November 15, 1999 Special Dispatch No. 56

A Different Palestinian Vision

November 15, 1999
Palestinians | Special Dispatch No. 56

Palestinian intellectual and columnist for the daily Al-Ayyam, Hasan Khadhr, advocates a democratic, secular Palestine and has reexamined the myths of Arab history. In the following article, "The Heritage of a Beautiful Past," Al-Ayyam, Nov. 2, 1999, he discusses the need for Palestinians to break from the political characteristics of the Arab world today and build a real democracy.

"We have no natural resources, not enough agricultural land, no water, and at times not [even] enough air. We also have no complete [political] entity. All our thoughts about the future are focused on a state whose final boundaries we do not yet know. But, what we do know is that our aspirations are greater than our abilities.

"Often, the need to be better than others derives from national delusions which affect all nations. Such illusions sometimes lead some [nations] to disasters and at other times make them honorable.

"During the past thirty years we were taken by different delusive imaginations and our different wars gave the character of absolute truths to these illusions. We felt that we were different from the Arabs and that all we needed was just a piece of land on which we would build a new utopia.

"The deterioration of these delusions in the past five years brought about a painful reexamination and a constant lack of confidence. Nevertheless, not everything that we dreamt about was a delusion and the utopia was not merely a game aimed at arousing emotional mobilization and exciting the imagination...

"We cannot live without a unifying idea. The source of our shame and loss of confidence during the last five years is expressed in the absence of such an idea. [I refer to] a unifying idea that will unite all Palestinians wherever they are and will excite them with the same sweet enthusiasm known to anyone who lived in the early 1970s.

"Let us say that building a state that is different [in character] from the rest of the Arab world can serve well as such a unifying idea, around which the Palestinians can unite. Our friends in the fighting ranks of the PLO might also adopt it, but only if the [Palestinian] entity is established first...

"There is also a different position - one which I support - which states that what we sow today we shall reap tomorrow, and I believe that what we have sown until now does not permit us to expect a unique political experience, but [only] to create again the characteristics of the Arab state that we are familiar with and abhor.

"We do not wish to be a minuscule model of Syria or Iraq, where a sectarian or party-based dictatorship rules through the use of an army and the security services and which are governed by a faulty ideology of equality that has false pretensions to party-like pluralism, democracy, and elections with which both they and we are familiar. We do not wish to become a copy of Libya or Saudi Arabia. In Libya, there is a man who tries to shape a whole nation in his own image, and in Saudi Arabia, there is no constitution, no parliament, and no human rights.

"We do not wish for that. And even if we did, we could not [copy such examples] because they exist in states that have no external threats to their existence and territorial integrity, and have capital which allows for freedom from foreign aid. Our territorial integrity (when it is achieved) will be threatened and lacking, and we will keep relying on foreign aid as one of the main sources for development...

"The discussion of the unifying idea was and remains one of the central issues of Palestinian culture in its broadest sense. In the framework of this idea, questions are [raised] about the character of future Palestinian society, the type of regime [which we will endorse] and the future of historic Palestine itself.

"We talked about external characteristics, but we did not speak of the idea itself, which can be summed up in a few words: a secular democratic state in Palestine, either in the framework of two states for two nations, or in the framework of a single unified state.

"The PLO has raised this idea since the early 1970's, but [up till now] translating the banner into reality was not possible, as there was no [Palestinian] land under our sovereignty. Without commenting on the nature of the political arrangements that are being discussed now [with Israel], [one must understand that] the nature of the regime and the society that we will choose relates not only to us [today] but also clearly points to the future of our entity.

"Today, for the first time in our history, we can talk about substance. In the area of education [for example] there is the issue of our curriculum. We do not wish to recopy the Jordanian or Egyptian curriculum but [we wish to have] an advanced, enlightened and modern Palestinian curriculum. This question might linger for many years, but it is crucial and has no substitute...

"[Another example] has to do with the legislation. There is no [such thing as] half-democracy, quarter-democracy, temporary democracy, long-term democracy, Western democracy or foreign democracy. There is [only] one democracy which was established by UN and human right conventions. Any legislation regarding women, children, labor, workers, parties, publications, citizenship, individual and group rights, and criminal law must go through the filter of these conventions and the values they represent.

"These questions have been on the agenda of the Palestinian Left in the past and continue in the present. But, the experience of the last years points to the ideological poverty and intellectual destitution of the Left, which was damaged by the Oslo complex. For five years, the Democratic Front [for the Liberation of Palestine] did not fight even one battle for the sake of democracy in Palestine. Similarly, the Popular Front[1] [for the Liberation of Palestine] did not view the workers and women as part of the nation, and did not undertake [even] one struggle for the labor unions for five years, and it is needless to mention the timidity with which these organizations speak of the idea of secularization in Palestine.

"Nevertheless, we have not yet lost the opportunity, and as dreamers in every place and time know, [each] utopia includes as much of the present as it does the future. And there is no way to evade criticizing the flawed present through a future which [itself] is a part of the heritage of [our] beautiful past."

[1] Both the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine (DFLP) and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) are Marxist organizations.

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