Palestine after 11 September
The terrorist attacks on the USA are likely to isolate the Palestinian struggle further.
We may not yet know for certain who carried out the terrorist attacks on America on 11 September, but many have pointed to the politics of the Middle East as a possible cause.
But while the hijackers certainly hailed from the Middle East, there is little evidence that they were fighting for the cause of Arab nationalism or Palestinian freedom. No organisation has yet claimed responsibility for the attacks, much less justified them by reference to a political cause.
If anything, the nihilism and futility of the attacks seemed to reflect the terrorists’ disengagement from any Middle Eastern political struggle. If the attacks showed us anything about the Middle East, it was the unravelling of Arab nationalism – as evidenced by the regional and international isolation of the Palestinian struggle for justice.
The terrorist attacks were a political disaster for the Palestinians. Under pressure from America – which doesn’t want events in Palestine to jeopardise its attempts to build coalitions with Arab nations – Israeli premier Ariel Sharon called for a ceasefire in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Palestinian Liberation Organisation (PLO) leader Yasser Arafat quickly agreed, effectively ceding moral authority to Sharon’s claim to be a peacemaker.
But since 11 September, the Israeli army has killed over 40 Palestinians, about half of them since the ceasefire was declared on 27 September – and it has occupied Palestinian land from Jenin to Jericho, from Ramallah to the Gaza strip, bringing forward plans for a 20-mile buffer zone around the West Bank.
Sharon clearly recognises that the US-led war on terrorism can only strengthen the hand of Israel against the Palestinians. At the same time, Arafat realises that he has to be seen to be on the side of anti-terrorism – hence his speedy acceptance of the ceasefire, his clampdown on the limited Palestinian support for the terrorist attacks, and his very public donation of blood to the victims of 11 September.
Far from being carried out in the name of Palestinian justice, as many thought at first, the terrorist attacks have consolidated the isolation of the Palestinian struggle – once the most popular and radical struggle in the Middle East, but one that now seems to have nowhere to go.
Linking the terrorist attacks on America to a rise in Arab nationalism and an anti-Western jihad just doesn’t add up. No Arab nation since the Gulf War at the beginning of the 1990s has been prepared to challenge American and Western policy in the Middle East. And now that all Arab nations – apart from Iraq – have fallen in behind the US-led anti-terror crusade it is clear that a rise in anti-Western Arab nationalism is more imagined than real.
Consider how the Palestinian struggle has become an embarrassment for Arab leaders in recent years. There was a time when Arab leaders made common cause with the Palestinians, who enjoyed widespread support across most nations in the Middle East. Much of this support was only financial, and was as much about Arab leaders courting popularity among their own populations as it was supporting freedom for Palestine. But now even that level of support is on the decline.
If anything, the plight of the Palestinians is worse now than it was a year ago. The Palestinian intifada has turned into little more than a turkey shoot – with over 600 Palestinians killed over the past year. That some Palestinians are seeking to use Belgian courts to indict Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon for war crimes (for his role as Israeli defence minister in overseeing the slaughter of their people in Lebanese refugee camps in September 1982) is understandable – but it is also a glimpse of the pitiful state Palestinians have found themselves in.
Such a desperate situation helps explain the recent wave of suicide bombings carried out by young Palestinians and Arabs in Israel. When Palestinians blow themselves and civilians apart it is often presented as a sign of absolute conviction, of widespread and determined support for Palestinian freedom. But it can also be seen as a sign of weakness – after all, it is hardly a sign of strength that you kill your youngest and often best comrades in suicide missions. At the height of the Palestinian struggle in the 1980s – when there was a sense of it moving forward and winning regional and international support – young Palestinian men did not blow themselves up.
Nor is the ‘rise in Islamic fundamentalism’ a convincing reason for recent suicide bombings in Israel and the occupied territories – after all, the PLO was historically a secular, left-wing organisation. That young Palestinians are prepared to waste their own and others’ lives in such terrible ways shows that the current stage of the Palestinian struggle is effectively coming to an end.
The support for Hamas and Islamic Jihad is further evidence of the deterioration of the Palestinian democratic struggle. Such groups arose at a time when the PLO was seen to be making too many compromises to Israel and the USA – but they offer no political alternative.
The 11 September terrorists did not blow themselves and 6000 others apart on behalf of the Palestinian struggle – but one of the terrible legacies of their attacks will be the further isolation and oppression of the Palestinians.
spiked-issues: After 11 September
(1) Sharon may face massacre charge, BBC New Online, 18 June 2001
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