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Internal Palestinian Dialogue: the Non-Violence Strategy
Last uploaded : Thursday 17th Jul 2003 at 16:08
Contributed by : Tawfiq Abu Bakr


12 July 2003
In 1974, Palestinian political thought experienced an upheaval with the endorsement of the establishment of a Palestinian state on part of Palestinian land, which was approved, for the first time, at the twelfth National Council in June of that year. Palestinian masses mobilized in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip in a pervasive non-violent movement to support the decision and resist occupation. No large-scale military operations took place from beyond the borders. Instead, the external PLO leadership relied on this popular movement, organizing it within an institutional framework and discovering (albeit too late) that national movements have significant influence on the Israeli public and on the capacity to alter equations.

That was the first major political shift in the course of the PLO, which prior to that only believed in armed struggle and military power. The second major shift was caused by the December 1987 Intifada, in which weapons played no role and stones represented mere symbolic violence, and the fight against the devil, according to pilgrimage traditions in Islam that give the stone sacred meaning. In that Intifada, popular activities gained tremendous momentum, providing no reason for Hamas to resort to weapons. There was, despite this, a broad distinction between political powers operating within the framework of the PLO and Islamic factions. The Intifada had two leaderships: A unified national leadership incorporating factions that believe in peace and the establishment of a Palestinian state using non-violence as a method; and a Hamas leadership, with Islamic political factions, within the framework of another leadership.

The unified national leadership exerted intense pressure on the PLO leadership ?outside? to be politically moderate, sending a memorandum to the meeting of the Palestinian National Council in Algiers (November 1988) demanding unambiguous recognition of UN Security Council Resolution 242, and declaration of a Palestinian state in a push for an historical reconciliation. I was witness to all of this. The National Council approved the demands listed in the memorandum, which I believe is the second shift in the course of Palestinian political thought.

The first Intifada represented a shining example of the non-violent movement. Blood won out over the sword, and the ?power of the weak? won out over the weakness of force. The Israeli army used force, and the Palestinian masses retaliated with a wide-scale national movement without arms. When you respond to force with non-violence, the victim is seen for what he is, and the oppressor for what he is, without ambiguity or obscurity. That non-violent Intifada helped to effect major changes in both Israeli and international public opinion. We also exchanged places on the world map: The Israelis practice breaking arms, and we feed the flesh of our children to their tanks hoping blood is victorious over the sword.

After the first Intifada, the Labor Party took power, after an absence of a decade and a half, and the journey toward peace was launched in Madrid and Oslo. The movement of history started in a new direction, until it was obstructed by Israeli and Palestinian extremists, bringing it back to square one.

In the Intifada of 2000, events moved in the direction of popular action for a few weeks, away from weapons, and the Intifada reaped tremendous results that culminated in the Clinton initiative, which surpasses the ?road map? in all aspects. At the beginning of 2001, and because of the failure of both parties to seize the opportunity offered by the Clinton initiative, Hamas and Islamic Jihad have taken significant control over the course of the Intifada, and the Likud Party reached the top of the political pyramid on the other side, starting a journey of violence that eventually reached a dead end.

Nobody on the Palestinian side was capable of ending this widespread chaos and the general direction was one of daily death and incredible destruction. Behind tightly closed doors, a number of Palestinian leaders talked about the catastrophe we were inflicting upon ourselves by fighting the other side with weapons they use so perfectly, and by losing Israeli and international public opinion through killing civilians.

The other side raised the slogan: ?Let the army win,? and reached the conclusion that it is impossible to achieve this goal with weapons only. Circumstances were ripe for a major revision. Abu Mazen refrained from
political activity for months on end in 2001, because the Intifada was militarized, and reached an agreement with Abu Ammar (Yasser Arafat) in July of that year to put a halt to everything. Nobody could stop that militarization or the cycle of revenge and counter-revenge.

A number of initiatives to end violence took place over the past two years, and thousands of Palestinian intellectuals signed public petitions demanding an end to the killing of civilians in order to break the vicious circle of violence. The petition was published in the Jerusalem daily Al Quds as a series of advertisements, and timid movements took place in the Palestinian and Israeli peace camps. However, the voice of extremism was more powerful.

Recent Palestinian public opinion polls show a significant change, emanating from a conviction resulting from bloody experience, that the use of violence brought us no benefits. A poll carried out by shows that a vast majority supports a halt in killing civilians and reviving the negotiations with A majority also supports the
?road map? and an historical settlement with Israel

The other side is witnessing similar changes, according to Israeli public opinion polls. The latest polls show that a majority support the ?road map? and a freeze on settlement activity, including natural expansion.

There is, therefore, a conviction among both Israelis and the Palestinians that violent confrontations have not solved any problems, and that both sides have matured enough to walk down the road to a settlement.

For the first time, a majority of Palestinians talks of how the use of arms in the Intifada resulted in the destruction of all the Palestinian people?s institutions, the re-occupation of its land, the destruction of its economy, and the unification of the Israelis behind a rightist leadership, when realizing that the objectives of the Palestinian extremist forces are the destruction of the Hebrew state; a war that is an extension of the 1948 war. After September 11, the killer of civilians, under any pretext, is a miniature Osama bin Laden.

Therefore, it was expected that Hamas and Islamic Jihad will bend with the wind and accept the truce, especially since their leadership abroad were subjected to severe pressures to accept it, as a result of new regional equations after the collapse of Saddam Hussein?s regime. The lesson remains clear, however, that in circumstances such as the Palestinian situation, deliverance from occupation, the last occupation in the world, can never be achieved through the use of weapons.

This is the paramount lesson, the results of which should be firmly and strongly established in the minds of the public by the advocates of peace and non-violence, so that they do not revert to the cycle of violence.
Abu Bakr is a veteran political analyst, the director of Strategic Studies for, and member of the Palestinian National Council.

JewishComment is grateful to Common Ground News Service for Copyright Clearance. First published in Al-Hayat in conjunction with CG News.




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