The Palestinian question and insisting on playing with old cards

I cannot comprehend the reason behind the shock of Sameh Shoukry’s visit to Israel?

Egypt has intelligence and economic relations with Israel. These relations have not changed since Anwar Sadat’s negotiations. At times they have been strong and at times they have been lukewarm, but they continued to swing between openly declared and confidential cooperation. This pendulum swung back and forth during the rule of Hosni Mubarak to the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces to Mohamed Morsi and even now under Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi.

Aside from the controversy surrounding Shoukry’s visit, there is a key question that remains when it comes to Egypt’s handling of the Palestinian question: why do we insist on shaping our political dealings under the umbrella of the politics and diplomacy that took place during the 1950s and 1960s?

Why do some people still find comfort in the defeated Arab mindset that sought to throw Israel into the sea 70 years since the conflict’s beginning? Why is the conflict still grounded in the terms of “rape” and “displacement” if such vocabulary has not led to change or a resolution? Why do we still adhere to the way we characterised the conflict in an era that is long gone?

Decades have passed since the conflict’s inception. What has changed on the ground that should lead to a change in the vocabulary used?

Politics has never been a static kind of action. It has been and will always be a dynamic act that must adapt to change and develop new positions accordingly?

This is how politics conflicts are. They morph into new complexities and do not remain rigged or pegged to a certain understanding. Conflicts are always in development. All, or at least some, of the cards in the game change over time. This requires that the players involved change and develop their positions to achieve their goals. However, political players are often weighed down by “rights” and the dispute over such rights.

In the Palestinian issue, there will always be the weight of the historical right. This accounts for the undiminished recognition of Palestinian rights to the land that the occupation has uprooted, and the necessity to give that right back to those who deserve it.

There is another right that has been formed over the past 70 years: the de facto right. The key players in the Palestinian issue now are those from the third generation of the conflict. Most of them did not witness the wars of the Haganah (a Jewish paramilitary organisation under the British mandate), nor did they steal a land, or carry the keys to their home throughout a journey of unjust displacement.

They are either Israelis born on a land that has been occupied by their fathers or grandfathers and perhaps their grandfathers’ fathers and grandfathers’ grandfathers, or Palestinians born under the oppression of an occupying country that stole their land in 1967 and is still freely using its military power to turn their life into hell or death. They are also Palestinians in the diaspora of which some do not carry passports and live with a visa on the lands of Gulf countries or Egypt. This is a visa that they cannot use to leave or visit any place in the world because it may be a visit without return.

Here, there is a dispute between two rights: a historical right and the de facto right. Here, the two parties are in constant dispute and the conflict is being reformulated into a different nature. The issue has exceeded the notion of recognising that a people have been uprooted from their land. The consistent stress placed on the historical right and overlooking the contemporary right of the two parties is a crisis. This is does not mean denying the fact that Israel has seized the land, and displaced and killed a population, and it also does not mean that its crimes will be overlooked or forgotten. However, by not taking into account the changing nature of the conflict and by sticking to the vocabulary used in the 1950s and 1960s, this is a futile attempt to move the conflict forward into something less than war.
My maintaining this view of the conflict, it is almost an act of treason that promises nothing but failure.

Here, the question remains: if the conflict’s nature has changed, even in the relationship between the key parties and their needs, then why insist on applying the same vocabulary from the conflict’s beginning and overlooking decades of changes?

If we insist on overlooking these changes, even the changes between the two sets of rights, how will we ever move forward?

In the case of disputes over houses and land that come under new ownership through seizing property, the prosecution decides to keep the situation as it is and the aggrieved go to court.

In most of the cases that involve disputes between parties over stolen land, including those that have lasted for generations, the judgment is financial compensation. This is what usually happens when land is seized and it is handled under a judicial format.

Justice here is formed in proving the right through a realistic and applicable substitution.

This is not a call to substitute the land with financial compensation, but a call to look for realistic alternatives to substitute the mechanism of restoring the right.

The right does not change with time. Constants are not affected by time.

These are two sayings that have their lustre, as all absolute sayings do, and their precision would lead us to believe that they cannot be questioned. However, reality is always much harsher than absolute sayings, as questioning can turn them into just words.

The right remains right, but it disputes with other rights, and time strengthens whatever right it wants.

Constants are rooted in general principles that need a lot of effort and accumulations of social, political, economic, and life changes in order to begin developing. These principles include what is difficult to be changed and what can be changed easily. We often get confused between concepts and positions; a concept can be expressed through a thousand tools and a thousand positions, but a position is just a manifestation for the principle.

“Not recognising the enemy” was a popular use of vocabulary in the 1950s. The conflict was still in its virgin years at the time. The world was disturbed, and the number of states that recognised the settler colonial entity remained limited. Not recognising the enemy at that time had a real goal and was an important tool.

“Not recognising the enemy” has turned into us burying our heads in the sand. The issue has exceeded the initial phases of recognition: recognising those who possess the historical right to the land and recognising the enemy.

Remaining hostages to the politics and vocabulary of the 1950s and 1960s only adheres to rhetoric at the expense of the real cause.

This is not a call to waive the importance of the Palestinian question, but a call to read it through the present facts. We must develop realistic tools and policies. It is no longer useful to burn Israel’s flag or talk about throwing it into the sea, while we are unable to lift the siege on the Palestinian citizen and put an end to their daily suffering.

Ashraf Gehad is an Egyptian writer and journalist.