Opening: Palestinian Museum but no exhibits


One thing the museum will not have is exhibits.

When the $24 million Palestinian Museum celebrates its opening on Wednesday, it will have almost everything: a stunning, contemporary new building; soaring ambitions as a space to celebrate and redefine Palestinian art, history and culture; an outdoor amphitheatre; a terraced garden.

The long-planned — and much-promoted — inaugural exhibit, ‘Never Part’, highlighting artefacts of Palestinian refugees, has been suspended after a disagreement between the museum’s board and its director, which led to the director’s removal. President Mahmoud Abbas of the Palestinian Authority and other dignitaries are expected to attend the opening ceremony, but a spokeswoman acknowledged on Sunday that “there will not be any artwork exhibited in the museum at all”.

Omar Al Qattan, the museum’s chairman, said Palestinians were “so in need of positive energy” that it was worthwhile to open even an empty building. “Symbolically it’s critical,” he said, conceding that the next phase, including the exhibits, “is the more exciting one”.

In the West Bank, where Palestinians have for years struggled to build political and civic institutions while resisting Israel’s occupation of the territory, the fate of the exhibition may say as much about the realities of Palestinian society as any art collection could. Since the signing of the Oslo peace accords with Israel in the mid-1990s, Palestinian cultural and social initiatives have often failed to gain traction and find consistent leadership.