Tawfiq Abu Baker
It was in 1974, exactly thirty years ago, that Palestinians made the
monumental decision that was considered the largest turning point in their
modern history. During the Palestine Liberation Organization’s (PLO’s)
twelfth National Council, held in Cairo, delegates accepted, for the first
time, the establishment of a national authority on any Palestinian land that
is liberated, or from which the Israelis withdraw, as opposed to the whole
of historic Palestine.
Yasser Arafat was responsible for adding the statement, “from which the
Israelis withdraw.” He was the champion of moderation at the time. Because
of him, we buried the horrible slogan that previous Palestinian leaderships
had used, “Everything or Nothing,” which, in effect, meant, “Nothing”.
Since then, we have, in practice and objectively, amended the Palestinian
National Charter (PLO constitution), which had previously called for the
total liberation of Palestine from the river to the sea (articles
15,16,17,18, and 19) and the departure of Jews from Palestine, with the
exception of those who came to our country prior to the start of the Zionist
invasion (article 6). At first, the amendment was only in practice, but
after a quarter of a century, it also became a legal amendment at our
National Council meeting in Gaza.
Many likened our twelfth National Council to the Zionist Congress, which
ratified the establishment of a state on part of what they believed is their
promised land during the late thirties and the early forties of the last
century. In our Council, a political basis for a realistic program was
approved. In their Congress, they approved the establishment of their state
on a part of what they claim to be the “promised land.” Our decision did not
pass smoothly, for the arrival of the Council member delegates to Cairo was
preceded by tensed and loud dialogues in Beirut, the capital of the
revolution in exile at that time. We were living in the post-October 1973
climate, and the possibility of retrieving part of the occupied land was
still seen as real. Accusations were made of abandonment, admission of
defeat, and prostration, exactly the same words used to accuse Ben Gurion,
but in another language.
The wording of the 1974 statement was purposely flexible, in order to
achieve consensus. We called it “the phased program,” so it would pass with
as little damage to the Organization as possible, but become the accepted
agenda of the PLO within a few years. Ironically, the statement caused the
birth of the rejectionist front, causing the largest rift in PLO history.
Palestinian moderation continued its march, however, with minimum loss,
and we ascended to higher peaks of moderation.
During the following National Council meeting in March 1977, we approved
the opening of the doors of dialogue with Jewish forces, within and outside
Israel, who oppose Zionism in thought and practice. I was participating in
that meeting, and would like to relate one incident that indicates how
extremism is no more than buffoonery, consisting of emotions blending with
historical account-settling and revengefulness, and having no concrete
basis. During the meeting, many in the hall screamed at Arafat, “Abu Ammar,
we heard about contacts made with Jews and with Israelis.” According to the
standards of those days, this was blasphemy and infidelity. Responding to
the loud screams, Abu Ammar (Yasser Arafat) said, “I have nothing to do with
these contacts. Abu Mazen will talk to you about this in this evening’s
session.” In the evening, Abu Mazen (Mahmoud Abbas) talked about the
contacts, presenting the facts. An eerie silence prevailed in the hall
throughout the speech, which was not short. Nobody interrupted him. Sami
al-Attari from the pan-Arabist group, al-Sa’iqa, responded briefly. There
was a vote, and amazingly, the sweeping majority that screamed against
contacts voted for them. The moderation program took off, and in each
National Council session, a new brick was laid on the road to realism and
rationalism. We moved from dialogue with anti-Zionism forces to a decision
that permits dialogue with any force in Israel that believes in the
Palestinian people’s right to an independent state.
In November 1988, in the Council session held in Algiers, the leadership
of the first Intifada, which was a true Intifada in essence and practice,
pushed us to recognize United Nations Security Council Resolution 242, and
to announce the Declaration of Independence. Then came Madrid (1991), and
the moderate Palestinian leadership agreed to participate in the conference,
without direct representation of the PLO; there was a profound sense of
responsibility, a peak of moderation, and a genuine desire to reap the fresh
Palestinian history moved many stages ahead, until the State was almost
in hand. We then fell back and failed in grabbing the opportunities. Since
that moment, I wrote and said repeatedly that the march of moderation has
come to a sad ending.
I said on more than one occasion, in conferences on the ground, and in
satellites above it, that what happened recently is hard to believe.
Delving into its guts by the historians of future generations will
present much trouble. Who would have believed that the Organization, and its
foremost symbol, Yasser Arafat, that fought the whole world, including many
Arabs, to maintain its program of peace and coexistence, would, at the end
of the day, submit it (as of the beginning of 2001) to forces opposing it
fundamentally? One of the leaders of “the other program” (the fictitious
one) told me, in a recorded dialogue to be published later, that the most
important achievement of the Intifada is that the PLO is no longer the only
legitimate representative of the Palestinian people. I sent the tape to
“whom it may concern” among our leadership, who fought the wind if it
shifted against the current (our current and our program), but they did
I have come to believe that the individual who leads has a more critical
importance than what we Marxists used to theorize. Had Ben Gurion not been a
leader of the Zionist movement, the emergence of the state of Israel would
have been delayed, or, perhaps, the opportunity may have even been missed.
He decided to declare the state in spite of opposition from many in the
Mapai party and the Histadrut. Because of the critical importance of the
leader and leadership, nations choose their leaderships every four or five
years, because they cannot afford mistakes. A mistake might affect the fate
of the entire people and the entire nation that is at stake.
I wonder, is it too late? Is there still a potential, after this bitter
harvest of fictitious policies, to recognize Palestinian moderation again,
in the thirtieth anniversary of its launch?