The past several weeks have seen the Palestinian issue regain international prominence. Israeli attacks on Gaza, and Hamas’ response to those attacks produced political benefits for the Islamic party, which caused some to argue that non-violence is a failed strategy for the Palestinians. However, Fatah’s success at the United Nations created the potential for the imposition of new costs on the Israelis. The successes of both parties have worked to create the most conducive environment for Palestinian reconciliation since 2007 even as Israel continues to colonise and fragment Palestine.
Hamas and Israel have done a lot to validate the idea that armed resistance to the Israeli occupation can produce positive outcomes for the Palestinians. The argument that Israel responds to force is basically correct. But it doesn’t mean that non-violent resistance has been undermined – a view that American television host Chris Hayes recently propounded in a segment on his show on MSNBC.
The basis for the argument that non-violence (more accurately, the unarmed struggle) is not a viable strategy for the Palestinians is that Mahmoud Abbas has tried it – and he hasn’t succeeded in producing a state. But that analysis fails under careful scrutiny, particularly as various forms of non-violence are considered.
Palestinian non-violence has developed in several ways. In the West Bank, the Popular Committees in villages like Budrus and Bil’in have organised weekly marches to highlight the illegality of Israel’s ravenous colonisation of the West Bank. Their chief accomplishment has been to dispel the notion that Israel is a Western democracy governed by law.
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The Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions movement has worked to affect similar change in the views of people worldwide. Its most recent victory also became one of its most visible as performer Stevie Wonder withdrew from a fundraiser for the Israeli army. Activist pressure on other performers has only grown in recent years.
Palestinian NGOs, cultural institutions and civil society present another form of successful non-violent resistance. The challenge of maintaining social cohesion in the face of occupation, apartheid and a corrupt, weak or divided leadership cannot be underestimated, and it is something that the Palestinians have done successfully.
All of these forms of non-violence – which are not linked to the activities of the Palestinian Authority – should reinforce the value of unarmed resistance to the Israeli occupation.
As for Mahmoud Abbas and the Palestinian Authority, the Israelis are right when they say that the United Nations bid has failed to do produce a viable Palestinian state. Binyamin Netanyahu’s November 30 decision to extend his people’s colonies into the E1 area of the West Bank acts as an additional, especially effective, abortive measure. The reason for that is that the E1 region is expected to act as a corridor through which Palestinians in the West Bank will access East Jerusalem after the creation of a viable Palestinian state.
In reality, Jerusalem has already been isolated from the Palestinian West Bank, a development that one more additional colony in the E1 area will only reinforce. The United Nations’ decision does nothing to reverse the permanent colonisation which has extinguished the possibility of a two-state outcome.
Resisting Israeli apartheid
Yet, even that fact does not mean that Mahmoud Abbas’ non-violent approach at the United Nations has failed. In fact, he has produced a new framework through which Palestinians can resist Israeli apartheid. His success in gaining access to international forums like the International Criminal Court has enervated the Israeli leadership.
That’s something that Abbas appears to have finally recognised. The Palestinian bid for enhanced status at the United Nations is a worthwhile undertaking because it carries mechanism for punishing Israel. Hamas’ endorsement of Abbas’ move signals the organisation’s appreciation for his new contribution to the resistance toolkit.
And that’s perhaps the most meaningful development of the past two weeks. The Palestinians in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip have independently arrived at means of imposing higher costs on Israeli occupation and apartheid. Hamas’ longer range rockets have succeeded in altering the balance of fear in their favour.
And the Palestinian Authority may succeed in accessing a framework for issuing indictments against Nir Barkat, Ehud Barak, Binyamin Netanyahu and others. The joint development carries positive implications for Palestinian reconciliation – particularly as partisans on either side recognise the accomplishment of the other. A great deal hinges however, on the PA’s willingness to actually hold Israel to account.
The Israeli leadership’s reaction to Abbas’ bid – the extension of settlements in the E1 corridor – has real consequences. But for now, the balance of legitimacy is shifting in favour of the Palestinians. Recent events have demonstrated that while Israel can destroy, demolish and colonise, it cannot resist the overwhelming morality of the Palestinian cause. It cannot prevent its deepening isolation and accelerating delegitimisation.
Ahmed Moor is a Palestinian-American graduate student of Public Policy at Harvard University and co-editor of After Zionism (Saqi Books, July 2012).