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Palestinian cause adapts to changing circumstances

Last week, Israel’s opposition leader Isaac Herzog warned that another Palestinian intifada (uprising) was brewing

Sharif Nashashibi

Published: Updated:

Last week, Israel’s opposition leader Isaac Herzog warned that another Palestinian intifada (uprising) was brewing. The day after, U.N. political affairs chief Jeffrey Feltman said the risk of escalation in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was “palpable.” Such statements are habitual whenever there is a spike in tension and violence. Last year saw warnings of another intifada from Palestinian, Israeli, American and U.N. officials, including Feltman.

It serves various interests to talk up this possibility: Israel can portray itself as under threat, Palestinian leaders can highlight their people’s exasperation under Israeli occupation, and parties involved in the moribund ‘peace process’ can urge a return to it.

However, conditions are not conducive to an uprising, certainly not when compared to the previous ones. There was far greater tension and violence last year - including a full-blown war against Gaza - yet another intifada did not materialize.

Any long-term national liberation struggle adapts to changing circumstances. If the situation on the ground does not allow for effective pressure on Israel, that pressure should be applied in other ways

Sharif Nashashibi

A poll by the Palestinian Center for Public Opinion, published in June this year, found that most Palestinians (54.1 percent) oppose the outbreak of another uprising. This does not mean that they are happy with their present situation, which by all accounts is intolerable.
Palestinians know from experience the many factors, risks and costs involved in a national uprising. It is easy - and naive - for those who have never been to Palestine to ask “why don’t Palestinians rise up?” when they have not seen for themselves what they are up against.

Divisions

An intifada would require a level of national unity that does not exist today. Despite the reconciliation agreement signed in April 2014 by Hamas and the Palestinian Authority (PA), the enmity between them continues and periodically worsens.

“It can in fact be argued that the Palestinian national movement, at least for the present, no longer exists,” Mouin Rabbani, senior fellow with the Institute for Palestine Studies, and associate fellow of the European Council on Foreign Relations, wrote this month.

The Palestinian geographic split is more marked than ever. Gaza is hermetically sealed off and under blockade, so half the population of the occupied territories is physically excluded from any cohesive national struggle, allowing Israel to focus on crushing opposition in the West Bank.

Through its relentless colonization of the Palestinian territories, Israel has cut off East Jerusalem from the West Bank, which itself resembles a Swiss cheese, fragmented by checkpoints, a much larger settlement infrastructure than existed at the start of the last intifada in 2000, and by Israel’s massive barrier - which did not exist then - snaking its way largely inside the occupied territory. Israel has thus made it increasingly difficult for Palestinians to physically link up to challenge its authority.

Furthermore, next time Israel may not be the only opposing party on the ground. Whereas Palestinian factions and leaders stood behind previous uprisings, PA President Mahmoud Abbas and his Foreign Minister Riad Malki have both said there would be no intifada under Abbas’s watch. Last week, Herzog said after meeting with Abbas that they “agreed” over the need “to prevent a third intifada.”

This is in line with the PA’s insistence on ‘security’ coordination with Israel despite vehement opposition from Palestinians, who see this as the PA managing Israel’s occupation rather than working to end it. Abbas has even had the gall to describe such coordination with Israel - the party subjugating his own people - as “sacred.” Meanwhile, the PA has disarmed Palestinian factions and militants in the West Bank.

Hamas is in no position to take up the mantle, having been weakened militarily by last year’s Gaza onslaught, financially hit by its regional isolation in the last few years, and pushed underground in the West Bank due to crackdowns by Israel and the PA.

Meanwhile, solidarity from Israel’s Palestinian citizens would be far riskier to express than ever given their increasingly precarious position amid rising Israeli racism and discrimination against them.

The regional outlook is also not in the Palestinians’ favor, particularly in light of the Arab Spring and the rise of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS). Whereas previously Arab governments “felt compelled to at least demonstrate solidarity with the Palestinians and advocate on their behalf in international fora,” today “most of these states either do not have functioning governments or are too busy ensuring their own survival,” wrote Rabbani. This has also jeopardized Palestinian diaspora communities in the region.

Hope

All this, however, should not be interpreted as hopelessness or defeat for the Palestinian cause, which enjoys overwhelming and increasing international sympathy. Any long-term national liberation struggle adapts to changing circumstances. If the situation on the ground does not allow for effective pressure on Israel, that pressure should be applied in other ways. Other avenues are already being pursued - those efforts should be galvanized.

In March, a poll by the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research found overwhelming Palestinian support for such alternatives, including the International Criminal Court (ICC), the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign, joining international organizations and stopping ‘security’ coordination with Israel.

The threat posed by these alternatives is evident in Israel’s vehement opposition to them, and acknowledgements by a growing number of Israeli officials. Israel is far less equipped to deal with them, so it is these weapons that should be wielded with the utmost determination. Pressure must also be exerted on the PA to pursue and support these methods.

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Sharif Nashashibi, a regular contributor to Al Arabiya News, The Middle East magazine and the Guardian, is an award-winning journalist and frequent interviewee on Arab affairs. He is co-founder of Arab Media Watch, an independent, non-profit watchdog set up in 2000 to strive for objective coverage of Arab issues in the British media. With an MA in International Journalism from London's City University, Nashashibi has worked and trained at Dow Jones Newswires, Reuters, the U.N. Development Programme in Palestine, the Middle East Broadcasting Centre, the Middle East Economic Survey in Cyprus, and the Middle East Times, among others. In 2008, he received the International Media Council's "Breakaway Award," given to promising new journalists, "for both facilitating and producing consistently balanced reporting on the highly emotive and polarized arena that is the Middle East." He can be found on Twitter: @sharifnash

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