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Will there be an empowered Palestinian collective?

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John Kerry and Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah last month

John Kerry and Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah last month

This is part of Marc H. Ellis’s “Exile and the Prophetic” feature for Mondoweiss. To read the entire series visit the archive page.

NATO can stay “for a long time, and wherever they want, not only on the eastern borders, but also on the western borders, everywhere. The third party can stay. They can stay to reassure the Israelis, and to protect us.” So says President Abbas on the future of Occupied Palestine.

Since demilitarization is the mandated and assumed future for any Palestinian entity, one has to wonder how far that future has been internalized within Palestinian leadership.

What say the people of Palestine?

Protection against whom? Israel is the most obvious culprit, though only God knows if there is any way to stop Israel with or without a signed agreement.

Protection against Jordan and Egypt? Syria? Possibly. And other forces in the Arab world through their proxies. No doubt.

Though we assume Israel is the target of any Arab insurgency, this may be a misplaced anxiety. Jerusalem is the real prize. In comparison, Israel is the new occupier on the block. Islam, itself an occupier in history, is assumed to be indigenous.

Is Abbas afraid of tendencies within Palestine, thus hoping that NATO will protect Palestinians against forces within Palestine itself, perhaps Hamas or a military strongman who might come to power?

The fear of others seems controlling here. It may also be a sense of defeat. Perhaps Abbas and the Palestinian leadership have internalized the American, Jewish and Israeli narrative that Palestinians are unfit to govern themselves. That narrative is widespread. Europe and the Arab world share parts of this narrative.

If Palestine is unable to govern itself with an army and survive in the world where it lives, then autonomy – really an internationally funded ghettoized entity, might be the way forward. But if you desire a state, Palestinians must assume the mandates and responsibilities of a state. If Palestinian leadership doesn’t believe in their own capacity and the capacity of their people, why should anyone else?

Of course, the military is a dead end. The military is a place of power, entrenched interest, corporate welfare and corruption. It is the power behind the throne. Too often it is the throne.

Nonetheless, without a military in today’s world, you cannot protect your citizens. Over the long run, others will not protect you. Nor will a newly formed nation learn how to develop and maintain itself without a military that is under civilian control.

Hasn’t the problem with Palestinian life been this lack of self-protection?

The question, then, is not the negotiation of borders – only. Or settlements – only. Or Jerusalem. Or the right of return. It’s about an empowered Palestinian collective.

Palestinian empowerment is nowhere to be found on anyone’s radar screen – including among Palestinian leadership. It isn’t even being discussed.

Marc H. Ellis
About Marc H. Ellis

Marc H. Ellis is Professor of History and Jewish Studies and Director of the Center for the Study of the Global Prophetic. His latest book is Finding Our Voice: Embodying the Prophetic and Other Misadventures.

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7 Responses

  1. Justpassingby
    February 4, 2014, 10:58 am

    NATO US forces in Palestine…wow abbas is really stupid!

  2. Citizen
    February 4, 2014, 11:42 am

    Yep. I have no idea at all what the average Palestinian thinks about having their own army, but it seems conceded by all the PTB that they won’t have one. Nor, apparently, will they have a Navy, Coast Guard, Air Force. Will they be able to coin their own money? Why has it apparently been conceded by all the PTB that Israel retain the best, most effective of all forms of sovereignty, but any Palestinian “sovereign state” must be reduced to a fragmented body of indentured servants or welfare recipients paid by foreigners, adjacent powerful Israel, but equipped with just a domestic police force (specially Bombed during OP Cast Lead)?

  3. pabelmont
    February 4, 2014, 11:49 am

    Marc, a lot of good points.

    Imagine Israel w/o a military for occupation and therefore unable to continue the occupations and settlements. Well, * * *.

    Better yet, imagine the USA with a 10% military (90% savings on DoD, NSA, CIA, etc., budgets) and all that money available to be spent for wind-turbines and other “green” energy mechanisms. Why, I remember when it was proposed to use day-time energy (solar, wind ??) to pump water up-hill into reservoirs (Storm King proposal) and release the water at night to provide hydro-power in night-time. Environmentalists killed the idea at the time (long ago),. Bet they’d love it now that Climate Change is here and clamoring for mitigation.

  4. JustJessetr
    February 4, 2014, 11:53 am

    Great idea! NATO troops shooting Islamo-fascist (Al-Qaeda affiliated, Islamic Jihad, anyone else smuggled in) terrorists! About time!

    Sorry, y’all won’t be able to blame Israel anymore for pushing the US to do the dirty work. We can all point to Abbas for inviting in the new occupiers.

    Go Abbas!

    • Walid
      February 5, 2014, 6:58 am

      “Go Abbas!”

      Was that a “Go Abass!” as a way of cheering him on, or was it a “Go Abass!” as in “please go away Abass”?

  5. W.Jones
    February 4, 2014, 12:44 pm


    I had a friend yesterday who is Lebanese but never been to Lebanon. Her relatives in Syria are Christian and one of them was a boy who his relatives found chopped by a machete in a trashcan. They are hiding in the mountains from the conflict.

    I wish you could write some more about your views of the “insurgency” in Syria, because in case you noticed on some threads it is an issue that is divided among some leftists. Some focus on the fact that there is opposition to Assad, who was a dictator, and thus they support insurgency in general, although not the fundamentalists. Others see that the main forces are the secular army and the fundamentalist western and Saudi proxies, so they support the secular army. I hope you can please give some insight about this.


  6. NorthCascadian
    February 5, 2014, 11:22 am

    Here are some excerpts from a Palestinian exile who is trying to raise the Palestinian flag for people to rally round. Her name is Nahida Izzat, exiled in Britain, she is writing a lot on the issue. Some key excerpts..
    “An invitation to All Palestinians and their supporters to unite under the banner of LIBERATION, affirming our Inalienable Rights and clarifying our aims and aspirations to ourselves and to the world For the sake of historical truth, and for defending, preserving and protecting the rights of future Palestinian children, we present this document:”
    This is quite a long document, but here is another paragraph towards the end.
    “Liberation means full sovereignty of the Palestinian Nation over their historic land, Palestine. Liberation also implies the irrevocable dissolution of the so called “state of Israel” and all its institutions. Palestine, known as “The Holy Land”, must be free from racist atrocities. Contrary to all failed attempts, road-maps and fake negotiations which serve as dilatory measure enabling more land grabs and atrocities. The concept of full liberation and full sovereignty for Palestinians carries only advantages; including the ability to prosecute “Israeli” criminals for Crimes against Humanity. To bring reason to the Holy Land, it is necessary to first recognize the fact that the Jewish-Zionist occupation is the sole reason there is strife in this land in the first place, and secondly, it is necessary to look back at the status pro ante, to realize that the institution of a liberated Palestine will inevitably reflect Palestinian peaceful culture and inclusive social fabric, thereby endlessly more apt to be a good standing member of the UN, and a good neighbor and partner to the world.”

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