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31 October 2013

Finding unifying goals in Palestine

By: Daoud Kuttab
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Inhabitants of a Palestinian village were told in the late 1930s that the British High Commissioner for Palestine wanted to visit them.

As news of the cause for that request was made known, the Palestinian villagers found themselves divided. Some, mostly older people, were happy about the occasion; they felt that it would put their village on the political map and will most certainly result in improved services and, possibly, a few government jobs for people from the village.

Young people were opposed, saying that the commissioner was responsible for the open immigration policy that enabled Jewish Zionists to enter Palestine and, therefore, must be boycotted.

The division between young and old quickly morphed into a much deeper division that went beyond age. Different groups took one side or another for totally unrelated reasons.

One who was angry with his neighbours for refusing to give their daughter to his son in marriage took the opposite side, others with long-forgotten troubles resurrected them and took opposite sides for social or economic reasons totally unrelated to the politics of the day.

Within days, the division turned ugly. One group started boycotting the other in social affairs; villagers stopped buying from each other, and then a stone was hurled and a chicken was stolen and the once quiet village lost its innocence, supposedly over the visit of a government official.

While the villagers were fighting each other, a few days before the intended visit, people heard the sound of vehicles.

As eyes turned to the main road, they noticed a convoy of cars that included the high commissioner, who passed through the village without slowing down.

Palestinian and Arab divisions often seem to resemble those of this once peaceful village. Divisions and splits are created for totally manufactured reasons and the population is unable to make the simple determination of what is important and what is trivial, what the town’s priorities are or the difference between allies and foes.

Looking at the existential struggle for Palestine one notices divisions and splits over trivial issues that neither side has the power to change.

We differ over whether Palestine should be one state or two states while Israel continues its occupation and building settlements in all Palestine.

We are unable to agree on a single national strategy and accept the possibility that different tactics and ideologies can exist within a larger national movement.

Demonstrators fight over which flag to hoist and what slogans to shout rather than unite against the existential threat which is the occupation.

The PLO, which once united Palestinians anywhere they were has not been able to reformulate itself to be a uniting factor because different groups insist that they want a particular percentage of seats in the Palestine National Council or in the executive committee.

Political parties, guerrilla movements and factions that existed in the 1970s and 1980s are all but gone today, yet their remnants are still insisting on a seat in every council, while the majority of the population, which abhors all political parties, is ignored.

Our division over whether there should be talks or not has weakened rather than strengthened the negotiators.

We give lip service to the idea of boycotts, divestment and sanctions, yet we fail to make this important tool work as we argue over petty internal issues.

In Gaza, for example, Hamas and Fateh are still at the opposite ends of a struggle, and most people forgot what is it they are opposed to.

Parties look everywhere for allies in this internal Palestinian struggle without stopping for a minute to understand that their strongest natural allies are their own people, rather than Iranians, Saudis or other outside forces.

When it comes to the larger Arab, Muslim and international community, where we have so much potential, we are unable to enlist this huge pool of genuine solidarity because of our petty internal divisions and our constant desire to bring down political opponents, rather than agree on a common strategy that will allow political and ideological divisions within it.

What started as a disagreement in this Palestinian village over the visit of a British official turned into an ugly fight that lasted for a long, long time.

What we need to do is simply have the courage to work out our disagreements within an agreed mechanism that turns our combined power into a force for a better future rather than the base for future conflicts.

* A Palestinian columnist based in Amman, Jordan. - dkuttab@ammannet.net



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