The late noted Palestinian figure Ahmad Sidqi al Dajani used to tell me that the “the stupidity of our brothers is the declaration of this imaginary state. To this they added the stupidity of the [Palestinian] Authority that emerged from the Oslo Accords.” In 1988, the state was declared in Algeria after the Palestinian resistance had left Lebanon and was at its peak, which practically signaled the end of the era of the peaceful Arab-Israeli conflict.
The decision to declare the state had no actual significance with the exception that the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) offices transformed into embassies for the exile state that made its capital the beautiful, northern suburb of Tunis.
The declaration of the state could be associated with two major shifts in the Palestinian arena: the breakout of the first Intifada [known as the war of stones] inside the occupied territories and the launch of Palestinian-U.S. negotiations following the late President Yasser Arafat’s declaration that the Palestinian National Charter was null and void, a clear reference to the recognition of Israel and abandoning military action.
The Intifada brought about new facts, notable of which are the following three:
– The emergence of an internal political equation independent of the PLO abroad that centered on young figures that emerged from the peaceful popular resistance. Although they emerged from the rear rank of the PLO; however, they were new models that differed in backgrounds, orientations and strategies from the historical leadership in exile.
– The emergence of the Hamas movement, which soon grew into a real rival to the PLO. Although the Islamist trend had always been a major constituent element of the Palestinian national movement, new-born Hamas differed in terms of structure and activity from the Islamist trends embraced by the PLO. Furthermore, its coming into existence inside the occupied territories provided it with a wide margin of independence.
– Crystallizing the diplomatic framework for the settlement of the Arab-Israeli conflict as part of the new global post-Cold War congruence and the effect of the widespread solidarity with the Palestinian people as a result of the first Intifada against Israeli suppression and destruction.
Therefore, the declaration of the state was the political expression of the new atmosphere that was deemed appropriate for solving the Palestinian problem. However, the form of the state did not go beyond the media and did not reflect positively on the performance of the Palestinian national movement, which at the time suffered the tragic elimination of two symbols: Abu Iyad [Salah Khalaf], Fatah’s second man, and Abu Jihad [Khalil al Wazir], the man behind major operations and the engineer of the first Intifada.
The new state did not assume the form of the “Algerian state” that was declared by the Algerian resistance in exile before independence. It did not succeed in developing political action techniques in the modest negotiation sessions with the United States. Most importantly, it did not succeed in codifying the Intifada and capitalizing on its momentous gains. The inadequacy and fragility of the official Palestinian performance manifested itself during the major crisis of the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait, when, as a negative player, the PLO engaged in the gravest modern Arab regional crisis.
Thus, from a fragile position and with few negotiation cards, the Palestinian Central Council embarked upon the track of peaceful negotiations that launched later in 1991.
The Oslo Accords, signed by Abu Ammar (Yasser Arafat) in the White House Rose Garden in 1993, represented a defining moment in the course of Palestinian political action and resulted in the declaration of the elected Palestinian Authority (PA), which added a third institutional structure to the PLO and the state in exile.
At the time, the PA was viewed as a radical turning point in the Palestinian course to independence, having given it an Israeli- and internationally-recognized ruling framework and allowing the return of the Palestinian historical leadership from exile.
However, having arrived at the core issues of the final solution, the fragility and shortcomings of the Accords, which were shrouded in mystery, soon surfaced. Unfortunately enough, the self-rule PA, which had been intended as a practical model of the prosperous democratic state promised to the resistance movement, gradually transformed into the usual form of an Arab state plagued with corruption and dominance of security agencies.
The “paralyzed state” appeared incapable of codifying the second Intifada, which was out of control of the PLO’s political leadership and the besieged PA president when the Israeli aggression reached its zenith and the peaceful negotiation path was frozen until after the death of Yasser Arafat.
What the PLO leadership did not recognize was that the Palestinian state project, as provided for by the Oslo Accords, has already collapsed in spite of the new global concurrence on the principle of an autonomous entity, which practically means the end of the PA model that had been intended as a temporary solution towards the final-solution negotiations.
The PLO won an inadequate authority that turned into a ground for a destructive civil conflict. In return, it lost the dynamic resistance and the capacity to maintain a unified Palestinian rank. Meanwhile, the state remains a purely diplomatic fact.