Memory, Symbolism and Exploitation in Palestine

Almost a century since the Balfour Declaration came into existence, the PA seeks to sue the U.K., erasing the boundary between exploitation and memory.

Palestinian protestors walk under a huge Palestinian flag in Gaza, on April 2016.

By Ramona Wadi

By now synonymous with acquiescence to colonial annexation, the Palestinian Authority has announced its intent to sue the U.K. for the 1917 Balfour Declaration, a document of no legal standing that is still considered by both Zionists and Palestinians as the blueprint for Israel’s occupation of Palestine.

The announcement, made by Palestinian Foreign Minister Riad al-Maliki during the opening of the Arab League summit last July in Mauritania, solicits support from Palestine’s neighbors to “help us bring a suit against the British government. . .which resulted in Nakba (Catastrophe) for the Palestinian people.”

Concurrently, al-Maliki once again endorsed the French initiative as the only alternative for re-starting diplomatic talks, though it fails to address the key issue of the Palestinian right of return which is enshrined in UN Resolution 194.

The net effect is that the Authority seeks to litigate a forgotten, century-old document while simultaneously endorsing a framework for military occupation that shapes Palestinians’ lived experience, day-in, and day-out.

It is imperative to analyze this dissonance in the context of the decline of Palestinian resistance following the formation of Oslo Accords and the subsequent formation of the Palestinian Authority.

Since the accords, the Palestinian territories have been subjected to relentless settlement expansion, resulting in a permanent cycle of repetitive dispossession. The concept of Palestinians and refugees have become synonymous, yet there is hardly any effort to create a semblance of cohesion between the generations of Palestinian refugees displaced since the early years of Zionist colonisation and the current generations of refugees.

With its ineffective criticism of settlements even as it conceded to Israeli maneuvers throughout decades of negotiations, the PA has betrayed the refugees repeatedly. One might remember Abbas forfeiting the Palestinian right of return on behalf of the Palestinian people in an interview with Israel’s Channel 2.

Having reduced Palestine into a mere symbol, the PA’s abandonment of the battleground to chase after the international community seeking apologies and validation has been humiliating, at the very least. From symbolic, non-binding recognition of Palestine, to the hoisting of the Palestinian flag at the UN, there has been no significant, positive change in the material realities of Palestinians in Gaza and the occupied West Bank.

Petitioning the International Criminal Court–which to date has not prosecuted a single non-African for war crimes in an age of preemptive war no less– was nothing more than a bargaining chip during the last, unsuccessful round of negotiations to free political prisoners in 2014.

Unsurprisingly, the international community has not been averse to the PA’s theatrical antics while simultaneously capitulating to virtually every substantive demand made by Israel or the US. In that same vein, suing the UK over the Balfour Declaration is unlikely to impress anyone as a revolutionary initiative, but the approach of the inscription’s centennial has won the PA a patina of praise from the international community while the Palestinian people continue to suffer.

Details regarding the law suit remain scant, apart from the vague comment by al-Maliki that the suit would be fined in an international court. Dr Hanna Eissa, who is involved in preparing the legal documents, has described the forthcoming case as delivering “a message to the British government to assume the historic responsibility.”

Yet, historic responsibility for the UK has been reduced to a commemoration of the anniversary. The PA’s willingness to exploit Palestinian history and memory obscures its security coordination with Israel, and its litany of political compromises which validates the existence and subsequent implementation of the Balfour Declaration. As such, the lawsuit signals the PA’s defeat, its inability to generate new ideas, and a failure of its revolutionary imagination.

Strategic coherence requires the rigorous questioning of international proposals that do not meet the needs of the Palestinian people, who are crying real tears, shedding real blood, mourning their dead and their losses, including that of land through colonial expansion right now, and not 100 years ago.

Ramona Wadi is an independent researcher, freelance journalist, book reviewer and blogger specializing in the struggle for memory in Chile and Palestine, colonial violence and the manipulation of international law. Follow her @walzerscent.

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