Palestine and the Palestinians.
Reviewed by Husam A. Mohamad
Professor Samih Farsoun with Ph.D. candidate Christina Zacharia have written a valuable, well-documented text on Palestine and the Palestinian people. Much has been written on this subject, but few address the comprehensive socioeconomic, political, cultural and ideological dimension of the topic over such a lengthy period of time. This book sets forth an impressive analysis that details the Palestinian tragedy and its varied consequences on the people of Palestine on the one hand, and on Palestine's search for national self-determination and statehood, on the other. The authors have investigated the demographic, rural-urban, territorial, administrative and socioeconomic changes that influenced the Palestinian society since the start of the century. They thoroughly investigated British-Zionist responsibility in the creation of what became known as the Palestinian Question. Relying on carefully documented accounts, they demonstrated that Jewish immigration, accompanied by land confiscation since the early 1920s, the devastating effects of the 1948 and 1967 Arab-Israeli wars and their subsequent refugee problems, and current misery of the Palestinian people were largely caused by Zionist and British policies. Colonialism, in this respect fueled Palestinian nationalism against Zionism and the West.
Although the book says relatively little that is new, the comprehensive approach and perspective of its authors have made the book a valuable contribution. It is a scholarly addition to the already available literature. The book's main focus is on the social and economic history of the Palestinian people and their national movement both inside historic Palestine and in the diaspora, their shattered politics and society, as well as new challenges to their present and future existence, all from an interdisciplinary perspective. In the words of the authors, the book examines the social, economic and political development of the people of Palestine from the nineteenth century to the present. Particularly appealing are: the authors insights on Palestinian political trends and tendencies, as well as the explorations of various crisis situations that have challenged and continue to confront the Palestinian people with regard to their general strategies, relations with others and future goals.
Through a well-researched presentation, the authors refute most unfounded Zionist perceptions about Palestine and the Palestinian people. The Zionist and Western media have largely presented the people of Palestine as nonexistent, disposable, homeless refugees or terrorists and rebels. However, by relying on well-documented accounts, the authors argue that the Palestinians were and remain remarkable productive people. As a nation, Palestinians still posses a clear and distinct political identity, and as a community they have historically enjoyed unity with respect to political, economic, social and cultural terms. Indeed, Israels creation led to the destruction, dispersion and dislocation of the socioeconomic and political unity of the Palestinians. However, Palestinians national identity and consciousness remains strong and continues to be alive and well. Unlike other books, the text serves as a counterbalance to the literature influenced by biased Zionist views of the Palestinian people.
From a Palestinian viewpoint, the authors give an impressive and intellectually credible presentation of major historical and current changes in Palestinian politics, emphasizing the relationships between outside political interference and internal Palestinian political and organizational crisis. In addition to the review of Israeli and Arab states' challenges to the Palestinians, the authors examine the uneasy alliance that has existed within and among the ranks of the Palestinian movement over the course of its history. They also look at the recent internal and external challenges in Palestinian politics. They reveal underlying causes regarding the weaknesses of the current disorganized opposition in Palestinian politics, and assess the changes of the failure and success of that opposition. Above all, the authors give accounts of historical and present injustices made against the Palestinian people, and new challenges for them resulting from the current fragile peace process that has failed to satisfy all parties. In this context, the authors criticize the Oslo Accord, and present the peace process and its subsequent results as a PLO sellout to Israel and the United States. In addition, the authors criticize the rising authoritarian character of the Palestinian national authority in the occupied territories.
While addressing the changing nature of the Palestinian national identity, since its inception in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, the authors rely on contemporary conceptualization and analysis that goes beyond summarizing the kinds of transformations that took place. Drawing extensively upon recent Arab and English literature, the authors examined the reasons behind forces and events contributing to historical and recent transformations in Palestinian identity, society and politics.
Those mainly interested in critically identifying general perceptions regarding Western treatments of the Palestinian people and the Palestine question over the years will find the introductory chapter on "The Question of Palestine" and the "Appendix" very helpful. The "Bibliography" will provide readers with extensive Arabic and English language sources that will be useful for many years to come. Those who are interested in deeper details and a comprehensive review of the subject will need to include the book on their reading list. It will help those readers to form a clearer view of the Palestinians and their history from a sympathetic perspective that is considerate to the human cost of the Palestinian tragedy.
The first three chapters of the book identify and explain the socioeconomic and politico-historical forces that contributed to the transformation and eventual unmaking of Palestine. These chapters explore the impact of Zionism and colonialism on the Palestinian movement in general and on the emergence of the Palestinian peasantry as a revolutionary model reacting to outside interference in particular. In detailing the process of Palestinian political and social transformation, the authors give an account of the emergence and development of capitalism in Palestine since late nineteenth century, and determine that it was one of the causes leading to the colonization and Zionization of the country. The authors note that during this period of capitalist transformation, Palestinians possessed a well-established community in socioeconomic and political terms. These interpretations are not routinely found in other works.
The fourth and fifth chapters present a comprehensive review of dispersed Palestinian communities, inside Palestine and in the diaspora. Following the 1948 Nakba, the authors indicated that the possibility of speaking about a unified Palestinian social unity became particularly difficult because of the shredding of Palestinian society. In this context, the authors addressed the rise and fall of the Palestinian movement, as well as the changing relationship between Palestinians and Arab political tendencies and identities. For much of its history, the Palestinian movement was largely contained and dependent on the Arab establishment. The authors revealed dangers associated with Palestinian dependency on Arab politics. More terminal dangers, however, came from Israel's systematic determination to exterminate the presence of Palestine nationalism both from inside and outside Palestine.
Generally, the authors indicate that from 1948 until the 1967 War, Palestinian politics was highly dependent on Arab politics and were therefore susceptible to external intervention and outside control. Following the 1967 War, however, Palestinian politics began to reflect a new Palestinian influence and insistence on playing a major role in the politics of the region. This is seen from the authors examination of the rise and fall of the Palestinian movement over the period from the 1967 war until the 1993 Oslo accord. Although historical, their examination of the subject of the Palestinian movement focuses not only on the transformation of Palestinian ideology and strategy, but on the reasons for the transformations, as well. Following the 1973 war, Palestinian politics once more became susceptible to diverse external political influences and threats. This situation forced Palestinians to become more responsive to outside Arab pressures on the one hand, and to more moderate pressures coming from Palestinians living in the Occupied Territories, on the other. Eventually, the Palestinian movement grew dangerously weak and defensive, and thus began drifting towards accepting compromise solutions that favored a peace process with the Jewish State. It simply settled for incremental gains.
The sixth and seventh chapters give a detailed analysis of the changes occurring in the occupied territories as a consequence of the Palestinian Intifada, which rescued the PLO from its growing state of paralysis. The final and most radical transformation in Palestinian politics came during the period that followed the Palestinian uprising of 1987 and the Gulf war of 1991. Thereafter, entering into a formal peace relation with Israel in 1993 gave the PLO and Arafat new incentives to resolve their conflicts with Israel by peaceful means. Agreeing with Palestinian intellectuals like Edward Said and Naseer Aruri, the authors considered the peace process a step that deprived Palestinians of many rights that they have fought for over the past five decades. The peace process aimed, among other things, at legitimating Israel's claims to the Occupied Territories. In this context, the books is largely critical of the Arafat regime's handling of the peaceful relations with Israel, as well as of his authoritarian and repressive rule against the Palestinian opposition in the Occupied Territories. The authors see the Palestinian Authority as an autocratic and incompetent structure that should be replaced by a democratically based entity.
The final chapters give an interesting analysis of the proposals for Palestinian self-determination and future destiny. The last chapter is particularly useful in enhancing understanding with regard to current controversies and crossroads in Palestinian politics. The traditional leftist opposition in Palestinian politics has recently been replaced by an Islamic challenge. However, both the leftist and Islamic opposition remain disorganized and generally ineffective. These oppositions may need to rethink their agenda and practices if they wish to succeed. With regard to the future of the Palestinian people, the authors stressed that this would be largely determined by Palestinians' own action. Aside from that, the Palestinian destiny remains largely influenced by the results of the peace process, the practices of the PLO/PA, and the strength of the Palestinian opposition to Arafat's regime inside and outside the territories. This chapter provides an in-depth look at current weaknesses in Palestinian politics. It argues that the Palestinian people will probably have to create their own future by launching another new Intifada, centered not against Israel, but against the rising authoritarianism of the Palestinian rule in the Occupied Territories.
Overall, this is an impressive work that contains a wealth of information and good summaries of historical and recent changes and performances of the people of Palestine. Each chapter surveys events and changes that were, and remain crucial in the making of the Palestinian people. Most refreshing are chapters on the PLO-Israeli Accords and Whither Palestine and the Palestinians. These subjects are central to the current Palestinian public debate as well as the intellectual insight of many of the experiences of the Palestinian people.
Elsewhere some observations may sound outdated, as is the case of the references to the role of the pan-Arab, socialist and Marxist ideologies regarding current Palestinian and Arab politics. Despite minor criticisms, Palestine and the Palestinians remains a successful analysis and an excellent source for general information and courses on Palestinian politics, society and history.
Husam A. Muhamad is an assistant professor of International Relations at Eastern Mediterranean University in North Cyprus.
|Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback|
|Author:||Mohamad, Husam A.|
|Publication:||Arab Studies Quarterly (ASQ)|
|Article Type:||Book Review|
|Date:||Mar 22, 1999|
|Previous Article:||Palestinian Citizens in an Ethnic Jewish State: Identities in Conflict.|
|Next Article:||Islam and Democracy.|