Palestinian students participate in a rally at Birzeit University, on the outskirts of the city of Ramallah in the West Bank on May 6, 2014.
ABBAS MOMANI / AFP
"Vulnerable Palestinians Also Have Opportunities"
Op-Ed, Agence Global
May 7, 2014
Author: Rami Khouri, Senior Fellow, Middle East Initiative
Belfer Center Programs or Projects: Middle East Initiative
NEW YORK—The collapse of the American-mediated Palestinian-Israeli negotiations last week ushers in a period of uncertainty that will most likely be dominated by many unilateral moves, combined with appropriate threats and warnings from all sides. The Palestinians are in the most difficult position, given their relative weakness militarily, their fragmentation politically, and their vulnerability economically. Yet this moment is also an opportunity for the Palestinians on three important fronts: national unity, coordinated political resistance, and mobilizing international support.
The absolute requirement for Palestinians now is to reconstitute a minimum of national unity, which goes well beyond implementing the Fateh-Hamas reconciliation agreement. The Fateh-Hamas agreement aims to form a technocratic national unity government that will in turn supervise new elections in the Palestinian Authority (PA) regions. This is an important first step, but full national unity requires more.
The critical need is to revitalize the institutions of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) that have been moribund since the Oslo agreements gave birth to the PA two decades ago. The PLO has always been the sole legitimate representative of the Palestinian people as a whole, because it is the vehicle through which Palestinians engage the world diplomatically (including its non-member observer state status at the UN) and the forum in which Palestinians express their views and seek to achieve national consensus.
A unified and coherent Palestinian people represented by a single, democratic and consultative body like the PLO would be able to overcome the inherent weaknesses of being scattered around the world. In fact, they can turn their fragmentation into an asset, by using the PLO to adopt a series of political strategies that fall into the category of national resistance to the continuing dangers posed by Zionism and the state of Israel—dangers that will be quickly and dramatically manifested in the months ahead by probable Israeli plans to annex unilaterally more occupied lands in the West Bank-Jerusalem area.
The Palestinians now need to agree on a division of responsibility among their people across the region and the world in order to implement more diligently that range of coordinated political action and national resistance strategies that they have been using in an uncoordinated and episodic manner to date. These options include:
a. Diplomatic negotiations, which have failed for many decades but cannot be dropped from the political toolkit, especially if a more credible mediator than the United States appears on the scene.
b. State-building in areas under Palestinian control, which was promoted by former Prime Minister Salam Fayyad without leading to any diplomatic advances, but should be continued because state-building is good for the Palestinians in its own right.
c. Joining international organizations to give the PLO greater global diplomatic clout in its bid to gain more rights under law for the Palestinian people, whether under occupation or as refugees in Arab countries, and also to use available legal measures to stop or reduce ongoing Israeli actions against Palestinians like colonization, assassination, annexation, imprisonment, siege, and others.
d. Mass non-violent civil disobedience by Palestinians everywhere on earth (inside Israel, in occupied lands, in Arab countries and around the world) could be used effectively to simultaneously dramatize Israeli oppressive, inhuman and illegal measures, enhance the sense of common action by the scattered Palestinian community, and harness international support.
e. Promote the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement globally as the international arm of a non-violent resistance movement, which is already drawing steady support from mainstream organizations around the world.
f. Another uprising, or intifada, in the occupied Palestinian lands, which is likely to have limited impact in light of the first two uprisings in recent decades.
g. Armed resistance, which has been tried in many forms and has never achieved the desired goals of forcing Zionism and Israel to come to terms with the legitimacy of Palestinian national rights, suggesting that massive non-violent political resistance through a unified Palestinian national effort, backed by international support, is much more likely to succeed.
The third requirement now is to utilize a combination of the above options to mobilize significant international support for the Palestinian national cause, which already enjoys widespread support around the world—but that support has never been effectively channeled into a clear diplomatic strategy. The growing support for the BDS movement around the world indicates the huge potential here, especially as unilateral Israeli measures increasingly see Israel’s treatment of Palestinians described in parallel with Apartheid South Africa.
This dangerous moment for the Palestinians also includes new possibilities for productive advances in the peaceful quest for national rights for the Palestinians, and peace, justice and legitimacy for all in the region, including Israel. Let us hope that the Palestinian leadership behaves more intelligently and responsibly than it has in similar historical junctures in the recent past, and embarks on a nationally coordinated political resistance strategy that would be widely supported by Palestinians, Arabs and people of good will around the world.
Rami G. Khouri is Editor-at-large of The Daily Star, and Director of the Issam Fares Institute for Public Policy and International Affairs at the American University of Beirut, in Beirut, Lebanon. You can follow him @ramikhouri.
For more information about this publication please contact the Middle East Initiative at (617) 495-4087.
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