This article was published (in a slightly edited version) on The New Arab.
The last decade has been catastrophic for Palestinians.
With the key diplomatic support of the United States, Israel extended its construction of settlements in the occupied territories. The number of settlers has steadily grown, and now surpasses 600.000 people.
Current Israeli policy could seriously jeopardize the chances of reaching a two-state settlement in the future; the extension and entrenchment of settlements in the West Bank could in fact potentially render the partition of the land and the creation of a viable Palestinian state practically impossible, a scenario which would turn Israel into a fully-fledged apartheid state, with different status and rights for Israelis and Palestinians.
A point of no return has not been reached yet, but the trend of recent years is highly worrying, and recent developments in U.S politics are not looking promising.
Since the beginning of Obama’s time in office, the Gaza Strip was brutally assaulted three times (in 2009, 2012, and 2014) in the course of deadly operations carried out by Israel’s armed forces, with the key green light of the U.S., worsening the already dire humanitarian situation of the world’s largest open-air prison.
The Arab uprisings, which could have been a positive phenomenon for the Palestinians, turned out to be a disaster for them. Regional realignments occurred since 2011 have led to the further isolation of the Palestinians, who are left with no real allies among surrounding states except Iran, although its support is very limited.
On the other hand, Israel’s normalization of relations with Turkey, its tacit “strategic relationship” with the Saudis, and al-Sisi’s coup in Egypt, signalled a major realignment of forces in the region which, overall, benefitted Israel.
Consumed by “internal strife and foreign intervention”, Arab states are at the present moment generally “uninterested in or hostile to the cause of Palestine”.
Most importantly, the Arab Spring “completely bypassed” Palestine. The Palestinians did not engage in mass actions, nor did they show a unified effort to end the occupation.
The incidents that took place between September and November 2015 could have signalled the start of a new revolt similar to the First Intifada of 1987, but the individual, scattered acts of turmoil of Palestinians failed to to develop into a collective mobilization capable of exerting pressure on Israel.
Protests overwhelmingly took the form of isolated acts of desperation, and quickly dissolved after a few months.
The inability to produce a movement of resistance similar to those in other Arab states clearly illustrates the hopelessness, despair and fragmentation of the Palestinian population.
Above all, the Palestinian Authority and Hamas in the West Bank and in Gaza appear to be completely unable or unwilling to unite and organize the Palestinians.
The Palestinian Authority has proven to be a corrupt and undemocratic organization, which no longer has political legitimacy in the eyes of the Palestinians. It. has demonstrated a “flagrant disregard for human rights”, and developed into an authoritarian regime marked by “the executive’s unconstitutional domination of the judiciary, arbitrary arrest and incarceration of dissenters and a despotic personalisation of power by Abbas and his inner circle”.
Since the Oslo agreements of the 1990s, the Palestinian Authority explicitly entered into collaboration with Israel to maintain the occupation of the West Bank and Gaza. In Peace and its Discontents (1995), Edward Said wrote that the Palestinian Authority effectively became “Israel’s enforcer”, as the occupation continued under the watch of the Palestinian leadership.
The capitulation of the Palestinian Authority proved to be very convenient for Israel: the Jewish state could persist in its occupation of Palestinian territories by “remote control”, as Israeli political commentator Meron Benvenisti has written, fully relying on the police state of the Palestinian Authority to placate the Palestinians, and allow the settlement entreprise to proceed undisturbed.
Hamas does not have a great record either in terms of acting in the interest of Palestinians’ national aspirations.
Like the Palestinian Authority, Hamas also has a very poor human rights record. Its rule in Gaza is harsh and repressive, and its tactics of armed resistance to end the occupation have achieved very few, if any, results.
It should be recalled, however, that Israel and its allies sabotaged the possibility for Hamas to rule over Gaza in an orderly way from the beginning.
Since Hamas got into power in Gaza through free and fair elections in 2006, the U.S first tried to overthrow the new Hamas government (with the collaboration of Fatah) and, when the attempt failed, it imposed harsh sanctions on the Gaza Strip, strangulating its economy.
The U.S and Israel also refused to recognize Hamas as a partner for negotiation, despite the organization’s acceptance of the two-state settlement backed by the international community.
The failure to enter into negotiations with Hamas was recently criticized by top members of Israel’s political and military establishment, including former Mossad chief Efraim Halevy, who urged the Israeli government to engage in “direct dialogue” with Hamas. It is unlikely, however, that this will happen in the near future.
That said, Hamas’ tactic of violent resistance has been completely ineffective in achieving any kind of significant result for the Palestinians. While one could make a legal and moral case for Hamas’ right to resort to armed resistance (although at times through morally objectionable means), one must nonetheless question the “political prudence” and effectiveness of engaging in violent resistance.
Hamas’ fixation on armed struggle has clearly failed to bring about any political result: the occupation has expanded, the blockade is still in place, and Palestinians are feeling abandoned and hopeless.
Alternative creative strategies of resistance have to be considered.
A number of activists and commentators point to the First Intifada as one of the most successful episodes of resistance by the Palestinians, and argue that lessons for the future could be drawn from the intifada.
According to scholar and activist Norman Finkelstein, the success of the 1987 uprisings was to a large extent due to the absence of the Palestinian leadership during the time of the insurrection, and, crucially, to the involvement of “vibrant mass organizations – political parties, trade unions, women’s organizations” that “started organizing and mobilizing” the Palestinians.
Activist Thimna Bunte holds a similar view when she argues that the First Intifada was successful thanks to a “strong sense of solidarity and unity [among Palestinians], well-organized networks of community-based organizations, and a unified leadership”.
Israel’s public relations image at the time was “shattered”, as “the international community viewed the means, nonviolence, as legitimate, and the ends, independent statehood, as legitimate”, which created “immense international sympathy for the Palestinian cause”.
The task ahead for the Palestinian population is to recreate in new forms the conditions that enabled the success of the First Intifada.
The Palestinian Authority, through its collusion with Israeli governments, and Hamas, with its ineffective tactic of armed struggle, are an obstacle to this task.
Palestinians must liberate themselves from the oppressive and harmful shackles of both the Palestinian Authority and Hamas, and work towards the development of an independent, nonviolent Palestinian liberation mass movement.
It will not be easy; the current situation is one of great weakness of the Palestinian civil resistance movement, marked by “political fracture between parties and within movements; the absence of a coherent strategy; the lack of coordination between competing networks of activists, as well as the lack of trust in leadership at any level”.
However, as respected Dutch-Palestinian academic Mouin Rabbani writes, “until Palestinians overcome the domestic obstacles to their ability to rebel, they will remain incapable of successfully challenging Israel or effectively taking on those who support its policies”.
In other words, the only viable and politically effective strategy that could put pressure on Israel and the United States to change direction is the combination of a nonviolent, strong, unified mass mobilization in Palestine, supported by a transnational solidarity movement that could resonate internationally.
The future for Palestine looks quite grim, but there aren’t many realistic alternatives for Palestinians other than collectively organizing and resisting.
Only the latter can put a heavy price on Israel’s cost-free occupation.
© Tommaso Segantini