Alain Gresh, editior of Le Monde Diplomatique, speaks at Birzeit University

The Birzeit University Graduate Program in International Studies organized yesterday a public lecture by Alain Gresh, Editor-in-Chief of the Parisian monthly journal Le Monde Diplomatique and author of numerous works on the PLO, Palestine and the Middle East. Gresh's lecture was entitled "THE PLO AND THE PALESTINIAN STATE; THE PLO AS A STATE" and focused on the current debate about an independent Palestinian state and the evolution of this idea since the formation of the Palestinian national movement. 

Gresh began by examining various debates within the early Fatah movement concerning national liberation and its relation to Arab Unity. "The early leaders of Fatah were the only section of the liberation movement to have direct experience in fighting the Israeli occupation [in Gaza]", Gresh asserted. "This led them to the idea of a Palestinian state and following the 1967 occupation they moved away from the notion of Arab unity and directed many harsh words against Arab leaders in their official newspaper." Gresh noted that there was strong opposition to this idea from other Palestinian factions and that it took four years for this idea to gain widespread acceptance within the PLO.

According to Gresh, the notion of a separate Palestinian state had an earlier genesis amongst the Palestinian elite during the 1950s, who developed a form of ".. proto-nationalism where they couldn't imagine being treated as equal citizens [in the Arab world] even if they were Arabs"

Gresh went on to discuss the current situation under the Palestinian Authority and was critical of ".. the state created by the PLO which has the same social basis and rules of functioning as other Arab states." Gresh claimed this was due to a leadership with ".. the same generational experience as the leaders of other Arab states, as well as the same absence of self-criticism, and acceptance of a system of patrimony." According to Gresh, the major factor behind Oslo was the survival of the PLO.

Gresh expressed his opinion that the PA had failed to utilize use their most important asset - the Palestinian people - inside and outside the area. He went on to say that he wasn't talking about the armed struggle but rather a democratic mobilization of people. This point was later a subject of debate as audience members pointed out the widespread examples of localized struggle in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

Roger Heacock, Chair of the Graduate Studies Program, told Birzeit News, "The Graduate Program in International Studies is in the process of expanding its activities considerably, and has become the Graduate Institute of International Studies, which, in addition to its teaching and degree-awarding functions, has now embarked upon additional regularly programmed activities. These include: inviting academics and actors in the field of international studies to speak before its students and the general public ; organizing roundtables for faculty on a Palestine-wide and an international basis (for example with participants from Najah, Bethlehem, our Institute and foreign scholars, on comparative approaches to conflict resolution and regulation); publications (an upcoming volume on "Returnee States", concentrating on the cases of Armenia, Bosnia and Palestine); sending students abroad for intensive training programs (next month to Rome for an intensive course on international legislation and agreements concerning the environment); and coordination with similar institutes regionally (Cairo and Beirut) and internationally (Paris, Geneva, Vienna and Princeton). All of this with an eye to upgrading research in the field of international studies, for our students and staff, and with an eye to influencing perceptions and policies in the field."