By As’ad AbuKhalil

Armed struggle brought the Palestinian cause to the attention of the world [GETTY] 

Every year, Arabs around the world commemorate al-Nakba or “the catastrophe” on May 15 – the day following Israel’s declaration of statehood in 1948.
But poems and speeches are now too embarrassing to recite and Arab governments barely seem interested in remembering – so busy are they trying to win Israel’s approval for direct or indirect negotiations.
While in the past, Arab governments spent money combating Zionist propaganda, last year, the Arab League – with Saudi funding – purchased advertisements in Western newspapers with the aim of convincing Israel that Arab governments are, in fact, eager to make peace and normalise relations.
The Palestinian scene is not that different.
The symbols of Palestinian nationalism have suddenly changed. As far as the Palestinian Authority (PA) is concerned, revolutionaries belong in museums and the kufiyyah and musakkhan (a traditional Palestinian dish) are celebrated as the only elements of the rich tapestry of Palestinian national identity.
And with Mahmoud Abbas, the PA president, becoming increasingly insignificant, while Mohammed Dahlan remains an unacceptable prospect as Palestinian leader, Salam Fayyad, the Palestinian prime minister, has become the new darling of the West.
The Western press has, accordingly, produced an unending supply of laudatory and fawning pieces about the leadership of the man who – along with his partner Hanan Ahsrawi, who still thinks she can have it both ways, talking against corruption while aligning herself with the corrupt regime of Ramallah – did not receive more than two per cent of the support of the Palestinian people in the last legislative elections-under-occupation.
Fayyad has essentially been selected by the West and all sorts of aid and favourable press have subsequently come his way.
In fact, the Palestinian people had more freedom to choose their own leaders in the 1930s than they do now – although, of course, when the British did not like the Palestinian choice, as was the case with Muhammed Amin al-Husseini, the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, they simply expelled them.
Abandoned by Arab regimes

Mahmoud Abbas, the PA president, is no longer of much use to the West [Reuters]

While similar images appear at each commemoration of al-Nakba – Palestinians holding keys to houses they were expelled from and deeds to lands that are now occupied – the reality is that Arab regimes washed their hands of the Palestinian struggle long ago.
Anwar al-Sadat, the Egyptian president who signed an historic peace deal with Israel, set a new path for Arab regimes and they all now follow in his footsteps.
But al-Nakba is never forgotten in the refugee camps; the squalid places intended as a burial ground for the Palestinian cause have instead been transformed into repositories of memory and revolution.
Year after year, the Palestinians in the camps celebrate their anger and their defiance.
But with each commemoration of al-Nakba the need to assess the balance sheet of the historical conflict between armed struggle and diplomacy grows more urgent.
Gunslinger diplomacy
Armed struggle was responsible for bringing the Palestinian cause to the attention of the world; before which it was possible for a UN resolution on the Palestinian “problem” to pass without making reference to the Palestinian people.
It delivered the Palestinian people from a time when their very status and identity was denied to a time when the UN had to recognise the fruits of Palestinian self-determination.
Let us not forget that more countries recognised the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) than recognised Israel, until the Oslo process changed the picture.
Armed struggle also unified the Palestinian people under one umbrella and generated Arab support; PLO military operations inside Israel often featured Arabs from across the region.
It was also armed struggle that forced Arab governments to surrender control of the Palestinian national movement.
Gamal Abdel Nasser, the former Egyptian president who is now remembered as a champion of the Palestinian cause, formed the PLO with the aim of controlling Palestinian activism and ensuring that the armed struggle remained under the watchful gaze of Arab regimes.
Palestinian armed struggle also served to break down the traditional barriers of religious conservatism that kept Palestinian women from participating fully in the political struggle – although, of course, all Palestinian organisations were guilty of marginalising women despite the sacrifices and contributions they made to all forms of struggle.
It also instilled a sense of pride among Palestinians and put an end to the sense of despair that prevailed in the wake of al-Nakba. Such feelings of helplessness were fueled by Arab regimes which feared the consequences of Palestinian revolutionary spirit.
Ink-and-paper diplomacy

The path of diplomacy has yielded few tangible results for the Palestinians [GETTY] 

The path of diplomacy pursued by Yasser Arafat, the late PLO leader, and his successors has thus far resulted in the establishment of a weak and dependent authority in Ramallah which operates at the discretion of Israel and its Western allies.
Protecting Israel from legitimate Palestinian armed struggle is now the responsibility of a PA which ultimately answers to its enemies and the successes and failures of its diplomacy are set according to criteria established by Israel.
Furthermore, if armed struggle charted a course that began to push for the independence of the Palestinian national movement from Arab regimes, the Palestinian diplomatic clique has put the affairs of Palestinians in the hands of the US – Israel’s chief patron and “eternal ally”.
This diplomatic course has created the deepest divisions among Palestinians since the 1930s and has, thus far, resulted in nothing tangible.
The path of diplomacy has been imposed upon Palestinians from the outside, whether by Arab regimes, the US or other friends of Israel.
But while the Palestinian scene may look bleak 62 years after al-Nakba, even with the suspension of the Palestinian armed struggle Israel’s longevity has never been more in doubt.
It always believed that Lebanon would be a safe and secure neighbour, but now Israel’s most formidable enemy sits on its northern border. And its arsenal of nuclear and biological weapons will not save it from the bleak future Zionism sealed when the state was created.
The apartheid regime of South Africa once looked formidable, but that has now been assigned to the history books.
As’ad AbuKhalil is a professor of political science at California State University, Stanislaus and webmaster of
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial policy.



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