Social Text 21.2 (2003) 7-23
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Modern Palestinian Literature and the Politics of Appeasement
Salah D. Hassan
From the Israeli invasion of Lebanon in the summer of 1982 to the signing of the Declaration of Principles on 13 September 1993, Palestinian politics witnessed the transformation of the PLO from a revolutionary national liberation movement to a partner in a U.S.-led peace process. The demise of the PLO as a revolutionary movement began a decade earlier with its negotiated withdrawal from Beirut and the establishment of new headquarters in Tunis. The Sabra and Shatila massacres and the painful war of the camps in the mid-1980s devastated the PLO and revealed the weakness of Arafat's leadership. Cut off from its major civilian constituencies in the refugee camps of Lebanon, Syria, and Jordan and wrecked as an armed resistance group, the post-1982 PLO was unable to formulate a coherent political strategy that could meet the demands of the constantly shifting grounds of the struggle.
The beginning of the Intifada in December 1987 interrupted the PLO's slide into inaction by upsetting the status quo in the occupied territories and opening alternative fronts of opposition to Israel. Long neglected by the PLO as a strategic locus of operations, the occupied territories emerged during the Intifada as the principal site of resistance and the real stake in the conflict. The remarkable achievements of the uprising, especially in its first two years, gave a new mandate to the debilitated PLO leadership in Tunis and somehow offset the failures of the post-1982 period. The escalation of confrontations between Israeli soldiers and Palestinian youths enhanced the PLO's ability to mobilize effective international opposition to Israel's policy in the occupied territories and also forced the organization to reassess its established positions. At the 1988 Palestine National Council meeting in Algiers, the PLO made a "Declaration of Independence" and announced a new plan of action that indicated a reorientation centered on achieving an Israeli withdrawal from the occupied territories. By the early 1990s, however, the Intifada had run its course, and the many Palestinians living under occupation were finding it increasingly difficult to endure the worsened living conditions resulting from Israeli repression of the Intifada. The effects of the Gulf War— on the entire region, but especially on Palestinians following the PLO's announcement of support for Iraq—put an end to the Intifada and undermined many of the gains produced by the three-year uprising. [End Page 7]
The 1990-91 Gulf War had a devastating effect on Palestinians in the occupied territories, sapped the Intifada, and isolated the PLO. One of the major outcomes of the war was the Middle East peace process, beginning with the public meetings in Madrid in October 1991, in which the Palestinian negotiation team was composed largely of personalities who had emerged during the Intifada as leaders from inside the occupied territories. The Madrid process came to an end with the announcement that the PLO and Israel had reached an agreement in secret meetings in Oslo, followed by the signing of the Declaration of Principles in Washington. The initial—and misplaced—euphoria following the Washington handshake between Arafat and Rabin, and Arafat's subsequent arrival in Palestine in July 1994, did not last long. The actions of the Palestinian National Authority in Gaza and Jericho soon revealed the failure of Arafat to learn from the Intifada and understand the concerns expressed by the Palestinian negotiators during the post-Madrid bilateral rounds. No longer the head of a liberation organization—now the chairman of the National Authority—Arafat has proved himself to be often insensitive to Palestinians in the occupied territories and ineffective in negotiating with the Israelis. The years from 1982 to 1993 can now be understood as the period when the PLO abandoned the politics of resistance linked to those other struggles for national liberation and embraced the politics of appeasement, defined almost entirely in terms of U.S. recognition (Hassan 2001).
I have rehearsed briefly the historical trajectory...