Palestine: The third way forward

The Palestinians are not powerless. There is much they can do to stop Israeli expansionism.

Palestinian flag
Demonstrators place a Palestinian flag during a protest against Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's visit to Hebron, in the occupied West Bank, September 4, 2019 [File: Reuters/Mussa Qawasma]

Since the catastrophic Arab failure in the 1948 and 1967 wars led to total Israeli control over historic Palestine, the Palestinians have been trying to recover their losses, but to no avail.

Refugees and prisoners in their own homeland, they have tried armed struggle and peaceful negotiations with equal vigour, but have failed to get justice or attain peace.

Both strategies entailed great sacrifice and major concessions, but ultimately neither led to the liberation of Palestine from Israeli domination. 

Worse, Israel’s appetite for expansion has grown with every Palestinian concession, and now its delusion of invincibility is driving it to illegally annex almost a third of what the Palestinians assumed would be their future state.

Regardless of whether it actually formalises its de facto annexation or not, Israel is already radically and unilaterally changing the reality on the ground. 

So now what? What to do? What not to do?

The right diagnosis is half the cure

It is important to remember that contrary to newspeak there is no “Palestine problem” but rather an “Israeli colonial problem” – the region’s last colonial problem – and the Palestinians may prove to be its only solution.

Since its creation at the end of the 19th century, Zionism has mutated from arguably a legitimate Jewish national movement in Europe to a European colonial enterprise in the eastern Mediterranean.

It led, among other things, to a century-long conflict, multiple wars and hatred, fuelled by ethnic cleansing, dispossession and the displacement of millions of people.

Since then, increased Israeli colonisation, especially in the occupied West Bank, devolved into a reprehensible system of apartheid.

Interestingly, apartheid was born in South Africa in 1948, the same year the Palestinian catastrophe began, and it ended in 1994, a year before apartheid basically started in Palestine with the Oslo-II agreement, which divided the occupied territories into bantustans.

Like South Africa, Israel should be induced to produce its own FW de Klerk to end its apartheid. Such a leader would find the Palestinians ready to reconcile and together with Israel build a better future.

And like South Africa, this does not mean ending Israel. It means liberating Israel from its paranoid garrison mindset that sees hegemony as the only way to survive.

Considering we are all one human race, apartheid is ultimately about hegemony, despite its racial or other pretexts.

It follows that the struggle against apartheid must be a universal, indivisible struggle for justice and freedom – one that opposes anti-Semitism, as it does colonial Zionism.

But what shape and path should it take?

Palestinians have already begun to think about and debate new ideas to end apartheid, which deserve further study and development.

But before we get into what the Palestinians need to do, let us look into what they should not do. 

What not to do

Surrender is not an option. Do not even think about it.

Accepting the so-called “deal of the century” put forward by US President Donald Trump and his ally Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is to surrender to Israeli hegemony. It means living in captivity in perpetuity.

Without surrender, there is no victory. As long as the Palestinians do not lose, Israel cannot win. 

Refusing to give up or give in may not be easy, but it has proven effective in frustrating Israel’s plans, and restraining certain Arab regimes’ predilection for mischief.

Do not despair. Time and history are on your side.

It may not seem that way judging from Israel’s visible confidence, (read arrogance), but even though it is a self-proclaimed country of “immigrants”, it has been bleeding hundreds of thousands of emigrants, mostly to the US.

And a high 40 percent of Israelis are thinking of emigrating, as countless Palestinians risk their lives to reclaim their right of return.

It is the same story repeated over and over again. Most if not all colonial powers lost to the weaker indigenous population over the past century. So will Israel. 

To that end, Palestinians have wisely framed their cause in legal terms and extracted many UN resolutions condemning Israel’s violations of international law.

But international law does not deter the strong or save the weak, certainly not when the US flashes its veto at the mere mention of Israel.

Just do not depend on it. Depend on yourselves. And forget about the UN convening an international peace conference without American blessing.

Do not beat yourselves up too much. Be reasonable.

Yes, the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) has made its share of mistakes, but the Palestinians are not responsible for the contempt and incompetence of certain Arab regimes, or the cynicism of Western powers, especially the US appeasement of Israel.

And stop with the self-pity.

You cannot motivate and energise depressed people. It will not kill you to smile. The best laughs are those mixed with tears. There is much to dread, but there is much more to dream about.

Do not underestimate the moral weight of your cause in the Arab world and beyond, regardless of what the doubters say.

No matter how many dictators recognise Israel, a belligerent apartheid state will never achieve true legitimacy or security regionally.


Arabs see the struggle for justice in Palestine as a symbol and extension of their own fight for justice.

Syrians, Saudis, Yemenis, Egyptians and others may be engrossed in their own tragedies, as they must be, but polls consistently show that, collectively, Arabs see Palestine as their foremost cause in the struggle against colonialism.

Do not forget that.

Israel has always tried to separate Palestinians from Palestinians and the Palestinians from their Arab neighbourhood.

Do not allow it and do not engage in secret negotiations. 

There are more than a few ways to connect and bridge the geographic divide.

As war and diplomacy come to a dead end, and as Israel dashes forward arrogantly grabbing and annexing more Palestinian land, speak up and do not let Netanyahu and Trump get off easy. 

Try not to repeat the mistakes of the past. 

Try not to look back. Look ahead. Look for a third way forward. 

Reinventing Palestinian unity

The lopsided peace process has been terribly divisive for the Palestinians. It is what asymmetrical peace processes do. Therefore, abandoning it must lead to some form of national unity.

The dreadful competition between the main political factions has thus far proven detrimental to national unity and elections have been no less divisive.

Instead of uniting against the occupation, the factions have been preoccupied with managing it.

While Fatah and Hamas continue to insist on holding onto their “strongholds”, the separated bantustans in the West Bank and Gaza, some suggest the establishment of an overall political umbrella, perhaps a reformed and expanded PLO, to unite all the Palestinians around the undisputed cause of justice

But this will require a new generation of Palestinians to step up and take over from the predominantly septuagenarian and octogenarian leadership to chart a fresh, new way forward.

All bureaucratic tasks and responsibilities, whether on the level of the National Authority or the municipalities should be left to technocrats, chosen on the basis of merit not partisanship.

This requires a great deal of maturity, ingenuity and dynamism.

Another interesting idea is for Palestinians to unite behind multiple strategies, instead of being divided behind one failed strategy of negotiations.

This tactical decentralisation means “popular mobilisation” where each Palestinian community should be able to design and embrace strategies of struggle according to its abilities and circumstances.

Palestinians in Gaza may want to retain their deterrence capabilities to defend against another Israeli assault, and Jerusalemites may want to strengthen their city’s Palestinian presence and character.

Likewise, Palestinians in Israel may want to transform Israel’s binationality from demographics to politics. The Palestinians in Jordan may want to work with Jordanians to block Israel’s attempt to make their country the alternative Palestinian state. And the Palestinians in exile may want to promote the cause in foreign capitals. And so on. 

These micro strategies should be continuously synchronised and synergised as integral parts of the national struggle for justice and liberation as a whole. 

Palestinians should no longer be satisfied with passive “steadfastness”. They need to reactivate and re-energise the popular base.

Boosting Palestinian immunity

Comprising almost half the population between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea, the Palestinians need to immunise themselves against persistent Israeli repression and marginalisation.

Palestinians need to offset Israel’s new attempts at dividing and ostracising them by improving business infrastructure and economic life to help people endure.

They need to expand on one of their greatest recent achievements, namely institution building.

This entails deflating an inflated bureaucracy by ending corruption and nepotism and creating partnerships between the public and private sector to improve economic planning and infrastructure development.

Currently, one-third of the national budget goes to the security apparatus, more than both the health and education sectors receive. Given that it serves Israeli more than Palestinian security, there is no reason why it should continue to consume so much of the Palestinian budget.

Boosting national immunity is also about boosting individual immunity in everyday life.

And there is no immunity without national and personal dignity.

A Palestinian may be able to block or defy the humiliation of an Israeli soldier, but may still find him/herself powerless when humiliated by a fellow (armed) Palestinian. Such humiliation is emotional and leads to indifference, even betrayal. This must stop.

And there is no dignity without work. This means there needs to be job creation, the expansion of good productive employment, so that poor Palestinians are not forced to slave away at Israeli settlements.

Palestinians are some of the most educated people in the region. Modest investment in human capital could yield great national advantage in the long run. 

Rebuilding alliances

As the PLO hedged its bets exclusively on the US-led peace process, it abandoned much of the international solidarity movement.

Today, Palestinians need to rebuild links to European, Latin American, African and other foreign solidarity movements. These would be essential for their struggle moving forward, just as they were in ending apartheid in South Africa.

Moreover, and unlike many forgotten indigenous populations, Palestinians are not alone. They are part of a vast Arab region, and can draw strength and solace from your Arab hinterland.

Palestinians also have a special connection to the Islamic world, much of which has suffered terribly from Western colonialism. 

It is paramount to confront Israel’s peddling of religious justification for its occupation with civic and universal, not religious, arguments.

All colonial enterprises of the past several centuries have used varying degrees of religious justification, and Palestine has been the focal point of interest for all three Abrahamic religions.

But treating Palestine as a “promised land” or “a waqf” turns the divine from a peacemaker to a real estate broker. 

Palestine belongs to all its inhabitants, especially its indigenous people.

Cultivating Jewish partners

Winning Jewish support for justice and freedom in Palestine is imperative to dispel Israeli propaganda, and indispensable to roll back Israeli hegemony

Just as white people participated in the anti-apartheid movement in South Africa and in the civil rights movement in the US, Jews are indispensable in the struggle against apartheid in Palestine.

Throughout their history, Jews have been the victims of racism, suffering greatly from European anti-Semitism. And for long, they have been at the forefront in the fight against racism.

This week, for example, I read an obituary titled, “Denis Goldberg Man of Integrity: South African Freedom Fighter, Anti-Zionist Jew, and True Mensch” written by Ronnie Kasrils, a prominent Jewish South African anti-apartheid activist about a comrade who had passed away. Reflecting on Goldberg’s lifelong anti-racism struggle, Karsils emphasised: “As an anti-Zionist Jew he came to view Israel’s colonial-racism as akin to apartheid South Africa.”

I know many such people, having worked closely with Jewish academics, students, journalists, feminists, editors, publishers, lawyers, unionists, and activists on various progressive causes including that of free Palestine.

Palestinians must take down anyone who peddles anti-Jewish slogans in their name and build on increasing Jewish resentment towards an Israeli leadership that does terrible things in their name. 

When former US presidential candidate Bernie Sanders accused Netanyahu of “reactionary racism” and grew even more popular in the process, it showed just how far the American Jewish community and the Democratic Party have gone, bearing in mind that most American Jews vote Democrat, not Republican. 

Palestinians need to nourish this new spirit and synergy to counter the Israeli-inspired campaign equating anti-Zionism with anti-Semitism. 

Anti-Zionism has nothing to do with anti-Semitism. After all, Jews were the first to oppose Zionism.

A new Palestinian-Jewish partnership must fight Israeli injustice tooth and nail, exposing the Israeli government’s malign attempts to label movements like Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) as anti-Semitic.

In short, and as I argued recently, it is high time for a Palestinian-Jewish spring.

The endgame

The evolution of this renewed struggle in its totality will determine the outcome – two states or one binational state, not the opposite.

The continuing debate about the singularity or duality of states is not only premature, it may prove divisive and debilitating.

Israel will certainly oppose a one-state solution with the same if not stronger determination it opposes a sovereign Palestinian state with. 

The sooner the Palestinian leaders realise there are no short cuts or off-the-shelf solutions the better they will be prepared for the long haul.

That is why the Palestinian endgame should be justice and freedom. They are not only an attainable goal that everyone will rally behind, but also a prerequisite for peace and security in the region.

They require changing Israel’s calculus, not defeating it, or destroying it, as Israeli leaders whine and warn.

This is how major powers gave up their colonialism and how South Africa ended its system of apartheid. They were forced to reconsider the calculus of gain and loss.

In this way, Netanyahu’s Israel cannot have all the land and all the security. It cannot continue to live by the sword and preach Kumbaya to the Palestinians.

In short, it cannot have its cake and eat it too.

If history is any guide, Israel will end its occupation just as all colonial powers of the past century ended theirs.

The sooner the better for both Palestinians and Israelis.