TWENTY YEARS AFTER the Oslo accords is sufficient time to obtain perspective on this watershed in the conflict over Palestine. There have been many reappraisals of the impact of Oslo in this anniversary year, but few of them have touched on the aspect explored by Hassan Jabareen in this issue of the Journal. Jabareen writes about Oslo’s profound effect on the course of the conflict over the status of the 1.2 million Palestinians of Israel, and in the ways in which the dominant Israeli Jewish society has conceptualized the new situation. In examining these two related topics, Jabareen shows that the Oslo accords have in fact created formidable obstacles to a two-state solution.
Similarly, touching on an aspect of current events about which little has been written, this issue features an in-depth report by a Palestinian youth leader from Damascus, Nidal Bitari, about the situation of Palestinians in Syria since the revolt began in early 2011. This reportage from the Yarmuk refugee camp, which is at the epicenter of the fighting around Damascus, is one of the first extended accounts of the Palestinian refugee community’s exposure to the brutality and unpredictable violence of the Syrian civil war. It provides a vivid account of how this upheaval has disrupted the lives of what had previously been one of the most stable Palestinian refugee communities, uprooting many of them for the second time in living memory. It offers yet another example of the predicament of a people without a state, and whose homeland is entirely under the control of others.
Using the dire situation of the Palestinians in Syria as a starting point, the eminent Palestinian sociologist Rosemary Sayigh contributes an essay about a major lacuna in the growing literature on trauma,memory, and loss. There is an almost complete absence of any consideration by this genre of the Palestinian Nakba, which would appear to be an ideal candidate for scholarly exploration along these lines. Sayigh explains that while the roots of some of the most important scholarship on trauma and memory can be found in studies of the Holocaust, the Eurocentrism of these studies, and of much other work in these fields, has obscured the important connections between these two related historic catastrophes.
While Bitari’s report offers insight into the state of some Palestinian factions in the diaspora today, Faris Giacaman contributes a detailed exploration of the PLO’s early history as a representative body of the Palestinian people—a period on which little critical light has been shed. In particular, claims to political representativity of the PLO and its constituent groups have gone largely unexamined, as have the connections between this issue and the Palestinian commando groups’ adoption of armed struggle. Giacaman reveals that there was a gap between the theoretical claims of the fedayeen to represent their people politically and their actual practice. This topic retains significance today as the representative nature of Palestinian national institutions, from the PLO to the Palestinian Authority, is in question.
Finally, an article by Tamir Sorek rounds out this issue, taking us back to the Mandate period. Sorek examines how Palestinian political mobilization and the development of a sense of a particular national identity during the British Mandate were reinforced by processes of memorialization, creation of martyrs, and the commemoration of national occasions. Despite the Palestinian political leadership’s success in using these means for political mobilization, Sorek also shows how this leadership’s limitations prevented the achievement of most Palestinian national objectives of the era.
Rashid I. Khalidi