The Palestinians have been deprived of territory and denied status as a sovereign state, two important factors that mould their political identity. The Palestinian concept of how much territory is required for a viable sovereign state has changed over the years. From an early policy laying claim to all mandatory Palestine, the Palestinians today are settling for the West Bank and Gaza Strip, comprising 22 percent of historic Palestine. Even with this change, it is clear that Palestinian-Israeli positions collide over the same contested territory.
THE FORMATION OF THE PLO:
A NEW PHASE OF PALESTINIAN NATIONALISM
A NEW PHASE OF PALESTINIAN NATIONALISM
Since 1945, the dominant issue for the Arab world has been the Palestinian question and the refusal of the Arab nations to recognize the Zionist state in the Middle East. This conflict has exacerbated instability in the Arab world and undermined all hope for unity and cooperation. Palestinian nationalism has developed and matured, however, under the leadership of the PLO.
The PLO was officially created by a decision of the Arab League in 1964.
President Nasser of Egypt, at that stage the champion of the Arab cause, backed the idea in order to coopt the new organization into the League, and to provide a means of preventing any Palestinian action against Israel that might draw Egypt into confrontation with it. The PLO was headed by Ahmad al-Shuqayri, known for his close relationship with Nasser, and the Palestinian Liberation Army (PLA) was directly under the Arab Unified Command headed by an Egyptian. The inaugural conference of the PLO was held in May 1964 and its chairman spared no effort in raising material and public support from the various Arab capitals, especially the Gulf states.
Since its inception the PLO was embroiled in factional bickerin'g because its decision-making processes were subject to inter-Arab rivalries, particularly involving Syria and Egypt and, to a certain degree, Jordan. But Fatah, the leading organization within the PLO, emphasized military action against Israel and managed to rise above the old Arab feuding.
The 1967 War was a disaster for the Arab states as well as for the Palestinians. Another significant population of Palestinian refugees who went to Jordan and to other
Arab states like Syria and Lebanon, were denied the right to return to their homes, while the rest of the Palestinians were destined to stay on their soil and suffer from Israeli occupa tion. Arab military might was shattered and the leadership disoriented
and destroyed, while the international community was more sympathetic toward Israel than toward the "intransigent regimes", as they were presented in the international press and world public opinion. The Palestinian leadership became disenchanted with the Arab regimes, even when they were supportive, and began to call for Palestinian organizations to be independent of Arab control. They turned from the cause of pan-Arabism and Arab unity to Palestinian nationalism, and the struggle for independence became their main concern.
After the 1967 debacle, there appeared a crushing need for the reconstruction of Palestinian life. Ideology, armed struggle, and diplomatic posture were secondary to the building of an organization that could claim and act on behalf of all Palestinians. The Palestinian leadership concentrated its efforts on gaining legitimacy and credibility not only from Palestinians but also from the international community. This involved tasks such as purchasing arms, raising funds, and developing a territorial base that could help in maintaining close contacts with the Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza, as well as with launching military activities against Israel.
Building such an organizational structure was difficult and required strenuous efforts. Struggling to consolidate their power, the leading Palestinian organizations could not afford open confrontation with the small organizations that proliferated during that time. However, the large guerilla groups contrived by persuasion, rather than by sheer force, to coopt these small groups. A tolerance of division and diversity therefore characterized the Palestinian national movement, and a sense of pluralism thrived, to become almost a tradition, although social divisions and fragmented authority could not be completely avoided. But by February 1969, Fatah had succeeded in controlling the PLO and in uniting the fragmented guerrilla movement to a considerable degree.
THE POLITICAL INFRASTRUCTURE OF THE PLO
The PLO has managed to maintain and operate a remarkable infrastructure against all odds, thus catering to the political and existential needs of the dispersed Palestinians. Apart from struggling for political rights, the PLO has striven to rehabilitate the Palestinian character and reconstruct shattered Palestinian society.
Despite the militant elements in the organizational structure of the PLO, it has succeeded in building a civilian-institutional infrastructure that tended to the needs of the Palestinian nation in exile. The myriad social organizations and their institutionalization have been crucial in the development of a framework to deal with the internal political processes and strategy formulations. It has provided the PLO with the means and mechanisms for containing factionalism and divisiveness among the resistance groups, and for representing the Palestinians abroad, not to mention the rendering of medical and social care to the refugee ~ommunities in Lebanon and elsewhere. Although Fatah is the largest, wealthiest and most influential group within the PLO, it cannot arbitrarily set PLO policies without coordination with the other smaller groups. It fears fragmentation and cannot risk losing its representative and democratic image, and the support of Arab states, which prompts it to afford the smaller groups a political leverage far beyond their proportions and capabilities. However, Fatah always manages to set objectives assisted by the instructions that are geared to promote unity and avoid fractionalism. This makes the PLO unique in comparison to other national liberation movements.
This institutionalization of the PLO reflects the political maturity of
the Palestinian people and its historic leadership, thus legitimizing its quest for a nationhood and ultimately for statehood. Hence, it becomes important to mention the political institutions of the PLO.
According to the Fundamental Law, the most important political institutions of the PLO are the Palestine National Council, (PNC) the Central Council, and the Executive The institutionalization of the PLO reflects the political maturity Committee. Because it has of the Palestinian people: The PNC in session three branches of government, the legislative, the executive, and the judiciary, the PLO effectively possesses a state infrastructure.
In addition to its political organs, the PLO was able to develop its own regular army and an active military police in Lebanon. However, with the Israeli invasion of Lebanon in 1982, the military and civilian infrastructures of the Palestinians were almost shattered. A closer look at the formal structure of the major political organs of the PLO prompts several inferences about the nature of the political process in the PLO and the extent of power-sharing and collective decision-making. The basic premise is that over the years the PLO has established a quasi-state form of organization that functions in a democratic way. It is valid to say that the legitimacy of the PLO is derived from the Palestinian people. Further, the PLO has succeeded in maintaining its legitimacy by integrating the complex positions and attitudes of the various Palestinian social strata. The high level of literacy among Palestinians and their political consciousness, deepened by dispersion, occupation, and repression by Israel as well as by authoritarian Arab regimes, gives the Palestinian a unique identity.
In terms of decision-making, the PLO strives towards consensus, although constitutionally, a simple majority will do. Unlike other Arab states, the Chief Executive of the PLO cannot make independent arbitrations or unilateral decisions; he must use the tools of persuasion and bargaining in order to arrive at a balance among diverse political trends in the PLO. It is fairly clear that authoritarianism could exacerbate factionalism and divisiveness, a trend that could dismantle the PLO and deprive it of its legitimacy
TIlE TRANSFORMATION OF PLO POUTICS SINCE TIlE LEBANON WAR OF 1982
In the light of the present political realities, one detects a clear transformation in Palestinian politics, especially after the Israeli invasion of Lebanon in 1982. It is evident that three major internal changes within the Palestinian national movement have been a major catalyst in changing the strategy of the PLO in its political struggle against Israel. One of the major changes has been in the role and status of the formal political organizations, the guerrilla groups that compose the PLO. A second major shift was the concentration of power in Arafat's hands as the undisputed leader of the PLO. A third major shift was the shift in focus of the national struggle from the periphery to the center, the Occupied Territories. Naturally, the dramatic shifts in the PLO politics were not made in vacuum, but were a culmination of a particular period of inter¬Arab politics involving especially Jordan and Syria. The focus of political struggle shifted to the West Bank and Gaza, since the PLO's formal institutions and infrastructure had been partially shattered. The only trump card left for Arafat to play was the West Bank card, and he succeeded ingeniously in achieving that objective. His trip to Egypt after the PLO's expulsion from Beirut added a major component to the success of PLO diplomacy thought there was a clear demarcation between the Arafat mainstream and the "rejectionist" opposition composed of the PFLP - general command (PFLP¬GC) and the Vanguards of Popular Liberation War¬Asa'iqa Forces and the splinter group from Fatah Provisional Command, and the pro-Syrian wing of the Palestinian Liberation Front. All these factions together formed the Palestine National Salvation Front in March 1985, but in the end its impact was marginal, because it failed to advocate a viable alternative to the diplomatic posture advocated by Arafat and the Fatah.
On the other hand, since the Fatah split in 1983, the PFLP and the DFLP have formed a "loyal" opposition camp, critical of Arafat, yet loyal to the PLO framework. Unlike the National Salvation Front, the two groups were successful in mobilizing support through the building of organizational structures in the Occupied Territories and in exile. The opposition to Arafat concentrated on political issues, mainly the diplomatic strategy of Fatah and the redefined relations with Jordan and Egypt. It was not until the 19th PNC that the traditional veto power held by the smaller factions was undermined in the decision-making process. Consequently, Fatah has dominated the PLO and confirmed its central role in the PLO's decision-making process.
The moderates inside the PLO realized that U.S. participation was indispensable for a Middle East settlement in view of its massive assistance to Israel in all realms. Consequently, the moderates tried to lobby for a rapprochement with the U.S. and by 1988, with the 19th PNC, a U.S.-PLO dialogue was initiated to be ruptured at a later stage as a result of the aborted Abu aI-Abbas Tel-Aviv beach attack. To analyze the evolution of PLO politics further, a closer look at the PNC resolutions will be helpful in order to trace out the transformation from "armed struggle" to "peaceful coexistence."
To illustrate the transition in Palestinian political thought, the PNC sessions since the inception of the PLO should be divided into three distinctive phases.
FIRST PHASE: UBERA TION AND RETURN (1964-1968)
Since the destruction of Palestine in 1948, Palestinians have suffered homelessness and exile, and have sought to redress these injustices through the liberation of their occupied homeland and the repatriation of their exiled community. The Palestinian National Charter of 1964 and the amended Charter of 1968 drawn up in the fourth PNC and in the resolutions of the second and third PNCs, emphasized the total liberation of Palestine. Self-reliance along with armed struggle were stipulated in Article 9 of the 1968 National Charter. Moreover, the concept of national unity was reiterated to draw together the different guerrilla groups within the PLO infrastructure. As a result of the fourth PNC, the newly emerged PLO stressed vigorously the building of sociopolitical and economic institutions that could cater to the needs of a shattered society.
SECOND PHASE: THE SECULAR DEMOCRATIC STATE: (1969-1974)
During this phase, the Palestinians encountered the problem of how to reconcile their legitimate political rights with the political and demographic realities that had been created after the destruction of Palestine and subsequently. This phase was characterized by a further dramatic shift in Palestinian objectives, from total liberation to the concept of a democratic secular state in which Christians, Jews and Moslems could live harmoniously together. One important concession must be made by the Israelis: the renouncing of Zionism and the messianic vision of Eretz Israel. Thus the fifth PNC in 1969 introduced the idea of establishing a "free democratic society in Palestine." However, in the sixth PNC the same concept was reiterated substituting the word "society" for "state". In fact, in the eleventh PNC, the establishment of a "democratic society where all citizens can live in equality, justice, and fraternity," and which would be "opposed to all forms of prejudice on the basis of race, creed and color" was emphasized. This proposal represented a historic compromise in which a framework for peace was presented and zero-sum claims were renounced by the Palestinians. This official policy of the PLO remained the basic objective until 1974 when the organization made the first gesture towards a two-state solution at the 12th PNC.
THIRD PHASE: THE TWO-STATE SOLUTION (1974-1988)
In July 1974, after the October War, new prospects seemed to emerge in the Middle East and hopes for a comprehensive settlement were high. This induced the PLO to embark on a road to a political settlement through pragmatism that culminated in the declaration of a Palestinian state in the Occupied Territories and the ultimate acceptance of a two¬state solution. This historic decision was a response to accumulation of vital events such as the Lebanese Civil War, Sadat's visit to Jerusalem, the Camp David Accords, the Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty, the 1982 Israeli invasion of Lebanon, and the Intifada in the Occupied Territories. One could safely assert that the 12th PNC was the turning point in Palestinian political decision-making and could be considered the earnest for peaceful coexistence and political accommodation. It was in this council that the "10-point" program was drafted, calling for the establishment of the "people's national independent, and fighting authority on every part of liberated Palestinian land".
The 16th PNC indicated another shift in PLO policy that was directed towards accommodation and open dialogue with Jordan and the formation of a confederation. At all events, the confederation plan was continuously reiterated in subsequent PNCs, despite the abrogation of February Accords in 1986.
From the 12th PNC, the concept of "armed struggle" had become subservient to political diplomacy but was never ruled out as an option. The strategy set was a political course towards peaceful resolutions of the conflict, through mediation, conciliation, reciprocity and parity.
It was in the 17th PNC (Amman Conference 1984) that the consensus in PLO debate shifted to majority politics, since the Damascus-based opposition to the mainstream within the PLO had a small base. The Amman PNC explicitly consecrated the paramountcy of Palestinian aspirations and wishes in the Occupied Territories; these certainly assumed a forefront position. Rashid Khalidi sums up the Palestinian desiderata in the following five points:
(1) There is a Palestinian people living on its historic land.
(2) It has the right to self-determination.
(3) It is represented by the PLO.
(4) It has the right to an independent state.
(5) Negotiations in the context of an international conference.
The 18th PNC, which was convened in Algiers in April 1988/ represented a major PLO triumph over a threat to its unity, national cohesion and legitimacy. According to Muhammad Hallaj, the PNC was significant because:
"The return of the opposition to the parliamentary and constitutional structure of the PLO was an admission of the failure of extra-constitutional confrontation and the triumph of democratic dissent within the Palestinian political process. The importance of the reinforcement of the PLO's democratic traditions by the PNC cannot be overestimated."
The strategy of Palestinian leadership during this third phase was comprised of three substantial elements: (a) mobilizing and politicizing the Palestinian people behind an organization representing them; (b) maintaining the unity of the Palestinian movement through very difficult times; and (c) achieving a political program based on consensus.
In November 1988/ the 19th PNC met in Algiers to adopt a declaration and a political statement. In these documents a clear and concise peace strategy was laid down, along with explicit acceptance of UN Resolutions 242 and 338/ the recognition of Israel, and the issue of terrorism as an impediment to the United States opening a dialogue with the PLO, was addressed. This PNC constituted the most explicit formulation of Palestinian objectives, couched in unambiguous language, and explicitly, a comprehensive, peaceful two-state solution of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.
Undoubtedly, the 19th PNC irrevocably changed the commitment of the PLO from former claims for a state in all Palestine to the objective of a limited one in the West Bank and Gaza. Regardless of the PFLP's and DFLP's opposition to the mainstream Fatah in the PLO, George Habash reiterated: "The PFLP and I will remain in the PLO and in all its institutions forever."
Current Palestinian thinking rests on a clear and unequivocal position calling for the need to develop a flexible strategy that rejects past tendencies to adopt the familiar all-or-nothing position. As we have seen, the "no" which the Palestinians have been known to choose with regard to negotiations with Israel and the restoration of their rights in Palestine has been affected by two important developments:
(a) the PLO's acceptance of a two-state solution and the relevant UN resolutions, an
(b) the willingness of the Palestinians in the Occupied Territories to be part of a negotiating team whose task would be to implement a two-state solution.
In sum, the Palestinian national movement encountered dramatic shifts in objectives, strategy and political achievements due to changes in the political realities and the pragmatic vision of its leadership that compromised on basic principles to reach a political settlement with Israel. Undoubtedly, the radical change from expressive arguments to instrumental ones involved a rather complicated process, culminating in the acceptance of an interim period of limited autonomy. Regardless of the opposition to the Palestinian peace camp, the mainstream had portrayed flexibility and ingenious political scheme in containing the opposition in a democratic process that emphasizes majority rule. One could infer that the instrumental behavior has been more dominant in Palestinian politics, and the recent mutual recognition of Israel and the PLO along with the Declaration of Principles, has marked a historic breakthrough. However, the path towards a full normalization of relations is complex and requires perseverance and stamina from both sides. If both parties agree first on what is attainable and then firmly commit themselves towards the principle of incrementalism (gradualism) in negotiations, it would definitely facilitate the process and accomplish much towards mutual aspirations. The Middle East is at the threshold of a new era, an era that would mould a new Middle East order, and the recent signing of the Declaration of Principles on September 13, 1993 is a prelude towards this end.