Mission & Name
US Foreign Policy (Dr. El-Najjar's Articles)
Will History Repeat Itself?
By Ramzy Baroud
ccun.org, February 28, 2009
The political outcomes of the Gaza war are yet to be entirely
decided with any degree of certainty. However, the obvious political
repositioning which was reported as soon as Israel declared its unilateral
ceasefire promised that Israel’s deadly bombs would shape a new political
reality in the region.
In the aftermath, Hamas can confidently
claim that its once indisputably ‘radical’ political position is no longer
viewed as too extreme. “Hamas” is no longer menacing a word, even amongst
Western public, and tireless Israeli attempts to correlate Hamas and Islamic
Jihadists’s agendas no longer suffice.
The Israel war against Gaza
has indeed proven that Hamas cannot be obliterated by bombs and decimated by
missiles. This is the same conclusion that the US and other countries
reached in regards to the PLO in the mid 1970’s. Of course, that realization
didn’t prevent Israel from trying on many occasions to destroy the PLO, in
Jordan (throughout the late 1960’s), getting involved in the Lebanese civil
war (1976), and then occupying south Lebanon (1978), and then the entire
country (1982). Even upon the departure of PLO factions from Lebanon, Israel
followed its leadership to Tunisia and other countries, assassinating the
least accommodating members, thus setting the stage for political ‘dialogue’
with the ‘more acceptable peace partners’.
The history of the
Arab-Israeli conflict has taught us that political ‘engagement’ often
follows wars; the military outcome of these wars often determines the course
of political action that ensues afterward. For example, a war, like that of
1967 (the astounding defeat of the Arabs), strengthened the notion that a
military solution is the primary option to achieve ‘peace’ and ‘security.’
Of course, this logic is erroneous when it is applied to popular struggles.
Conventional armies can be isolated and defeated. Popular struggles cannot,
and attempts to do so often yield unintended and contradictory results.
Israel’s victory (thanks in part to US and European military, financial and
logistical support) drove Israel into the abyss of complete arrogance. Arabs
responded in kind in 1973, and were close to a decisive victory when the US,
once again came to the rescue, providing Israel with the largest transport
of arms recorded since WWII.
Still, the 1973 war created new
realities that even Israel could not deny.
Then, Egyptian president
Anwar Sadat earned prestige (as a statesman) following the war, as US
Secretary of State Henry Kissinger (Israel’s most dedicated friend of all
time) conditioned any American engagement of Egypt on the latter’s departure
from the Soviet’s camp. To win American acceptance, Sadat’s language and
perception on the conflict began to shift, while a ‘peace process’
fragmented the conflict, from its previous totality, into a localized
version, which eventually saw the exit of Egypt from the Arab-Israeli
The PLO, dominated by its largest faction,
Fatah, found itself in a precarious position. Its political stocks were
rising, true, but its liberation rhetoric was expected to shift in favor of
a more ‘pragmatic’ and ‘moderate’ approach. Kissinger was keen on ensuring
that the ‘maximalist’ Arab agenda, including that of the PLO would be
transferred into a minimalist one. That was the price of recognition and
political legitimacy. Not only Sadat, but the PLO, like Hamas today, was
asked to moderate its expectations, but the real buzzword then was accepting
UN resolution 242. The price of legitimacy of the Palestinian struggle
remains unchanged, but the new era yielded new demands and conditions.
Neither then, nor today, was Israel ever asked to reciprocate.
more the PLO of the 1970’s met conditions, the more Yasser Arafat rose to
prominence. In June 1974, Fatah-led PLO revised and approved a political
program that adopted a ‘phased’ political strategy which agreed to
establishing a Palestinian state “over every part of Palestinian territory
that is liberated,” as opposed to Fatah’s own previous commitment to a
“democratic state on all (of) Palestine.” The phased strategy split the
somewhat unified PLO between ‘moderate’ and ‘rejectionist’ fronts, but
allowed for political gains, such as the Arab designation of the PLO, in
Rabat as “the sole legitimate representative of the Palestinian people”.
More, Arafat was invited to speak at the UN General Assembly, where the PLO
received the status of an “observer”. In his speech on November 13, 1974,
Arafat uttered his most famous statement: “Today I have come bearing an
olive branch and a freedom-fighter's gun. Do not let the olive branch fall
from my hand.”
Let historians contend on whether Arafat was tricked
by a peace ploy, which saw the softening of the PLO’s position, while the
Israeli position continued to harden unchecked. The fact is, however, the
seeds of Palestinian division were planted during these years and
Palestinians were compartmentalized – between moderates, extremists,
maximalists, minimalists, pragmatists, rejectionists and so on. However, the
political gains of the PLO of those years were made irrelevant, and were
later used exclusively for personal gains, starting in 1974, passing through
Oslo, the subsequent ‘peace process’, and finally reaching today’s dead-end.
World Media are now reporting that European countries are in direct
contact with Hamas leaders, although officials are insisting that this
contact is independent and not linked to larger government initiatives.
More, several US congressmen visited Gaza, again with similar disclaimers.
US Senator John Kerry, who led the US delegation, claimed that the US
position regarding Hamas has not changed, and repeated the conditions that
Hamas must meet before any engagement is possible.
One has to be
wary of the history that rendered the once influential PLO, the trivial
organization that it is today. History often repeats itself, true, but it
doesn’t have to if one remembers such historical lessons. Peace is not a
‘process’ – at least not in the Kissinger sense – and true dialogue and
positive engagement require no stipulations and conditions. Hamas is now in
the same precarious position that the PLO was in earlier years. Its future
decisions shall influence the coming stage of this conflict, thus the fate
of the Palestinian people in inconceivable ways.
- Ramzy Baroud (www.ramzybaroud.net)
is an author and editor of PalestineChronicle.com. His work has been
published in many newspapers, journals and anthologies around the world. His
latest book is, "The Second Palestinian Intifada: A Chronicle of a People's
Struggle" (Pluto Press, London).