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Whether it is a Palestinian intifada or not is irrelevant

Sharif Nashashibi

Published: Updated:

No bout of Israeli-Palestinian violence seems complete without speculation about whether we are seeing the beginning of another intifada (uprising). However, this knee-jerk debate is unhelpful, irrelevant and misleading. It fosters the false impression that if it is not proclaimed an intifada, the situation is unfortunate but somehow tolerable. It becomes an abstract discussion about labels, rather than an analysis of the grim facts on the ground.

The result is a perverse nostalgia among the uninformed for the days of the ‘peace process’ and ‘relative calm’ - as if they symbolized some sort of heyday for Palestinian fortunes and coexistence with the Israelis. This thinking conflates the absence of resistance with the absence of grievances, ignoring the constant provocations and injustices inherent in Israel’s occupation and colonization of Palestine.

In such a distorted context, attention is only paid when Palestinians resist forcefully - the media ignores peaceful resistance because it does not sell (as the old news adage goes, “if it bleeds it leads”). Palestinian anger thus seems irrational, and Israel is viewed as a stunned victim that is forced to retaliate.

Resistance

The Palestinians are too divided, politically and geographically, to undertake a national uprising. However, the absence of an intifada does not mean the lack of the desire - or more accurately, the necessity - for one.

A poll last month by the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research revealed that 42 percent of Palestinians say armed action is the most effective way of establishing an independent Palestinian state next to Israel, while only 29 percent say negotiation is the best route.

This knee-jerk debate fosters the false impression that if it is not proclaimed an intifada, the situation is unfortunate but somehow tolerable

Sharif Nashashibi

Such is the level of frustration over a decades-long ‘peace process’ that is all process and no peace. This facade has enabled Israel to consolidate its stranglehold over the Palestinians and their homeland, to the extent that according to the same poll, two-thirds of Palestinians no longer believe a two-state solution is possible due to Israel’s voracious (and illegal) colonization project.

Amid the absence of a unified, national liberation movement, a new term has been coined: an “intifada of individuals.” To Israel and its supporters, this might seem less threatening than a mass movement.

However, it arguably serves as a more accurate barometer of Palestinians’ exasperation, precisely because they are rising up as individuals rather than as a collective mass (out of necessity, not choice), without the relative safety of numbers and the backing of their leadership.

Failed leadership

This bring us to another important point that is often overlooked. The previous intifadas were embraced by Palestinian leaders. Today, however, the Palestinian Authority (PA) is urging ‘calm,’ dispersing protests against Israel (sometimes violently), and blocking demonstrators from reaching Israeli checkpoints.

In its shameless and indefensible duplicity, the PA has strongly condemned Israel throughout this latest flare-up, but has steadfastly maintained security coordination with it while Palestinian civilians are being killed, attacked, oppressed and demonized.

So much for PA President Mahmoud Abbas’s defiant speech at the U.N. General Assembly last month, in which he said the PA would no longer be bound by agreements with Israel. In practice, he and his Authority are as subservient as ever.

This is also lost on the intifada-speculation industry: that anger is no longer aimed only at Israel, but also at a leadership that has utterly - even wilfully - failed to realize the fundamental rights of its own people. Little wonder, then, that two-thirds of Palestinians want Abbas to resign, according to the aforementioned poll, and that according to another poll, 55 percent say the PA has become a “burden” on them.

Let us ditch the bickering over hollow terminology, and instead agree on key facts: the Palestinians have endured the longest military occupation in modern history, and they have the moral and legal right to be free of it, with or without their occupier’s consent. Who cares what that is called?

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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

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not reflect Al Arabiya English's point-of-view.