Unity or Annihilation – The Real Choice For The Palestinians (Again)

In other words, the PNC as conceived by Nasser was to be a mechanism for giving the Palestinians hope while preventing resurgent Palestinian nationalism becoming the tail that wagged the Arab dog and provoked an unwinnable war with Israel.

Nasser’s containment policy failed for two related reasons.

The first was that Yasser Arafat and other leaders of the embryonic Fatah movement were fully aware that the Eygptian President had no intention of allowing the Palestinians to take matters into their own hands and initiated pin-prick attacks on Israel (hit-and-run missions) of their own.

The second was Israel’s massively disproportionate reprisal attacks on the frontline Arab states. The reprisals were totally counterproductive because they gave the embryo Palestineliberation movement (the authentic one) the oxygen of publicity Nasser was seeking to deny it. Without Israel’s reprisal attacks, the Arab street would never have known that there was a real Palestineliberation movement in-the-making. Abu Jihad, the co-founder with Arafat of the first Fatah cell, told me that the IDF was their best recruitng sergeant, and that without Israel’s reprisal attacks the frontline Arab states most probably would have succeeded in their efforts to strangle the organisation that became Fatah at birth.

It was actually the security services of Eygpt, Jordan and Lebanon, not those of Israel, which made the first attempts to liquidate Arafat and his organisation. Fatah and all it represented would have been destroyed if Syria had not given Arafat and his military colleagues a safe haven. Syria’s motives were far from noble. In their rivalry with Nasser, its leaders wanted to possess and play the Palestinian card for their own ends, but they, too, had no intention of letting the Palestinians drag them into an unwinnable war with Israel.

Apart from the fact that Israel’s political and military hawks had been waiting for a pretext to complete the unfinished busines of 1948/49, the 1967 war happened in large part abecause of the naivety of Arafat and Abu Jihad, the two men who did most to give life to Fatah. They presumed that if only they could provoke a confrontation with Israel, make the Arab armies fight, the Zionist state was bound to be defeated. So for Arafat and Abu Jihad in particular, the humiliating defeat of the Arabs in six days was a revelation like no other. For Arafat especially it was also the beginning of a journey into the reality of Israel’s existence as the military superpower of the region.

When subsequently Arafat and his fighters gave that superpower a bloody nose at the battle of Karameh, a fleeting moment of victory that made Fatah and its fighters heroes in the hearts of the humiliated Arrab masses, Nasser decided that he needed Arafat as much as the Fatah leader needed him. That opened the way to an honest dialogue between the two of them.

Nasser told Arafat that before the 1967 war it had been his hope that he could negotiate Israel back to the 1948 Armistice borders. After the 1967 war, Nasser said, the best he could hope to do was prevail upon the international community to oblige Israel to withdraw from the newly occupied Arab territories in accordance with the letter and the spirit of 242, the Security Council’s land-for-peace resolution. Nasser was also explicit about what was required from Arafat and his leadership colleaguesif they wished to be taken seriously by the international community.They had to be realistic. What did that mean? They would have to come up with a policy for an accomodation with Israel inside more or less its pre-1967 borders, in accordance with 242. If they did that, and in the event of an Israeli withdrawal, Nasser promised he would do his best to persuade King Hussein to let the Palestinians have the West Bank, with the Gaza Strip, for a mini state of their own.

To make sure that Arafat got the message about the need for the Palestinians to come to grips with the reality of Israel’s existence, Nasser arrranged for him to be part of an Eygptian delegation to Moscowunder an assumed name. Nasser knew precisely what he would hear from the lips of Soviet leaders – that they, like their American counterparts, were committed to Israel’s existence and security inside its pre-1967 borders. Those were the words Arafat did hear and they marked the end of his journey into reality.

In February 1969 Arafat became the chairman of the Palestine Liberation Organisation, which was dominated by Fatah, and, with Nasser’s blessing, an authentic PNC (not the puppet of the Eygptian leader’s creation) became its supreme organ.

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