Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, January/February 2021, pp. 52-53
The Washington, DC-based Palestine Center held its annual conference virtually on Nov. 7. Titled “The Future of Palestine,” the event offered thoughts on how Palestinians ought to respond to the election of Joe Biden as U.S. president.
Speakers repeatedly stressed the importance of Palestinians not embracing a revival of the fruitless decades-old “peace process.” Rather, they called on Palestinians to unify and articulate to the U.S. and the world a clear vision for their future.
Mustafa Barghouti, the secretary general of the Palestinian National Initiative and a member of the Palestinian Legislative Council, said Biden is likely to take some steps favorable to Palestinians, such as reinstituting aid to Palestinian refugees and allowing the PLO to reopen its diplomatic mission in Washington.
However, he thinks it’s unlikely the incoming administration will repudiate Trump administration policies that sought to change the facts on the ground, such as acknowledging Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. “That’s why I think what we will face is very risky and will not be less dangerous than what we faced with Trump,” Barghouti explained.
“That’s why we need to have a clear and very determined strategy,” he continued. “What we need is a unified alternative strategy that could change the balance of power on the ground. I do not think anybody will come and help us unless we, the Palestinians, help ourselves.”
Putting an end to internal divisions, most notably the Hamas-Fatah divide, is a prerequisite for the emergence of such a plan, he insisted. “We have to adopt a strategy that concentrates on us being unified in our national liberation movement, rather than continuing to have internal division,” he said.
Barghouti said the Palestinian leadership must also diversify itself by inviting a wide range of viewpoints into the decision-making process. In particular, he stressed that young voices need to be elevated. “Most well-known Palestinian leaders [such as Yasser Arafat and Mahmoud Abbas] became leaders while they were young people,” he noted. “Why should it be now that somebody has to be at the age of 60 or 70 before being able to assume any leadership position?”
Nour Odeh, the founder of Connect Consulting, Palestine’s first strategic communications consultancy firm, said Palestine’s many defenders across the world are eager and ready to support a new Palestinian-devised vision for peace and justice.
“Palestine is a progressive universal cause, and we do have friends and we do have allies,” she said. “To continue to pretend that if we play by the playbook of the big boys we’re going to get something different from the sour deal we’ve gotten for the past 30 years is simply not smart.”
Palestinian author Ghada Karmi argued that the new Palestinian approach ought to be centered around demanding equal rights for Jews and Arabs living on land controlled by the Israeli state.
“I think the de facto one-state reality Israel has created can be used against Israel, if we have the guts, if we can organize…and the rest of the world will support us,” she said. There must be, Karmi continued, “a strong campaign started by the Palestinians inside Mandate Palestine and supported by all those who wish Palestinians well, wherever they might be, for equal rights, a campaign that says to Israel…‘either you give us equal rights with the rest of the people you’re ruling, or you get out of the territories.’”
Ilan Pappe, a professor of history at the University of Exeter, said his fellow panelists are correct to worry that history is about to repeat itself. Israel’s leadership “[doesn’t] think that something fundamental will change” under Biden, he explained. “Maybe the talk will change, but not the walk of the American administration—it will continue to be a dishonest broker when it comes to the Palestinian issue.”