After years of bloodshed that has brought the Palestinians only terrible disaster, Prime Minister Salam Fayad is returning to the formulas that his teacher and spiritual mentor Yasser Arafat declaimed when he was on the skids after the first Gulf War and was in desperate need of American aid.
It is hard to get over the feeling of deja vu when facing the current political arena and public discourse. A person listens to the Palestinian prime minister's declaration - "Resistance [to the occupation] is legitimate, but this in fact means making every possible effort to hold onto Palestinian land. This is the [Palestinian] government's plan" - and cannot help but recall a slogan that was heard 14 years ago: a slogan that was quickly replaced by muqawama (armed resistance). After years of bloodshed that has brought the Palestinians only terrible disaster, Prime Minister Salam Fayad is returning to the formulas that his teacher and spiritual mentor Yasser Arafat declaimed when he was on the skids after the first Gulf War and was in desperate need of American aid.
In moments of weakness, Palestinian leaders say what the Americans want to hear: "Peace is not just a strategic choice," declares Fayad, "but rather a necessity; and we will achieve it by means of negotiations." In the coded language of the conflict, there is no need for loquaciousness. Erasing the word muqawama from the press release and then calling attention to the erasure suffices to hint at a highly significant change in the national strategy. It is possible to dismiss the value of statements from a weakened Palestinian government that needs all the help it can get from the Americans, and also from the occupying side. However, the clear formulations of those who head the Palestinian Authority leave no room for doubt: The circular path of time that characterizes this conflict has completed another circuit. We are at the start of a "peace process" like the one that occured from 1993-2001 and all concerned will shake the dust off the messages of Oslo and its addenda.
"There is a partner," the Israeli foreign minister will crow and allow her representatives to conduct talks with Palestinian representatives in the capitals of the world; Israeli and Palestinian officers will exchange slaps on the back; the ruddiness will return to the cheeks of the peace camp veterans; the radical left will warn that it's all an illusion and that under the guise of "the process," the occupation is even more firmly becoming entrenched; the construction of the settlements and the outposts will gather steam and a new generation of Fatah people will extend their hands into the coffers of the Palestinian Authority, which will fill up again with donations from the international community.
This feeling of Deja vu, however understandable it may be, ignores experience accumulated during the intifada years and ignores the burden of the blood, the hatred and the desire for revenge that have changed the relationships between the two communities in fundamental ways. What has been is not necessarily what will be, and the current "process" will not necessarily end the way its predecessor did, in a new intifada. The defeated side, which has paid the heavy price of the muqawama that failed, might once again adopt the formula of tsumoud (the Palestinian's clinging to his land) from the beginning of the 1980s, abandon violence and concentrate on advancing the economy, welfare, education and demographics as a national strategy.
Then, Israel will be facing an even greater challenge than that of the armed uprising: a communal and non-violent struggle.
There is little chance that the Israelis will change their approach that turns its back and raises separation fences higher. However, since they relate to the Palestinians only when they engage in violence, the tsumoud strategy will lead to a sense of "normalcy" that will make gestures toward them possible, and these will advance a process of coexistence. The trouble is that the process is limited to a not very large part of the Palestinian people and includes neither the city-state that is forming in the Gaza Strip nor the diaspora. The process of crushing the Palestinian people is pulling into its last station. In 1993, when the conflict reached the tsumoud point, Arafat spoke in the name of the half of the Palestinian people that remained in its homeland. Now Fayad is speaking in the name of about one-quarter of this people, which lives in the West Bank; all the rest will have to look after themselves.