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Palestinian Moderation over Thirty Years

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 fruits.

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 nothing.

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?

Tawfiq Abu Baker is a veteran political analyst, Director of the Jenin Centre for Strategic Studies, and a member of the Palestinian National Council.
Source: Jenin Centre for Strategic Studies, July 26, 2004

Ze’ev Schiff:
Talking to Barghouti

In the framework of the current Israeli Palestinian diplomatic deadlock, Ha'aretz Defense Editor Ze’ev Schiff reflects on Israel’s lack of a ‘Palestinian address for negotiations’. According to Schiff; “ [Marwan] Barghouti […] is charismatic and capable of establishing a strong leadership coalition around him, and thereby break the tragic cycle of Palestinian society, which at the moment is incapable of making any major decisions except for using violence.” (Source: Ha’aretz, July 16, 2004)

Tawfiq Abu Baker:
Palestinian Moderation over Thirty Years

Veteran writer and PLC member, Tawfiq Abu Baker reflects back on the role of moderation within the PLO over the past thirty years. Emphasizing the critical role of leaders, Abu Baker calls for a return of a policy of moderation within the Palestinian leadership. (Source: Jenin Center for Strategic Studies, July 26, 2004)

Alexandra J. Wall:
Israeli and Jordanian Activists Plead for the Environment

“Water could be what the next war is based on, but if the countries work together, it could bring peace, too,” commented a Jordanian student from Israel’s Arava Institute for Environmental Studies. The institute encourages environmental cooperation between peoples working towards sustainable development and peace for the region and the world. (Source: j, the Jewish news weekly of Northern California, July 16, 2004)

Daphna Berman:
Israeli and Palestinian Children Try Conflict Resolution through Martial Arts...
In the first program of its kind, Israeli and Palestinian youth learn the principles of conflict resolution through martial arts training. ‘"Martial arts is about creating harmony within one's self and that is the first step toward creating harmony with another person," said Danny Hakim, who founded the Budo for Peace organization.’ (Source: Ha’aretz, July 23, 2004)

Common Ground News Service February 20, 2004
CGNews promotes constructive perspectives and dialogue about current Middle East issues.

From the Common Ground News Service
hagalil.com 22-03-2004



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