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Understanding the Palestinian issue

By Stuart Rees - posted Thursday, 2 January 2014

I have returned to Edward W Said's The End of the Peace Process, published initially by Granta Books of London in 2002.

Said is that giant philosopher, historian, political scientist and musician whose previous significant works included Orientalism, The Politics of Dispossession and Representations of the Intellectual. Perhaps the best known champion of justice for his people, the Palestinians, his 2002 book, The End of the Peace Process speaks to the present injustices, the stalemate in peace negotiations and the abject failure of the international community to tell the government of Israel, 'enough is enough, no more stealing of land, no more targeted killings and for the sake of even a touch of humanity, end the siege of Gaza.'

Even though Said addresses issues which were prevalent in the last years of the 20th century, such as 'the campaign against Islamic terror' and 'Are there no limits to (Palestinian) corruption?', his chapters are as relevant now as they were then. So, on my recent visit to the Middle East, to join Arab leaders in days of discussion about the prospects for Palestinian nationhood, I was pleased to have Edward's Said's words and wisdom in my luggage.


There is only one theme in the 2002 book which might be regarded as a piece of history which need not be referred to anymore. Said rails against the corruption of the PLO leader Yasser Arafat whom he regards as having given in to the Israelis too many times, and in particular over the divisive agreement known as the Oslo Accords. Yet even that criticism resonates today. Palestine is divided into at least three camps - the refugees who are seldom represented, the West Bank leadership under Abu Mazzen whom the West tries to take seriously and the Gazans under the mysterious and some might say - but I don't - menacing leadership of Hamas.

Said in 2002 raises all the questions which were addressed in the last weeks of 2013, in those meetings in Doha, Qatar about Arab leadership in relation to Palestinians' future.

When huge tensions and contradictions remain unresolved, the prospects of creating a peace with justice for all Palestinians and thereby nationhood, are doomed to failure. With remarkable foresight, Said identifies those tensions which explain the current impasse, the continued violence and Israel's gradual sinking into pariah status.

The US brokered peace negotiations between Israel and representatives of a section of Palestinians have been a cruel farce. The Europeans have developed an inferiority complex in their dealings with the US government. The leaders of Arab countries have been indifferent to Palestinian suffering and have been unable to establish consistently coherent policies. Middle East leaders rhetoric about democracy and human rights has been only rhetoric. Countries such as the UK have behaved as though any deal would do. The Palestinians themselves have remained divided and in terms of being assertive and never giving way in negotiation, appear to have learned nothing from the Israelis.

If any of these issues could be solved, they would do justice to Edward Said's passion and prose. He writes with elegance, humour and humanity. He contrasts Nelson Mandela with Yasser Arafat and Israeli leader Benjamin Netanyahu. And we did not need the tributes to Madiba following his death in December 2013. to imagine the verdict of Said. Mandela, he writes, displayed courage, principle and an unflagging commitment to universal human rights, not only for his own people but also for the vulnerable all over the globe. Netanyahu and Arafat were by contrast devious, unprincipled, seldom to be trusted, usually indifferent to others' appeals about human rights.

Edward Said was a great intellectual but also an activist in Nelson Mandela standards. All the pages of this inspiring book confirm such acclaim. Put it in your own luggage next time you travel.

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This is a review of The End of the Peace Process.

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About the Author

Stuart Rees is Professor Emeritus of the University of Sydney and Founder of the Sydney Peace Foundation. He is the former Director of the Sydney Peace Foundation (1998-2011) and of the Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies (1988-2008), and a Professor of Social Work (1978-2000) at the University of Sydney.

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