Every week, it seems, brings another backward step for Palestine. President Mahmoud Abbas’s failure to convene the Palestinian Legislative Assembly, due to a Hamas boycott, may lead inexorably to the final breakdown of the political structures created under the Oslo Accords. Sadly, this is only the latest chapter in the Palestinians’ tragic history of failed attempts to create a nation-state.
Palestinians see their history as one of struggle against Zionism and Israel. But the reality is more complicated, and marked by repeated failures to create a coherent body politic, even when historical opportunities beckoned.
Perhaps the first failure occurred in the 1920’s, when the British Mandatory government in Palestine encouraged the two national communities – Jewish and Arab – to establish communal institutions of self-government to look after education, welfare, housing, and local administration.
The Jews – then less than 20% of British Palestine’s population – set up what became known as the National Committee (Va’ad Leumi), based on an elected body, the Representative Assembly of Palestinian Jews. Regular elections to this Assembly took place, sometimes with more than a dozen parties competing.