Sunday, January 30, 2011

What Are Palestinians Doing For Themselves?

The revelations from Al Jazeera have stirred the pot.

By Fr. Raymond G. Helmick & DR. Nazir Khaja
This commentary was published in The Arab News on 30/01/2011

What authority any of these documents have is far from clear. Often they are talking the language of the "Clinton parameters" of late 2000, which didn't get any clear acceptance at the time but were met without real hysteria also. The motives for the release of these documents are altogether unclear. Who were they trying to embarrass: Israelis or Palestinians, Fatah, Americans? As with the WikiLeaks, it is good to have things out in the open, but hard to know what is true.

Much more important, though, is how the Palestinians will respond to them. The worst thing happening to Palestinians is their disunity, which leaves them helpless before massive political and military power forces. That should be the main thing we learn from these papers - as though it were anything new. If Palestinians, as a result of the Al Jazeera papers, draw the long knives on each other, they will be much further harmed. That may have been the motive of the release.

To anyone following the interminable "peace process," the prolonged negotiations since 1993 between Israelis and Palestinians seem always to have been designed to fail. The Israeli government scuttled the talks last year by refusing to extend the ten-month partial freeze on settlement construction that the Obama administration was begging for. It is becoming clear that the prolonged negotiations are intended to give people false hope and generate active dissent and disunity among the Palestinians, thus making it easier for Israel to continue annexing Palestinian territory.

Painful as it is to say for anyone who wishes Israel well in its enterprise of building a society that will be the opposite of the persecutors of Jews, the State of Israel, under its present government, drifts further and further into simple racist fascism. With a true dictator's instinct, it seeks now to suppress any voice within Israel that speaks anything other than the government's own propaganda. It has become a write-off so far as any serious effort toward peace or justice is concerned.

Netanyahu's Liebermann-dominated government now controls all the major parties, since the defection of Ehud Barak leaves Labor in its death-throes and there is no possibility of any action useful for the peace coming from Tzipi Livni's Kadima.

The United States, for all the brave words and apparent good intentions that come from President Obama, responds spinelessly to every new defiance, and even the intrepid George Mitchell is now shepherded about the Middle East by AIPAC-apparatchik Dennis Ross. Abandon hope, anyone who knocks on that door!

That leaves an urgent question: What are Palestinians doing for themselves?

It is beyond believing that the Palestinians should still be tolerating the division among themselves that separates Fatah and Hamas. It disempowers them utterly. So long as this division and the bitterness that accompany it endure, no progress is possible.

One must concede some serious praise to Salam Fayyad, even though the very mention of him is a red flag to Hamas. Fayyad has grasped one basic truth that the Hamas leadership has yet to see with full clarity: That the only resistance by Palestinians that has any chance of success is a rigorously nonviolent one. Fayyad's project of building the institutions by which a Palestinian state can run, and his ambition of having them in place by August, are themselves a campaign of resistance to the occupation.

True, they are utterly dependent on Israeli acceptance, and in that way open to the criticism that they are merely means of consolidating the occupation itself. Yet they are things the Israelis cannot push over or destroy without creating more embarrassment for itself than even this shameless government can bear.

True also that Fayyad's government is usurping the place of a legitimate one that was properly elected, though the mandate even for that, and of course also for the presidency of Mahmoud Abbas under whom Fayyad serves, has run out by now. But he and his activity create practically insoluble quandaries for Israel's occupation regime, and that is a mark of genuine resistance. Moreover, Fayyad himself recognizes that there is no possibility of a Palestinian state that does not include Hamas Gaza. Not for him the facile assumption one hears from so many others that he can create the building blocks of a Palestinian state and forget about Hamas, that it will evaporate if he succeeds. Fayyad knows and acknowledges that Hamas must be a part of it.

As for Hamas itself, it has a strong interest in a just peace with Israel. But the policy of Israeli and American governments, of excluding Hamas from any efforts at peace, leaves Hamas with no other option than opposition to any progress that might be made without its participation.

Hamas is rejected as a terrorist organization, a sworn enemy of peace, which refuses to recognize Israel. Yet Hamas leader Mishaal has laid out the policy direction of Hamas on a number of critical issues: Negotiations with Israel, recognition of Israel, resistance, Jews. There is a plan for permanent cease- fire/settlement - the Arab plan of 2002 - that has been accepted by Hamas, contingent on an Israeli return to the 1967 borders. The picture of Hamas as irreducibly unready to be a positive partner for the peace is a disinformation game.

Hamas speaks of an essential need for resistance against the occupation, and that is the very truth: No Palestinian government can claim legitimacy if it is not for resisting the occupation. Hamas has actually become the last bastion against a Palestinian violence that would otherwise inevitably break out in response to the constant violence of Israeli Army and settlers against the Palestinians. In a situation where angry Islamists are itching to impose a strict way of life on their compatriots, Hamas, in a sign of tolerance, has become the best defense against a Shariah that would be the result of imposition on society. Hamas has still not made the necessary distinction between a nonviolent resistance that would have the prospect of success and a violent one that has none, but it actual conduct has been based on it.

Given the utter lack of good will or honesty in Israel's present government, and the supine way the US permits that Israeli government to determine everything, in defiance of law, by its massive, superior brute force - surely that government does not represent the Jewish principles and culture of the Israeli people - what can the Palestinians actually do for themselves?

They can mount a really effective campaign of fully mobilized nonviolent resistance. That is not merely a matter of demonstrations. The weekly demonstrations at Bil'in are admirable, as is the steady but nonviolent demonstration of outrage against the rape of Sheikh Jarrah. But a truly effective mobilized campaign would be organized noncooperation with every aspect of Israeli control, all over the Palestinian territories, all the time. New Israeli settlements would not be built by Palestinian labor. Palestinian authorities, at all levels, would never accommodate or acknowledge any Israeli right to determine their actions. Citizens, knowing the full authority of their society was behind them, would obey no command of an Israeli, armed or not.

Palestinian workers would be without jobs. The Israelis would intensify their violent oppression in every way they could imagine. Would any of that be new? It would be concentrated within a shorter period. But the Israelis could not govern or even coerce under those circumstances. The Palestinians would win.

It is clear that a new Palestinian political leaderships needs to emerge, a leadership that is trusted by its own people and the world community. The absolutely necessary condition of that is cooperation between Fatah and Hamas. Both sides' leadership must actively engage in this effort regardless of how many more difficulties are created for them.

As for Israel, it will soon realize that it is impossible to win a war of occupation in the modern age. In truth Israel has already lost because it has made a two-state solution impossible by its continued intransigence and callousness, Time is on the side of the Palestinians; they must however close ranks among themselves and not remain entrapped in a power struggle.

Fr. Raymond G. Helmick, S.J. is instructor in conflict resolution, Department of Theology, Boston College. Dr. Nazir Khaja (e-mail: is chairman of Islamic Information Service, Los Angeles.

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