Against fragmentation

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Israel’s strategy in its campaign against the Palestinian people is to generate such a profound state of fragmentation as to sap their ability to sustain their struggle and create independent national institutions. This strategy extends beyond the geographic-demographic domain to threaten all social, economic and political aspects of Palestinian life.

It is important to note that the process of geographic-demographic fragmentation has quickened in pace since the so-called peace process began in Madrid. First, Israel cut off Jerusalem, and then Gaza, from the West Bank. Then, it proceeded to dissect the rest of the territories, cordoning cities off from villages, splitting Nablus into eastern and western sections, and cutting Hebron up into districts. As a result, the occupied territories have become not so much “one large prison”, as the British Ambassador to Israel has put it, but rather a chain of prisons within one vaster jail.

This has happened very much by design. To the Palestinians, the peace process represented a bridge towards independence and statehood. To Israel, it was a “truce” to be exploited to impose new de facto realities — since the 1992 Oslo accords Israel has constructed 87 new settlements — and to atomise the Palestinian socio- demographic structure. This explains the notorious maps of the territories presented at Oslo, with their ring roads and cantons — a kind of leopard’s skin of spots that have now erupted into painful, disfiguring pustules.

This distressing reality, the creation of which aimed to dissipate Palestinian energies and rend the vibrant fabric that binds Palestinians together both at home and abroad, continued until the outbreak of the Al-Aqsa Intifada. This signaled an end to Israel’s unilateral declaration of the end of the conflict and laid the foundations for reconstructing the national tissue unifying the Palestinian people.

However, it is still the case today that the external pressures being exerted on the Palestinian people aim to augment division and discord in their ranks. These pressures have been aggravated by incidents of domestic strife and by futile attitudes that fail to place higher national interests above narrow factional ones.

A few days ago I visited Nablus on the West Bank, and among all the people I spoke to there I sensed a deep bitterness at the blindness of the media to their suffering. This feeling was equally palpable in the old quarter of Hebron, which continues to hold out steadfastly, like Nablus, against the Israeli settlers. In both cities, people kept asking, where are our officials? Why don’t we see them? What’s distracting them from our plight?

As I write this today, I do not know whether news of a new Palestinian government will have appeared in the press before this article does. Whatever the case, it is distressing that the formation of a new government, and the much- touted “reform process” that this is supposed to usher in, seems destined to constitute yet another step towards aggravating rivalries, discord and fragmentation, rather than a move in the opposite direction.

Our needs are greater than a pause for introspection, vaster than some new names in authority here and there in order to alleviate foreign pressures and placate international demands for reform. What we need is a new approach, one that sets its sights firmly on a unified and unifying strategy. Only through such an approach will be able to rally the energies of the Palestinian people and revive Palestinian institutions, such as the PLO, that are capable of mobilising and sustaining these energies both at home and abroad towards the realisation of our national aspiration to freedom and independence.

This approach must be bold if it is to remedy all the causes of failure, and it must be resolute if it is to resist attempts to sew or aggravate fragmentation. We need more than just a more effective government. What we need is a united national leadership at the helm of the Palestinian struggle against the occupation and for independence.

Dr. Mustafa Barghouthi is President of the Union of Palestinian Medical Relief Committees.

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