Palestinians need a new political strategy, not ‘armed struggle’
On May 15, the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) will, for the first time, hold a special event to mark the Palestinian “Nakba” or Catastrophe.
This term refers to the estimated 760,000 Palestinian Arabs who lost their homes and sought refuge in neighboring Arab countries during the war of 1948, which accompanied the founding of the State of Israel.
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Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas will reportedly use the UNGA event to call for “practical steps to end the Israeli occupation.”
Abbas said last month that remembering the Nakba must be “the priority” for Palestinians to “maintain our narrative and convey it to the world.”
The UN Nakba commemoration is the latest in a series of initiatives by the Palestinian Authority (PA) to gain international support. Addressing a UN Security Council meeting on the Middle East on April 25, Palestinian Foreign Minister Riyad al-Malki called on the international community to collectively sanction Israel over its occupation.
“Make the occupation costly and I can assure you it will come to an end. The Israeli people themselves will make sure it comes to an end,” he said.
On one level, the PA’s campaign to win international backing has been remarkably successful. In 2021, the UN Human Rights Council set up a permanent commission of inquiry into rights abuses in the territories, something it has done nowhere else in the world.
Prominent human rights NGOs like Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch issue more reports critical of Israel than of any other country and support the PA position that Israel is practicing “apartheid.”
However, despite the increasing international support for Palestinian rights, the actual situation for Palestinians living in Gaza and the West Bank only worsens. The people there are increasingly disillusioned about international support leading to an end of the Israeli occupation.
According to a poll by the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research (PSR) in March 2023, over 70 percent of Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza now reject the idea of a two-state solution, and over half support the return to “armed struggle.”
This is a strategy of despair reflecting a loss of faith in politics altogether.
“Armed struggle,” a term redolent of the revolutionary movements of the 1970s, is already underway in the West Bank and Gaza, and the effects are disastrous. New radical groups like The Lions’ Den have emerged in Jenin and other West Bank towns nominally under PA security control. There have been almost daily stabbings, shootings and car rammings by Palestinians, usually allied to one or more of these factions, against both Israeli soldiers and civilians in the West Bank.
Meanwhile, Israeli raids on Palestinian towns and the resulting gun battles have led to the deaths of over a hundred Palestinians, fighters and civilians alike. Such a vicious circle undermines any peace and security for Palestinians.
Being the only parties seen to be actively confronting the occupation, albeit with futile acts, has given these groups some popular standing and respect. This is at the expense of the PA, which is widely perceived as financially corrupt, ineffective and lacking democratic legitimacy because it has refused to hold elections for the last 17 years. Yet the “armed struggle” does nothing to bring closer an end to the occupation; quite the opposite. Unsurprisingly, Israelis react to violence by regularly voting for right-wing parties, which promise them security.
The country now has the most right-wing government in its history, with ministers in its ranks ideologically committed to maintaining control of the entire West Bank and to unbridled settlement building. Parties advocating an end to occupation are farther than ever from gaining power, and the Israeli peace movement is dying.
For the situation to change for Palestinians, their leaders need to formulate a new political program that charts a rational, cohesive path to self-determination that people can believe in. This will be supremely difficult to develop, especially for the current aging leadership of the PA and Gaza under separate rule. There too, the “armed struggle” – periodic missile barrages by Hamas or Islamic Jihad and retaliatory Israeli air strikes – brings only more suffering and continued blockade to long-suffering Gazans.
So, it will likely be for the new generation of Palestinian leadership to adopt such a strategy, which can influence opinion within Israeli society.
It is not high-profile meetings at the UN that will bring Israel to the negotiating table but a long-term strategy that persuades Israelis that their future lies in living peacefully alongside their Palestinian neighbors, not relying on keeping them subjected. It will require considerable courage to face the radical groups and the many false friends of the Palestinians abroad. But as Palestinian Foreign Minster al-Malki himself said, it is the Israeli people who will ultimately end the occupation.
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