Issues In The Palestinian—Israeli Conflict
__ Refugees Forever __
An Arab Voice
Edward Sa'id, an eminent Arabist at Columbia University and one of the outstanding spokesmen for the Palestinian cause, expresses his views.
"The by now notorious peace process has finally come down to the one issue that has been at the core of Palestinian depredations since 1948: the fate of the refugees. That the Palestinians have endured decades of dispossession and raw agonies rarely endured by other peoples -particularly because these agonies have either been ignored or denied, and
even more poignantly, because the perpetrators of this tragedy are celebrated for social and political achievements that make no mention at all of where those achievements actually began - is of course the locus of "the Palestinian problem," but it has been pushed very far down the agenda of negotiations until finally now, it has popped up to the surface. "Along with [the original displacement of the 1948 war] went the scandalously poor treatment of the refugees themselves. It is still the case, for example, that the 40,000-50,000 Palestinian refugees resident in Egypt must report to a local police station every month; vocational, educational, and social opportunities are curtailed; and a general sense of not belonging adheres to them, despite their Arab nationality and language.
"In Lebanon the situation is even more dire. Almost 400,000 Palestinian refugees have had to endure not only the massacres of Sabra, Shatila, Tel al-Za'atar, Dbayyeh, and elsewhere, but have remained confined in hideous quarantine for almost two generations. They have no legal right to work in at least 60 occupations; they are not adequately covered by medical insurance; they cannot travel and return; they are the objects of suspicion and dislike. In part, they have inherited the mantle of opprobrium draped round them by the PLO's presence (and since 1982 its unlamented absence) there, and thus they remain in the eyes of many ordinary Lebanese a sort of house enemy to be warded off and/or punished from time to time. "A similar situation exists in kind, if not in degree, in Syria. As for Jordan, although it was - to its credit - the only country where Palestinians were given naturalized status, a visible fault line exists between the disadvantaged majority of that very large community and the Jordanian establishment for reasons that scarcely need to be spelled out. I might add, however, that for most of these situations where Palestinian refugees exist in large groups within one or another Arab country - all of them the direct consequence of 1948 - no simple, much less elegant or just, solution exists in the foreseeable future. It is also worth mentioning, or rather asking, why it is that a destiny of confinement and isolation has been imposed on a people who quite naturally fled to neighboring countries when driven from their own, countries that everyone believed would welcome and sustain them. More or less the opposite occurred: except in Jordan, no welcome was given them - another unpleasant consequence of the original dispossession.
What of Yasser Arafat's leadership?
"Arafat survives inside the Palestinian territories today for two main reasons: one, he is needed by the international supporters of the peace process, Israel, the US and the EU chief among them. He is needed to sign, and that, after all, is what he is good for. The second reason is that because he is a master at corrupting even the best of his people, he has bought off or threatened all organized opposition (there are always individuals who cannot be co-opted) and therefore removed them as a threat. The rest of the population is too uncertain and discouraged to do much. The Authority employs about 140,000 people; multiply that by five or six (the number of dependents of each employee) and you get close to a million people whose livelihood hangs by the string offered by Yasser Arafat. Much as he is disliked, disrespected, and feared, he will remain so long as he has this leverage over an enormous number of people, who will not jeopardize their future just because they are ruled by a corrupt, inefficient, and stupid dictatorship which cannot even deliver the essential services for daily civil life like water, health, electricity, food, etc.
"That leaves the Palestinian Diaspora, which produced Arafat in the first place: It was from Kuwait and Cairo that he emerged to challenge Shukairy and Haj Amin. A new leadership will almost certainly appear from the Palestinians who live elsewhere: they are a majority, none of them feels that Arafat represents them, all of them regard the Authority as without real legitimacy, and they are the ones with the most to gain from the right of return, on which Arafat and his men are going to be forced to back down. "Palestinian leadership has selfishly put its own self-interest, overinflated squadrons of security guards, commercial monopolies, unseemly persistence in power, lawless despotism, anti-democratic greed and cruelty, before the collective Palestinian good. Until now, it has connived with Israel to let the refugee issue slither down the pole; but now that the final status era is upon us all, there's no more room down there. And so, as I said above, we're back to the basic, the irreconcilable, the irremediably interlocked contradiction between Palestinian and Israeli nationalism." (From the introduction to Palestinian Refugees: The Right of Return, Pluto Press, London, 2001) Award-winning Columbia University professor Edward Sa'id has published several books on the Palestinians and the Middle East.
The Difference Between Yasser Arafat
Now and Anwar Sadat Then
After losing three wars, President Anwar Sadat of Egypt came to the painful conclusion that Israel could not be beaten on the battlefield. He therefore made the courageous and historic trip to Jerusalem. Sadat and Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin, after intensive negotiations, reached the first peace agreement between Israel and an Arab state, known as the Camp David Accord. This was brokered by US President Jimmy Carter in 1979.
Another US President, Bill Clinton, made even greater efforts to bring about peace between Israel and the Palestinians, but to no avail. Arafat spurned the far- reaching concessions offered by Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak, choosing instead the path of terrorism and initiating the latest intifada in August 2000. Had Arafat inherited only a part of Sadat's wisdom and vision, there would probably have been a viable and flourishing Palestinian state today. Instead, there are thousands of bereaved families and no end in sight for a solution to the Palestinian refugee problem.
This article appeared in the Jerusalem Post 1-15-2003 approximately,
and is reproduced solely for educational purposes.
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