By Dr. Marc Gopin and Aziz Abu Sarah
In his speech to the Central Council of the PLO in Ramallah, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas announced his strategy to end the occupation. The President stressed in his speech that he will not retreat from seeking recognition of the Palestinian state from the United Nations. Abbas had been under enormous pressure to withdraw the request for recognition of a Palestinian State on borders of June 1967. He announced that 122 nations are already in favor of the draft submitted to the UN. Concerning US opposition, he referred to the fact that this has not been communicated in a formal manner.
President Abbas surprised many of his listeners when he spoke about another element of his strategy. Perhaps for the first time Abbas highlighted clearly his vision of the Palestinian people’s active participation to achieve the dream of a Palestinian state. He called upon the Palestinian people to go out to the streets and demonstrate in an Arab-style revolution.
I insist on popular resistance, and insist it is an unarmed popular resistance so no one misunderstand us. We follow the example demonstrated in the Arab Awakening, which says, ‘Selmiya, Selmiya’, ‘Peaceful, Peaceful.’
The Arab Awakening in Egypt and Tunisia proved that popular masses in the streets, shoulder-to-shoulder in a coherent, peaceful movement, can accomplish anything. What seemed impossible in the past is possible today.
The challenge is that most of the Palestinian demonstrations until now have focused on fighting the Separation Wall, and on resisting the expansion of the settlements at the expense of Palestinian villages. These protests are still limited in the number of participants, and they do not exceed tens of protestors, or hundreds in the best scenarios. This is not enough to create the political change that is necessary now.
President Abbas did not hide his disappointment about the Palestinian popular resistance movement’s inability to grow to a national level.
We talk about the Resistance, but when we see what is happening in these demonstrations, frankly we don’t find anyone talking about it.
Clearly, he wants to see this grow on a national level, and he wants this reality to become an established fact that will impact the global conversation and debate about the future of Palestine.
The success of the Palestinian Popular Resistance movement has apparently become a key factor in the Palestinian strategy for achieving independence. The diplomatic efforts to gain recognition worldwide are going to be fruitless if they are not coupled with a strong nonviolent movement in the Palestinian territories, which will make the march to independence an irresistible and newsworthy drama of unprecedented proportions.
President Abbas’ decision to publicly support the popular resistance movement is a sign of the success, however, of the valiant efforts of local Palestinians in their efforts thus far. They have proven what such popular pressure can do to support Palestinian diplomatic efforts internationally.
The real test now is how Palestinian popular leaders in the field translate the words of President Abbas into reality. They face the challenge of persuading many more people, thousands of Palestinians across the West Bank, to participate in a new national movement of popular resistance.
The Popular Resistance movement’s goal should no longer be just stopping the Wall or the spread of the settlements, but should move against all forms of occupation. The resistance of the Palestinian villages against the wall is important and effective, but without transforming this resistance into a national cause, a national goal of permanent independence, its success will be limited because it will not affect the international debate at this critical time, or put sufficient pressure on the Israeli electorate. The goal of this nonviolent movement must be to generate such a pressure on the Israeli government that the occupation becomes a heavy burden that it can no longer cannot afford or sustain. Remember that one of the most important turning points of the Gandhian revolution against British occupation of India was when his nonviolent movement was so massive, and their behavior was so morally superior to the British soldiers, so peaceful, that thousands of Brits back in England starting supporting the marches. This is when the occupation forces were defeated.
Peaceful resistance has a price too, however, and Palestinians must be prepared for that. Israel announced its intention to counter any large-scale confrontation in September. It must be kept in mind that a critical element of nonviolent resistance are casualties of innocents, casualties that if met by the population with absolute nonviolence, nonviolence but noncooperation and patient persistence, it will gain the sympathy of the world. It will confuse and hurt even some soldiers, and it will create the needed urgency in the international debate. This will propel the political independence movement to a much more accelerated pace, which is exactly what Abbas needs right now to outmaneuver Netanyahu’s strategy of delay and provocation.
The Israeli Defense Ministry is preparing to invest in new weapons to suppress the demonstrators, the equivalent of twenty-two million U.S. dollars. The Israeli government is worried about the possible expansion of popular resistance and its implications for the sustainability of the Occupation. This is exactly as it should be, and the worries should increase dramatically so that it creates an intense Israeli national debate.
It is important for the popular resistance movement to show strong restraint against the provocations of the Israeli soldiers in demonstrations. As President Abbas said in his speech, the victory of the Popular Resistance is through its commitment to the values of peaceful resistance.
Dr. Marc Gopin is Director of CRDC, George Mason University, and Co-Founder of the Middle East Justice and Development Initiative, MEJDI, a socially responsible dual-narrative tourism agency for conflict regions.