Inter-Arab Politics and the Mainstream of the Palestinian Movement: Changes in
Relations and Strategy and their Implications for the Peace Process


Husam A. Mohamad

Eastern Mediterranean University, Cyprus

Copyright © 1999 by Husam A. Mohamad, all rights reserved. This text may be used and shared in accordance with the fair-use provisions of U.S. Copyright law, and it may be archived and redistributed in electronic form, provided that the editors are notified and no fee is charged for access. Archiving, redistribution, or republication of this text on other terms, in any medium, requires the notification of the journal and consent of the author.

During the two decades that followed the 1948 war, the Palestinian movement was largely dependent on the good will of the Arab states. After the 1967 war, however, Palestinians began to turn away from the politics of pan-Arab populism and supported instead other new independent and militant organizations. For the next three decades, since 1967, the popular appeal of pan-Arabism gradually faded and became less relevant to the conduct of Arab and Palestinian politics. Islamic movements took the place of Arabism in becoming the new transcendental movements in the 1980s and 1990s and in posing threats to localism and secularism in the Arab world. This paper explores historical and current developments in relationships between mainstream Palestinian and inter-Arab political elite and ideologies, on the one hand, and examines the implications of such developments on the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, on the other. A special attention is also given to the evolution of mainstream Palestinian response to local and regional political changes that influenced the Palestine issue and brought about revisions in Palestinians' goals and means regarding the conflict with Israel.

  1. Although the Palestinian national identity existed well before the start of the century, this article focuses more on the period that followed the 1948 war, which, among other things, resulted in the dispersion of the Palestinian people, the shredding of their society and the reorientation of their politics and identity. From 1948 to 1967, Palestinian politics remained part of pan-Arab politics at the official level and a crucial factor in the consciousness of all Arabs, which resulted in an increased Palestinian affiliation with pan-Arab populist parties and regimes during the inter-war period. Palestinian movements and groups after 1948 had no choice but to acknowledge their dependence on the Arab states. Most Palestinians--namely those from the West Bank, Gaza and the nearby refugee camps in Arab countries--adopted the "politics of accommodation." Many of those who left Palestine because of the war were "able to take part in Arab," not Palestinian, politics. Their involvement in Arab politics resulted from the lack of alternative ideologies and because, unlike Zionism, Arabism was not exclusionary (Said, Question 140). Palestinian politics between 1948 and 1967 was thus conditioned by new realities imposed upon the Palestinians in the diaspora. Among the main political trends in Palestinian elites and groups that existed in the diaspora during and after the inter-war period, the pan-Arab populist elite and the Palestinian independent elite were the most important. The rest of the Palestinian communities that continued to live inside historic Palestine following the war became more or less directly affected by Israel's policies towards non-Jewish minorities residing in Israel, on the one hand, and Jordan's plans for West Bank Palestinians, on the other.
  2. Palestinians who became subject to Israel's direct control after 1948 experienced what is known as the "Israelification" of the Palestinian Arabs, which entailed the granting of Israeli citizenship, not nationality, to the non-Jewish residents living within the Green Line boundaries. [1] With time, they became known as the Israeli Arabs, who like other marginalized and threatened ethnic minorities developed a strong sense of national identity in an effort to restore their traditional Palestinian "heritage, language and culture" against Israel's political and cultural domination (A.Smith, "Nations" 363). With few exceptions, for most Israelis, Israel has been legally defined as the Jewish State for the Jewish people around the world (Jacobsohn 168, 186). Recognizing this entails that most Israelis would like to see the creation of a homogeneous Jewish population in Israel. This situation undoubtedly increased the fears of most Arabs residing inside the Jewish State about the future of their national existence, regardless that they were citizens of the state of Israel. Eventually, Israel managed to restrict the political and cultural influences of the Israeli Arabs on Israeli society and state. To ensure the dominance of Jews within the Jewish State, the Israeli parliament adopted several laws--including the Law of Return for the Jews in 1951 and the Law of Citizenship--by which the Arab minority would be restricted within the limits of citizenship regulations regarding non-Jewish residents (Ataov 7-9). In the context of such differing arrangements for Jewish and non-Jewish citizens of Israel, the Israeli Arab minority had painfully tried to secure its basic rights within the restricted framework of Israel's ethnic type of democracy. [2]
  3. On another level, the West Bank Palestinians, who became subject to Jordan's rules in the aftermath of the 1948 war, were influenced by different sets of plans that were largely associated with Jordan's intentions to confine Palestinian nationalism within manageable limits. The Jordanian regime and its Palestinian supporters from the West Bank, who came from prominent families such as the Nashashibis, the Dajanis, the Nusseibehs, the Tuqans, the Jayyusis, the Masris, and the Abd al-Hadis created a new pro-Jordanian Palestinian political elite, which backed up Jordan's interests in West Bank territories. Following the official merger of the West Bank with Jordan in 1951, key members of Palestinian 'big families' began occupying high political positions in the Jordanian government. Shortly thereafter, these members became the core founders of the Jordanianized Palestinian elite. Some of those who joined the Jordanianized elite found it justifiable and convenient to integrate into Jordan's system "as a step in the direction of comprehensive Arab unity" (Sahliyeh 13). No doubt the West Bank merger with Jordan and Palestinians' involvement in Jordan's politics, however, were done at the expense of Palestinian nationalism. In spite of the strength of the Jordaninized elite in the initial years following its inception in the early 1950s, most Palestinian activists at a later time became rather involved in pan-Arab populist movements. Most political leaders of pan-Arab and socialist opposition parties in Jordan and elsewhere in the Arab world were also Palestinians who challenged the Jordanianized elite. Eventually, the growth of Arabism since the late 1950s and the strength of the Fedayeen movements in the 1960s and 1970s intensified oppositions to the Jordanianized elite (Jarbawi 22).
  4. As time went by, the Jordanianized elite became increasingly unpopular and the Arab Israeli conflict was also becoming more Palestinianized. Soon after the 1967 war, most Palestinian activists became committed to new militant and secular nationalist groups, known as the Fedayeens, which became popular among Palestinians in the diaspora. [3] Interestingly enough, two decades later, Islamic revivalists began to play a more leading role in Palestinian and inter-Arab politics. In the 1980s and 1990s, Islamic groups managed to offer Palestinians and Arabs alike an Islamic alternative to existing secular and local political trends and ideologies. Along with these changes, the old myths of Arabism and Palestinian militarism were replaced by new and uncompromising myths of radical Islamism (Al-Sharif Chapter 11).
  5. Despite widespread divisions among the Palestinian elites and movements since 1948, both inside and outside Palestine, the Palestinian identity itself had not been largely affected by the new situation. From the time of its inception in the mid-19th century, the Palestinian identity continued to exist side-by-side with the larger Arab and Islamic identities. On many occasions, the Palestinian identity was challenged and often confronted by Western colonialism and Zionism (Khalidi 21). Despite challenges, however, the Palestinian Arabs continued as a nation to possess a clear and distinct political identity, and as a community they have, especially in the past, enjoyed unity with respect to political, economic, social and cultural terms. Perhaps the 1948 war was the new demarcation line after which Palestinians were left at an odd situation of having a "high level of national consciousness" without the "national and political institutions to embody" this consciousness (Hamid 90). The 1948 war, which led to the destruction of the Palestinian society and the collapse of its institutional structure, had failed to destroy the presence of the Palestinian national identity itself. Following the 1948 war, the possibility of speaking of a unified Palestinian society and politics became particularly difficult. However, the same could not be said about the presence of a Palestinian identity that continues to be alive and well over the years (Tibi 22).
  6. Given this background, it appears that the Palestinian political situation, over much of the inter-war period, has been conditioned by new changing realities and upheavals, among the most important being the development of the pan-Arab Palestinian elite and the Pan-Arab movement. The pan-Arab elite, which became powerful in the late 1950s, emphasized that the liberation of Palestine was part of the larger goal of changing the social and political structure of the Arab world (Haim 40) . Most Palestinian activists at the time believed in this pan-Arab assumption, which illustrates that participation in pan-Arab movements would likely enable Palestinians to regain their lost homeland. The Palestinian attraction to pan-Arabism at the time was enhanced by the presence of Palestinian activists who happened to become leaders of several pan-Arab movements that were largely subsumed under the populist role of both Nasserism in Egypt and Ba'athism in Syria and Iraq (Brand 4). Palestinian support to pan-Arab movements and regimes remained strong and unchallenged until 1961, when the Egyptian-Syrian union failed. Their commitment to Arabism was then questioned by key Palestinian organizations like Fatah, which became the largest Fedayeen guerrilla group (Cooly 145). The pan-Arab elite witnessed, in addition, other changes as a result of the 1967 war. By then, a new radical phase had been developed by which the Palestinian identity in relation to the pan-Arab identity underwent another transformation.
  7. Since 1967, the mainstream leadership of the Palestinian movement began emphasizing Palestinians' local priorities in the conflict with Israel, paving the way for a new ideology of Palestinian nationalism rather than Arabism (Moten 199). As a consequence, the practical appeal of pan-Arabism began losing ground to the more localized and militant Palestinianism. Accordingly, both the 1948 and 1967 wars played important roles in reorienting Palestinian political belief systems and affiliations into two new directions, where the first affiliation was mainly associated with the pan-Arab movement following 1948, and the second became more connected with local Palestinianism and its warfare strategy after 1967. [4] Indeed, the recent Islamic trend--which became active following the 1987 Palestinian uprising--created another major shift in Palestinians' political orientations. With the emergence of a new situation in the 1990s as a result of the Oslo Accords, Palestinian politics became divided into new sets of political trends and movements; among them, secular nationalists who supported Oslo and radical Islamists who opposed peace deals with Israel were the most visible. [5]
  8. An additional point to be made regarding Palestinian nationalism during and after the inter-war period relates to the fact that the Palestinian identity, over the years, had continued to exist without the presence of a Palestinian independent state. Having said this, Palestinian nation building and state building, in this context, should not be viewed as part of a simultaneous process. This basis for understanding is true in the case of Palestine and the Palestinian people as well as other similar cases around the world (see Gruber 134). This understanding of nationhood and nation building challenges many views, including the views of former Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir, who indicated in 1968 to the London Times that Palestinian nationalism did not exist--a conclusion largely rooted in the absence of a Palestinian independent entity or state. Undoubtedly, on many occasions, both Israelis and Palestinians presented similarly negative views, some of which were shaped by mutual denial of the national claims of the other party. This may explain why the Palestinian-Israeli conflict continued for many decades to be viewed largely as a zero-sum dispute over national identity and existence (Kelman 196). In this context, it must be noted that nations and nationalism should not always be defined on accounts rooted in the presence of objective geopolitical, economic, linguistic and cultural factors. However, when defining a nation, one should also look at issues relating to the ideas and ideals about nationhood, as well as thoughts and imaginations concerning those who feel they belong to a particular nation. This view, although complicating the definition of nationalism and national identity, emphasizes a more subjective meaning of national existence. This approach also makes it difficult to determine nations' births or deaths, if such events ever exist (Anderson 205).
  9. Furthermore, the emergence of a distinct Palestinian national identity should not be viewed to have come about into existence as a mere reaction to the 1948 and the 1967 wars. Although the Palestinian identity was largely disoriented, weakened and subsumed by the effect of these wars on the Palestinians, Palestinians' consciousness of themselves as a nation had existed well before the starting of the century. Indeed, the 1948 and 1967 wars and their memories of sufferings and collective sacrifices experienced by Palestinians in battles were factors that contributed to the unifying, mobilizing and radicalizing of the Palestinian people and Palestinian nationalism toward new, often too radical, directions (see A.Smith "Memory" 382).
  10. The downfall of traditional Palestinian leaders following the 1936-39 revolt, as well as the failure of Arabism to achieve the goal of liberating Palestine in the 1948 and 1967 wars, were factors that contributed to the growth of an independent and more militant Palestinian elite and movement in the diaspora. After 1967, the mainstream leadership of the Fedayeen movement was largely successful in disassociating itself from pan-Arab myths and doctrines that dominated Palestinians' political life in past decades. By that time, most Palestinian activists began instead identifying themselves, directly or indirectly, with the new Fedayeen groups--namely the al-Fatah organization, which was founded in Kuwait City in 1959 and led PLO factions since 1968. Few Palestinian groups continued adherence to the pan-Arab perspectives following the 1967 war era. Despite differing and often clashing views amongst and between the Fedayeen factions, their control of the PLO had in itself given Palestinians new hopes and optimism about their future. [6]
  11. Essentially, the Fedayeens' showdown in the Karamah battle in Jordan against Israel marked a new beginning in Palestinian politics. In this battle, which took place only a year after the 1967 war, the Fedayeen factions of the PLO fought heroically against a large contingent of Israel's army and were able to inflict upon it heavy losses in arms and men. The battle was widely publicized in all Arab countries and made the PLO and its leaders instant heroes. It gave the Arab people a much needed boost in the morale that had suffered immensely as a result of the defeat in 1967. No doubt the Karamah battle was the great event that made the PLO the center of a new type of Arab politics and a new way of dealing with the Arab-Israeli conflict (Kuroda 264).
  12. Following the battle, the leadership of the PLO galvanized its efforts to achieve Palestinian goals with mainly Palestinian efforts. After Karamah, Fatah particularly stressed the need for a distinct and independent Palestinian initiative in the war with Israel. In so doing, Fatah became the main challenger to the strategy of pan-Arab movements and groups, which did not separate the Palestinian efforts and role from those of the Arab nations (Hudson 300). The defeat of the Arab armies in 1967, on the one hand, and the success of the new independent Fedayeen organizations in the diaspora, on the other, weakened the appeal of pan-Arab ideology in Palestinian politics (Ajami 135). Pan-Arab parties suffered greatly from these changes, and with their gradual demise also went the influence of those Palestinians who considered Arabism as the basis of their political beliefs and practices.
  13. Despite the occurrence of major events that discredited the political role of pan-Arabism in Arab and Palestinian politics since 1967, the Palestinian people continued to identify themselves--mainly in cultural terms--via both Palestinian localism and Arabism. The Palestinian rejection of pan-Arabism and their reliance on local identities instead have been connected with the discrediting of Arabism--both as an ideology and a public philosophy for the Arabs--as a consequence of the 1967 defeat. After that failure, the hopes and aspirations of the Palestine pan-Arab elite and generation sank for many years to come. [7] Palestinians' and Arabs' rejections of Arabism in the aftermath of 1967 may also be attributed to the Arab and Palestinian need to escape answering questions concerning the real causes of the humiliating defeat. [8]
  14. Following 1967, the Fedayeen groups encouraged Palestinians to take matters into their own hands and not rely on Arab leaders who, they believed, were not serious about liberating Palestine. Their new strategy stressed independence of action and the use of armed struggle as a means for regaining their lost homeland. In so doing, the Fedayeens had, in the 1960s and 1970s, become the new heroes of the Arab world (Cobban 30). Since their takeover of the PLO, the framework of the organization experienced major changes in its structure, policy and philosophy. New revisions of the Palestine National Covenant and the Constitution of the PLO were also made at the time of the transition. [9] Strong evidence showed that these changes were part of discernible trends toward the creation of a new leadership that became represented in Palestinian radicalism (Mohamad "PLO's Search" 173).
  15. In the 1960s and 1970s in particular, Fatah on the mainstream and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) on the left of the Palestinian political spectrum became the most powerful radical revolutionaries in Palestinian politics. These organizations refused, at least in theory, to allow any Arab regime, no matter what its revolutionary credentials might be, to manipulate the Palestinian movement. Fatah, in particular, had argued that when Palestinians wage their guerrilla warfare strategy against Israel, the hopes for return to Palestine would then be transformed into reality. [10] At the time, the Fedayeen groups began adopting an uncompromising position based on the "all-or-nothing" strategy, which assumed that military means, as opposed to political ones, should always constitute the most important part of their political practices. [11] This radical approach to the conflict continued to influence PLO activity, although the official policy of the organization's leadership since 1974 was to move Palestinian radical politics in a more moderate direction. The defeat of the Palestinian guerrillas in Jordan's civil war in 1970, and the emergence of new peace deals following the 1973 Arab-Israeli war, led the mainstream leadership of the PLO into gradually abandoning its revolutionary credentials.
  16. After the 1973 war, the mainstream leadership of the PLO began transforming the organization's radical strategy in an attempt to move closer to the conservative direction of the Arab states. Such modification of PLO strategy led to collapses within the highest levels of PLO ranking units. For example, in 1974, the PFLP decided to split from the PLO by forming a new Palestinian "Rejectionist Front" in order to express its dissatisfaction with the resolutions of the eleventh session of the Palestine National Council (PNC) meeting in Cairo. The PNC resolutions at the time had called for the establishment of a Palestinian authority on any part of Palestine. In the midst of the Lebanese civil war in 1977, the PFLP came back and joined the PLO. From then on, the PFLP was in and out of the PLO, always trying to maintain Palestinian unity while opposing the Fatah policies it disagreed with. This situation was difficult for the PFLP because it made it appear uncertain, ambiguous and often marginal. [12] Indeed, the PFLP's departure from the PLO, in 1974, had given Fatah the unchallenged status it needed in order to formulate PLO strategy for many years to come. Eventually, the PLO leadership had lost much of its old radical credentials after becoming dependent on conservative Arab regimes that favored diplomatic methods as means to resolve conflicts (Kimmerling 239).
  17. Following the 1973 war, many Arab states, particularly Egypt and Jordan, were ready to cooperate in a settlement that would bring an end to their conflict with Israel on the basis of territorial adjustments in the pre-1967 Arab Israeli borders. Recognizing the regional centrality of the Palestinian issue, however, most Arab leaders wanted the Palestinians, represented by the PLO, to set aside their differences and "march together" with them in the pursuit of a diplomatic settlement that would erase Israel's record of "aggression" in previous wars (Aruri 73). The Arab states had re-emphasized this commitment at the Arab Summit Conference in Algeria in 1973. Following that conference, the PLO leadership began seriously considering diplomacy as an option for solving the conflict with Israel. Aside from the Palestinian Communist party, Fatah and the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine (DFLP) were the principal PLO groups that favored a Palestinian coexistence with Israel within a framework of a new "phased strategy" which entailed the creation of a Palestinian "mini-state" alongside the state of Israel. [13] At this point, the leadership of the PLO began shifting the organization's position from a previous denial of Jewish claims to Palestine into an acceptance of the principle of coexistence with the Jewish State. As the Palestinian movement departed from its radical positions, international and regional support for the PLO began significantly increasing in the mid-1970s. [14]
  18. At the 12th PNC meeting in 1974, the PLO mainstream leadership officially introduced a new political program in response to Arab policy of containment and Arab leaders' campaigns to address Palestinian demands. The new PLO program called for the creation of a national authority on any part of Palestine to be liberated by armed struggle (Y. Sayigh 97). This moderation in PLO strategy, although it remained largely radical, came as a response to the 1974 Rabat Arab Summit Conference, which recognized the PLO as the representative of the Palestinian people. At that summit, a deal was made: In exchange for the PLO accepting the new rules of the game, the Arab states recognized the PLO as the sole and only "representative of the Palestinian people" (Miller 145). The eventual inclusion of diplomatic means as options in PLO strategy was accompanied with the PLO's increasing dependence on Arab conservative regimes. In retrospect, it is ironic that the revolutionary leadership of the PLO would consider such a drastic process of deradicalization, which led, once again, to a Palestinian reliance on others. Being on the defensive since the late 1970s, the PLO adopted new measures aimed at retaining and maintaining its status as the only voice of the Palestinian people and defended its claim to statehood against the 1978 Camp David Accord and other plans aimed at undermining PLO's representative status. Faced by Camp David, the PLO shifted its position closer to radical Arab states, namely Syria and Iraq, which rejected Egypt's agreement with Israel. [15] From the early 1980s, the PLO focused more on the occupied territories where the majority of the people condemned Camp David and its autonomy plan for Palestinians.
  19. In the 1980s, the main challenge to the PLO came largely from being caught between the need for a base in Lebanon to confront Israel and the high price it had to pay for being part of the Lebanese civil war. While trying to survive the civil war in the 1970s, as well as the Syrian and Israeli onslaught against Palestinian factions in Lebanon in the 1970s and 1980s, the PLO also became caught in the crossfire of inter-Arab politics and rivalries, both inside Lebanon and elsewhere in the Arab world. In the midst of these changes, the Palestine question became less treated by many, including Arabs, as central to Middle East and international conflicts. [16] Above all, the first Gulf War between Iraq and Iran had totally deleted and replaced the long-held centrality of the Palestinian issue from the realm of inter-Arab politics and relations.
  20. Ultimately, the 1982 Israeli invasion of Lebanon, which was motivated by Likud "strategic hostility to Palestinian nationalism," led to the removal of the PLO from the country and intensified already existing inter-Arab feuds. After its expulsion from Beirut, the PLO became fully aware that the occupied territories were the last option left for the Palestinians to operate from (el-Ashhab 43). Implied in the new approach was an assumption that diaspora Palestinians were no longer part of the solution, although they would remain part of the Palestinian collectivity (Khalidi "Palestinian" 52). Unlike past decades, the new situation that began following the 1982 war convinced the PLO leadership that their old liberationist-radical strategy had reached the realm of the impossible. As a consequence, this leadership became determined to shift PLO strategy toward diplomacy and to refocus attention on the occupied territories for the sake of achieving a political settlement for the conflict. The abandoning of the Palestinian diaspora by the mainstream leadership of the PLO was in itself a radical shift in the organization's political orientations. The PLO, which has been historically considered as an organization of the diaspora, became in the 1980s and 1990s exclusively connected with the West Bank and Gaza. Moderates from the occupied territories had welcomed PLO political moderation and encouraged its leadership to accept a peaceful settlement for the conflict, if it ensured the creation of a Palestinian state. [17]
  21. Aside from these political changes in the 1980s and 1990s, the PLO also experienced financial difficulties after key Arab Gulf states decided to cut off their financial support to the PLO on the ground that it supported Iraq during the 1991 Gulf War. In order to rescue itself from a definitive demise, the PLO leadership decided to adopt limitless changes in the organization's general strategy and orientations, which eventually changed the PLO's entire attitude towards both Israel and the United States. It became natural at this point that the PLO would be challenged by Islamists, who took the most uncompromising and militant stance in Palestinian politics in the 1990s against Israel, the United States, and the peace process as a whole, namely on issues concerning unalterable Islamic ideals (Milton-Edwards Islamic 180).
  22. The willingness of the PLO to recognize Israel in exchange for peace, during the 1980s and 1990s, became a dynamic strategy that called for a principled solution based on the notion of Palestinian coexistence with Israel. While searching for a final territorial settlement to the Palestine issue, the PLO promoted rapprochement between Palestinians and Israelis and renewed diplomatic pressures for the purpose of securing the creation of a Palestinian State. Although since1974 it had followed the principle of liberation through both militant and diplomatic means, in the light of the changes in the 1980s and 1990s the PLO was left with little choice and diplomacy became the only option for coexistence. [18]
  23. The coming of the Intifada in 1987 reinforced the new political direction in PLO strategy. The Intifada played the most crucial role in shifting PLO attention toward diplomatic options, and in making the occupied territories the center of Palestinian activism. [19] In response to the Intifada, the PLO expressed its interest in peace by presenting in 1988 a new strategy that declared the establishment of an independent state of Palestine and accepted the right of Israel to exist side-by-side with a Palestinian state. This move on behalf of PLO leadership also included an explicit recognition of Israel's legitimate presence in the region and a renouncing of terrorism. [20] These changes in PLO strategy were seen by many at the time as tangible signs of progress that finally promised a peaceful future for Israelis and Palestinians. [21] At the initial stages of the peace process in the 1990s, it became evident that the realist-pragmatist Palestinian intellectual elite that existed in the occupied territories in past decades had become stronger and more dominant in West Bank politics. This elite was supported and encouraged by the PLO, which was located in Tunis at the time of the Madrid Peace Conference in 1991 as well as the Oslo I in 1993. [22] In an effort to marginalize the role of the new militants in the territories, the local pragmatist elite--supported by the PLO--began pressing for speedy political solutions that would guarantee improvements in Palestinians' political and economical life, which, if materialized, might make Islamic radicals a thing of the past.
  24. In addition to the Intifada, other international and regional developments helped accelerate the process of peace between Israelis and Palestinians. Most important was the collapse of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War in 1989, which forced many radical Arab states to conclude that they no longer had a strong patron to support their opposition to Israel. The collapse of the Communist bloc particularly influenced many policymakers around the world, including Arabs and Israelis, into abandoning or revising their old ideological commitments--namely those with socialist orientations--as driving forces behind relations between their states and other national as well as sub-national actors. Along with other changes in the post-Cold War period, the appeal of diplomatic tools--particularly third-party mediators, such as the United States, as means for resolving conflicts--become increasingly appealing in theory and in practice. [23] With few exceptions, such as in the case of political Islam, the post-Cold War period had been marked by a negation of the role of political ideologies from the agendas of most Middle Eastern policymakers. Moreover, the post-Cold War era also led to the build-ups of new sets of alliances, often supervised by the U.S., between countries of the Middle East, including principal actors such as Israel and Turkey, on the one hand, and Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and the PLO, on the other. [24] Other regional players, such as Syria, Iran and Iraq, experienced more complicated situations at the end of the Cold War. [25]
  25. No doubt with the end of the Cold War, the American influence on Middle Eastern politics and policymakers had significantly increased, especially on matters concerning decisions about war and peace in the area (Huntington 321). Perhaps the victory of the United States in the second Gulf War against Iraq further enhanced U.S. prestige, credibility and influence in affecting relationships between and among Middle Eastern states as well as other non-states actors. In the light of these changes, political moderation became a powerful temptation and an unstoppable trend in the Middle East. For its part, the PLO began benefiting from opportunities derived from both international and regional changes following the end of the Cold War, as well as those provided by the Intifada, which ended in 1993 as a result of the signing of the Oslo Accord. In addition to the PLO as a principal actor in the Arab-Israeli conflict, and despite risking its ideological commitments to pan-Arab populism and anti-Israeli credentials, Syria decided in 1991 to shift its position closer to the United States. Unlike the PLO, however, Syria had sent troops to the Gulf in order to back up the American-led war against Arab Iraq (see Knudsen 73). At any rate, on the eve of the Gulf War, both Syria and the PLO--previously known as radical actors in the region--were ready to accept any U.S. efforts aimed at resolving the conflict peacefully between the parties. This political atmosphere helped the U.S. to pursue a more active type of diplomacy in the region. At the end, although the U.S. was increasingly successful in dealing with Israel and the PLO as well as other Arab states, namely Jordan, with respect to the course of the peace process, the same could not be said about U.S. relations with Syria, which largely ended in deadlocks.
  26. Ironically, the 1991 Gulf War created the most suitable circumstances for diplomatic solutions to take place. Following the war, the United States' President George Bush and his Secretary of State James Baker began pressuring the parties involved in the Arab-Israeli conflict onto the negotiating table. The intentions of the U.S. at the time were mainly centered on establishing long-term regional stability plans that could be ensured by arranging and maintaining a peaceful settlement for the Arab-Israeli dispute in the aftermath of the Gulf War. The U.S. also aimed at restructuring new regional alliances that would support its overall policy in the region and maintain a safe access to Gulf oil, which was supposedly threatened by Sadam Hussein's invasion of Kuwait in 1990. The Gulf War--which underscored divisions in Arab and Palestinian politics--had given the U.S. the political leverage it needed in order to work at establishing new regional alliances, as well as utilizing diplomacy as an[26] option to resolve the Arab-Israeli conflict, without hindering Israel's security. With such an increasing role for the United States in the region, most Middle Eastern leaders began risking their commitments to old ideologies--namely pan-Arabism and Arab Socialism--and began pursuing instead new pragmatist political methods and approaches. Faced with all these changes and pressures that emerged in the 1990s, the need to be accepted by the West had become an important trend marking the attitude of both the PLO leadership in Tunis as well as the pragmatist-realist elite in the occupied territories. Eventually, both elites became, directly or indirectly, supportive of a U.S. hegemonic role in handling the peace process. Consequently, the beliefs in Arab unity and Arabism, on the one hand, and the adherence to Palestinian secular radicalism, on the other, received another major blow upon their already battered bodies.
  27. Partly as a sign of appreciation for their role in the Gulf War, the U.S. initiated the peace conference in Madrid, and following that, both the U.S. and other European countries (namely Norway) began pressing Arabs and Israelis, secretly and openly, into finalizing a package peace deal with each other. [27] This situation paved the way for an agreement to emerge and prepared the parties involved in the conflict for a major breakthrough in their hostile relations. [28] At this point, the deradicalization of the PLO became complete. The signing of the Oslo Accords in 1993, which entailed no more than modest gains rooted in the framework of a limited autonomy for the Palestinians, was finally accepted by the PLO (see Y. Sayigh "Armed Struggle" 31). By signing Oslo's documents, the PLO and the Palestinian people became committed to an unending process that placed Palestinians' claim to statehood at major risk. [29] After half a century of efforts to achieve their goals, Palestinians' hopes for self-determination remained far from being achieved. Moreover, by accepting Oslo, such claims were even further endangered, and for that reason many critics began attackng the autocratic and personalistic political style of the PLO's mainstream leadership.
  28. At the initial stages of negotiations, most Palestinians in the occupied territories were disillusioned by the intentions of the peace process. They thought the process would bring an end to occupation and secure the creation of a Palestinian state (see Abu Amr et al. 53). Most Arab states favored the process as a whole, which was also thought of as the beginning of the end of the Arab conflict with Israel. Many others, including Israelis, also believed that the inauguration of peace between Arabs, Palestinians and Israelis and the signing of the Oslo documents in 1993 created "a watershed in the history of the Middle East" (Peres 1). For many observers, the signing of the Oslo Accords proved the validity of the long-held hypothesis, which argued that in order to achieve peace, Israel should no longer ignore the PLO, and the PLO should no longer ignore Israel's existence. [30] Initially, it was assumed that Oslo had reflected these issues and thus represented a different strategic trend that embodied new commitments from both Israelis and Palestinians for the future stability of the Middle East.
  29. Unfortunately, however, the price of peace was rather high and hazardous for many in the process, namely the Palestinians, who achieved no more than incremental gains compared to those already achieved by the Israelis. [31] As time went by, Palestinians' doubts about peace began rising, and many of them began questioning the actual ability of the Palestinian Authority (PA) in the occupied territories to achieve its goals, as well as the willingness of Israel to allow the creation of a Palestinian State (see Y. Sayigh "Armed Struggle" 30-31). Despite the fact that such doubts became more real with time, and regardless of the fact that the PA continually miscalculated and lost much of its legitimacy, few Palestinians dared to question openly the real intentions of the Palestinian leadership. No doubt the PA had become successful in marginalizing internal threats, while consolidating its limited power over the small and often isolated areas in the territories (see Robinson 18).
  30. Opponents of the peace process between Israel and the PA suggest that such a process, which started in Madrid, and went through Washington's negotiations and ended with the signing of Oslo I and II in 1993 and 1995, has been counterproductive and therefore led to widespread disillusionment with reality. Considering the high price of peace and the long road that remains to be taken, Oslo has failed to establish the natural intended effects of a true peacemaking process. [32] Contrary to peacemaking, the current peace process in its present situation has in fact brought more devastating effects on the Palestinian people and their national economy than those existing in the past decade. [33] For these and other reasons, it has become more understood that the current Middle East peace process has misled both Arabs and Israelis with regard to its content and the intentions of its participants, namely Israel's intentions. [34] Based on its content, formula and procedures, the Oslo documents reveal serious problems that have damaged Palestinians' political claims and economic well-being in the territories. [35] The peace process also suffers from other outstanding structural and procedural challenges, such as those rooted in the absence of the principle of equality between the participants, failure to address Palestinians' claim for statehood, lack of implementing already agreed upon agreements, and the absence of progress on the real ground. [36] The Oslo process, therefore, has led to something other than peace. In other words, the process created at the end what one scholar calls "negative peace," implying that this kind of peace has turned out to be defective (Galtung 487). Indeed, Oslo has now become a staggered process, which lacks specific ideals or ends that could ensure the future of political stability in the region. In particular, many Palestinian observers believe that Oslo helped in legalizing and providing an international legitimacy to the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories. As such, Oslo failed to end Israel's occupation or limit Israeli confiscation of land and expansion of existing settlements (see Doumani 2).
  31. The failure of Oslo largely rests on its content, procedures and structure. Having said this, it would be necessary to re-evaluate the current process and perhaps replace Oslo with a new approach that could bring about better results than the ones that came out of Oslo's agreements and its derivatives, particularly the Wye River Memorandum (Kelman 36) The Wye River Memorandum, signed by Israel and the PLO in October 1998, also failed--largely because it continues to follow the same limitations and guidelines that has existed in the Oslo documents as well as the Camp David documents of 1978 (see Finkelstein 132). Possibly, the failure of the Oslo formula had something to do with it being to an extent inspired by the Camp David Accords, which were rejected and abandoned by Palestinians on the ground that the Accords failed to satisfy their minimal national goals. The Wye River Memorandum has also focused on things other than Palestinian national goals. Its main emphasis, in fact, centers on securing Israel's occupation, where the Palestinian police would ironically play the role of managing the situation in the territories and thus preventing so-called Palestinian threats to Israel's security concerns. Indeed, partly for the PA's and Israel's mutual security purposes, the PA's police system has recently witnessed tremendous advancements both in numbers and capabilities. [37]
  32. Among other consequences, Oslo brought an end to Palestinians' political consensus and divided Palestinians into a pro-peace moderate camp, on the one hand, and an anti-peace extremist camp, on the other. In addition, Oslo had deleted the Palestinian diaspora from the core formula of the Palestinian-Israeli peace process. Being at the heart of the Palestinian tragedy for many decades, the Palestinian diaspora has now become almost irrelevant to the solution of the Palestinian question (see Farsoun 259). Above all, Oslo deprived Palestinians of their legally recognized claims and inhibited their ability to secure political independence and economic well-being in the occupied territories. The lack of progress on the ground--especially concerning the question of Jerusalem, refugees, and the future of Israeli settlements as well as the issue of the Palestinian sovereignty--led many to call for the abandoning of Oslo's deal. [38] Many now call for the adoption of new peace models that would go beyond the limited conditions and provisions of local autonomy for the Palestinians, as previously applied in the Camp David Accords as well as the Oslo Agreements (Mohamad "Long Conflict" 70-71). The price of peace would indeed remain high regardless of the type of model adopted at any time or place, and perhaps the thorniest obstacles to any peace process in the region would still be challenged by the problems of Palestinian sovereignty, refugees, [39] and Jerusalem. The last is the most difficult to solve. [40]
  33. Essentially, Oslo now represents a major setback in peacemaking between the Palestinians and Israelis: it failed to stop Israel from continuing its policies of conquest and projects of Bantustanization in the West Bank and Gaza. The failure of Oslo, accompanied by the absence of alternative peace models from the agendas of the negotiators, also increases the possibility for more stalemate situations and raises possibilities for more tensions surrounding the political climate of Palestinian-Israeli relations. In spite of Oslo's failure, the alternative to peace would possibly lead to greater violence than had already taken place. [41] This is why Oslo should be considered only as a negative peace that can and must be replaced.
  34. At the end, the staggering of peace, accompanied with the lack of economic prosperity, has intensified existing legitimacy crises in Arab and Palestinian politics. In past decades, Arab and Palestinian leaders used to emphasize ideological and economic "achievements" and "successes" in order to shore up their regimes' legitimacy (see Dawisha 527). In the past, the main source for political legitimacy had derived from the presence of radical ideologies (Sivan 103). The absence of such ideologies from the agendas of current Arab and Palestinian leaders has strengthened policymakers' need for more authoritarianism to ensure their own survival. [42]
  35. The main issue that continues to challenge the legitimacy of the PA in the territories has largely been connected with the unfinished business of creating a Palestinian state alongside the state of Israel. In the meantime, the principle of coexistence between Palestinians and Israelis on the basis of a two-state solution is becoming an unending process. The current peace process simply lacks the principle of justice and systematic elimination of tensions, which should be considered as necessary elements for establishing frameworks for coexistence between the warring parties (Sabet 6). Without expanding the conditions for justice and cooperation between Palestinians and Israelis, more stalemates should be expected. No changes can be envisioned in the present stalemate as long as the Israeli government remains uncommitted to existing agreements and the United States does not play a role of impartial mediator in promoting a lasting peace (see Norton 6).
  36. The stalemate in the peace process could be attributed to several factors. The mutual hatred that exists between Israelis and Palestinians, the fundamentalists' violence against peace, and the Benjamin Natanyahu factor[43] are considered crucial issues in the present failure. [44] In addition, the increasing authoritarianism and questions about human rights[45] concerning the conduct of the PA are often justified by reference to Israel's pressures on the Palestinian leadership in order to meet its security requirements before Israel could complete the redeployment of its troops from the territories. [46] These justifications are, to a large extent, incorrect, too simplistic and often misleading in defining both the causes leading to the failure of peace and the presence of a Palestinian authoritarian rule in the territories. For one thing, the failure of peace between Palestinians and Israelis rests on Oslo's agenda, procedures and text, and thus has little connection with other previously suggested explanations. As far as authoritarianism in Palestinian politics is concerned, analysis reveals that the PA appears to be pressured to function in a way that would ensure that the Israeli vision of Oslo was imposed, rather than providing Palestinians with justice, peace and prosperity. It must be noted here that the PA's main concern should be grounded in its commitments to its people that wish to see an end to Israel's occupation of Arab land, elimination of political corruption within the PA, enhancement of Palestinians' economical capabilities, and finally the promotion of democracy.
  37. Wouldn't it be ironic--in the light of the historical context of Palestinians' efforts and struggle to secure their fundamental and basic national goals--that the PLO/PA's main concern would become as simple as that of the ensuring of Israel's security concerns and arrangements? Indeed, as long as the PA continues to function within the framework of the Israeli occupation without being able to develop an independent form of sovereignty, the possibility of achieving a lasting peace between the parties, remains in question.


  1. For further analysis, see Sammy Smooha's Arabs and Jews in Israel. Back

  2. For additional information concerning Arab demands and Jewish response in Israel, see Smooha's "Ethnic Democracy" and Marowan Darweesh's al-Filastiniyoun fe Israel. Back

  3. In general, see Saddiq Jalal el-Azm's al-Naqd al-Dati Ba'ad al-Hazeema. Back

  4. See Issa Al-Shuaibi's "The Development of Palestine Entity Consciousness." Back

  5. For more commentary on the new Palestinian political map, see Ali Jarbawi's "Palestinian Politics at a Crossroads." Back

  6. For further information, see Jamal Nassar, The Palestine Liberation Organization. Back

  7. For more on the subject, see Adeed Dawisha, "Power, Participation, and Legitimacy in the Arab World." Back

  8. In general, see el-Azm. Back

  9. For detailed analysis, see Laila Kadi's Political Documents of the Armed Palestinian Resistance Movement. Back

  10. For further information, see Anis Sayigh, Palestine and Palestinian Nationalism. Back

  11. For an insider's report, see Abu Iyad with Eric Rouleau, My Home, My Land. Back

  12. In general, see Alwathaig al Filistinyeh 1977. Back

  13. For these views, see Al-Kitab al-Sanawi 1974. Back

  14. On the PLO's political and diplomatic success in the aftermath of the 1973 war, see Kamal Kirisci's The PLO and World Politics. Back

  15. See Charles Smith, Palestine and the Arab-Israeli Conflict. Back

  16. See Husam Mohamad, "Palestinian Politics on the Defensive." Back

  17. For more on the positions of Palestinians in the territories, see Elia Zureik et al., "Palestinians and the Peace Process." Back

  18. For more analysis on the shifts in PLO leadership strategy in the 1990s, see Basheer Barguti's "Tatawor al-Haraka al-Wataniyeh al-Filastinyeh," a special report published by the Center for Palestine Research and Studies. Back

  19. See Joost Hiltermann, Behind the Intifada. Back

  20. For documents pertaining to the Palestinian Declaration of Independence and subsequent ones in the 1980s and early 1990, see Selected Documentation published by the American Arab Council. Back

  21. See Ian S. Lustick, ed., From Wars Toward Peace in the Arab-Israeli Conflict. Back

  22. On the position of the Palestinian intellectuals regarding the peace process, see Joseph Massad, "Political Realists or Comprador Intelligentsia." Back

  23. For further analysis on the subject of mediation and conflict in the post-Cold War era, see William Ayres, "Mediating International Conflicts." Back

  24. On changes in relationships and alliances between Arab states, see Matrook al-Falih, "al-Tahawulat fi al-Alaqat al-Arabiyeh." Back

  25. For further analysis concerning theorizing about alliances in Syria and Iraq in particular, see Malik Mufit, Sovereign Creations. Back

  26. For further analysis of this matter, see Rashid Shalidi, "al-Siyasa al-Amerikiyeh fi al-Sharq al-Awsat"; for a historical analysis of U.S. policy on Palestine in particular, see also Kathleen Christison, "U. S. Policy and the Palestinians." Back

  27. For full coverage and original documents concerning American diplomacy towards Arabs and Israelis in the aftermath of the Gulf War, see William Quandt's Peace Process. Back

  28. On the developments leading to the peace process and the challenges associated with them, see Norman Finkelstein's The Rise and Fall of Palestine and Nasser Aruri's The Obstruction of Peace. Back

  29. See Edward Said, The Politics of Dispossession. Back

  30. For results concerning public opinion surveys and questions about the peace process, see L. Dabdoub, "Palestinian Public Opinion Polls on the Peace Process." Back

  31. For further analysis of the most recent obstacles to the peace process, see Finkelstein's "Securing Occupation." Back

  32. On problems relating to the peace process, see Said's Peace and Its Discontents. Back

  33. For comprehensive coverage of the Palestinian situation after Oslo, see George Giacaman and Dag Jorund Lonning, eds., After Oslo. Back

  34. On the issue of Jewish opponents of the peace process, see Lustick's "The Oslo Agreement as an Obstacle for Peace." Back

  35. For more detailed analysis, see: Samih Farsoun with C. Zackary, Palestine and the Palestinians; Graham Usher, Palestine in Crisis; Said's The Politics of Disposition; and Nicholas Guyatt, The Absence of Peace. Back

  36. See A. Shein, "Trying to Solve the Middle East Crisis," and Barguti. Back

  37. See Section II on security actions and arrangements concerning the outlawing and combating of terrorist organizations in the Wye River Memorandum documents, pp. 2-5, October 1998. Back

  38. See Barguti's discussion with Palestinian activists, pp. 12-20. Back

  39. For some of these obstacles, especially ones relating to the refugee issue, see Salim Tamari, Mustaqbal al-Laji'een al-Filasteenieen. Back

  40. For more detailed analysis concerning the issue of Jerusalem in the post-Cold War era, see Turkkaya Ataov, "The Question of Jerusalem." Back

  41. See Guyatt's Introduction to The Absence of Peace. Back

  42. On the issue of Palestinian security arrangements, see Beverly Milton-Edwards, "Palestinian State-Building," and Hillel Frisch, "From Palestine Liberation Organization to Palestinian Authority." Back

  43. With particular reference to criticism of Natanyahu's perspective on peace, see Amos Elon, "Israel and the End of Zionism," and Ehud Sprinzak, "Natanyahu's Safety Belt." Back

  44. For criticism of such arguments, see Guyatt xi. Back

  45. On the issue of human rights, see Fatah S. Azzam, "Update." Back

  46. Concerning an interview with members of the Palestinian Authority on the subject, see Milton-Edwards, "Palestinian State-Building." Back

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