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For Palestinians, non-violence paves the path to statehood
By DANIEL NISMAN
24/09/2011
The UN statehood bid is just one tactic in the Palestinians' ingenious strategy shift to non-violent protest.
 
Back in 2007, visiting the West Bank city of Nablus required passage through one of the most notorious checkpoints in the Palestinian Territories: Hawara.

Named after a small Palestinian village located in close proximity to Nablus, Hawara was known to the IDF as a magnet for pipe bombs, stabbing attacks and suicide bombers on their way to assault targets inside of Israel.

For Palestinians, the checkpoint was the cause of daily misery, crippling their freedom of movement and destroying their economy and livelihood.

In 2011, Hawara, along with hundreds of other checkpoints, was dismantled, enabling freedom of movement to and from Nablus for the Palestinians. As part of goodwill gestures to the Palestinian Authority, the IDF decided to gradually ease security measures, in spite of the fact that Israel and the Palestinians are still deadlocked in a bitter conflict with no end in sight. The only difference between today and 2007 is that the Palestinians have ingeniously replaced their violent tactics for civil demonstrations and peaceful protests, a phenomenon that Israel seems increasingly unable to counter in an effective manner.

While the images of young Palestinian children hurling stones at IDF tanks have captivated the world since the first intifada, the past four years have witnessed a spike in dramatic and high profile displays of civil disobedience and non-violent protest by the Palestinians. The IDF brass has repeatedly expressed its frustration with the IDF’s ability to handle these protests. Just recently, the popular whistle-blower website Wikileaks released the details of a meeting between American and Israel officials, where OC Central Command Major-General Avi Mizrahi reportedly stated that non-violent protests in the West Bank posed more of a strategic threat than violent ones.

Many of these demonstrations were organized with the assistance of the Palestinian leadership, foreign governments and powerful NGOs. Examples of such protests include the “Nakba” and “Naksa” day border marches, the weekly Bil’in and Na’lin security fence protests, and, perhaps the most prominent example, the Gaza Flotilla movement. Although some of these incidents involved sporadic violence between protestors and the IDF, they were predominantly peaceful in nature, and did an excellent job of keeping the Palestinian plight in the world’s focus while portraying Israel as the aggressor.

THE ISRAELI government still cites the security threat as the primary reason to retain control over the West Bank.

This assertion has been subject to endless debate over the past several years, and detailed positions both supporting and refuting the claim have been offered by politicians and security experts alike. Unfortunately, Israeli society as a whole has been slow to comprehend that the Palestinians’ adoption of non-violent tactics has now become one of the greatest strategic threats to Israel. It has breathed new life into the Palestinian statehood bid, and will continue to haunt the IDF as it prepares for whatever outcomes arise from September 20th onward.

The shift in strategy can be attributed to a number of factors: By 2007, security measures implemented by the IDF made it nearly impossible to execute a successful terror attack within Israel proper. The completion of the security barrier, combined with nightly counter-terror raids, prevented most Palestinian militants from leaving their neighborhoods, let alone crossing the Green Line to attack Israeli civilians. More importantly, the rise of Hamas in Gaza left Israel and the West with no other choice but to support what was then the “lesser of two evils,” the Fatah-led Palestinian Authority. This support allowed the PA to rebuild its security forces, restore the economy of the West Bank, attract massive foreign investment and aid projects, and establish the governing infrastructure that would eventually be a key component of its current Statehood bid.

As the vote for statehood in the United Nations approaches, the Palestinian Territories are still divided between Hamas-led Gaza and PA-controlled West Bank.

In the West Bank, the economy is booming, hundreds of checkpoints have been removed, and former terror hubs like Nablus are now patrolled by Abbas's Western-trained security forces. The situation in Gaza is quite the opposite, with Hamas jostling for power with dozens of extremist groups, and the economy greatly affected by years of fighting and the Israeli blockade.

Although no reasonable analyst doubts that Abbas’s statehood bid will pass in the General Assembly, there has been mounting speculation over the possibility that a non-violent intifada will engulf the West Bank once again.

To both the benefit and detriment of Israel, the Palestinian authority will almost certainly employ the same dramatic displays of non-violence that have crippled Israel’s image for the past four years.

Mahmoud Abbas, Salaam Fayyad, and the numerous pro-Palestinian NGO’s understand that violence has not only harmed the Palestinian image, but damaged their efforts and arguments for independence. Demonstrations like those which occurred on last year’s “Nakba” day, with the supposed descendants of Palestinian refugees marching on Israel’s borders in a symbolic effort to return to their homes stirred emotions not felt by the international community since the British quarantined the “Exodus.”

In addition, the Palestinian population in the West Bank largely understands that a renewed wave of terrorism will destroy their economy, bring the IDF back into Palestinian cities, and severely disrupt their quality of life. Furthermore, a return to violence would most likely prompt beneficiaries such as the US and EU to withhold aid to the Palestinian Authority, a key factor in maintaining financial security and order in the West Bank. A failure to pay wages to civil servants and security forces would only serve to bolster Hamas in the West Bank, a development that Fatah the West, and Israel need to avoid at all costs.

While the Palestinian Authority has worked vigorously to rebrand itself, Hamas has shown little to no interest in abandoning its terror tactics. Additionally, the group’s refusal to reconcile with the Palestinian Authority has served to delegitimize their statehood bid, and will prevent Mahmoud Abbas from addressing the UN as the legitimate representative of Palestinian people.

The PA’s successful adoption of non-violent tactics to boost their statehood efforts begs the question why Hamas doesn’t follow a similar path. The answer is simple: Unlike the PA, Hamas doesn’t subscribe to the idea of a Palestinian state as proposed by Mahmoud Abbas. A Palestinian state based on the 1967 borders is in contradiction with the Hamas Charter, which calls for the complete destruction of the Jewish state, obviously forbidding the consideration of a two-state solution. For this reason, we can expect that groups like Hamas and Islamic Jihad will increase their efforts to launch terror attacks from the West Bank in an attempt destabilize the West Bank and ruin the progress of its rivals in the PA. In fact, Hamas has openly criticized the PA’s statehood bid, calling it a “cosmetic” move that will accomplish nothing. The organization even went so far as to forbid protests in the Gaza Strip that support the PA initiative.

Regardless of Hamas’ strategy, the current Israeli government realizes that its campaign to delegitimize the Palestinian statehood bid is futile. No amount of YouTube videos, public relations outreach, or diplomatic initiatives will counter the brilliant images of flag-brandishing civilians marching towards rifle-wielding soldiers in a march for freedom and self-determination. If history is any indicator, journalists from around the world will likely be out in force attempting to catch the IDF responding violently, should another “Marmara” or “Nakba” day-style provocation produce lifeless bodies in their midst.

As the Palestinians continue to adopt such tactics, they leave Israel in an increasingly painful position: retain our presence in the West Bank, or risk complete political and economic isolation. The statehood vote itself will likely draw a reaction of even the most nationalistic Israelis, as the one-by-one “for-or-against” process will evoke memories of the birth of our own nation. It seems as though the State of Palestine has arrived. Let’s hope that its creation isn’t marred by years of war and violence, for our own sake.

The writer is an Argov Fellow for Leadership and Diplomacy at the Inter-Disciplinary Center in Herzliya. He works for a security consulting firm based in Tel Aviv and is co-founder of the Israeli Centrism website.
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