Ask a hundred ordinary Americans what the Palestinians are fighting for and it’s unlikely that you will find five who have any idea. Instead, you will find that well more than half assert something vaguely to the effect that the Palestinians are a bunch of antisemitic terrorists who just want to destroy brave little Israel and steal its land.
This well-established mythology is, of course, a central problem for the Palestinian Authority and for the Palestinian people. It is the first problem that must be solved if any progress toward the creation of a genuine Palestinian nation is to be made. If the Palestinians continue to fail at articulating what they are fighting for, the United States government will never be forced, by a shift in popular opinion, to alter its uneasy but nonetheless resolute support of Israeli aggression, the Israeli’s without that pressure will never give back the stolen land, and the Palestinian people will continue to suffer the fate of the Native American cultures of the 18th and 19th centuries the remnants of whom still live in refugee camps called reservations.
As Edward Said has argued, the problem is not Israeli Zionism but American Zionism, for the real power to stop Israeli aggression resides in the government of the United States. And though one can rightfully lay a large measure of blame on the American media, which has successfully obscured the justice of the Palestinian struggle, some measure of responsibility must be laid at the feet of the Palestinian leadership itself, which has never understood the urgency of getting its message out and has little talent in that regard.
The first job of the Palestinian Authority must be to state on all occasions, first and foremost–no matter what the putative subject of discussion–that there can be no peace until all the land stolen by Israel in 1967 is returned. That means all of East Jerusalem, the West Bank and the Gaza. Moreover, the refugees must be compensated for their stolen land. No other message is as important to convey and nothing the Palestinian Authority can do in the next year or two is of such importance. No occasion must go by without this single message being at the very center of the Palestinian communication. It must be repeated endlessly and tirelessly, for it is the single truth at the heart of the conflict. Yet rarely if ever do we hear any Palestinian official stating the Palestinian position clearly, simply and unequivocally.
If the Palestinian Authority once thought that the intercession of the United States would return the Palestinian lands and end in a Palestinian nation, it is clear that it was mistaken. The “generous Barak peace proposal” turned into a debacle from which the Palestinians are still reeling. There should be no further ambiguity about what the Palestinian people will accept: nothing less than all the lands stolen by Israel in 1967 and just compensation for the stolen lands of those forced into exile. This is the reality that the Palestinian Authority must convey to the world in general and to the American public in particular. Every statement made by representatives of the Palestinian Authority, no matter what the momentary subject of the communication, must emphasize that the occupation must end, that all the settlements must be dismantled, that all the stolen land must be returned, and that all Palestinian refugees must be compensated. Only under such terms can there be genuine peace.
It would be useful for this purpose if Palestinian officials refused to meet with any United States’ delegations, diplomats, government officials, or negotiators unless those officials publicly aver that the occupation is illegal, that the territories are illegal, that the occupied land belongs to the Palestinian people and that compensation is due all refugees. Whether the United States agrees or refuses to comply with these Palestinian demands, on every occasion when these demand arise, the fundamental Palestinian position will become front page news around the world.
If such a communication program is put into effect, eighteen months from now, when a hundred Americans are picked out at random and asked what the Palestinian people are fighting for, they will know. They will know because the N.Y. Times and the Washington Post, and the Eleven O’Clock News and Time Magazine will have been forced to report this constant and consistent Palestinian message. Only through such a program will public opinion in the United States be changed, and with that change will come the kind of public pressure that significantly shifts U.S. policy. Short of this, expansionist Israel will continue to gobble up the rest of the Palestinian homeland while the well-meaning American public continues to wonder what on earth those foolish Palestinians were fighting for in the first place.
Mr. Steve Kowit is a writer and well-known American poet.