There have been several calls over the past few years to end the armed Palestinian resistance in favor of a nonviolent approach. But, as with so many aspects of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, nonviolence only stands a chance if respected by the other side.
Israeli propaganda has been very successful in some circles, particularly in the United States, at portraying armed Palestinian activity as acts of terrorism that are illegitimate and must be stopped at any cost. Consequently, these circles have come to accept the Israeli version that Israeli violence is simply a legitimate response to defend Israelis against Palestinian violence.
Needless to say, there is a great deal of mixing cause and effect in this version of reality since it completely ignores the fact that all the violence is a direct result of the Israeli occupation. This occupation, in fact, has been violent from the very outset and in different ways. The appropriation of Palestinian land upon which, in the early years of the occupation, Palestinians relied for the bulk of their livelihoods, was a form of violence and was backed up by force. Ditto the establishment of settlements and the illegal introduction of Jewish civilians on land and using resources belonging to the Palestinian people. The persistent and ever expanding measures to these ends pursued by successive Israeli governments, unhindered by any outside pressures, led many to draw the conclusion that the occupation was the expression of an ultimate violent process that must inevitably invite a violent reaction.
Add to this decades-old land grab the Israeli policies of assassinations, mass arrests, house demolitions and closures, and it’s no surprise that the internal Palestinian debate and balance of power has swung in favor of those that advocate violence as the only means of getting rid of the occupation.
Violence from either side, however, only serves to reinforce and harden attitudes. On the Palestinian side, some analysts have argued that not only does Palestinian violence invite ever more extreme Israeli measures, it only serves the interests of the right wing extremists currently in power in Israel. Indeed, this Israeli government has never given the Palestinian peace camp pause to prove to people that the absence of violence could be the best way to achieve Palestinian aspirations.
The best example of this, of course, was during Mahmoud Abbas’ short tenure as prime minister last year, when Mohammad Dahlan served as minister for public security. That government, which successfully forged a commitment from the Palestinian factions to enter into a ceasefire, was actively and intentionally undermined by Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon who, by continuing his assassinations policy, soon saw to it that Abu Mazen’s efforts came to nothing.
Now efforts are underway to repeat the experiment. In spite of the full agreement as regards the political and negotiating positions between the late President Yasser Arafat and Abu Mazen, it’s no secret that there were differences between the two on what approach would be the more effective. Abu Mazen seems to be taking another stab at a political approach and is trying to prepare the ground. This confronts us with two possible scenarios.
A ceasefire could be encouraged by Israel, if it felt that the international community and especially Washington was prepared to pressure and even isolate it, should it fail to do so. Abu Mazen’s success in this endeavor stands and falls with Israel’s readiness to cease its own acts of violence in all its forms. The assassinations and house demolitions are but the most obvious measures that must end at once. A wall is being built upon Palestinian land and its construction must stop. Settlement expansions must cease.
If Israel fails to reciprocate, and there is insufficient international pressure to force it to do so, history will repeat itself, and the Palestinian people will draw the conclusion that a nonviolent, negotiated and legal tactic has little chance of success. This could bring us another round of vicious and violent confrontations even fiercer than anything we have witnessed so far.
The international community’s role is essential in all this, because the natural posture of this Israeli government is negative and only with sufficient international pressure might this posture be arrested.