Last Sunday, we attended an evening commemorating Palestinian Land Day. I went someone hesitantly since the event was co-sponsored by the PLO mission in Washington. But Yassine convinced it was worth the trip since we were really going to see Ahmed Tibi-the keynote speaker; and a fantastic Dabke troupe; and a oud player.
The evening started out with the usual declarations and rhetoric by the PLO Mission. Sensing the crowd’s impatience, the Palestinian ambassador pleaded that as Palestinians we should not import our differences from back home. As though a perfectly timed punchline, a picture of Mahmoud Abbas who looked like he was gagging appeared on the screen behind him.
One of the Mission staff then introduced Tibi as a “proponent of Palestinian rights in the Israeli Knesset” as though it were some secondary issue he is passionate about. The introduction sounded aloof, like an outsider who was introducing Tibi to a foreign crowd, not a Palestinian (the crowd was overwhelmingly Arabic speaking Palestinians, and the speech itself was in Arabic).
Tibi then took the stage: “I just want to say something here. I was introduced as a mere ‘proponent’ of Palestinian rights. I don’t think you understand, so let me explain. I am not simply a proponent. I dont’ defend or talk about Palestinian rights because I feel like it. I AM Palestinian rights; I EMBODY Palestine. I AM the Palestinian struggle. So please do not insult me.”
Tibi went on to talk about what he called the “Triangle” of the Palestinian struggle: The Palestinians inside the Armistice line (OPT/WB, Gaza and East Jerusalem), the Palestinians on the outside in the diaspora and refugee camps; and the 1948 Palestinians.
In fact, the entire evening the Mission engaged in a pathetic to promote the Fayyad government, to demonstrate how they are making the occupied, divided, strangulated territories bloom with their new economic and institution building initiatives in the West Bank. I nearly gagged when they talked about how impressive the economic growth he has led has been.
Curiously, Gaza was not mentioned once the entire evening. But then, this is the point. To isolate Gaza; to disappear it from the discourse, subtract it form the equation, out of sight and mind. It was a depressing little facade, where, as in reality, the sideshow attempts to distract from the rottenness lurking beneath and the bitterness simmering just below that. The squashing of any and all dissent and use of torture by CIA-trained Abbas forces in the name of keeping “order” (a friend of mine here in Maryland shares with me daily stories of the torture her brother is enduring at the hands of such forces, who are attempting to “convince” him which way to vote in July’s municipal elections and discourage opposition rallies). Really, a small-scale do-over of Oslo.
For more on the perils of the so-called Netanyahu-Fayyad Initiative (“West Bank first” and “Economic Peace”) see this excellent article by Ziyaad Lunat on EI.
“Economic peace,” coupled with the “West Bank First” policy of economic development serves too as warning to Palestinians. They either conform to a political program approved by Israel and Western donors or risk sharing the dire fate of Gaza, under a crippling siege since June 2007.
Each ribbon cutting ceremony Fayyad attends reinforces the normalcy discourse propagated by the PA and Fatah-affiliated media that contrast it to the destruction and despair of Israeli-blockaded, Hamas-controlled Gaza.
A year on, the cost of the Netanyahu-Fayyad plan is becoming clear. Low-income Palestinian families and small business are being encouraged to borrow to fuel a high-risk economy. Israel has proven time again that it won’t hesitate to strike a blow against Palestinian infrastructure should they dissent from the current consensus in its favor.
The economic peace model comes with a dose of cultural imperialism. Palestinians do not have basic freedoms but they are being told that they can enjoy the mundane and superfluous in cinemas and shopping centers.