It`s over. Given the shocking nature, extent and detail of these ghastly revelations from behind the closed doors of the Middle East peace process, the seemingly endless and ugly game is now, finally, over. Not one of the villains on the Palestinian side can survive it. With any luck the sheer horror of this account of how the US and Britain covertly facilitated and even implemented Israeli military expansion – while creating an oligarchy to manage it – might overcome the entrenched interests and venality that have kept the peace process going. A small group of men who have polluted the Palestinian public sphere with their private activities are now exposed.
For us Palestinians, these detailed accounts of the secretly negotiated surrender of every one of our core rights under international law (of return for millions of Palestinian refugees, on annexing Arab Jerusalem, on settlements) are not a surprise. It is something that we all knew – in spite of official protests to the contrary – because we feel their destructive effects every day. The same is true of the outrageous role of the US and Britain in creating a security bantustan, and the ruin of our civic and political space. We already knew, because we feel its fatal effects.
For the overwhelming majority of Palestinians, official Palestinian policy over these past decades has been the antithesis of a legitimate, or representative, or even coherent strategy to obtain our long-denied freedom. But this sober appreciation of our current state of affairs, accompanied by the mass protests and civil society campaigns by Palestinian citizens, has been insufficient, until now, to rid us of it.
The release into the public domain of these documents is such a landmark because it destroys the final traces of credibility of the peace process. Everything to do with it relied upon a single axiom: that each new initiative or set of negotiations with the Israelis, every policy or programme (even the creation of undemocratic institutions under military occupation), could be presented as carried out in good faith under harsh conditions: necessary for peace, and in the service of our national cause. Officials from all sides played a double game vis-à-vis the Palestinians. It is now on record that they have betrayed, lied and cheated us of basic rights, while simultaneously claiming they deserved the trust of the Palestinian people.
This claim of representative capacity – and worse, the assertion they were representing the interests of Palestinians in their struggle for freedom – had become increasingly thin over the last decade and a half. The claim they were acting in good faith is absolutely shattered by the publication of these documents today, and the information to be revealed over this coming week. Whatever one`s political leanings, no one, not the Americans, the British, the UN, and especially not these Palestinian officials, can claim that the whole racket is anything other than a brutal process of subjugating an entire people.
Why has this gone on for so long and at such high cost? And why haven`t the Palestinians been able to create the democratic representation so urgently needed to advance their cause? Israel, along with those who share its worldview, would assert that the problem lies with the Palestinians themselves, being part of an Arab political culture that can only breed either authoritarian governments or terrorists. Yet what these documents reveal is the extent of undemocratic, authoritarian, colonial and, frankly, terrifying coercion the US, Britain and other western governments have been imposing upon Palestinians through this unaccountable leadership.
The unconstrained power of America, the global superpower that has (now on record and in sickening detail) taken one party`s side in this conflict, can be seen on every page. Everyone is implicated, from the president to the secretary of state, from the military generals who have created the security forces to implement these policies to the embassy staff involved in the daily execution of them. It also shows this policy is an absolute failure, bringing ruination upon the Palestinians and increasing belligerency from the completely unfettered, aggressive and erratic Israel, currently practising a form of apartheid towards the Palestinians it rules through force.
This uneven balance of power can only be successfully addressed in the same way every national liberation movement has addressed it in the past: through the unassailable strength of a popular mandate. Ho Chi Minh sitting down with the French, or Nelson Mandela negotiating with the apartheid regime embodied this popular legitimacy, and indeed drew their principles and negotiating positions from it. The Palestinian leadership`s weak and incompetent posturing is the opposite of dignified and honourable national representation, and proves useless to boot.
On the positive side, had such deals eventually come to light, Palestinians would have rejected them comprehensively. But the worst betrayal has been what this hypocrisy has bequeathed to the young generation of Palestinians. These officials have led a new generation to believe that participating in public governance is base and self-seeking, that joining any political party is the least useful method to advance principals and create change.
Through their harmful example, they have alienated young Palestinians from their own history of resistance to colonial and military rule, so they now believe that tens of thousands of brilliant, imaginative and extraordinarily brave Palestinians never existed or, worse, fought and died for nothing. It cuts them off from any useful mobilising methods and techniques that they might draw upon today – the democratic and collective mechanisms that are needed more than ever. They have given young people the idea that there is no virtue in collective organisation, the mechanism by which popular democratic change is made and preserved.
The increasingly popular view that the Palestinian revolution was a failure from its inception, always corrupt, driven from above and never from below, is false – but it has gained credibility through the actions of the current regime. Its behaviour has nearly erased the record of the contribution made by tens of thousands of ordinary Palestinian citizens who, through the sheer force of their devotion to public life, fought for principles and created real and democratic self-representation under the worst of conditions. It is our most valuable freedom, and one well worth fighting for: the release of these devastating documents paves the way for its restoration.