After 50 Years of Occupation the Desire for Self-Determination Persists

"We were glued to the radio, listening to the news bulletins from Radio Cairo", writes Dr. Mahdi Abdul Hadi, founder of PASSIA, a Palestinian think tank in East Jerusalem, looking back on his memories of the Six-Day-War of 1967.

He describes the Palestinians collective shock over the demolition of the Moroccan Quarter, which gave way to what is nowadays known as the Western Wall Plaza. The resignation of Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser after his military defeat was felt by Palestinians to be not only a blow to the hopes that were put into Pan-Arabism, but also signified that Palestinians would be left to their own devices in the struggle for self-determination. While the military occupation by Israel, in international perspective, started in 1967, Palestinian feelings of subjugation go back as far as the Nakba, the catastrophe, of 1948. The displacement of more than 700.000 Palestinians from their homeland then signified an end to the hopes for an independent Palestinian state after the end of the British Mandate. “[W]e kept dreaming that it would only be a matter of time before this catastrophe would end”, Dr. Mahdi Abdul Hadi writes.

Yet, this week Palestinians commemorate the Naksa, “the setback” that was the Israeli occupation of the West Bank, the Gaza Strip, East Jerusalem, the Sinai desert and the Syrian Golan Heights during the Six-Day-War of June 1967 with demonstrations, public debates and statements by their leadership. To entire generations of Palestinians, military occupation has been a daily reality and while in the past half century the Palestinian leadership has come a long way from an armed resistance movement to an internationally recognized entity, it should be mindful of a population that might grow impatient, as little progress is made.

For the past fifty years, Palestinians have engaged in several modes of resistance to end the occupation and achieve national self-determination. From armed struggle at different stages to civil disobedience, general strikes and other forms of non-violent resistance. The Oslo Peace Process in the 1990s finally brought the Israeli and Palestinian leadership to the negotiation table. With the Oslo Agreements, the PLO abandoned its goal to liberate all historic Palestine and to many Palestinians at the time this marked what PLO Executive Committee member Hanan Ashrawi described in a recent op-ed in the New York Times as an enormous sacrifice and compromise.

However, this compromise has since failed to guarantee a durable peace in the region, let alone end the occupation or create an independent Palestinian state. Today Israeli politicians, like Member of Knesset Moti Yogev in a recent parliamentary session marking the 50-year anniversary of the occupation, openly endorse annexation of the West Bank into Israel. Yet, the international community, civil rights organizations and high-ranking Palestinian officials renewed demands for ending the occupation and fulfilling Palestinian aspirations for statehood. United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres in a statement on the 50 year-long occupation reiterated the United Nation’s commitment to the two-state-solution, saying that ending the occupation and “achieving a negotiated two-state outcome is the only way to lay the foundations for enduring peace that meets Israeli security needs and Palestinian aspirations for statehood and sovereignty. It is the only way to achieve the inalienable rights of the Palestinian people”.

While the Palestinian Authority (PA) and PLO reportedly launched an international and public campaign on 50 years of occupation aiming to galvanize Palestinian public support, the public itself has become critical of its leadership, which is increasingly seen in the context of its controversial security cooperation with Israel, clientelistic policies and little to no progress in the peace process. Moreover, as the PA has failed to produce significant results since the beginning of the Oslo Process, it runs the risk of endangering the legacy of the PLO’s sacrifice. While a breakdown of the PA is unlikely, it is uncertain for how long Palestinians will sit idly by and watch, as the chance for national self-determination might slip away. The resilience of the Palestinian people, Dr. Mahdi Abdul Hadi says, will prevail: “I was then where they [Palestinian Youth] are now, with a smile on our faces, without fear of what lies ahead as long as we believed in our tasks and responsibilities.”


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