Ushering in year four: A reassessment

On its third anniversary, the intifada has been the subject of a great deal of analyses, articles and essays. A quick review of the writings that appeared after the first, second and now third year of the uprising shows that they have many points of agreement, particularly regarding the intifada’s achievements and accomplishments. There is marked departure, however, in assessing the dangers the Palestinian people now face.

The gamble made by the Palestinian leadership–and one initially fully justified–relied on the assumption that escalating Israeli military measures and aggression reap Arab and international solidarity. But this is no longer an easy gamble, as matters today appear quite the reverse. This change is very serious and worthy of our attention; we can neither ignore it nor let it divert us from the main dispassionate truth of the Palestinian national struggle, a truth that has been a major factor on our success thus far.

This truth is that the Palestinian national movement is not like other liberation movements in circumstance or its source of power. It cannot, for instance, achieve its goals on its own; the Palestinian people alone cannot win the quasi-military battle against Israel. Therefore, without effective external support and energized Arab and international solidarity backing the intifada, our national movement will remain stationary, waiting for such assistance.

It is not an exaggeration to say that recent years have altered the international and regional environment and gradually shifted all levels of influence in the political process from inside the occupied territories to outside. This change demands the parallel reinforcement of political and media energies abroad, particularly in the public arena, in order to form a broad international front supporting the Palestinian people’s struggle and enabling them to achieve their goal of terminating the Israeli occupation.

This brings us back to the question, "What has the intifada achieved in its third year?" What can it achieve under these circumstances, given the international and regional transformation?

The intifada succeeded in aborting as a solution for the Palestine question the unjust and incomplete Camp David negotiations, which were crafted to relinquish Jerusalem and the refugees’ right to return, and to keep settlement blocs and the borders of the Palestinian state under Israeli control. The intifada also discredited the American ideas that were offered in the same framework. It succeeded in enhancing commitment to our national goals and rejuvenating the Palestinian struggle.

Furthermore, it substantiated American bias towards Israel and reinforced Palestinian national unity between the factions, particularly in the field. The intifada unmasked Israel’s lack of seriousness towards attaining a just political solution that would fulfill Palestinian demands, halted an increasing normalization process with Israel, and refocused international public opinion on the need to find a solution for the Palestinian question.

Finally, the intifada demonstrated that it is impossible to impose solutions on the Palestinians by unilaterally changing the facts of the occupation on the ground (despite that Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon remains convinced of this possibility). The uprising has verified that there is no room for a dual authority–Palestinian national authority and the occupation’s authority–over one people in this small geographic area, the occupied territories. There is no way that a national authority that seeks independence for its people can coexist with a foreign occupation whose objective is to abolish every pillar of this independence.

But tracking these events alone do not provide us with a comprehensive view of what happened and what might happen yet. The Palestinian intifada cannot, solely on its own, shift from a defensive posture upholding national rights and demands to a political offensive intended to reap achievements. Indeed, the intifada has remained almost static since the close of its first year.

For one, the intifada has not succeeded in becoming an uprising beyond these borders, as some had wished. To date, it has not succeeded in mobilizing serious political engagement that has the possibility of ending the occupation, nor has it been able to use the pressures that do exist to hasten a just solution. It has not accelerated the rhythm of Arab solidarity, nor realized the slogans promising an international investigation committee, nor broken the American monopoly on the negotiations process. It has not provided international protection, or even lifted the physical siege imposed on the Palestinian people and their elected president.

Obviously, these failures are not solely the responsibility of the intifada, but one cannot ignore what the intifada has reaped in the form of pressures on the Palestinians. Other factors contributing to these failures include the elimination of the intifada’s public protests and a shift to armed confrontations, a response forced by violent Israeli measures when all political options had been curtailed.

Internal, regional and international changes have all played a role in imposing a political embargo on the intifada. The absence of an objective reading of these changes by some Palestinian streams that ignore the importance of external pressure has contributed greatly to the situation’s deterioration.

These changes included the right-wing’s control over Israel with Ariel Sharon as prime minister, and the events of September 11 in the United States which then led to the so-called "war against terrorism." Afterwards, the Israeli army invaded all of the Palestinian Authority areas, and the United States prepared for a war against Iraq and threatened countries in the region that they must fight terrorism.

Under these circumstances, the Palestinian leadership accepted the roadmap. This meant that the intifada would have begun politically with Palestinian rejection of the Camp David formula and calls that international law be implemented, only to end in its third year with acceptance of the roadmap. The political gap between those two formulas is the best expression of the bottleneck that now exists, one that is growing increasingly complex and dangerous considering the recent Israeli decision to remove President Yasser Arafat.

How then can we exit this situation? It is clear that we can, if we master reading the changes underway and deal with them rationally and with farsightedness, without surrendering or subjugating ourselves in the process. The first step in this direction is to avoid any activity that might label the Palestinian national struggle as "terrorism". The second step is to reconsider the intifada’s public component, which has lain dormant for some time, by diverting confrontations with the occupation to a political arena where the enemy has little room to maneuver.

Even Benjamin Netanyahu, who now adopts positions more extreme than those of Ariel Sharon, was compelled as Israeli prime minister–under international and regional pressure–to accept the Hebron Protocol and relinquish 13 percent of the West Bank in the Wye agreement. When he was asked why he changed, he replied, "I did not, but the circumstances did."

Sharon’s security conditions and demands that Palestinians dismantle what he calls the "infrastructure of terrorism" are no different than the demands of any previous Israeli leader, including Yitzhak Rabin, Shimon Peres, Benjamin Netanyahu and Ehud Barak. But these leaders from the left and right never achieved their demands and–because of Arab pressure and the international climate–gave in on some basic matters in the transitional agreements. It is the environment that has now transformed these demands into real pressure on Palestinians and allowed Sharon to impede political progress while he enjoys the world’s sympathy for his positions.

Even this right-wing government had to change its tack when faced with resistance to the separation wall. Sharon has since declared that annexing the Ariel settlement bloc inside the wall requires the right political environment. This admission proves the importance of international players–it can still be ill advised to reinforce occupation with military force. Further confirmation lies in the United Nations’ vote where 133 nations stood opposed to Israel’s decision to remove Arafat.

It is possible to employ efforts that will alter international positions still more dramatically in favor of the Palestinian people, their president and their leadership. This external support is an instrument of pressure that no Israeli government can ignore.

Israel’s leftist Labor Party has been in deep crisis since the failure of its political project at Camp David three years ago. Likewise, the right-wing Likud will face the same fate when it becomes clear that a solution of surrender cannot be imposed by military means. Failure of the Zionist right-wing’s policy of force will create an opening for solving the Palestinian question. This is the task that the intifada must address in the coming period.