable alternative.

4For the U.S., the True, single sponsor of the "peace process", after having succeeded in derailing the intifada in Palestine and in destroying or neutralising any potential threats to Israël in the région, has now reassured itself that it can leave matter in the able hands of its reliable regional partner wile it redirects its attention to other domestic and international concerns.

5However, wile most participants in the peace process appear to have settled into a more or less stable, if not entirely satisfactory situation, it is the Palestinian people who continue to bear the bulk of the burden of pain and suffering. It is ironie but tragic that those who were presumed to be primary beneficiaries of the success of peace process have now become the hapless victims of its failure.

II. The Palestinian condition

1. Implementation of the Agreements

6It was clear from the beginning that the Declaration of Principles (DOP), being a deliberately general and ambiguous agreement mandating a sovereign state to cede certain powers to an autonomous authority for self-governance, required for its implementation a minimum of flexibility (even "generosity") on the part of Israel and certain measure of dynamism and diligence on the part of Palestinian Authority (PA). It has now become evident that neither of these two conditions has materialised. Thus Rabin, under mounting pressure from right-wing forces within the government and the military (including the Intelligence) is becoming increasingly intransigent while the Palestinian leadership remains manifestly incapable of either exacting real concessions from Israel or efficiently managing whatever authority it has hitherto acquired. "Gaza/ Jericho First" may not become "Gaza/ Jericho the End" but it is now clear that according to Israel’s interpretation of the agreement (and hence that of the U.S.), the Palestinians should not entertain any illusions that there is very much for them beyond "Gaza/ Jericho". It is in this sense that Oslo is dead.

7"Full empowerment" in the West Bank, due to take place according to the DOP by July 1994, has slipped disastrously and so have the elections. The evacuation of most of the West Bank through re-deployment of Israeli forces is nowhere in sight. If and when it arrives, it will turn out to be more complicated and limited than originally envisaged. Israel will not leave the West Bank in any meaningful sense of the term. Control of the border crossings has been delayed and complicated beyond recognition. Domestic political support for Oslo and subsequent agreements is rapidly collapsing among both Palestinians and Israelis, while the interest, much less the concern, of the international community is fading or has already evaporated.

2. Economie Conditions

8To a large extent, the core content of the Oslo and subséquent agreements is economic and administrative in nature. From the start, Israël has resolutely insisted on, and Arafat has meekly acquiesced in the déniai of Palestinian fundamental andpolitical rights sovereignty, self-determination, right of return for expatriates and refugees, statehood, independent management of external relations. But even by the more limited criterion of promised economic performance, Oslo has been, for the Palestinians at least, an unmitigated failure.

9Work in Israel, a major source of employment and income, even if a sign of humiliation and deep resentment for Palestinians, has dried up, while the presumed substitute in the form of local reconstruction and development has not materialised. Unemployment in the Gaza Strip has climbed to over 50 percent and in the West Bank to over 35 percent, on par with the poorest of sub-Saharan African countries. The promise of considerable development aid for reconstruction and development ($2.4 billion pledged in Washington in October 1994 is fading as the resuit of Israeli obstructionism, the PA’s lack of competence or seriousness of purpose, and bureaucratic and political constraints on the part of the donors. What has materialised instead is a trickle of funds for budget support, largely for paying the salaries of a civil service inflated by the inclusion of more than 19 000 "policemen" and 8 000 new hirees (in addition to the 20 000 or so inherited from the Israeli Civil Administration placed on the public payroll as a reward for their loyalty to Arafat and as an element in a strategy to ensure his survival at the helm.

10In the meantime, the opportunities that became available under the Paris protocol of April 1994 for reopening trade channels with Jordan and the Arab countries have been dissipated under the dual pressures of Israeli obstruction and Arafat’s corruptibility. Imports of petroleum products, cement, grains, machinery and the development inputs that were supposed to come in from or through the neighbouring Arab countries continue to be imported from Israel, largely as a resuit of secret agreements signed by a decision of Arafat (and the advice of his non- Palestinian and shady advisors).In effect, the Palestinian economy of the WBGS is now more closely tied to and dependent upon Israel ever before !

11The private sector, for its part, has been making cautious moves in the WBGS as reflected in the opening of commercial banks, registration of companies, and construction of housing and commercial space. However, the impact on income and employment has been minimal, while land spéculation among the property owners and the wealthy has drastically diminished the ability of the vast majority to afford decent housing. Moreover, in the absence of clear and transparent legislation and régulations governing the private sector, its activity has proceeded in an ambiguous environment where Arafat’s own personal intervention is required for almost ail important truncations. These conditions have opened the way for widespread corruption and for the exclusion of the smaller, independent businessman to the advantage of the politically connected, large, influential and often corrupt operators (most of whom are those who had also flourished under the Israeli occupation).

3. The system of Governance in the WBGS

12With the exception of those aspects which touched upon the specific interests of Israel, the system of governance in the WBGS under Israeli occupation largely atrophied or decayed. The exceptions included such matters of concern to Israel as the security of Israelis (both in Israel and in the seulement), the imperative of financing the occupation (or reaping a surplus from it), and the need to encourage the emigration of Palestinians and to control the use of land. For all these purposes, the Israelis developed modem and highly sophisticated systems of governance and control, such as the Departments if Interior (security), taxation, and the control of border entry points and land registration. Departments which performed functions of overwhelming importance to the Palestinians but which did not directly affect Israeli concerns, e.g. education, health, agriculture, were treaded with benign neglect or worse.

13It is not surprising that Israel as an occupying power treated the WBGS in this manner. What is especially ironie is that Arafat and his entourage, once installed in a position of authority, have mimicked Israel’s attitudes and policies. The PA has thus focused its attention essentially on safeguarding power in the hands of Arafat and his loyalists, on maintaining security for Israelis, on silencing Palestinian opposition, and on siphoning off from the public Treasury whatever financial resources may be needs to achieve these goals, even if this meant starving those departments that cater to the basic needs of the population such as health and éducation. More than 50 percent of the entire budget of the PA (close to $220 million per month gets spent on "the caring and feeding" of the Arafat political system.

14In the meantime, the most basic features of modem system of governance are totally absent. No attempt has been made to date to establish a system of laws by which the Palestinian society is to govern itself, nor has the PA bothered even to conduct a systematic review of inherited military orders to cleanse them of any decrees or regulations that may be inimical to Palestinian interests. The judicial system remains in a state of disarray while the PA in Gaza, responding to the demands of the Americans and the Israelis, has set up military courts to deal with the opposition without due process of law. Administrative systems are primitive, ambiguous, contradictory and leave wide margins of discretion to the personal whims of those in charge, inviting malfeasance and corruption. Citizens have no established legal recourse for venting their grievances. Moreover, Palestinians in the WBGS now have to cope with the dual weight of one system of oppression and control on top of another : the heavy and arbitrary bureaucracy of the PA as well as cumbersome and repressive regulations imposed by Israel, as the latter remain in effect on travel permits, on residence, on security clearance for work in Israel, on all matters related to imports and exports, and on many more vital activities affecting the daily life of the ordinary Palestinian citizen.

15Preparations for elections proceed at a snail’s pace, but there is no longer any manifest enthusiasm for them, neither within the authority nor among the population at large. All expect very little real change to come out of the whole process. Fatah which has now completed its transformation to what is essentially a ruling political and security apparatus, will probably dominate the elections as it now dominates the PA, and together with the "independent nationalists" will, after the elections, continue to run things as before. The opposition factions, with the exception of Hamas, have lost steam, credibility or both. They no longer count.

16The PA’s relations with the PLO structure and with the Palestinian population outside the WBGS have been seriously compromised. With Arafat at the head of what is essentially a "local" authority, the question of who represents the Palestinians and how they are to be represented has now been confused by Arafat’s plunge into the autonomy process while accountability has been lost. Large sections of the Palestinian people, the majority, (in Israel and in the "Diaspora") probably feel neglected, perhaps abandoned. This disintegration of the Palestinian body politic and the confusion surrounding the institutional structure of the PLO represent serious setbacks to the Palestinians hard-won gains of political unity and a sense of national identity.

4. External Relations

17Having engulfing itself in the consuming process of virtually continuous negotiations with the Israelis without the participation of any outside parties, Palestinian or otherwise, the Arafat leadership has gown increasingly isolated from the wider Arab and international environment. This leadership is in a state of no- communication with about half of the members of the Arab League while its relations with the critical group of neighbouring countries range from begrudging tolerance- Egypt and Jordan- to outright hostility -Syria and Lebanon-, Tensions between the PA and Jordan rise more often than subside, and the dreamed of integration of the two economies is now more distant than ever. In the meantime, many Arab countries, finding in Arafat’s capitulation their long-sought excuse to cozy up to Israel, have gone on to establish contacts with Israeli officiais and businessmen and to eut deals in a variety of fields. Arafat has auctioned off the moral treasures bequeathed upon him by successive generations of patriots and martyrs.

18Liberation and progressive movements everywhere, which had long viewed the PLO and Arafat with sympathy and admiration, now consider him with resentment and contempt. The contrast with Mandela never fails to be made.

III. Key Issues and Requirements

19The present situation gives rise to a number of issues that need to be addressed by Palestinians, the most urgent of which may be summarized as follows :

1. The Limits of Autonomy

20One of the major departures from the Madrid framework brought about by the Oslo deal is the imposition of severe limits on the nature and scope of "self- governance" or autonomy. At the same time, and considering that the DOP itself is replete with ambiguous "principles" and nuanced declarations, it also provides the parties involved with wide discretion in interpreting its content. Having signed the DOP, the Arafat leadership had only one possibility to pursue (and not a very promising one at that) to create a more or less satisfactory outcome out of an unsatisfactory agreements. This essentially would have required him to mobilize all the resources at the Palestinians’ disposai to create facts on the ground that would expand the limits of the DOP. This would have called for securing the support of the international community, the solidarity of the Arab states, and most importantly, the full engagement of all Palestinian human, intellectual, financial and organisation resources. As the Palestinian leadership fails to seize uponsuch a dynamic strategy, the interpretation of the agreement was left to the Israelis who, naturally knew very how to seize and maintain control of the peace process and how to turn the DOP to their own advantage at almost every turn of the subsequent negotiations.

21Unfortunately, this opportunity for the Palestinians almost been irretrievable lost, and a second "assault" on the DOP to refashion it to greater Palestinian advantage would most probably fail. What needs to be done is to deal with the situation on the ground that has developed since the Oslo and subsequent agreements were signed.

22The objective would be to alter this situation by dynamizing all of its aspects so as to create out of the interim arrangements the necessary conditions for success in the "final status" negotiations. This approach would require expanding the limits if autonomy in all directions and generating sufficient momentum so as to place Israël on the defensive on such vital issues as the settlements, confiscation of land, release of political prisoners, the return of refugees, and, of course, Jerusalem, issues with regard to which Israel has committed gross violations and has pursued illegal policies and practices by not only the standards of international law and agreements but also the standards its own Western allies.

23Clearly, the task would not be easy but, in the circumstances, there is no other choice but to try.

2. The Primitiveness of the system of governance in the WBGS

24Even within the limits of the autonomy agreements, there remain wide margins for Palestinian discretion in the areas of domestic political structures and organisation, economic management, judicial system development, organisation of the central government and local authorities, even legislation within certain, not yet fully defined parameters. But as indicated earlier, even within these domains no attempt has been made by the Arafat leadership to create the social and administrative underpinnings of a modem state, even one with less full independence.

25The challenge here is to seek to reconstitute the Palestinian society, on the basis of certain "organizing principles" that are rational, modem, and resilient. It is to be expected that Israel for its part may obstruct such a project, as indeed it has with the elections, but such opposition should not stand in the way of a Palestinian drive to organize their own society on the basis of open, democratie and secular principles. Moreover, in this particular area, the Palestinians can count on the understanding, if not the full support of the developed countries and large sections of the world public opinion.

26In this regard, the Palestinian leadership, with the participation and help of the Palestinian intelligentsia, is be called upon to articulate a vision of an open and democratie society and a relatively free and liberal economic system. This vision would then need to be translated into specifie, legal, political, economic, and administrative structures that would constitute modem "state", even if such a state were, for a transitional period, to lack fully political sovereignty.

3.Political and Demographie Disintegration

27The autonomy accords and Arafat’s plunge into the process that followed, including his installation at the head of the PA in Gaza, have led to the collapse of the one pillar that had held the "tent" under which all Palestinians could assemble, i.e. the PLO. Now the PLO is in a shambles, a moribund, fossilized organization. The various Palestinian communities feel estranged and have been left to fend for themselves in an environment that is far less benign now that it had ever been for decades. This is a major setback for the Palestinians and an inordinately high cost to pay for whatever meager results the "autonomy" may have brought or is likely to bring.

28What is needed is to put a stop to the rapid dissipation and alienation of the Palestinian community and re-unite the Palestinians under a revival national leadership and within a political structure that would give all Palestinians the opportunity and the means to work together towards common national goals. Clearly, the PLO as originally intended, needs to be reconstituted to fulfill this most essential historic requirement.

4. Social and Economic Deterioration in the WBGS

29Whatever the political limitations of the autonomy may be, its economic constraints are somewhat less severe. As noted earlier even in this more narrowly circumscribed domain the performance of the PA has been dismal. Worsening economic conditions could, if they continue, bring about social disintegration and, ultimately, a violent implosion of potentially grave consequences.

30In the socio-economic domain, what is required is a reconstitution of the organs of the PA to render them modem and efficient, the mobilization of Palestinian expatriates to serve in a reconstruction and development program with the help and support of the multinational and regional institutions and the international donor community. The program would need to be implemented under an accelerated schedule in order to help make up for lost time, to rapidly absorb the unemployed labour force, to expand production and exports and to lay down the foundation of a modem and prosperous economy.

5. Isolation of the Palestinian Leadership

31Reference has already been made to the Arab and international isolation of the Palestinian leadership brought on since the Gulf War by Arafat’s disastrous decisions and compounded by a go-it-alone settlement with Israel. Except for self- serving overtures to Saudi Arabia And occasional warming of relations with Jordan, the Arafat leadership has failed to develop a serious, systematic strategy to deal with its costly isolation. Furthermore, Arafat’s full preoccupation with continuous, details, and increasingly futile negotiations with Israel and with day-to-day administration of the PA in Gaza has distracted him from even giving the issue the attention it deserves, while his expedient financial arrangements with Israel have reduced the incentives for him to do so. In the meantime, the consequences for the Palestinian people themselves who have to reside and work not only in the WBGS but also inn the neighbouring Arab countries as well, are troubling and serious.

32What is required in this regard is the formulation of a strategy for restoring Palestinian-Arab relations to a reasonable level of functionality and effectiveness and to re-establish good relations with the international community at large, especially with all those progressive forces that had for decades nurtured the Palestinian movement with sympathy and support.

6. Israel’s Expanding Hegemony

33For more than four decades, but especially since the Camp David Accords, Israel’s regional hegemony has never been in dispute. But in the early years, this hegemony has always met with a sullen, if ineffective, refusai by the Arab states. With the Palestinian-Israeli agreement, which was predictably followed by other agreements with Arab countries and near normalization throughout most of the region, Israel’s hegemony has now been tacitly or otherwise, accepted, if not entirely legitimized. The Arafat leadership, by splitting from the Madrid formula, which was based on a common pan-Arab approach, and striking a unilateral deal with Israël must bear the historic responsibility for the larger and deeper consequences, the Palestinian people themselves must also decide if they wish to share this burden with their leadership or if, alternatively, they wish to relieve their collective conscience of its weight.

34What is required here, is not so much to seek to undo what has been done, as this would be impossible, even if desirable and entirely legitimate, in the circumstances, but to shape an Arab strategy to help contain Israeli hegemony in the region. In this strategy, Palestinians would play a pivotai role not only because of the weight of their moral responsibility for the present state of affairs, but also because of their geographic proximity to Israel and the level of risk to which they are exposed. Clearly such a strategy would nocall for organized, armed confrontation in the foreseeable future, but would have to rely on economic, political and demographie instruments.

IV. The way out

1. Strategy and Objectives

35It is clear therefore that any strategy that seeks to resolve the current crisis must aim at achieving the following objectives :

  1. Restoring the legitimacy and viability of the PLO as the supreme institution representing all Palestinians ; this would require reconstituting the organization with ail of organs to render it not only truly representative, but also responsive and effective.
  2. Repositioning the autonomy agreements in their proper context in relation of overall structure of the Palestinian national agenda, i.e. by subordinating these agreements to the wider historical claims of Palestinians, and by redefining the relation of the PA in the WBGS to the global structure of the PLO.
  3. The elaboration of a comprehensive program of National Unity and Reconstruction including an Action Plan to deal with all the key issues defined by the appropriate bodies within a revitalised and reformed PLO.
  4. The constitution of a new national leadership for the PLO as well as a new PA for the autonomy arrangements in the WBGS on the basis of the above program, and defining the relations that govern the two bodies.
  5. Mobilizing all the human, financial, intellectual, and organisational resources available to the Palestinians and organizing these resources in the form of
  6. effective and responsive institutional structures and their organs to ensure the implementation of the program and Action Plan.

2. The Means

36It has become quite evident that the chances of success by working within the existing structures of the leadership of either the PLO or the autonomy Authority in Gaza are virtually nil. The time has come to "rescue Arafat" in a manner of speaking from the hole he has dug for himself and to shift the venue of addressing the real crisis to a wider Palestinian forum, it is proposed therefore that the following be taken :

  1. A Palestinian National Congress is to be organized and held within a period of, say, three month, outside the WBGS ; to address and seek to solve the crisis faced by the Palestinians as characterised in this paper (or as may be future elaborated by an appropriately constituted "working group" or "steering committee").
  2. The congress would comprise the PNC but in addition would also include prominent individuals with a record of public service drawn from the various Palestinian communities ; these would be businessmen, academics, professionals, community leaders, etc. In addition, a number of non-Palestinian Arab personalities, with a known commitment and service to the national Arab cause, including that of Palestine, would be invited as "observers" or "honoured guests" or some other capacity.
  3. The Congress would debate and approve the Program of Unity and Reconstruction and the Action Plan associated with it ; this Program would define the strategy and the actions to be taken to address the present crisis.
  4. The Congress would reconstitute the key organs of the PLO with a view to dealing with the present situation by perhaps streaming this structure to render them more responsive and effective.
  5. A new National Leadership would be elected for the higher elected bodies within the PLO wile this leadership would then arrange to fill other positions or create new ones as the need requires, by appointment or by other means in accordance with agreed rules and regulations.
  6. The National Leadership would then constitute, with the approval of the Congress, an appropriate Authority for the autonomy arrangements in the WBGS and would decide on a strategy for dealing with the ongoing "peace process" taking into account the Palestinian as well as the Arab context. The Congress would also define the relationship between the PLO and the autonomy Authority and establish the necessary mechanisms to ensure that this relationship is maintained.
  7. Within the requirements of the Program and the policy guidelines of the Leadership, he Authority would develop a detailed reconstruction and development program for the WBGS and would pursue whatever negotiations or discussions within its authority to help achieve the agreed Palestinian objectives that may drive from current arrangements (as outlined earlier).
  8. Special priority will be given to the enlistment of all Palestinian talent and experience in the service of the agreed programs and institutional structures.

3. The Next Steps

37A Steering Committee, composed of individuals of high integrity and influence in the Palestinian community would constitute itself to begin the necessary preparations for convening the Congress. The committee is to include especially leadership elements from Fatah but also from other political fractions. This committee would conduct consultations on the widest possible scale and would engage a few professionals and assistants to undertake the necessary logistical and administrative arrangements. The committee would announce that it is not permanent body and it will dissolve itself upon completion of its task, i.e. the convening of the Congress.

38The present leadership of the PLO and the Authority in Gaza would naturally be included and consulted on ail arrangements and, if possible, they could issues the call for convening the Congress butt would not control the process of doing so. This is by far the preferable course of action,

39To initiate the process of consultation, the committee or certain members of it should immediately begin discussions of this program with Arafat and with other members of the PLO leadership, loyalists and opponents, with the opposition groups including Hamas and others, and with the PLO Executive committee and PNC members and with community leaders in the would, in Israel, in Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, and elsewhere.

© CEDEJ - Égypte/Soudan, 1997

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