On the anniversary of despair: hope on the Palestinian horizon

On the anniversary of despair: hope on the Palestinian horizon

by Abdallah Schleifer

On June 5, 1967, Israel launched devastating air attacks on Egyptian, Jordanian and Syrian air bases: the opening phase of an Arab Israeli war (a war which effectively had been won within the first hours of those devastating air attacks) which ended in six humiliating days as Israeli forces smashed Egyptian, Syrian and Jordanian forces capturing Sinai, Arab (East) Jerusalem and the rest of the West Bank, as well as the Syrian Golan Heights.

Of course the whole exercise of building up massive military machines in Egypt and Syria was part of the curious method of expressing competitive devotion to a Palestine cause, but without Palestinians involved in any serious political or military sense . And many pundits assumed that along with the Arab Requisition of leadership of the Palestinian cause, the very cause itself had gone up in flames and was finished.

But the Palestinian cause is like the mythical Phoenix – that extraordinary bird of Greek and even earlier Egyptian mythology – it goes up in flames and then is reborn, rising from its own ashes.

So to the contrary of universal expectations, the Palestinian cause would be reborn; Palestinians regaining the defining role in the struggle for Palestine. But this time around (1967-68) under a Palestinian leadership then based almost entirely upon their role as heads of guerrilla groups - the Fedayeen - but now, as in the case of Arafat (“Abu Amar”), his closest comrade Abu Jihad and his constant rival on the Left, PFLP Secretary-General George Habesh (“al Hakim”) dead and buried, or noticeably aging (of course one could say that about me) the hard hitting guerilla leader of the PF-GC Ahmed Jabril, last heard of entangled in the Syrian civil war.

Intense and frequently bloody years

But within a few intense and frequently bloody years that resurrected the Phoenix – the Palestinian as Fedayeen – would burst in the flames of armed struggle with a number of regional opponents above and beyond Israel – opponents provoked by the seemingly inevitable and perhaps unavoidable tendency of the Fedayeen to carve out mini-states – first in Jordan and then in Lebanon - that dangerously invoked the memory of Lenin’s dictum on dual power within a state was unnatural and would not endure.

Although the death blow would be dealt by the Israeli invasion of Lebanon and the encirclement and siege of Beirut, with the brief but curious assistance of Hafez al Assad’s army, in the end Arafat and the combined forces of the PLO pulled out and Arafat would ultimately be effectively banished to Tunisia.

But already under way was the formation of a two-state vision that would displace the adrenalin-rush of an impassioned call for the liberation of all of Palestine (“from the river Jordan to the sea”) and not as it would be in a realistic redefinition of the goal – the liberation of the territories occupied by Israel in 1967 and the formation of a Palestinian state in Gaza and the West Bank. This redefinition would lead to the Oslo Agreement but also to a renewed struggle – the First Intifada. The First Intifada was a popular, partially non-violent struggle by the Palestinian people in the occupied territories which was ultimately suppressed on the ground but in the minds of most it re- established the reality of a Palestinian people and their right to their own state.

The Phoenix

That Phoenix – this time the beautiful bird of a peace seeking Palestine - would be undermined by Israeli intransigence, Hamas suicide bombings, a second but less glorious and utterly unacceptable intifada and Israeli refusal to advance towards a settlement beyond a handshake between Arafat and the late Israeli Prime Minister Rabin. So it would seem that this last and very long phase culminating in hopeless peace talks with the U.S. as broker, would end badly.

With Abbas thoroughly embarrassed, out of favour with his own people and thus at the very point where he would soon see his political clout all but gone, everyone expected that Abbas would retire from leadership and chaos would descend.

Instead, the Palestinian Phoenix has still one more time risen from its own ashes, with Abbas taking the bold step of announcing he will expand the emerging Palestine State’s participation in U.N. committees in response to Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu’s sabotage of the last round of the peace talks.

And almost simultaneously both Fatah - the ruling party in the Palestine Authority - and Hamas have managed to reach an agreement to share power, and all the non-partisan technocrats in this new cabinet of a unity government were quickly sworn in by Abbas. No surprize that Netanyahu has denounced this Palestinian reconciliation. But China, India, Russia, Turkey, France, the UK, Egypt and the EU have all expressed support for this new Palestinian unity government. Even the United States, to Netanyahu’s dismay, has said it will maintain ties with the Palestinian government in its new form as a unity government as long as it continues to renounce terrorism and which continues to honor the Palestinian - Israeli peace treaty.

But underlying all of this positive response by a growing list of countries is the defacto endorsement of a Palestine State by His Holiness Pope Francis during his recent visit to both the occupied territories and to Israel when he alluded in speech directly to “the Palestine state,” not the Palestine Authority

It is not the picture of Abbas swearing in the new cabinet that will remain with us forever, but of the Pope stopping his car enroute to Jerualem from Abbas’ HQs in Bethlehem, to approach the Wall of Separation – a towering symbol of Israel’s Occupation that began 47 years ago from today, and there at the Wall, with its graffiti calling on the world acknowledge a Free Palestine, to reach out and touch the Wall, lean forward and pray. To pray, no doubt, for Peace and for Palestine.


Cross published on Al Arabiya News and TAM with permission of the author.

Abdallah Schleifer is a veteran American journalist covering the Middle East and professor emeritus at the American University in Cairo where he founded as served as first director of the Kamal Adham Center for TV and Digital Journalism. He is chief editor of the annual publication The Muslim 500;  a senior fellow at the Foreign Policy Research Institute (USA) and at the Royal Aal al Bayt Academy for Islamic Thought (Jordan.)  Schleifer has served as Al Arabiya Washington D.C. bureau chief; NBC News Cairo bureau chief; Middle East correspondent for Jeune Afrique; as special correspondent (stringer) , New York Times and managing editor of the Jerusalem Star/Palestine News in then Jordanian Arab Jerusalem.


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