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August 17, 2000 Special Dispatch No. 119

Palestinian Intellectuals Opposing Arafat Discuss Camp David

August 17, 2000
Palestine | Special Dispatch No. 119

Two leaders of the Palestinian Opposition to Arafat discussed the Camp David Summit in the Egyptian English language weekly Al-Ahram Weekly. In an article entitled "Apologies to my Son," [I] Palestinian legislator and former minister in protest against corruption in the PA leadership and Arafat's undemocratic behavior, Abd Al-Jawwad Saleh, criticizes Arafat both for his governance and for laying the foundation for future concessions to Israel at Camp David. In another article entitled "One More Chance," Palestinian-American intellectual, Prof. Edward Sa'id, a harsh and long-time critic of Arafat, credits him for not signing at Camp David. Focusing on the moral aspects of Palestinian-Israeli relations, Sa'id calls on Arafat to tell the Palestinian people the truth, discard the Oslo process, and mobilize them to a real peace with justice modeled after South Africa.

Saleh: Arafat's Surrender

"…Why do we need to declare a state when we have already done so? And why should we declare one now, when the PA has been busy systematically de-institutionalizing the PLC, local government and the press? Such institutions are the basis of any modern state. The PLC represents the people's sovereignty. Why must we incite havoc through an empty declaration?"

"We need to build a real state on the ground: by separating the three branches of the PA (executive, legislative and judiciary) through the promulgation of the Basic Law; by institutionalizing the rule of law through the promulgation of the Independent Judiciary Law; by establishing a democratic political system and initiating regular elections for all institutions; and finally, by taking serious anti-graft measures. That is how a nation is built."

"I am worried that such a declaration will be perceived as exempting the Israelis from fulfilling their responsibilities: their moral and legal obligation to recognize their victims' rights, the ramifications of Israeli occupation, dispossession, torture, killing, and exile. Yet the Palestinian Central Council, parroting Arafat, claims that, this time, the declaration will make Palestinian sovereignty manifest."

"Why on earth has the PA spent the past seven years watching silently as our land was expropriated and settlements mushroomed? Where was Palestinian sovereignty then? …What was the Central Council waiting for? I have listened to speeches for days on end, and heard only the discourse of exile. No one has revealed the sufferings of our people or even expressed indignation at the fact that Ramallah and Al-Bireh were occupied for three days, that their businesses were closed down and that the two cities became a battle ground where a handful of hooligans postured, most of them with [Palestinian] General Intelligence Agency cards securely in their pockets."

"The meeting of the Central Council was a show of support for the boss. How can an attitude of "confrontation" be implanted in the spirit of a frustrated people when these conditions prevail throughout the territories under the PA's jurisdiction?"

"...No matter what the eventual outcome, I believe the clue to the negotiations - and to the ongoing political process - is to be found in the "Beilin-Abu Mazen" document. This document jeopardizes our rights by forsaking issues that form the basis of our people's cause - Jerusalem, the right of return, [etc.]..."

"When the deliberations began, Barak refused to discuss Jerusalem before Arafat backed down on the right of return. The Israelis claim that the return of Palestinians to the homes and villages from which they were evicted by force constitutes some kind of existential threat. Arafat acquiesced."

"This is a catastrophe that will erase a century-old dream, which the Palestinians have paid for in a currency they can never exchange. What must they do with their dead, with those who have been wounded and humiliated? …The Palestinians' suffering can be neither forgotten nor redeemed. This catastrophe exceeds the Nakba of 1948."

"The Holy See and the PLO concluded a basic agreement early this year, limiting the PLO's authority in Jerusalem to cultural and religious activities."

"The speaker of the PLC [Abu 'Alaa] violated procedural rules when he refused to put two draft laws on the agenda: first, that Jerusalem is the capital of the Palestinian state; second, that Palestinian refugees have the right to return to their homes and villages. Instead of discussing them, the speaker referred them arbitrarily to a committee."

"All these are signs that the PA is already committed to accepting Abu Dis as the capital of a Palestinian state. Last but not least, there is the fact that the PLC will be housed there."

"Until talks broke down, Camp David was part of the props in a Shakespearean tragedy, designed to show that the heroes have fought courageously to the bitter end. In fact, it signified complete surrender. Barak has made it impossible to conclude a genuine peace. He will achieve a truce, which is another term for war deferred. The Israeli right will be satisfied later, with the racist accusation that Palestinians do not respect agreements they sign."

"My profound apologies to my son, Maher, and the others who were martyred for the Palestinian cause."[1]

Sa'id: Arafat Endured

"[Clinton] had an opportunity to do what no one else could… bring both Israelis and Palestinians (but especially Israelis) to a genuine recognition of what the issues were and then perhaps face the stronger and more culpable party with some real choices. Such a procedure would have required that he… go beyond the clichés and biases of his Middle East team, nearly every one of them a known pro-Zionist and/or former Israeli lobby employee, and get at the essence of the problem, which, simply put, is that one people has dispossessed another. This is a dateable historical fact (1948) and not, as the poorly informed Mrs. Albright put it, a 'biblical' contest 'going back thousands of years'…."

"The shallowness of Clinton's approach was further demonstrated by his acquiescence to Ehud Barak's position that Israel might consider 'understanding' and 'noting' the suffering of the Palestinian people but would assume no part of the blame for causing it. Did it ever occur to Clinton that there is no such thing as suffering without cause or blame? …Was it necessary to treat Arafat and the people he claimed to represent not only as contemptible little creatures but as morons as well? … How did Clinton and Barak expect Palestinians to give up their right of return after having gone to war a year ago on behalf of the Kosovar Albanians' right of return?…"

"…Arafat did the right thing by not signing. …[Despite] ill-tempered attacks on the Palestinians for not being willing to compromise, and the gushing praise for Barak because he was so 'courageous,' a word in this context that has no possible relevance. …Israel doesn't require much courage to express a willingness to give back Beit Hanina and Abu Dis to partial Palestinian sovereignty. As for Israel's much vaunted magnanimity in being willing to challenge long-standing 'taboos' about Jerusalem by talking about them, that too is the rankest nonsense. …200,000 Palestinians live there, and without Arab and Islamic backing, Arafat was simply in no position to compromise on East Jerusalem as well as the settlements as well as the right of return, all for nothing more than a pat on the back and a phony state that couldn't fool even as ardent a claimant for the illusion as Arafat… Barak really wanted Arafat to sign a termination of the Arab-Israeli conflict… That is, Israel can continue to possess 78 per cent of Mandatory Palestine as its own, plus strategic parts of the 22 per cent that remain, maintain a rigid separation between Jews and non-Jews, keep all of Jerusalem, go on with the invidious Law of Return, continue to control water, borders, security, and never have to deal with its historical responsibilities as having forcibly displaced an entire people in order to come into existence."

"….I worry that having returned home to a hero's welcome Arafat will then turn around, assured of his domestic support, return to Camp David and capitulate to Israel and Clinton. But he has one last chance to redeem himself… The only recourse for Arafat is to turn to his people, and not just the group of sycophants and pygmies with whom he has surrounded (and isolated) himself. He must… mobilize his people… to commit themselves to the task ahead, which is nothing less than remaining firm to our collective vision as a dispossessed people requiring serious redress for our grievances and claims. …only with his people can Arafat become not only the conscience but also the vision of the peace process, both of which it now lacks."

"By doing so he can offer the Israelis a real peace with justice, and not a cold peace with injustice rankling in every Palestinian breast…. There is no doubt that in the end Palestinians must compromise and must be absolutely clear in saying that we fully intend to recognize a secure Israeli-Jewish presence in our midst, but only as a result of the basic issues having been resolved to our minimum satisfaction. This is not a matter of whim: it is consolidated in every known international and legal resolution. The South African model is additionally useful here: as Mandela did, we must be inclusive in our vision, and we must require that an end be put to the invidious idea that one people has all the rights whereas the other people must accept inferior status. …a Truth and Reconciliation Commission made up of Israelis and Palestinians who have substantial moral status in their societies would be a good idea too. Equality is the core principle, however, and even though it cannot be mathematically precise it has to address the fundamental discrepancy that now obtains between Jew and Arab."

"I have no illusion at all that this will be easy, or that the absence of real democracy in the Arab world is anything but a hindrance to the real contest in Palestine. But I do not believe that there is any other way for Arafat if he wishes to avoid the dismal logical end to the Oslo peace process, which he barely escaped at Camp David. This is a moment for vision, principle and courage. If he wants my support in such a task, he will have it."[2]


[I] Saleh's son died serving in the PLO.

[1] Apologies for My Son, Al-Ahram Weekly (Egypt), July 27 - August 2, 2000.

[2] One Last Chance, Al-Ahram Weekly, August 3-9, 2000.

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