Sunday, November 11, 2007

Palestinians Commemorate Anniversary of Arafat's Death; FPA to Hold Conference in Chicago

21:04 MECCA TIME, 18:04 GMT

Arafat death commemorated

Abbas also criticised Israel, attacking it for what he called its 'ugly separation apartheid wall'

The Palestinian president has used a rally commemorating the death of Yasser Arafat to criticise Hamas strongly.

Speaking under a giant mural of Arafat on Sunday, Mahmoud Abbas condemned Hamas's takeover of Gaza and demanded the group "retract its black coup" before there could be dialogue between the two factions.

"There are those who stabbed our democracy and preferred the military coup to the path of national dialogue," he said.

Abbas said Hamas "cannot erase Arafat's achievements".

Hamas seized control of the Gaza Strip in June leaving Abbas's Fatah faction only in control the West Bank.

He was addressing thousands of people gathered at a new mausoleum complex in the West Bank city of Ramallah to commemorate Arafat's death.

'Apartheid wall'

Abbas also criticised Israel, calling its West Bank separation barrier the "ugly separation apartheid wall".

He said Palestinians remained committed to removing all Israeli settlements and checkpoints in the West Bank.

Abbas pledged to move ahead with peace talks with Israel, a policy condemned by Hamas.

"Peace and security cannot be achieved by aggressive actions and our strategic choice is peace, based on our full adherence to our national rights," he said.

Arafat's tomb, guarded round the clock by members of the presidential guard, has become an obligatory destination for foreign dignitaries who come to the Muqataa compound.

The precise cause of Arafat's death in a Paris hospital in 2004, at the age of 75, remains a mystery.

Key figure

During his lifetime, Arafat, who died in 2004, guarded against the division that has split the Palestinian territories.

He remains a key figure for Palestinians. Even Hamas, which opposed Arafat's policies during his lifetime, praised the late leader.

"We agreed with president Abu Ammar a lot and we disagreed with him a lot, but in spite of this we consider him a symbol of the Palestinian nation," Fawzi Barhum, a Hamas spokesman, said.

"His memory will endure forever, in every Palestinian boy and girl, in every man regardless of his political affiliations."

Nevertheless, Hamas-run police broke up a number of small demonstrations in the Gaza Strip on Sunday, arresting several young men who were waving the flags of Fatah, witnesses said.

Mausoleum opened

On Saturday, dozens of Palestinian leaders and foreign dignitaries gathered for the opening of the new mausoleum complex at the Muqataa compound.

"The question is will Fatah be strong enough to contain such a powerful 'partner' or will it be just exploited and eroded over time?

It was at this place that Arafat spent the last years of his life under siege by Israeli forces.

"We inaugurate this everlasting monument in remembrance of the eternal martyr Yasser Arafat who strove in the path of God and his country and his people," Abbas said in a short speech.

The complex measures 11 metres by 11 metres to symbolise the date of Arafat's death.

It includes a 30-metre lighthouse with a laser beacon pointing in the direction of Jerusalem, where Arafat always wished to be buried.

The mausoleum complex will include a mosque and a museum exhibiting his personal effects, items from his office, presents and documents.

Checkpoint hurdle

Just hours after Abbas's speech on Sunday, the Palestinian side cancelled talks pertaining to the planned Annapolis peace conference.

They said they were stopped at an Israeli checkpoint, and requested that the preparatory discussions be moved abroad.

"We cannot carry out negotiations like this," Ahmed Qureia, the chief Palestinian negotiator, said after Israeli soldiers blocked his team near Jerusalem.

He and other members of Abbas's team had been scheduled on Sunday night to meet the Israeli team at a location inside Israel.

An aide to Qureia said the negotiators informed Israel they wanted to move the talks to another country but offered no other details.

Fatah criticised

Meanwhile, a Palestinian politician has described the Annapolis conference as serving "Israeli and US interests".

In comments aired by Al Jazeera on Sunday, Ramadan Shallah, secretary-general of the Islamic Jihad, said: "Let the whole Arab nation know that there will be no state within the 1967 borders. They have been negotiating the 1967 borders for months.

"Lands will be exchanged, they will take the most important lands in the West Bank and give us few metres in Naqab [Negev] east of Gaza Strip.

"They talk about settlement dismantling; settlements will not be dismantled. They talk about the refugees; the refugees will never return."

Source: Agencies and Al Jazeera

November 2007

The FPA on the Popular Conference in the US

During the past months, we were asked by many to address the upcoming Popular Conference being planned for August 2008 in the City of Chicago.

The Free Palestine Alliance (FPA) had launched an initiative approximately 2 years ago in response to the escalating need for an alternative to the downward and destructive spiral that is plaguing the Palestinian Arab people. Our intent was and remains to be empowering our community and leveraging its resources in favor of the fundamental principles of the Palestinian national liberation movement, paramount of which are the right to return and the indivisible unity of Palestine as a people and land inextricable from the larger Arab Nation (Al-Watan Al-Arabi).

Our goal was to facilitate small gatherings and discussions on the state of the Palestinian and Arab struggle. We were, as we continue to be, motivated by the Arab democratic nationalist traditions to renew and reinvigorate the discourse of egalitarianism and democratic popular empowerment, anchored in our collective history away from imposed sectarianism and religious divides that are alien to our society. We reject the notion that we are supposed to replace the long-celebrated dual vision for social equality and national liberation for scant political expediency. As a society, we can not afford to lose either pillars of this duality if we are to emerge victorious.

We believe that the Palestinian people constitute a primary flagship of liberation; a flagship proudly burdened with immense responsibilities and the need for long-term strategic resilience.

On this basis, we set out with many friends to build on our collective successes and to evaluate ways to propel our struggle forward, however possible. Addressing errors and evaluating set-backs was considered a corner stone of our initiative. After all, self-reflection and self-criticism is a tradition we celebrate.

Indeed, putting aside blind organizational biases in favor of a principled new beginning is now a matter of life and death for our people. We no longer can afford to do things as usual - plugging away as our rights are bartered away for crumbs. Failure is no longer an option. It is for this reason that when a political disagreement emerged with some on how to proceed, we elected to remain quite as our initiative was taken to different path. Principally, we differed on the very essence of the political goals we wish to achieve.

For example, we did not then nor do we now envision that this initiative or similar efforts would be discussing what actually constitutes Palestine (borders). Palestine is from the River to the Sea despite the passage of time. Nor did we think that the core Arab identity and belonging of Palestine would ever be doubted, implicitly or otherwise. We are first and foremost Arabs, basked in the sun of Arabism and nurtured by those who preceded us, whose sacrifice stretches from the Gulf to the Ocean, and on whose shoulders we stand tall today. Certainly, we never wanted to create an exclusivist cocoon for Palestinians only, away from our Arab sisters and brothers who also shoulder the collective Arab pain. The collective Arab struggle is inextricable from itself and indivisible into sectarian units. It is one and whole, and destined to win, if only we believe it so.

We emphatically wanted to stay away from the current struggle over power between Hamas and Fateh. We believe that it is critical for our people in exile, including our community in the United States, not to fall victim once again to competing interests and typical behind the curtain deals that serve only those seeking seats of power. Successive past failures are the best indicator of how well-intentioned initiatives that don't guard against the manipulative influence of the likes of Mahmud Abbas and his supporters will end up being a mouthpiece for corruption, opportunism and dismembered rights.

For example, the Palestinian American Congress was initially launched in a manner similar to the current effort, but was quickly transformed into a Palestinian Authority tool. We hope to guard against a repeat of this experience, where our voices are unknowingly usurped by a select few. Consider how many times community initiatives have been corrupted by this or that camp, and how many times we suddenly heard announcements of high level diplomatic appointments of people who have sworn up and down that they are not after seats of power.

It is worth noting that it is common for behind the scene promises to be made for appointments in presumably upcoming "representative" bodies, such as the Palestine National Council, provided that community support is rendered, albeit falsely. We fully reject such methods because they lead to nothing by nepotism, corruption and authoritarian rule.

We aimed to initiate a discussion on implementing transparency and accountability on all levels. We insisted that those guilty of treason must be held accountable by the people. We can't continue to placate those who so eagerly wish to settle for anything anywhere just to secure political expediency or occupy a functionary seat. Holding our leadership accountable is fundamental to liberation and we refuse to let records of treason slide. Those who surrender Palestinian leaders, such as Ahmed Saadat, to Israeli colonial rule must be held accountable by our people. And those who kill, burn, and mob our towns and villages under the name of nationalism or anything else must answer to the collective will of the movement. Enough adventurism with our lives!

It is of utmost importance that a clear position be adopted against the agreements that are incrementally destroying everything for which our people have struggled, including Oslo, Madrid, the Saudi initiative to normalize with Zionism, all the way up to the upcoming Annapolis conference. We can no longer afford to tolerate wholesale abrogation of rights. We also feel that it is critical to build an alternative to the destructive political lines that are infecting our people that range from religious segregation to pro-Israel Dahlan-like phenomena. We deserve better.

On the basis of these and other issues, we differed with friends who started this road with us. Some argued that we need a minimalist position. Others argued that we need the largest possible numbers at any cost. And some openly wanted alliance with any political force just to get these numbers. We disagree. It is time to stick to what counts most, our existence as a people and land within the context of our history and democratic pan-Arabist traditions.

What value are numbers if they are cheering for justice for "Palestinians and Israelis," as was the case in one demonstration in Washington DC? What value are numbers if they are controlled by Abbas and his lackeys here in the US? What value are numbers and alliances if the cost is for us to shed our Arabism and our belonging to a liberation movement? What value are numbers if they are transformed into cheerleaders in banquets and political rallies for imposed and corrupt leaders?

However, we remain steadfast in our resilience to continue. And despite these differences, the FPA will continue in its tradition of perseverance and principled unity. Thus, to help foster this sort of open discussion on these and other critical issues, we will be holding a series of meetings nationwide, the first of which will be in the Los Angeles area (the date will be announced for Los Angeles following completion of community consultation on time and place).

The FPA is proud to be known as a tough fighter in defense of the Arab people, undeterred by any pressure or difficulties. We stand firm on the egalitarian and democratic nationalist principles of the Palestinian Arab movement, from which we will not deviate under any circumstance. We stand firm on protecting organizations such as Al-Awda and others so that they may continue to fulfill critical components of our struggle.

Indeed, we continue to extend our hand out to all those who share the collectively cherished vision of liberation and equality. Shoulder to shoulder we must stand!

In that regard, we call on all to do all that is possible to support and empower the upcoming Al-Awda Convention on the 60th year of Al-Nakba to be held in Los Angeles in 2008. This will be a watershed event for our community deserving our fullest support in every way possible.

We have massive challenges before us; and the time is now.

The struggle continues.
The Free Palestine Alliance, USA, November 2007

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