Akram Atallah Alaysa
Ma'an News Agency (Analysis)
September 1, 2011 - 12:00am

Most Palestinians, varied as they may be politically, intellectually and socially, often draw a connection between the Declaration of Independence that Yasser Arafat announced in 1988 and the current UN- based battle for statehood.

Nonetheless, the distinction is significant and easy to point out. The former was a simple expression of the desire for freedom and independence despite the presence of an occupier over the lands occupied in 1967. Although this declaration neither led to the Oslo Accords nor did it have any foundation in international law, it was still supported by, roughly, 100 countries.

If successful the current approach, on the other hand, would position the Palestinian issue completely differently within the international community. This would transform the legal status of the Palestinian issue into that of an occupied state and an occupied people.

This is a landmark transformation that would allow Palestinians to pursue their rights through the international legal system, whatever that may entail.

However, the fear remains of the effect that this political project may have on the Palestinian national constants. What would the effect be on the Right of Return? Or on the Palestinian Liberation Organization’s ability to represent the Palestinian people?

Regardless of these differences between the legal statuses of both historical events, the key question is: why is the new diplomatic maneuver so lacking in popular support, especially if compared with Arafat’s immortal declaration? Why is this the case although the DOI all but lacked any international legality that a U.N. guarantee of statehood possesses?

Here, there is a fundamental reason behind the apathy in the popular sentiment towards "Mission September."

This difference is that the DOI came as the result of an extraordinary revolutionary effort with the First Intifada as its catalyst. It was an unprecedented event that was not only an act of the official representative of the people (the PLO), but it was an act by the people themselves.

This was in the horizontal, rather than hierarchical, nature of the First Intifada that encompassed the entire Palestinian social and political spectra. Moreover, the First Intifada was an exhibition of popular uprising with the Palestinians practicing minimal violence, while enduring the bulk of the weight of the Israeli military machine. As a result, the international sentiment looked upon the Palestinian cause more favorably.

There is no doubt that the long struggle that the Palestinian officials and civil society have embarked on lately, has been commendable. This effort is of such dedication and effectiveness that it has caused the Israeli political elites unrest to which they are not accustomed. Israeli diplomacy has mobilized to gather support in Europe and the USA on a wider range than anything in recent memory to attempt and abort the Palestinian efforts.

Ironically, the Palestinian effort has been successful and international support for the cause has grown. Meanwhile, the Palestinian public remains detached from its formal representation. Why?

Firstly, the Palestinian formal institutions have been concentrating on self-improvement with the September deadline in mind. This is of paramount importance, without question, for it is a key to convince the UN of the validity of the Palestinian demands and the ability of the Palestinian Authority to carry the burden.

However, this undivided attention has resulted in the alienation of the concept of liberation from its popular base. Liberation has been marginalized and has lost its popular characteristic and general public enthusiasm towards it has waned.

The people view "Mission September" as the duty of the Palestinian official institutions, not the people themselves. Most Palestinians view believe the responsibility to be the Palestinian Authority's and not the people's, unlike the 1988 DOI.

This same understanding, as flawed as it is, has extended to all other aspects of the political arena. Moreover, the ever-increasing rate of employment in the Palestinian public sector has changed the perspective of these employees into that of the PA and not the original revolutionary thought of the PLO.

As a result, the role of political fractions in the political arena has diminished, especially that of Fatah, since it is now viewed as the ruling party rather than a "Liberation Movement."

Secondly, the people have not only lost connection with the parties, they have also lost all confidence in their actions as several surveys have confirmed over the past few years.

This sentiment is not coincidental, but it is the result of the cumulative shortcomings that the people have seen from their leadership.

An example from the not-too-distant past is the official Palestinian reaction to the Goldstone report on Gaza. In the case of the report, Palestinian civil society and legal organizations rallied for months on the international stage to reprimand Israel for its brutality during the 2008/2009 onslaught on Gaza.

Meanwhile, the PA retreated from that position in Geneva after Israeli threats to suspend the delivery of the Palestinian tax revenues and American threats to suspend all financial aid to the Palestinian Authority.

In light of this, one is left to wonder if these same threats can lead the Palestinians to draw back their UN proposal under the threat of the Israel/American financial "big stick."

Thirdly, should "Mission September" fail, or succeed for that matter, Palestinian officials have talked of available strategic alternatives. However, many, if not most, sectors of Palestinian society do not view themselves as partners in this process or these alternatives.

The public views the process as anything but transparent or flexible. The people were never consulted or informed about its structure. As a result, the people will not be dedicated to a plan that is dictated to them.

Regardless of the elitist nature of "Mission September," it is only a few days away and approaching quickly. Retreating before Israeli economic threats and an almost-certain American veto is not an option.

Such a retreat would set the Palestinians back into chaotic dual negotiations that will manage the crisis but solve nothing. It will also result in further division in the Palestinian stance, where it will not help build Palestinian internal reconciliation but will hammer the last nail in its coffin.

Moreover, it will deepen the mistrust between the people and their leadership. Finally, it would undermine any credibility that the PA has with any of the 124 countries who vowed to support its bid for statehood and torpedo any future attempts.

"Mission" September is an ambitious attempt to salvage two decades of useless negotiation, mixed with great degree of mistrust towards political parties and four decades of resistance.

However, it is not a magical solution for the Palestinian Diaspora. Israel will not dismantle the settlements in the West Bank nor will it recognize the Palestinian state regardless of the outcome in September.

A real victory would be a successful mission in September with the Palestinian people backing it, instead of watching it.


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