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18 January 2018

A search for a Palestinian third way?

By: Daoud Kuttab
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The search is on for a new Palestinian strategy. The conclusion of the Palestine Central Council brought with it the official death declaration of the US-backed negotiations track. Hamas, which has been the proponent of a violent resistance track, has unofficially declared defeat of its rocket/tunnel strategy some time ago. So, without a negotiated or a military track what options are left for Palestinians?
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas hinted about some of the alternative ideas but his track record on some of them is not that encouraging. Furthermore, some of the alternatives suggested by Abbas have internal contradictions and all of them require a high level of buy in a commodity that was elusive at the latest Palestinian meeting. Hamas, which won the last held general elections a decade ago, and Islamic Jihad did not show up at this important meeting and many spoke out publicly for the need of much deeper personal change in the Palestinian leadership.
The options that were presented in President Abbas’ two-hour-long speech at the start of the Palestine Central Council included continued efforts at the UN, joining some 500 international organisations (already Palestine has joined close to 100), escalating what he called the peaceful popular struggle and increasing efforts to engage with Israelis. While Abbas did not mention the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS), the council did and they called in their concluding statement for support for BDS.
The UN and other international moves will be possible now that the Palestinians are no longer restricted by US White House or congressional financial threats, it is not expected that this will be a game changer in the near future. The engagement with Israelis has become much more difficult because Israel in general has moved much further away from the ever shrinking peace camp and there is a majority in government, in parliament and possibly in the Israeli public that is further to annexation rather than engagement with Palestinians.
This means that the only realistic and possible alternative that needs to be developed by Palestinians is the non-violent track which is referred to as peaceful popular resistance. President Abbas praised the first Intifada’s style of resistance and made it clear that he abhors violent militaristic resistance whether it be in the Hamas rockets, shootings or suicide attacks. On this he has been consistent but Palestinian support for a strong non-violent strategy has many requirements and will require major sacrifices.
Neither Abbas nor most of his Fateh movement are capable of leading a national non-violent campaign in their current setup. The majority of Fateh activists have become well invested in the Palestinian government and a look at the age of the majority of its current leaders shows that most of them are over 65, hardly an age that can lead and participate in a physically exhaustive and costly sacrifice that a national non-violent campaign will require. At the same time, there does not appear to be any willingness to shift leadership power to the younger generation of leaders, despite some lip service to the issue every now and then.
In addition to a strong committed leadership and cadre that is willing to make important sacrifices in order to make a national non-violent strategy work, there is a need to bring in many other elements of Palestinian society into this effort. Political apathy in all parties and factions are on the rise, especially in Gaza where people feel that they have been pawns in the hands of local and regional powers and ideologies.
A national movement requires a strong buy in from all groups and this buy in can only come if people are convinced of the tactics and strategies and have been involved in developing them. This will require a much more democratic process than the one we are witnessing today where the last presidential elections took place in 2005 and the last general parliamentary elections occurred in 2006.
Freedom of expression and assembly, important components in portraying a democratic decision-making process, has been retracting in recent years. Tolerance of opposing views was expressed in the restrictive cybercrime law that was passed as a presidential decree and has resulted in the detention of Palestinians as a result of Facebook posts and other attempts at expressing their point of view.
General elections, which are hoped for if the reconciliation process in Gaza is complete, could usher in a chance to hold the elusive Palestine National Council. A PNC meeting could provide a venue for major change in strategy and tactics as well as allowing for a new generation of leadership to help guide the Palestinian struggle.
If the leadership is serious about its search of a third way that can be a serious alternative to both never-ending negotiations and futile armed resistance, it must start immediately by ending its continued attachments to the elusive talks and at the same time loosen up its controls over basic rights such as the freedom of assembly and expression.
Much effort and work is needed between now and any upcoming meeting of the PNC to prepare the Palestinian public for some major changes. The time for a third way in the Palestinians struggle has been thrust upon the leadership. A wise and serious response to it will determine if it can make the needed serious change in strategy.

* A Palestinian columnist based in Amman, Jordan. - dkuttab@ammannet.net

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