In early 1988, at the beginning of the uprising in the Gaza Strip and West Bank, Yasser Arafat convened the Palestinian leadership at PLO headquarters in Tunis. The leaders were surprised by the intensity of the events that had started a few weeks earlier in December 1987.
Several participants at the meeting acknowledged that they were impressed by events on the ground, and that the Palestinians who remained in their homeland were willing to sacrifice their lives for their freedom and independence.
Arafat and others admitted that they had busied themselves too much with foreign relations, internal power struggles and reviving the military machine of the various Palestinian factions. This, after all, came after the expulsion of PLO forces from Beirut and southern Lebanon after the war with Israel that started in June 1982.
The resolution taken at that meeting was clear: a model of popular resistance while supporting political and financial resistance. The uprising quickly became known as the intifada, and the world again saw pictures of soldiers of the strongest army in the Middle East chasing children throwing stones in the alleys of places like the Jabalya refugee camp and Nablus.
Israel also went through a mindset shift, which led to a change of government in an election. A few years later this resulted in the signing of the Oslo Accords on the White House lawn. These accords were supposed to lead to the creation of a Palestinian state alongside Israel.
Twenty-five years have passed and the young people of that intifada are now fathers and grandfathers. The generation that was born with the foundation of the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank and Gaza, realizing that the Palestinians were within striking distance of a state and self-determination, was the generation that stood near the fence Friday and Saturday. Young people stood opposite soldiers and snipers, while their cousins in the West Bank stood opposite soldiers at checkpoints.
A generation that grew up with hope is now plagued by frustration and fury, seeing its dream dissipate. Instead of a state there is talk of an economic-peace model – of work, making a living and easing the closure on Gaza.
Just as four decades ago, the Palestinians, especially the young generation, are proving that they’re willing to make sacrifices and fight for issues of principle in the Palestinian narrative, mainly the right of return.
A key difference between 2018 and 1987 is the guiding hand of the leadership. Ismail Haniyeh and other Hamas leaders, as well as Mahmoud Abbas and other PA leaders, can continue trading accusations. Each side can claim that its way and strategy is correct, but ultimately the historic responsibility lies on these leaders’ shoulders.
They must say where they are leading their people. If they see themselves as leaders truly determined to advance Palestinian interests, they must prove to their people, including the generation of frustrated young people, that true leadership means striving to attain the nation’s goal, not the goal of the faction you head. Events on the ground should be exploited with the purpose of attaining a diplomatic goal that serves everyone, not just Hamas or Fatah.
The question of what to do next has often faced Palestinian leaders over the past 50 years, and it’s a burning question once again. The leadership should resolve divisive issues and achieve a reconciliation, knowing where it’s headed. Otherwise the blood spilled over the weekend will have been spilled in vain, with one more Palestinian generation frustrated.
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