What we Palestinians need
Irrespective of what political settlement is ultimately embraced, Palestinians need a unified strategy for confronting and overcoming Israeli racism, apartheid and oppression. Mustafa Barghouthi*
outlines the basis of such a strategy
Palestinians have only two choices before them, either to continue to evade the struggle, as some have been trying to do, or to summon the collective national resolve to engage in it.
The latter option does not necessarily entail a call to arms. Clearly Israel has the overwhelming advantage in this respect in both conventional and unconventional (nuclear) weapons. Just as obviously, neighbouring Arab countries have neither the will nor ability to go the military route. However, the inability to wage war does not automatically mean surrender and eschewing other means to wage struggle.
As powerful as it is militarily, Israel has two major weak points. Firstly, it cannot impose political solutions by force of arms on a people determined to sustain a campaign of resistance. This has been amply demonstrated in two full-scale wars against Lebanon and, most recently, in the assault against Gaza. Secondly, the longer the Palestinians have remained steadfast, and the greater the role the demographic factor has come to play in the conflict, the more clearly Israel has emerged as an apartheid system hostile to peace. If the ethnic cleansing of 1948 and the colonialist expansionism describe the circumstances surrounding the birth of the Israeli state, the recent bills regarding the declaration of allegiance to a Jewish state and prohibiting the Palestinian commemoration of the nakba more explicitly underscore its essential racist character.
Ironically, just as Israel has attained the peak in its drive to fragment the Palestinian people, with geographical divides between those in Israel and those abroad, between Jerusalem and the West Bank and the West Bank and Gaza, and between one governorate and the next in the West Bank by means of ring-roads, walls and barriers, Palestinians have become reunified in their hardship and in the challenges that confront them. Regardless of whether or not they bear Israeli citizenship, or whether they are residents of Jerusalem, the West Bank or Gaza, they all share the plight of being victims of Israel's systematic discrimination and apartheid order.
If the only alternative to evading the struggle is to engage in it in order to resolve it, we must affirm that our national liberation movement is still alive. We must affirm, secondly, that political and diplomatic action is a fundamental part of managing the conflict, as opposed to an alternative to it. In fact, we must elevate it to our primary means for exposing the true nature of Israel, isolating it politically and pressing for international sanctions against it.
In this context, we must caution against the theory of building state institutions under the occupation. An administration whose security services would be consuming 35 per cent of the public budget, that would be acting as the occupation's policeman while furthering Netanyahu's scheme for economic normalisation as a substitute for a political solution, is clearly geared to promote the acclimatisation to the status quo, not change. Building Palestinian governing institutions and promoting genuine economic development must occur within the framework of a philosophy of "resistance development". Such a philosophy is founded on the dual principles of supporting the people's power to withstand the hardships of the occupation and reducing dependency on foreign funding and foreign aid. The strategic aim of the Palestinian struggle, under this philosophy, must be to "make the costs of the Israeli occupation and its apartheid system so great as to be unsustainable".
If we agree on this course for conducting the struggle, then the next step is to adopt a unified national strategy founded upon four pillars:
1. Resistance. In all its forms, resistance is an internationally sanctioned right of the Palestinian people. Under this strategy, however, it must resume a peaceful, mass grassroots character that will serve to revive the culture of collective activism among all sectors of the Palestinian people and, hence, to keep the struggle from becoming the preserve or monopoly of small cliques and to promote its growing impetus and momentum. Models for this type of resistance already exist. Of particular note is the brave and persistent campaign against the Separation Wall, which has spread across several towns and villages, offered five lives to the cause, and become increasingly adamant. The resistance by the people of East Jerusalem and Silwan against Israeli home demolitions and the drive to Judaise the city presents another heroic model. Yet a third promising example is to be found it the movement to boycott Israeli goods and to encourage the consumption of locally produced products. In addition to preventing the occupation power from milking the profits from marketing locally produced products, this form of resistance can engage the broadest swath of the population, from old to young and men and women, and revive the culture and spirit of communal collaboration. The campaigns to break the blockade against Gaza, as exemplified by the protest ships, the supply caravans and the pressures on Israel to lift its economic stranglehold, are another major type of resistance.
2. Supporting national steadfastness. The importance of this pillar is its focus on strengthening the demographic power of the Palestinian people so as to transform their millions into an effective grassroots force. It entails meeting their essential needs to enable them to remain steadfast in their struggle, and developing Palestinian human resources as the foundation for a strong and independent Palestinian economy. However, in order to achieve these aims the Palestinian Authority (PA) economic plan and budget must be altered in a way that pits their weight behind development in education, health, agriculture and culture, as opposed to squandering a third of the budget on security.
For example, the passage and immediate implementation of the bill for the national higher education fund would serve the educational needs of hundreds of thousands of young adults. In addition to elevating and developing the standards of university education, it would also work to sustain the impact of development aid and eventually reduce reliance on foreign support. The fund would also alleviate the school tuition burdens on more than 150,000 families, put an end to nepotism in the handling of student study grants and loans, and provide equal opportunity for academic advancement to all young men and women regardless of their financial circumstances. Equally innovative and dynamic ideas could be applied to other areas of education, or to stimulating the fields of public health, agriculture and culture with the overall aim of developing the educated, innovative and effective modern human resources needed to meet Palestinian needs as autonomously as possible and, hence, capable of weathering enormous pressures.
3. National unity and a unified national leadership. This strategic aim entails restructuring the Palestine Liberation Organisation on a more demographically representative basis and putting into effect agreements that have been previously reached in the Palestinian national dialogues held in Cairo. Over the past few years, the thrust of Israel's greatest advantage and the thrust of its assault centred around the Palestinian rift and the weakness of the disunited Palestinian leadership. In order to redress this flaw, the Palestinians must adopt a new mentality and approach. Specifically, they must: relinquish the mentality and practice of vying for power over an illusory governing authority that is still under the thumb of the occupation, whether in the West Bank or in Gaza; give up the illusion that Palestinian military might, however great it might become, is capable of leading the Palestinian struggle alone; adopt democracy and pluralistic democratic activities and processes as a mode of life, self- government, peaceful decision-making, and the only acceptable means to resolve our differences and disputes; resist all outside pressures and attempts (particularly on the part of Israel) to intervene in our internal affairs and to tamper with the Palestinian popular will. There must be a firm and unshakeable conviction in Palestinians' right to independent national self- determination.
The most difficult task that we face today is creating a unified leadership and strategy binding on all, from which no political or military decisions will depart, and within which framework no single group or party has a monopoly on the decision-making processes. Only with a unified leadership and strategy will we be able to fight the blockade as one, instead of evading unity for fear of the blockade. With a unified leadership and strategy we will able to seize the reins of initiative from others, as opposed to spinning from one reaction to the other, and we will be able to focus our energies on asserting our unified will instead of squandering them in internal power struggles in which the various parties seek outside assistance to strengthen their hand against their opponents on the inside. Only then will we be able to shift the equations that subordinated the national liberation movement to the narrow concerns of the PA (both in the West Bank and Gaza) and turn the PA into an instrument in the service of the national liberation movement.
4. Building and enhancing an international pro-Palestinian solidarity movement combined with a drive to impose sanctions against Israel. That such a movement already exists and is steadily growing is heartening. However, it will take enormous efforts to organise it and coordinate its activities properly so as to ensure it has the greatest possible influence upon decision-makers, especially in Europe and the West. Palestinian, Arab and Muslim communities will need to be orchestrated towards the realisation of the same goals. If the solidarity movement has scored significant successes with the organisation of a boycott of Israeli products, the decision by the Federation of British Universities to boycott Israeli academics, and the decision taken by Hampshire College and some US churches to refuse to invest in Israel, much work has yet to be done to expand the scope of such activities and build up the momentum of the solidarity movement.
The Palestinian plight, which Nelson Mandela has described as the foremost challenge to the international humanitarian conscience, strongly resembles the state of South Africa at the outset to the 1980s. It took years of a concerted unified drive before the South African liberation movement finally succeeded in bringing around governments to their cause. The tipping point came when major companies realised that the economic costs of dealing with the apartheid regime in Pretoria were unsustainable. In the Palestinian case, the success of an international solidarity movement is contingent upon three major factors. The first is careful organisation and detailed planning, a high degree of discipline and tight coordination. Second is a rational, civilised rhetoric that refuses to play into Israel's tactics of provocation. The third is to address and recruit progressive movements and peoples in societies abroad, including anti-Zionist Jews and Jews opposed to Israeli policies.
None of the foregoing is new, by any means. However, these ideas have yet to be put into practice. The logical springboard for this is to operate on the principle that while the Palestinian cause is a Palestinian, Arab and Muslim one, it is above all a humanitarian cause that cries out to all in the world who cherish humanitarian principles and values. The success of the freedom fighters of South Africa, the anti-Vietnam war movement, and the campaigners for the independence of India stemmed primarily from their ability to forge a universal appeal. And this is precisely what we must do. Our mottos for the solidarity movement with the Palestinian people must be "the fight against the new apartheid and systematic racism" and "the fight for justice and the right to freedom." The International Court of Justice's ruling on the Separation Wall, the illegality of Jewish settlements and altering the face of Jerusalem is a valuable legal precedent that official Palestinian governing institutions have ignored for four years. This ruling should now become our platform for a drive to impose sanctions against Israel, just as the UN resolution against the occupation of Namibia proved a platform for mounting a campaign against the apartheid system in South Africa.
The four-pronged strategy outlined above, which is espoused by the Palestinian National Initiative Movement, can succeed if it is guided by a clear vision, patience, and systematic persistence. I do not expect that it win the approval of all. The interests of some combined with their sense of frustration and despair have deadened their desire to engage in or to continue the confrontation with Israel. We also have to acknowledge that certain sectors of Palestinian society have become so dependent upon interim arrangements and projects and the attendant finances as to put paid to the possibility of their contributing to the fight for real change. Yet, the proposed comprehensive strategy does respond to and represent the interests of the vast majority of the Palestinian people and holds the promise of a better future.
The Palestinian national struggle has so far passed through two major phases: the first steered by Palestinians abroad while ignoring the role of Palestinians at home, and the second steered by Palestinians at home while ignoring the role of Palestinians abroad. Today we find ourselves at the threshold of a third phase, which should combine the struggle at home and the campaign of Palestinians and their sympathisers abroad.
In closing I would like to address the subject of a one-state or a two-state solution. It is both theoretically and practically valid to raise this subject here for two reasons. First, Israel has consistently tried to undermine the prospect of Palestinian statehood by pressing for such formulas as home rule, or an interim state, or a state without real sovereignty. Second, the changes produced on the ground by Israeli settlements and ring roads have come to render the realisation of a viable state unrealisable. To some, especially Palestinians in the Diaspora, replacing the call for a one-state solution with calling for a "two-state solution" seems to offer a remedy that gives relief. It is a better remedy, without a doubt, but it is a long way from offering relief. Slogans do not end liberation struggles. Slogans without strategies and efforts to back them up remain nothing but idle wishes or, to some, a noble way to avoid responsibility and the work that goes with it.
Now, let us be clear here. Israel has been working around the clock to destroy the option of an independent Palestinian state on the ground and, hence, the two-state solution. But that does not leave the Palestinian people without an alternative, as some Zionist leaders undoubtedly hope. The single democratic state (not the single bi-national state) in which all citizens are equal in rights and duties regardless of their religious affiliations and their origins is an alternative to the attempt to force the Palestinians to accept slavery under occupation and an apartheid order in the form of a feeble autonomous government that is dubbed a state.
However, whether the aim is a truly independent sovereign state or a single democratic state, both of which Israel dismisses with equal vehemence, neither of these aims can be achieved without exposing and destroying the apartheid system. This requires a strategy. Therefore, instead of allowing ourselves to become divided prematurely over whether to go for the one-state or two-state solution, let us unify behind the common aim required to achieve either: the formulation and implementation of a strategy to fight the occupation, apartheid and racial discrimination. This will lead us to something that is absolutely necessary at this stage, which is to move from the world of slogans to the world of practical activism in accordance with viable strategic plans that mobilise demonstrators against the wall, intellectuals and politicians and other sectors of society. It is high time we realise that diplomatic endeavours and negotiations do not free us from the nuts and bolts of actual struggle. We have one road that leads to a single goal: the freedom of the Palestinian people. There is nothing nobler than to follow this road to its end. This is not a project for some point in the future; it is one that cannot wait. Indeed, we should probably adopt the slogan of the freedom fighters of South Africa: "Freedom in our lifetime!"
* The writer is secretary-general of the Palestinian National Initiative