Unity of Palestinian cause must continue as leaders change
by Nadia Taha and George Beirn
November 15, 2004

Last week, the world witnessed the passing of a man who brought the plight of Palestine to the forefront of the international consciousness of humanity. While Yasser Arafat's positions may not have represented all Palestinians, his role in bringing the problems of Palestinians to the political table was crucial. Other Palestinian national leaders who gained wide support within the Palestinian national movement have, like Arafat, been rejected as criminal or illegitimate as part of Israel's U.S.-supported effort to deny Palestinians the right to choose their own leadership. This effort served a purpose beyond preventing strong national leadership from emerging within the Palestinian national movement. The competition between Israel and its American groupies to most harshly reject Arafat also served to justify Israel's maintenance of illegal settlements and outposts in the West Bank by supplying them with a scapegoat for the rising violence and their refusal to comply with international law regarding those settlements and the shameful Apartheid Wall.

Arafat's power has now been delegated to other Palestinian authority officials who served in his administration, and the official Israeli and American position of hope is that one of these leaders may be the appropriate vehicle through which to impose a settlement on the Palestinians. But whatever "acceptable partner for peace" Israel is looking for, someone willing to concede enough of the Palestinian's rights to satisfy Israel will not be supported by the Palestinian people themselves. Ultimately, despite the representative role of Arafat and other leaders, the Palestinian revolution has always been and will continue to be a movement by the people. Palestinians now seek a leader who will defend their rights to live in their homeland with basic undeniable human rights, including the right to participate in the democratic process of a government that represents them and the right of return to the lands from which they were expelled. Arafat's passing may give rise to a new government system that recognizes the equal humanity of Palestinians. Such a government must be fully representative of its positions on the so-called peace process without the United States continually insisting that the new Palestinian leadership waters down the message of the struggle for rights.

The Bush administration selected William Burns, assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern Affairs, to represent the United States at Arafat's state funeral in Cairo Friday. The fact the United States chose to send such a low-level delegate demonstrates clearly to the Palestinians how low on the list of priorities they, their national tragedies and their struggle for equal rights are on the American foreign policy agenda. Ultimately, however, no single leader, not Burns, Arafat, nor even Ariel Sharon, will determine the fate of the Palestinian people. The oppressive conditions under which Palestinians have been forced to live and the violence brought about by those conditions will not cease to exist. Contrary to statements made by high-ranking Israeli officials, the passing of Arafat does not promote the chance for peace in the region. A lasting peace cannot exist in a land that settlers illegitimately occupy. As long as Israeli soldiers continually invade cities in the West Bank and Gaza, routinely demolish Palestinian homes, impose checkpoints and the Apartheid Wall, effectively devastate the West Bank economy, maintain sole control over natural resources like water, destroy Palestinian agricultural land and regularly deny young Palestinians access to education, there can be no peace. These changes will be brought about not by the coming and going of world leaders but by the unity of the people, and the Palestinian revolution thus remains in the hands of the people.

Nadia Taha is a Rutgers College junior majoring in journalism and media studies and Spanish. George Beirn is School of Engineering junior majoring in applied science engineering. They are also respectively President and Treasurer of NJ Solidarity.