Prof. Tariq Ramadan,
London, 12th May 2006
A Phantom Authority
Before the trap springs shut on the Palestinian people, resign!
Let us shed our illusions: for decades, as governments have come and gone, the Palestinian question has been monopolized by political manoeuvering and diplomatic strategizing that have far more to do with symbolic management than with any true design or desire to bring about peace. Successive Israeli governments, like their counterparts in the West and in the Arab world, temporize, engage in egregious manipulation and outright lies, while with every passing day the situation on the ground for the Palestinian people grows worse.
We are like helpless spectators to an advertising campaign force-fed beyond satiation by catch phrases and slogans like process, accords, peace, solution, Road Map or Quartet whose only purpose is to score points and to gain time in the sole battle today deemed significant: that of the media.
Who can deny that Israels victory in this conflict has been total? That its success has been highlighted by political achievements worthy of the greatest military and diplomatic strategists? Since the Oslo Accords, followed by the Barcelona talks, and up to and including the Road Map (which was to have seen the creation of a Palestinian state in 2005!) the attentive observer can only conclude that, behind the virtual peace process lies another, hard-edged process that for the last fifteen years has deceived the Palestinians with false promises, has undermined their unity and their capacity to resist. Fifteen years later, the situation is worse than ever; Israel has set aside not a single of its prerogatives; it has respected not a single United Nations major resolution.
Yasser Arafat was prevailed upon to recognize Israel, to wind down opposition and to enter into an interminable peace process (while the Israeli government had already assumed responsibility for eliminating any of his overly combative and cumbersome collaborators). At each stage, Israeli negotiators played for, and gained, time. Recently, this strategy has been strikingly accelerated: Israels withdrawal from Gaza was accomplished at no cost. In fact, Ariel Sharon¹s chief of staff was later to describe it as a gambit for gaining still more – time!
Settlement construction in the Occupied Territories and around Jerusalem has intensified, and been strategically expanded… far from the cameras. At the end of the day, Jerusalem will be quite simply, and almost entirely, settled… far from the cameras. Work on the apartheid – the so-called security – wall continues, penetrating deep into Palestinian lands (in total contradiction with the agreed-upon provisions of previous accords and United Nations resolutions), making the survival of a Palestinian State an impossibility… far from the cameras. Beneath the foundations of the Al-Aqsa Mosque, tunnelling goes on: slowly, but surely, its very existence is jeopardized… far from the cameras.
Seen from Tel Aviv, there is no such thing as a peace process, but rather the unchanged and identical policy of discretely, indirectly, slowly and surely asphyxiating its adversary, humiliating him, and in the end extinguishing even his most minimal claims prior to total eradication. Far from the cameras, as usual. Not to mention a regional policy that bears the hallmark of political genius. All the surrounding countries are ensnared by instability in varying degrees: from Iraq to Syria, from Lebanon to Iran, Israeli power is involved, to a greater or lesser degree, in shaping the outcome, sometimes as a simple observer (a falsely disinterested, friendly advisor to Americans and Europeans), or as a high-stakes player. Israeli military advisors are present in Iraq; Israel has a keen interest in neutralizing Lebanon (and Syria), home of Hezbollah resistance. The Israeli government has never concealed its desire to limit Tehrans political and/or nuclear capacity. As these lines are written, this policy is proving its effectiveness: Washington tags along, Europe remains silent, and Palestinians perish.
Then came the recent Palestinian elections: free, fair and democratic. While such an outcome is unthinkable in the Arab world -and will be for decades to come- it suddenly became possible in the Occupied Palestinian territories. Call it a miracle, or call it a travesty. For years, Israeli has been working overtime to void Palestinian power of the remotest semblance of authority. Borders are under total control; check-points, with their accompanying humiliations, multiply; financial transactions are blocked; Israeli forces strike deep into the Occupied Territories; aerial bombardments are a daily occurrence. All eyes are focused on the all-too-real corruption of the Fatah establishment, overlooking the fact that the Palestinian Authority was and is an authority in name only.
The manoeuvre has been a purely verbal one from the start. Yet again, the manipulation of symbols has been designed to turn attention away from reality. The extraordinary accomplishment of Israeli political genius is to have allowed totally democratic elections to take place under the watchful gaze of the cameras in territories (not-really-so-occupied-after-all) after having broken off talks with Arafat, after having turned its back on Mahmoud Abbas, after having transformed the daily lives of Palestinians into a nightmare. To widespread astonishment -including that of the victors themselves – Hamas would now assume the direction of an Authority which possessed, in point of cold fact, no power whatsoever.
Internationally, the battle was once again one of symbols. The outcome was the worst possible: a victory for the islamists, the terrorists the enemies of democracies and Israel people who could never be recognized as negotiating partners, putting aside any question of support. While Hamas was indeed winning the elections within its minuscule Occupied Territories; the Israeli government was winning the case by promptly sweeping any interpretation conflicting with its own from the table and by imposing its management at the international level. In the end, the situation has simply been turned upside down: Hamas possesses nothing but the symbolic attributes of power, while Israel retains total control both of the game, and of the way in which it is to be played.
The United States and the European Union have decided to end their support for the Palestinian Authority. In so doing, they have implicity decreed that the Palestinian cause should become a strictly humanitarian
one. The slippage is as serious as it is dangerous; it is also another feather – both symbolic and concrete – in the cap of the Israeli government. Arab governments, out of spinelessness and hypocrisy, and occasionally out of pure impotence, are paralyzed by the same decades-long, noisy indecisiveness: from them, nothing whatsoever can be expected.
The Palestinian cause is in crisis: the humanitarian institutions, the NGOs, the women and men who over the years have shown such deep sensitivity to the injustice suffered by the Palestinian people, now find themselves in an impasse, subjected to unprecedented pressures. The questions asked are becoming more pointed; now they are being forced to decide: who do they support? How are they to distinguish between the Palestinian people and its democratically chosen islamist Authority? What do they ultimately hope to achieve? With whom, and how, now that the sovereign Palestinian people has spoken?
In occupied Palestine, in the the Arab world, in the West, the situation has reached the point of no return. Israel continues to apply its policy of tiny increments, of facts on the ground. Funds are frozen or withheld; civil servants are no longer paid, unemployment is soaring, social and economic life is smothering. Palestinian society is on the verge of implosion. The Israeli government can only be satisfied with the reversal of priorities that has transformed the need for a political solution that would respect the legitimate rights of the Palestinians into a humanitarian emergency whose only aim is to assist the suffering population of Palestine. The cameras can soon return without risk…
It is time to bring this travesty to an end! Time is running out; the Palestinian Authority must resign at the earliest opportunity. It is a matter of utmost urgency that the Authority, acting collectively, bring its term to an end. In so doing, it must insist that President Mahmud Abbas and the Western governments that claim to support him assume their political responsibilities. The Palestinian people have rights that must be respected; enough of the word play! The democratic process in the Occupied Territories cannot be allowed to facilitate a global strategy designed to strip the Palestinian cause of its political character.
It is hardly surprising that the key concepts of the day are fighting terrorism and humanitarian aid The perversion could not be more complete: no more power, no more rights, no more resolutions… Nothing remains but an ill-defined sense of international compassion, empty of the political will to act! Before the jaws of this trap snap closed, terminally silencing and dividing the Palestinian people in full public view, it is necessary to abandon this shadow play, this travesty of an Authority and to confront the international community and the Arab regimes with their responsibilities, with their cowardice and their blindness. In perfect dignity.
There can be peace only if the rights of the Palestinians, including the fundamental right to live freely, in absolute autonomy and with full dignity, are respected. No amount of symbolic manipulation or tiny strategic victories can alter the situation in the slightest. Our voices, those of the entire world, must restate the obvious; because we reject violence in all its forms, we can accept no form of silence, whether imposed or guilty. The current Palestinian Authority should resign immediately; the international community must take immediate steps to exert pressure upon Israel, to remind it of its political obligations and the terms of binding international resolutions.
In Tel Aviv back-rooms, political decisions are being taken and applied daily – far from the cameras – that make any hope of peace illusory. We, the international community, the free citizens of the world will, by our silence, be responsible for this flagrant injustice, just as surely as we will share in the flare-up of violence that now seems inevitable. It is all too easy to assert that the Palestinian people has taken a wrong turn, that it has chosen the wrong representatives when, in the final analysis, it was impossible for them to imagine that there existed the barest indications of a way out, the faintest shadow of a choice.
Professor Tariq Ramadan