THE PALESTINIAN NATIONAL MOVEMENT is today at a low ebb, as low as at any time in its history. It is characterized by internal division, a lack of strategic direction, and extreme feebleness. For the United States and most regional powers, the movement is of little consequence and the rights of the people it represents have been easy to neglect. While this is nothing new, it has never been truer than since Israel’s attack on Gaza in the summer of 2014. In the rush by the U.S. government and American politicians to support Israel then, and more recently as it fights the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement; in light of continued votes at the United Nations by a completely isolated United States to protect Israel from being held responsible for its actions; in the absence of even a pro forma attempt to resolve the conflict or to respond to the rightward, racist turn of the Israeli political mainstream and the government that represents it, we see a disregard for the Palestinians and their rights that has been unparalleled in recent years.
It was not always so. During the heyday of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) in the late 1960s and the 1970s, the organization gained widespread international recognition in the teeth of intense U.S. and Israeli opposition. But the PLO was simultaneously confronted by the lethal minefield of Lebanon’s civil war, combined with Syrian and Israeli military interventions directed against it. The United States’ stubborn rejection of the PLO was coupled with its categorical refusal to deal with the core of the Palestine question. Although the essentials of that strategy were in place before 1973, it was under then-Secretary of State Henry Kissinger’s sole stewardship of U.S. foreign policy that this adamant rejectionism took its canonical form, one that determined U.S. policy for another decade and a half. Its profound effects linger to this day, although Washington’s malign attention then has transformed into its benign neglect now. The PLO was thus acutely vulnerable, even at its apparent apogee, given the U.S. policy of encouraging regional actors to undermine the organization. Notable in this context were Kissinger’s support for Syria’s 1976 intervention against the PLO in Lebanon and the green light by his successor, Alexander Haig, for Israel’s 1982 invasion of the country. Nonetheless, in spite of these and later blows, and notwithstanding grave errors on the part of the PLO leadership, the organization remained a major regional actor through the 1980s.
With the PLO’s subsequent decline began a period of renewed interest in an often overlooked segment of the Palestinian people—the one within Israel. Mazen Masri’s article in this issue, “The Two-State Model and Israeli Constitutionalism,” together with an essay by Avraham Burg, the former Speaker of the Israeli Knesset, focus on that very topic. Both stress the daunting structural obstacles to equal rights for the Palestinian citizens of Israel and explore what possibilities for change might present themselves. Masri contends that a two-state solution would only exacerbate their situation. As the constitutional system excludes them from the group in whom Israel’s sovereignty rests, he argues, the definition of Israel as a Jewish state would only be reinforced by the two-state solution and result in their further marginalization. Burg, meanwhile, describes the Israeli political system as "steeped in discrimination" and argues for a complete overhaul that would guarantee equal rights to every person between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River, regardless of origin. Any resolution of the Palestinian-Israel conflict, Burg argues, be it in the form of one state, two states, or a confederation, must be based on the same bedrock of complete equality for all.
Noted Palestinian cineast Elia Suleiman, whose most celebrated films are Divine Intervention and The Time That Remains, is the focus of two separate items in this issue. One is an essay by Stathis Gourgouris, who describes Palestinian cinema as a cinema of occupation and dispossession. For him, the perpetual flux that characterizes the Palestinians’ condition explains the flexibility and inventiveness of their cinema, and he sees Elia Suleiman’s work as the most succinct expression of the cinematic poetics of dispossession. In an interview conducted by Nehad Khader, the Journal’s managing editor—the third the Journal of Palestine Studies has done with him, but the first in twelve years—Suleiman surveys his own evolution as a director, discusses his process as a filmmaker, and explains how his cinematography relates to his vision.
This issue marks the passing of yet another major figure with a connection to the Palestine question, that of Eric Rouleau. One of the greatest journalists of his generation, and a man who was among the most perceptive and best informed chroniclers of the Middle East’s politics, Rouleau became a respected confidant of Arab leaders ranging from Gamal Abdel Nasser to Yasir Arafat. He cowrote My Home, My Land: A Narrative of the Palestinian Struggle (Times Books, 1981), the autobiography of Abu Iyad, which remains one of the most important sources on the early years of Fatah and the PLO. Born in Egypt to a Jewish family, Rouleau had a long and distinguished career that included stints as the French ambassador to Tunisia (during the crucial period when the PLO was headquartered in Tunis) and to Turkey, and also as President François Mitterrand’s special envoy to Iran in the early days of the Islamic Revolution. Rouleau’s sharp insights and his incisive wit, delivered with equal fluency in French, Arabic, and English, will be sorely missed.
Rashid I. Khalidi