70 years on, independence a distant dream for Palestinians

Many analysts believe one of the big mistakes the Palestinian leadership made was signing the Oslo Accords.

Dubai: It has been 70 years, and the Palestinian conflict remains unresolved.

Since the 1948 Arab-Israeli war, which the Palestinians call the ‘Nakba’ and Israel celebrates as its ‘independence’ day, the Palestinians have recognised Israel, but Israel has not acknowledged their rights.

Today, the Palestinian-Israeli conflict seems more distant from a solution than ever before, analysts and politicians said. “The Nakba has scattered people and deprived them of their homeland; 700,000 people became homeless and more than 500 villages were flattened,” said Ahmad Al Tibi, Leader of the Arab Movement for Change — an Arab party in Israel — and a member of the Knesset.

“The Nakba, its impact and policies have not ended even today. The war of the 1967 was part of the [Israeli] expansion, and a continuation of colonialist [practices] of 1948,” Al Tibi, former adviser to late Palestinian president Yasser Arafat, told Gulf News in an interview.

Following the 1967 Arab-Israeli war, Israel captured the West Bank, East Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip.

“Despite the 70 years that have passed, [Palestinians continue] to mark Nakba Day. The Palestinian generations that followed have not lost the appetite to confront the Israeli occupation,” said West Bank-based analyst Jihad Harb.

Commenting on what has changed in the past seven decades for the Palestinians, Harb told Gulf News, “The Palestinians recognised Israel – an acknowledgement of the two-state solution, and they also accepted the United Nations resolutions, among which was the one related to Israel’s establishment. This happened without any change in the nature of the conflict,” he said.

Harb also noted that the means of struggle “shifted from armed conflict to negotiations, which occurred amid popular resistance, internationalisation of the cause and the introduction of aspects of legality to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict”.

The 1948 war started after the Arabs, including the Palestinians, rejected the November 1947 UN General Assembly Resolution 181, which called for the partition of British Mandate Palestine into Jewish and Arab states. On May 14 of that year, the formation of the State of Israel was announced. On the eve of the announcement, four Arab armies – from Lebanon, Syria, Iraq and Egypt – launched an attack on Tel Aviv. Saudi Arabia sent troops that fought under Egyptian command, according to researchers.

Six years ago, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said in an interview to Israel’s Channel Two that Arabs made a “mistake” by rejecting the 1947 UN proposal.

“At that time, in 1947, there was Resolution 181, the partition plan, Palestine and Israel. Israel existed. Palestine diminished. Why?” Abbas asked, speaking in English.

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When the interviewer referred to their position on the partition plan, the Palestinian leader responded, “It was our mistake. It was an Arab mistake as a whole. But do they punish us for this mistake (for) 64 years?”

However, according to the Israeli historian and socialist activist Ilan Pappé that was not a mistake.

Though, the Palestinian liberation movement suffered from issues such as corruption and internal rifts, and it committed “many mistakes” throughout its history, rejecting the Resolution 181 was not one of them, he said. “To the contrary, it was the right decision,” Pappé said.

“I have a feeling that even if the Palestinians did not commit any mistake, they would have found themselves in the same place they are in today,” he was quoted as saying in an interview with London-based Al Quds Al Arabi newspaper recently.

“That was because the Palestinians faced a strong alliance that no other people could have confronted better than the Palestinians. The United States and the European countries told the Palestinians, ‘Now you will pay the price of everything we did to the Jews,” said Pappé, who teaches at the College of Social Sciences and International Studies at the University of Exeter in Britain.

Pappé believes the only way out of the current stalemate is the international community standing up to exert pressure on Israel and changing the reality on the ground, but “the world is not ready for that yet”, he said.

Many analysts believe one of the big mistakes the Palestinian leadership made was signing the Oslo Accords.

The signing ceremony was held at the White House in September 1993 after months of secret talks in the Norwegian capital. According to the agreement, Israel accepted the Palestinian Liberation Organisation (PLO) as the sole representative of the Palestinian people, and the PLO recognised Israel’s right to exist. The two sides agreed that a Palestinian National Authority would be established and assume governing responsibilities in the West Bank and Gaza Strip over a period of five years. After that, permanent status talks would begin on issues of borders, refugees, and occupied Jerusalem.

However, efforts at peace ran aground only a few years after Oslo. Since then, peace talks have gone on intermittently. In November 1995, Israeli prime minister Yitzhak Rabin was assassinated by a Jewish fundamentalist, and Arafat died in 2004.

Twenty-five years since the accords were signed, the final status talks never kicked off.

“It [Oslo] was a successful Israeli manoeuvre to make the occupation more comfortable … Israel wanted an occupation through other means without any intention of peace and (for) two states … as if Israel was telling the world, ‘Here, the Palestinians are happy. They have a flag in Ramallah and another flag in Gaza and they have given up the right to return. The Palestinian president has signed [the document] and the conflict is over’”, said Pappé.

Commenting on Oslo Accords and the Israeli recognition of the PLO, Al Tibi said, “At that point in time, the PLO was not at its strongest, [also] the international community said it would guarantee the mutual recognition … Undoubtedly, the scales are lopsided between a powerful occupation [regime] and a weak Palestinian [National] Authority.”

Nevertheless, he said, “the Palestinian people are strong, and despite everything that has happened, it would be impossible to surrender or give up”.

It remains to be seen what direction the Palestinian struggle will take in the future. But Al Tibi and other analysts do not anticipate any progress, especially during the rule of extreme right-wing governments in Israel. On the contrary, more Israeli extremism and “more apartheid” are expected against the Palestinians, deepening one of the longest unresolved conflicts in modern history.

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