Will there be peace if Palestinians lay down their arms?

The world expects millions of people in Gaza and the West Bank to happily and quietly live under occupation. While laying down arms is a positive step towards peace, it is not enough to end this conflict.

Written with Dr. Marc Gopin

In the past few weeks the pro-Israel pundits have been recycling an argument that runs as follows:

If Palestinians were to lay down their guns tomorrow, there would be no war. If Israel were to lay down its arms, there would be no Israel.

This argument is based on two false assumptions about Palestinians. The first statement is based on the false assumption that the only impediment to peace is Palestinian violence, and the second is based on the assumption that the Palestinians’ main goal is to eradicate the Jews. The argument also rests on the false premise that Israelis are completely peaceful. Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish answered this argument in one of his poems.

The accusation is that I hate Jews.
It’s not comfortable that they show me as a devil
and an enemy of Israel.
I am not a lover of Israel, of course.
I have no reason to be. But I don’t hate Jews

I will continue to humanize even the enemy
The first teacher who taught me Hebrew was a Jew.
The first love affair in my life was with a Jewish girl.
The first judge who sent me to prison was a Jewish woman.
So from the beginning, I didn’t see Jews as devils or angels,
but as human beings.

Many Palestinians share Mahmoud Darwish’s opinion. They don’t hate Jews. They live, work and maintain friendships with Jews and Israelis, and have had good and bad experiences. But the argument is a cheap scare tactic. It demonizes Palestinians and equates them with Nazis. This kind of fear is counterproductive, and fuels the conflict rather than offers constructive solutions.

We – Marc and Aziz – have been working together for six years. Marc is Jewish, Aziz is Palestinian. Neither of us believes for a moment that one of us is waiting to kill the other.

Screenshot of Al Qassam Brigade video
Screenshot of Al Qassam Brigade video

On a political level, this statement is false because Palestinians in the West Bank did, in fact, lay down their weapons. Moreover, they use their weapons to protect Israel.

The Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) has recognized Israel. President Mahmoud Abbas in a recent interview with Al-Mayadeen News (Arabic) declared that the armed struggle is over and he is opposed to rockets, armed resistance and any kind of fighting against Israel. The Palestinian police are instructed to arrest anyone who plots an attack on Israel. They have been doing so for the last nine years, since Abbas took office. According to Israeli security officials, Abbas succeeded in stopping suicide bombings after taking office.

Abbas has focused on building infrastructure for a Palestinian state. He has worked for a negotiated settlement with Israel. Both former President Shimon Peres and former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert called Abbas a true partner for peace.

Abbas was elected by Palestinians on the agenda of creating a Palestinian state on the 1967 borders next to an Israeli state. But so far he has failed in his mission. So, the assumption that when Palestinians lay down their weapons, peace will prevail is far from the truth and ignores the underlying issues of the conflict and the occupation: territorial conflict, struggle over resources, and lack of political will.

The vast majority of Palestinians supported the peace process and supported President Abbas’ UN bid for statehood on the 1967 borders, giving Israel 78 percent of the land Palestinians view as their homeland.

The U.S has also lost hope in the peace process, with its envoy Martin Indyk calling it dead. Abbas finds himself in a tough place. How can he continue to justify the existence of the Palestinian Authority? Can the political structure in the West Bank survive people’s anger and frustration? Even as Gaza is being attacked, the PLO finds itself unable to offer any solutions, and is, in many ways, irrelevant. The Palestinian Authority in the West Bank has no vision to offer the Palestinian people.

A protester holding a poster with Nelson Mandela’s portrait, during a demonstration in the West Bank village of Nabi Saleh, December 7, 2013. The demonstration marked four years of the popular struggle in Nabi Saleh, while commemorating the killing of Mustafa Tamimi and Rushdi Tamimi by Israeli army forces, and 26 years since the First Intifada (photo: Activestills)
A protester holding a poster with Nelson Mandela’s portrait, during a demonstration in the West Bank village of Nabi Saleh, December 7, 2013. The demonstration marked four years of the popular struggle in Nabi Saleh, while commemorating the killing of Mustafa Tamimi and Rushdi Tamimi by Israeli army forces, and 26 years since the First Intifada (photo: Activestills)

The irony of Israel’s argument is that Hamas is using a similar concept. Hamas’ argument goes like this: The PLO’s recognition of Israel and renouncement of armed struggle has achieved nothing. The PLO has laid down its arms, and still there is no peace. Hamas argues that its violent 2012 confrontation with Israel was able to achieve more than PLO diplomacy and negotiations have achieved. The reason Hamas is able to gain support nowadays is Abbas’ failure to achieve peace with Israel through negotiations. 

Palestinians find themselves today between a rock and hard place. They know they have no chance of winning with armed struggle. They also know that negotiations are unlikely to lead to an agreement (at least not with the current Israeli government). Even non-violent initiatives like the BDS movement and weekly village protests against the West Bank wall are quickly accused of being anti-Semitic. It is absurd that Palestinians are expected to ask Israel, “What form of protest should we stage that you find acceptable and not anti-Semitic?” Many Palestinians feel that the world is blind to their grievances and aspirations for freedom.

So, let’s set the record straight. Palestinians are not Nazis. Palestinians, like everyone else in the world, seek freedom, recognition of their national identity, and an end to the occupation. They long for peace and reconciliation, and are exhausted by this never-ending conflict and pain.

It is ridiculous for the world to expect millions of people in Gaza and the West Bank to happily and quietly live under occupation. While laying down arms is a positive step towards peace, it is not enough to end this conflict. There must be a clear vision that ends the occupation and guarantees security and freedom for all.

Marc Gopin is the James Laue Professor of World Religions, Diplomacy and Conflict Resolution at George Mason University in Washington D.C. He is also the co-founder of MEJDI Tours.

Related:
Reward activism and diplomacy, not violence
Mandela: I was inspired by Begin’s struggle against the British
As Palestinian frustration grows, young man considers armed struggle

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