Kreisky’s legacy for Palestine
In leaderless times like today, people like Bruno Kreisky are missed most. Kreisky is remembered not only as one of the most influential heads of state of Austria but as one politician whose heart was in the right place. For he was a politician people could depend on with their eyes closed to make decisions on their behalf.
He was Jewish and fought his first public battle against the Jew-hating regime of Adolf Hitler when he was still a teenager. The 16-year-old Kreisky was jailed in the 1920s and later forced into self-exile by the fascist regime to Sweden where he continued to fight Hitler.
He returned to Austria only after World War II ended. As foreign minister and head of state, Kreisky made sure that Austria was not forgotten by the world. In the post-war period, the country, once the centre of a sprawling empire, was reduced to a tiny dot on the map. Kreisky made it the headquarters of several United Nations offices and of OPEC, the organisation of oil-producing countries. During the entire Cold War period, Vienna was one place where Russians and Americans could meet with each other either in the guise of research scholars, businessmen or international civil servants.
Kreisky continued his battle against fascism by deepening the values of social democracy in his country. One way of doing this was to get Austria to open itself to the international community and to provide a platform for citizens of warring countries to talk to each other in Vienna.
He allowed the Jewish population from around the world, and particularly Russia, to seek asylum in Catholic Austria on their way to Israel. A diehard secularist, he kept his distance from hardliner Israelis, publicly calling himself an Austrian of Jewish descent. Zionists routinely accused him of betraying the Jewish cause. Throughout his life, Kreisky championed peace in the Middle East and befriended Yasser Arafat when the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) leader was boycotted by many as a terrorist.
On the 102nd birth anniversary of Kreisky on January 22, the question before the world is how to get Israel to withdraw forces from Palestinian land
Kreisky had also befriended socialists like Willy Brandt during World War II, and later got other socialist leaders in Europe to touch base with social democrats in the Arab world. It is believed that when Kreisky first met Arafat, he did not think much of him but throughout his life he supported the cause of the Palestinian people. In 1982, Kreisky invited Muammar Gaddafi to Austria despite the fact that the Arab politician was ferociously famous as being anti-West and anti-Israel. After his death in 1990, Kreisky left his home, library and archives in Vienna for use by the people.
The Kreisky Forum for international dialogue, held today in his former living room, continues to engage with the Arab world in an effort to find a lasting but still elusive solution to the heart-breaking problem of the Palestinian people.
Ever since the Arab Spring, it is being debated if the sweeping victories of Islamists in Tunisia and Egypt is the answer to the question of who will reap the rewards of the revolution. Will liberal and secular forces, and the young and educated who wish to direct their countries into political modernity be marginalised? Or are we witnessing a transformation of Islamic political parties into Western-style social conservative parties, fit to integrate into democratic systems? And what can the West do to help these nascent democracies in their sometimes troubled transitions?
Palestinian scholar Bashir Bashir has been exploring alternatives to partition and principles for a Jewish Arab partnership at the Forum.
The latest guest was the Brussels-based Leila Shahid. Chosen by Arafat as the first female representative to the PLO in Europe, she is the general delegate of Palestine to the European Union, Belgium and Luxembourg.
On the eve of the UN bid for recognition of the Palestinian state at the General Assembly and in the context of the Arab Spring in the region, Shahid has said that the situation is difficult. The Oslo Accords are stalled as, after more than 16 years of work, the government in Israel wants to begin all over again.
There is little agreement over a Palestinian state in the 1967 territories because much extra land is occupied by Israel and high walls built by Zionists have isolated east Jerusalem.
On the 102nd birth anniversary of Kreisky on January 22, the question before the world is how to get Israel to withdraw forces from Palestinian land, so brazenly occupied, so that the stateless population of Palestinians can get on with life?