Sep 22nd 2009

A New Path of Palestinian Resistance

by James J. Zogby

Dr. James J. Zogby is the President of Arab American Institute

Despite the continuing horrors visited upon Palestinians, their deep political divide, relentless Israeli settlement expansion and more, there are glimmers of hope in the Palestinian skies. What I am referring to here, are not external developments like ongoing U.S.-led efforts to rekindle Israeli-Palestinian peace talks or growing European impatience with Israeli occupation policies. As important as these may be, more significant are the developments occurring within Palestinian society, all of which, if combined and strengthened, point in the direction of empowerment and self-liberating resistance.

Specifically, I am speaking about the recently completed Fatah Conference, the two-year plan, "Ending the Occupation, Establishing the State," announced by interim Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, and the weekly demonstrations at the wall near the village of Bilin.

While critics point to its flaws, the fact that the Fatah conference was organized, at all, on the land of Palestine, is significant. It is true that it was held under occupation, but the reality is that Fatah used the space created by recent events and international pressure to organize, in spite of the occupation, and to elect a new leadership committed to ending the occupation. The sessions of the conference were heated and deliberative and, while not perfect, they were democratic. As such, its very occurrence was an act of resistance, defying a generation-long effort by the occupation to deny Palestinians their national identity and their right to organize as an independent people.

The two year plan, laid out by Prime Minister Fayyad, must also be viewed, through this same lens, as an act of resistance. As Fayyad correctly noted, Palestinians have the capacity and the need, despite the persistence of a hostile occupation, to build independent institutions, the creation of which are prerequisites of statehood. Creating accountable and transparent structures that educate the young, provide security and needed social services, foster economic growth, and organize daily life, are, in themselves, acts of resistance. They empower and self-liberate Palestinians, while denying the occupiers the control they have sought to impose.

Complementing these efforts are the weekly demonstrations at Bilin. By organizing non-violent resistance against the wall, the groups involved provide a clear example of the power of popular mobilization. That these efforts have won support is important, but they must be further strengthened, and adopted by a broad spectrum of Palestinian society, including Fatah, enabling them to become a mass expression of resistance. This will not only enhance empowerment, it will also provide needed leverage and support to the Palestinian Authority's negotiating posture.

What is distressing, of course, is that those who claim to be the "standard bearers of true resistance" have stepped up their criticism of these efforts, accusing them of abandoning Palestinian rights. Their criticisms are wrong, based, as they are, on a distorted understanding of resistance. These critics have, in fact, made a fetish of violence and, therefore, can only see resistance through the distorted lens of the application of violence. But resistance means much more than bombs and rockets, and, in fact, often times violence can be antithetical to true resistance.

In its proper sense, resistance is the strategic application of tactics, designed to counter oppression, progressively leading to liberation. As a strategy that utilizes tactics, resistance assesses the effectiveness of tactics that are available. Those that have failed, strengthening the hold of oppression, are rejected, while those that empower people, moving them forward toward liberation, are embraced and developed. Tactics are never ends in themselves. If they do not serve the strategic goal of liberation, they are cast off as counter-productive.

That is why I have long argued that the path of violent resistance leads to a dead end, while the path of non-violent resistance through direct action, institution building, and the development of popular political organization provide a promising alternative. It is important to keep in mind these are tactics, and are not sufficient, in themselves, nor are they ends in themselves. To bear fruit, they must be strengthened, combined, and used in tandem as part of a broader strategy, whose end is to establish an independent Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza with East Jerusalem as its capital, and a just and comprehensive resolution of the issue of refugees.

One other critical element, internal to Palestinian society, must also be considered here, and that is the deep fissure that has divided the West Bank and Gaza into hostile camps. Reconciliation is an absolute necessity, since no real progress toward statehood can be made as long as the Palestinian house is divided. But, for reconciliation to occur, whether through mediation efforts still underway in Cairo, or otherwise, the leadership of Hamas must understand the disaster that its failed approach to resistance has wrought. Israel can rightly be condemned for its barbaric assaults and its inhumane blockade of Gaza (as well as its acquisitive, humiliating and deadly policies in the West Bank and Jerusalem). But Hamas refuses to recognize not only the futility, but outright stupidity, and pathological destructiveness, of its ways. To paraphrase, my friend, the late Twefiq Zayyad, "you may claim the right to armed struggle, but when you consistently use it so badly, you forfeit that right". Given recent, and not so recent, history, Zayyad's words ring true.

The time has, therefore, come to recognize that a new path forward must be found. If it is not, than no matter what external players do and don't do, the Palestinian reality will not appreciably change.

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