Let’s start from the end: Even if the Palestinians had a single, united, respected leadership that had a reputation for integrity, and even if its members excelled intellectually, were committed to their people and strategically capable, it would have been difficult for it to challenge the dispossessive/acquisitive enterprise that Israel keeps strengthening and enhancing. Difficult, but possible.
There is no single leadership, however, but several, and they are squabbling with each other even when they are from the same party (Fatah), organization (PLO) or institutional umbrella (two governments). It’s not because of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, but because of a system and modus operandi, of which he is one of the creators and products at the same time.
The Palestinian public’s attitude toward the leadership is characterized by suspicion, disdain and contempt, along with fear. The milder accusations directed at the leadership in Ramallah speak of a lack of organization, inefficiency and laziness. The more serious accusations are of corruption and clinging to power for personal and sectarian motives. Similar accusations are somewhat less bluntly leveled at the Gazan government and at NGOs.
For many it’s clear that the Oslo framework, which expired in 1999, was a trap. The countries donating to the Palestinians continue to uphold it for fear of an even greater humanitarian disaster and loss of control, and because they are boundlessly loyal to Israel. The donations have decreased but remain a trap. They require obedience and maintenance of “calm,” or permit only low-intensity rage. But the Palestinians are captives who are convinced they could not manage without their donating captors.
The head spins and the heart aches, because facing them is a sophisticated, wicked, effective enemy who has no borders.
Visually, the image of an octopus might be appropriate, but there are two problems with using it to depict the Israeli regime. One is that it recalls anti-Semitic caricatures, but that’s the problem of a regime that imitates caricatures. The second is that Israel sends out far more than eight tentacles as it cooks up a mix of several traditions of domination – military occupation, colonialism (the removal of a people from its homeland to settle others there instead) and apartheid (since the expulsion wasn’t totally successful, there followed separation based on inequality). It should be clear that this refers to the situation on both sides of the Green Line. Israel was given a chance to change in 1993. It chose to miss it.
A better image would be that of a computer that spews out commands in every direction. Once programmed, it doesn’t stop. It sends official armed gangs to burst into people’s houses as they sleep and to confiscate money and property; destruction squads to crush kindergartens, homes and wells; and unofficial armed gangs to boot out shepherds and farmers. It also employs land thieves – the clerks, planners, architects and building contractors – who make sure that the Palestinians suffocate in their built-up areas. The space is all for Jews, says the supreme command. The computer also issues intellectual commands: Ignore everything by indulging in the depths of Jewish heritage. Nullify everything as unimportant through pride in our nation, which produces Nobel laureates. Declaim our suffering and heroism in Auschwitz.
Against the efficient and complex Israeli apparatuses stand the Palestinians with a host of competing leaders, conflicting strategies, uncoordinated government ministries, information that isn’t public knowledge and is not accurate, the tiresome duplication of institutions whose work overlaps, the empty slogans and despair. One expression of this despair is the declaration that Israel is the strong one, therefore change can and must come only from Israel. But no; Israelis have no interest in changing the situation. We benefit from it. The initial change can and must come from the Palestinians themselves, in their own home.