Saree Makdisi, a professor at UCLA and nephew of the late Edward Said, has heaved his way up to the barricades of Middle East disputation in the United States. Recently Makdisi began a blog, and his latest entry highlights a piece published in London's The Guardian by Hamas official Khaled Meshaal. What does Makdisi think?
No matter what one thinks of Hamas, and no matter whether one reads the piece as nothing more than a political polemic, it at least marks a sea-change from the previous rhetoric of the official Palestinian leadership. Here there is no pathetic bleating about "resuming the Peace Process" or "returning to the Road Map" which leaders like Ahmad Qureia or Mahmoud Abbas would utter from time to time, often under the most surreal circumstances … Meshaal revives the language of genuine struggle rather than that of hopelessness and defeat; he relies on the unapologetic rhetoric of national liberation, rather than the tired cliches and bureaucratic language ("performance," "interim status") borrowed from Israeli and American planners. And he puts the question to the world: why is it that the occupied, rather than the occupiers–the victims, rather than the perpetrators, of one of the most brutal military occupations of the modern era–are the ones who are constantly being asked to apologize, to renounce, to compromise, to offer, to atone, to beg for forgiveness? No matter what one thinks of Hamas, that surely is a question that deserves an answer.
Perhaps, but Makdisi reminds me of his uncle here, all stylish polemicist and innocent of a practical thought. Quite of what value is "the language of genuine struggle" remains a mystery; or, for that matter, the "unapologetic rhetoric of national liberation." Makdisi plays up the form but ignores the substance, as well as the fact that the revolutionary rhetoric of the 1970s took Palestinians absolutely nowhere. In dismissing the Oslo process that exchanged land for peace, Makdisi, but also Meshaal and Said, never offered a practical alternative; nor has Hamas done so today. The fact is that Israel can simply afford to ignore the Palestinians and build its separation wall, unilaterally delimiting its final borders, even as Palestinians devise new flourishes to enliven the language of national liberation.
It's not language that counts, nor the Palestinian refusal to apologize; it's what the Palestinians have in hand to forestall their further marginalization and impoverishment. The answer is desperately little. I have no problems with PhD Partisans, but if you're heaving rocks from Los Angeles, it would help to occasionally toss a doable solution to the people in the front lines, so they can resolve the conundrums you insist they address.