On 10 February 2024, Azmi Bishara, General Director of the Arab Center for Research and Policy Studies (ACRPS), delivered the keynote lecture of the Second Annual Palestine Forum, organized by the ACRPS and the Institute for Palestine Studies (IPS) in Doha.
Bishara first touched on the development of Palestine Studies, noting the threats faced by the field and to academic freedom more generally because of Israeli pressure groups and their associated wealth. Then, he discussed the nature of Israeli settler colonialism, the determinants of Arab state positions towards Palestine, Western-Israeli relations and mutual interests, the fate of the Israeli war on Gaza, the crisis of the Palestinian national project, and the Palestinian strategy to gain sovereignty. The lecture also touched upon the controversy surrounding Operation Al-Aqsa Flood and other related matters.
On the development of Palestine Studies, Bishara pointed to the steady progress of the field in prestigious academic institutions despite the dangers it faces due to the attempts of Israeli pressure groups and their right-wing allies, as well as the fears of some apolitical academics that the accusation of anti-Semitism will be levelled against them. There is an attempt to impose a new McCarthyism on university institutions in the West, taking advantage of the atmosphere following Israel’s exposure to attacks by Hamas on 7 October 2023, and the ongoing genocidal war waged by Israel against the Gaza Strip.
Bishara then turned to the challenges surrounding the Palestine question, including regional and international relations and the legal, political, and political dimensions that interfere in this regard. He noted that the current war on Gaza has revealed the settler colonial nature of the Israeli state more than any other point in its short history, transforming Israeli society into a tribe bound by a fanaticism that riles against any conflicting opinion. This tribe understands only the language of power and is driven by a murderous desire for revenge such that the belief that the indigenous people as a whole must pay the price for 7 October. In this context, revenge is not just pursued to placate the leadership of the occupation and its sense of superiority rocked by Al-Qassam Brigades’ assault, but also serves as a strategy to teach the Palestinians, and their neighbours, an unforgettable lesson, inevitably leading to genocide.
In the second half of his lecture, Bishara turned to the international and Arab position on the Palestine question, indicating that the Palestine question will become the most prominent issue only when there is an Arab national project, instead of only separate Arab regimes, each with their own agendas that do not take into account Arab national security, fuelling Israel’s claim that Palestine is not at the core of its dispute with the Arab states. The normalization of relations with Israel is made possible by the Arab states disregarding the Palestine question, as they did at every stage of the normalization process. In contrast, Bishara suggested that Arab national identity stubbornly persists despite international and regional transformations, with public opinion showing sweeping solidarity not only for Palestine, but for acts of resistance, and rejecting any normalization with Israel. This explains Arab disappointment with an official Arab position that should surprise no one at this point.
At the international level, the 7 October operation and the subsequent genocidal war that Israel launched on Gaza, returned the Palestinian question to the fore, putting Palestine back on the global agenda. Conversely, Bishara warned that Israel is working against the clock to reverse this important development, amping up its onslaught against Gaza in the hope of eliminating any organized resistance in the Gaza Strip, and pushing Arab countries to continue the normalization process without a just solution to the Palestine question. Furthermore, this current war on Gaza has revealed that the relationship between Israel and its Western allies, especially the US, is based on, but not limited to, interests. Major media institutions have demonstrated double standards in reporting on political issues and even humanitarian matters, portraying the suffering of Palestinians and Israelis with serious contradictions.
Bishara believed that Palestinians are standing at a crossroads. The Palestine question has returned to the forefront and we can either reach a just solution or move further away from it. While Israel and its allies attempt to impose “new political arrangements” that will distance the Palestinian people from the ability to exercise their national rights even further than the Oslo Accords did, the international and regional order cannot ignore the heavy price that the Palestinian people have paid in the Gaza Strip. The moral value is so significant that it cannot be overlooked regionally or internationally. If the Palestinian Authority wants to thwart Netanyahu’s plan and for one authority to rule the West Bank and Gaza, it must realize that this is not possible unless it pursues one of two options: either a national understanding with the resistance factions en route to sovereignty and independence, or by hitching a ride on the Israeli tanks into Gaza to regain its lost sovereignty. If the resistance factions want to contribute to deciding the future of the Palestinian people and the occupied territories and translate their struggle and sacrifices into political achievements, they must join the PLO, the official legitimate body representing the Palestinian people, the conditions for which must be agreed multilaterally.
Bishara concluded with his observations about the ongoing debate surrounding the Hamas operation of 7 October and the responsibility of both the resistance and the Israeli army in some cases where civilians were killed. The Israeli propaganda machine invested every means at its disposal to perpetuate the overwhelming dominance of this single incident in the media in order to detract from the atrocities and massacres it is committing in the Gaza Strip. Bishara emphasized three main points. First, the occupation and its practices are what led to the Hamas operation and the campaign of collective punishment and vengeance amounting to the genocide that followed it. Second, it is necessary to distinguish between the moral and analytical levels in these discussions, and between supporting steadfastness and spinning illusions that hinder justice, action to support the steadfastness of the Palestinian people, and political gains for the Palestinian cause. Let these sacrifices not be in vain. Third, Palestinian intellectuals should intensify their national and humanitarian solidarity efforts to alleviate the suffering of people in Gaza to confront Israeli propaganda and pressure the central Palestinian political forces to unite within the framework of the PLO so that the struggle and sacrifices of the Palestinian people produce tangible achievements.