Wednesday, June 29, 2011
A New Palestinian Strategy Unfolds
By Rami G. Khouri
While the Arab world is experiencing a historic series of citizen revolts against nondemocratic governments, something equally significant is happening among Palestinians in their struggle with Israel and Zionism. Very slowly, almost imperceptibly, Palestinians seem to be making a strategic shift in their mode of confrontation with Israel, from occasional military attacks toward a more nonviolent and political confrontation.
This development seems to be driven by two factors: that various kinds of armed struggle against Israel, by Palestinians or Arab armies, have had little or no impact on changing Israeli policies; and, that nonviolent political protests are more in keeping with the spirit of the moment in the Arab world, where unarmed civilians openly confront their oppressors and in most cases seem to be making headway.
The signs of Palestinian political struggle, as opposed to militarism, are most visible in four dimensions or incidents these days. The first were the two days in May and June when symbolic numbers of Palestinian refugees marched to the borders of Israel to proclaim their right to return to their homes. Israeli as usual replied with gunfire, killing over a dozen Palestinians. The scene at the Qalandia checkpoint in the West Bank north of Jerusalem was especially poignant, as Palestinian young men used slingshots – that great Hebrew Bible symbol – to pester the Israeli soldiers in full battle gear on the rooftops raining tear gas down on them. I suspect this is not the last time we will see unarmed Palestinian civilians march en masse in affirmation of their rights, whether in Israel, in Israeli-occupied Palestinian lands, or around the world.
The second is the flotilla of ships that is expected to set sail this week from nearby Mediterranean ports to break the Israeli siege of Gaza, even though the siege has been eased somewhat in recent months, especially since the new Egyptian government opened the Rafah crossing to a nearly normal flow of trade. The flotilla follows half a dozen others that have made the journey in the last three years with the same purpose: to challenge the Israeli sea blockade and affirm the rights of Palestinians to have normal contacts with the rest of the world.
The third sign is the Palestinian insistence on asking the U.N. General Assembly to vote this September on recognizing a Palestinian state within the borders of the lands occupied by Israel in 1967 (West Bank, Gaza, East Jerusalem). This move has incensed the Israeli government and its many proxies in the U.S., where a vehement campaign is underway to stop the United Nations vote from taking place.
The intensity of the Israeli and American opposition to the vote strategy is hysterical to the point of irrationality, given that a U.N. General Assembly vote in itself has very little practical value or impact in political or legal terms. Yet the Israeli response is telling of a deeper fear. What frightens the Israelis is the determination of Palestinians to use all available political means to carry on the struggle against Zionism and Israel, until Palestinian rights are achieved and Israelis and Palestinians can live in adjacent states with fully equal rights. Israel has never developed a strategy for countering a serious Arab political offensive against it, and it shows.
The fourth sign is the continued development of the global movement for a campaign of Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) against Israel, until it complies with its obligations under international law and conventions. Palestinian civil society launched BDS in 2005 as a strategy that allows people of conscience around the world to play an effective role in the Palestinian struggle for justice.
All four of these signs represent political actions that send a single, integrated message that finds resonance around the world: Israel’s practices against Palestinians continue to reflect a combination of criminality and impunity that are totally unacceptable, and people of conscience everywhere are taking action to force Israel, if possible, to comply with its legal obligations. The aim is for Israel to respect Palestinian rights in the same way that Israel demands respect for the rights of Jews and Israelis from the rest of the world.
Israelis and Zionists complain that this is a campaign to delegitimize Israel. That is not really accurate. The truth is that Israel and Zionism have gone a long way toward delegitimizing themselves, because of the way they deal with the Palestinians. If I were an Israeli, I would be worried, too, because this political battle cuts to the heart of the conflict between Israeli-Jewish Zionism and Palestinian Arabism.
The Arab-Israeli conflict is over a century old, but in practical terms it is starting only now. That’s because the contest is now one of clashing political and national rights facing off on a more level playing field, where justice, legality and legitimacy are the operative criteria, and, therefore, where Israel’s traditional strengths and the Palestinians’ weaknesses have little impact.
This commentary was published in The Daily Star on 29/06/2011