Declaring Palestine: Revisiting Hope and Failure

late Palestinian President Yasser Arafat read the Declaration of the
Palestinian Independence just over 22 years ago, Palestinians everywhere
were enthralled. They held onto his every word during the Palestinian
National Council (PNC) session in Algeria on November 15, 1988. The
council members incessantly applauded and chanted in the name of
Palestine, freedom, the people and much more.

in Nuseirat, a refugee camp in Gaza, a large crowd of neighbors and
friends watched the event on a small black and white television.

Declaration of Independence read, in part: "On this day unlike all we stand at the threshold of a new dawn, in all honor and
modesty we humbly bow to the sacred spirits of our fallen ones,
Palestinian and Arab, by the purity of whose sacrifice for the homeland
our sky has been illuminated and our Land given life."

tears were shed, as those watching the historic event recalled the
innumerable "spirits of the fallen ones". The Nuseirat refugee camp
alone had buried scores of its finest men, women and children the
previous year.

then, the first Palestinian Uprising (December 1987) had swiftly
changed a political equation that relegated both the Palestinian cause
and Palestine Liberation Origination (PLO). Arab leaders had met in
Amman in November 1987, where their discussions were focused almost
exclusively on the Iran-Iraq war. The "central issue" of the Arabs
didn't even receive the usual lip service. The PLO leadership, exiled in
Tunisia since the Israeli war on Lebanon in 1982, was being disowned,
sidelined, and worse, discredited.

Palestinian people watched in dismay - but not for long. Merely days
after the disastrous Arab Summit, Palestinian streets erupted in fury.
Tens of thousands took to the streets of the Gaza Strip, the West Bank,
and even Arab towns throughout Israel, making their frustrations clear
to everyone who contributed to their protracted misery and oppression.

celebrating the people's uprising, Yasser Arafat and the PLO leadership
didn't seem to have a concrete plan. They did, however, labor to seize
the moment. PLO representatives were first consulted regionally and
internationally, and then US and other Western powers attempted to court
the PLO and to exact 'compromises'. This 'engagement' was conditional,
of course, as it continues to be till date.

Palestinian Declaration of Independence was, then, a capitalization on
all of this. Although it rekindled the 'power of the people' as a very
relevant political factor in the Middle East equation, it also ushered
the triumphant return of the PLO and Arafat.

call upon our great people to rally to the banner of Palestine, to
cherish and defend it, so that it may forever be the symbol of our
freedom and dignity in that homeland, which is a homeland for the free,
now and always," the declaration stated.

Ashraf, of the Nuseirat refugee camp, was a poor man with six children.
His barely treated diabetes had taken a toll on his body. Once a boxer
who had competed at a 'regional level' (i.e. in other refugee camps in
Gaza), his body was now contorted and withering. But when Arafat
declared that the state of Palestine now existed - even if only on paper
and largely symbolically - Abu Ashraf got up and danced. He waved his
cane above his head and swayed around the room amidst the laughter of
his children.

100 countries now recognized "Palestine". Ambassadors were deployed to
new posts in many countries, excluding the US and European states. But
this also seemed to matter little. Palestine had never sought
legitimization from the very powers that had helped establish, sustain
and defend Israel's illegal occupation and violence.

problem was that Arafat, his political party, Fatah and PLO leadership
could only go so far. There was a subtle understanding among the
'pragmatics' in Fatah that without Western, and specifically American
validation, a real, tangible Palestine could never follow the symbolic
one. However, the US, the ultimate defender of Israel, had raised
conditions, which the PLO readily accepted. The more conditions Arafat
met, the more he was expected to meet. Among these were: acknowledging
UN resolution 242, renouncing armed struggle, excluding PLO factions
that the US considered too radical, and many more.

first Arafat seemed to have a strategy: get some and demand more. But
the concessions never stopped, and Arafat was constantly paraded
following US demands. In return, he received very little, aside from, 6
years later, a Palestinian Authority that was merely responsible for
managing small, disconnected, 'autonomous' areas in the West Bank and
Gaza. The once glorious moment of independence was left at only that - a
fleeting moment. Its political potential was prematurely and cleverly
co-opted by US 'engagement', which yielded the Oslo agreement. Oslo, in
turn, led to many disasters, which we are still witnessing today.

late 2010 the fervor of recognitions returned, championed by
Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas. This time around, however,
there is little fanfare and no genuine hope for meaningful political
initiatives. Abu Ashraf died in his mid-40's, broken and penniless. His
children and grandchildren still live in the same house, in the same
refugee camp. A minor difference in their life is that the Israeli
military occupation of past has been rebranded and replaced by a very
tight siege. The soldiers are still nearby, just a few miles away in any
possible direction. And these days there seem to be few reasons to

Palestinians do have today is much gratitude to the Latin American
countries that have recently joined the host of nations that recognize
independent Palestine. Uruguay has promised to recognize Palestine in
January 2011. Many Palestinians now understand that to capitalize on the
growing international solidarity, the Palestinian leadership needs to
free itself from the iron grip and political monopoly of the United
States and embrace its partners of old, from the time before Oslo, the
"peace process", the Roadmap and all the other broken promises.

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