Is armed struggle leading Palestinians to liberation?
The Palestinian Authority government is in chaos. The Intifada has been leading the Palestinians away from their destination. The wall of separation is encircling the Palestinians, indicating that Israel is giving up on peaceful negotiations.
The Palestinians have poor leadership and a schizophrenic political response to occupation. They have given the impression to the world that on one hand they want to negotiate their claims, and on another, they want to fight. The current intifada, unlike the first one in the 1980s, is a struggle of despair. Suicide bombing is a tactic of hopelessness and bankruptcy of ideology.
For its part, the Isreali government is equally responsible for the delay of the solution to Palestinian suffering. It responds to Palestinian terrorism with its own brutal measures of oppression. The government has tried to establish political realities by expanding the settlements in the occupied territories, and it refuses to see the connection between Palestinian suffering and the struggle of despair.
How may Palestinians gain back their occupied territories and establish a state: Through arms or ideas? How may Israelis achieve lasting security: Through expansion of occupation or gaining acceptance in the region?
Fifty-six years of high- and low-intensity wars between Arabs and Jews have not yet delivered to them the clear message that force is the not a friend of either party. Wars have caused Arabs to lose land, people, and image. Also, wars have cost Israelis untold suffering and lasting security. Arabs feed on anger, and Jews feed on fear. Both fear and anger are infinite fuel for breeding mutual prejudice and aggression.
The latest tactic of Palestinian resistance, suicide bombing, has hurt the Arab and Palestinian cause by giving hawkish Israeli leaders an opportunity to gain support within Israel and in the US. Palestinian terrorism has diluted their claim to territorial and humanitarian justice. On the other hand, state oppression in Israeli-occupied land has fueled Palestinian street rebellion. But undisciplined militancy is not winning Palestinians political allies anywhere, inside or outside Israel - allies they badly need to establish statehood.
But Palestinians would do well now to abandon armed struggle, and invest in civil resistance to the Israeli occupation through non-violent tactics as an unswerving strategy.
Gandhi and Mandela figured out the power of ideas in civil resistance; they utilized the moral power of justice for the oppressed to erode the dominance of the oppressor. Civil disobedience and hunger strikes, are more effective than exploding a bomb in a restaurant. The peace groups in Israel are a serious potential ally. The world is ready to support the Palestinians if they change the formula of their struggle.
Through diplomacy, political marches, village social mobilization, economic boycotts, street theater, music festivals, and other peaceful tactics of influence, Palestinians can convince Israelis to leave the occupied territories. Civil resistance over time reduces the exaggerated fears that the oppressor has toward the oppressed.
Palestinians can only "disarm" Jews with ideas of co-existence. In addition, Jews can only gain lasting security through return of occupied territories and facilitating the establishment of a friendly Palestinian state as a neighbor and a future partner.
When I raise the issue of non-violent resistance with Palestinian and other Arab intellectuals I know, I receive mixed reactions. There seems to be a growing realization that Palestinian civic resistance is worth trying. But I do not observe signs of excitement among Palestinians, the concept of civil resistance may now be slightly gaining ground in the Palestinian community, inside Israel proper.
Poor leadership, however, and ambiguity of agenda of social change among Palestinians slow the birth of a new social movement for peace, justice and reform. There is a fragile nonviolence movement among Palestinians, but so far it has been unable to assert itself since its leadership comes from the NGOs rather from the grassroots.
So Palestinians now need constructive Arab support to divert the current intifada from a path of hopelessness into a path of peaceful resistance to occupation. If we ask Palestinians to change the nature of their struggle, it would be also be fair to ask the Israelis to seek peace through generous land exchange and creative offers for future cooperation in human and economic development.
Cold logic dictates that one day Palestinians and Jews will rediscover the humanity in each other's faces and start negotiating peace built on justice and sharing of land, borders, ideas and good will.
We do not know how social change takes place and what historical development will precipitate a new way of rational and human problem-solving in Palestine and Israel.
What is badly missing is good leadership on both sides of the conflict and visionary international support. The Palestinians would do well to review their strategy immediately.