by Iqbal Jassat
One of Palestine’s most articulate voices, Diana Buttu, has made an urgent call to dump failed policies and futile strategies.
As a former adviser to the negotiating team of the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO), she possesses impeccable credentials to make such a call.
In an opinion piece published in the New York Times, Ms. Buttu slams the failure of protracted negotiations.
Its futility is self-evident in the status quo: Israel’s expansion has grown multifold while Palestine has been side-lined.
She says the PLO’s decades long approach to Israel has yielded zero results.
Despite the 1993 Oslo Accords which Palestinians expected would result in an independent state and the PLO having kicked off the cycle of talks by recognizing Israel, expansion intensified.
“Today there are more than triple the number of Israeli settlers living in the West Bank than there were in 1993.”
The notion that Israel’s expansionist plans had ended, turned out to be a mirage. Far from ending the occupation, the Oslo fig leaf was exploited by Israel to establish economic and trade ties with dozens of countries including Oman and Qatar.
Ms. Buttu pointedly accuses the PLO of doubling down: pressing for negotiations despite their futility, pressing for increased international recognition as a state despite the lack of actual sovereignty or independence, serving as a subcontractor for Israel’s occupying army, even as Israel continued to destroy Palestinian homes and expropriate territory and resources.
She argues that the UAE-deal should now serve as a point of reflection for the PLO.
By signing on to the deal, “the United Arab Emirates shattered a decades-long Arab League policy by normalizing relations with Israel, without Israel ending its military rule over Palestinians and without a permanent regional peace treaty.”
Without any cost to Israel and clearly not to halt annexation plans as emphatically declared by Netanyahu, despite efforts by the Trump regime to spin it, the deal indicates that Israel and Arab countries are “willing to move ahead with plans that disregard Palestinian rights”.
Ms. Buttu insists that with Palestinians side lined, the UAE deal makes it clear that Palestinians can no longer count on Arab states for political support.
The so-called “united diplomatic front of Arab states supporting the Palestinian cause is clearly crumbling”.
The all-important question Ms. Buttu believes Palestinians need to ask themselves is whether the PLO’s strategic direction - that of two-states achieved through negotiations - is working?
It clearly hasn’t worked.
Thus, her damning assessment of PLO’s failure calls for meaningful reforms: “Our Movement today continues to be led by individuals whose democratic legitimacy expired long ago.”
And in a harsh indictment of the PLO, she points out that the last elections to its National Council (PNC), the legislative authority that represents the movement's policies, took place more than two decades ago.
“The Palestinian Authority, the governing body that was set up by the Oslo Accords, and which has been headed by Mahmoud Abbas since 2005, currently presides over a withered and hapless economy and most Palestinians fare far worse than when negotiations began in the early 1990s. Mr. Abbas and other Palestinian leaders should aim to provide a workable strategy for achieving our rights rather than working to appease Israel, and the international donor community, by adopting an anti-apartheid strategy.”
Acknowledging that she has no illusion as to how difficult this transformation will be, Ms. Buttu insists that if the aim is to secure Palestinian freedom, continuing on the path delineated by the Oslo Accords will only prolong Palestinian suffering.
It is in the context of this treacherous normalization of denial of freedom, justice and dignity, that requires of South Africa to appraise and annul its foreign policy which in effect is a replica of the PLO’s failed strategies.
Unless the ruling ANC demands a paradigm shift in solidarity with Palestinian voices and as expressed by Ms. Buttu, charts a genuine new course that prioritizes the realization of Palestinian freedom, South Africa will remain an ineffective shadow of the PLO’s failure.
(Iqbal Jassat is Executive director at the Media Review Network, Johannesburg, South Africa)