The Arab region is experiencing a state of inertia with regards to the Arab-Israeli conflict, a struggle supposed to exist and continue for as long as Palestine remains occupied, and as long as other Arab territories in the West Bank and the Golan Heights remain occupied. This stalemate has existed for quite a long time in terms of Lebanon, Syria and Jordan - the countries surrounding Israel; however matters used to be heated and highly active in the Palestinian-Israeli sphere until such mobility lost momentum on the Palestinian side, as a result of the "negotiations" endeavor. This is a trend that prominent Palestinian leaders, currently in power, show a strong inclination towards.
Here I do not intend to call for military action against the Israeli occupation – although this is a legitimate right – but rather I mean to point out that Israel will have no cause to negotiate unless real resistance pressure is mounted upon it. Such pressure could either be military or peaceful, but at present we neither have peaceful nor military resistance.
The current Palestinian leadership is not inclined towards armed military resistance, and overtly and officially it prefers popular and nonviolent measures. However, so far, this has only taken the form of expressing political stances, without preparing Palestine or its people for any kind of resistance required, and instead hoping to use negotiations as an alternative.
The Israeli enemy is an occupant force that will not enter negotiations of its own volition. As an occupier, it will consider negotiations only when forced to do so. At present, when Israel is certainly not compelled, it is continuing with its occupation and steering clear of negotiations.
The current Palestinian leadership, with its inclination towards negotiations, is deluded into thinking that Israel will respond to its call spontaneously, and when Israel declines to respond, the Palestinian leadership never considers any counteraction to force its hand.
Historically speaking, a prerequisite for negotiations with an occupying force is to mount intense resistance and force it to renew talks. If resistance is lacking, the occupier will never consider negotiations, for it is already in a comfortable state, and we can say that Israel is now more comfortable than ever.
This means that the current Palestinian leadership cannot fulfill its desired objective of negotiations without first relying on effective resistance against the occupation. This leadership, which has removed the term 'armed resistance' from its vocabulary and failed to organize any popular nonviolent resistance in its place, is promoting its ideas along the lines of a preacher; it only urges people to be peaceful, but fails to exert any tangible effort to make the climate favorable for such popular nonviolent resistance. Hence, the result is that the Israeli enemy lives comfortably; with no resistance or pressure being mounted on it.
Advocating peace and negotiations does not mean that you must relinquish resistance, otherwise the occupant force will continue. In fact, resisting occupation should be part of any nonviolent plan, unless of course the occupant is an angel, which it is not. Rather, Israel is an occupying force that sees no end on the horizon to its occupation, nor will it consider a change in its strategy.
The Palestinian leadership has a great responsibility to abandon the current state of laxity, which has resulted from a reliance on the negotiations theory, and then set a clear objective based on resisting the Israeli occupation with the ultimate goal of reaching negotiations.
Here I do not say this without understanding the consequences and hardships of armed resistance. I am aware that this requires organization, support, and first and foremost a political decision, which are all lacking at present.
The idea of popular nonviolent resistance has emerged recently through senior Palestinian leaders. The idea has its roots in history and was applied successfully in major examples such as in India, when it was occupied by Britain. This type of resistance was practiced until Britain gave up its occupation, and eventually India became independent. Yet throughout that process, it was proven that popular nonviolent resistance is not easy; it requires an active leadership to adopt a slogan, determine an objective and then act to ensure the prerequisites for success. Nonviolent resistance can never be successful if we content ourselves with preaching, addressing the public, or urging them to mount peaceful demonstrations, without engaging with them or backing them to undertake such a struggle.
For example, nonviolent resistance may mean a strike, which could affect whole of Palestine. If so, how would resistance be achieved under such conditions? How would the people live under an open strike? These are simple questions that must be raised in this context, which require practical answers on the ground, all being part of the responsibility shouldered by the leadership adopting such a trend. Yet what we see currently is that the Palestinian leadership – by putting forward the theory of nonviolent resistance - only wants to absolve itself from the responsibility of being engaged in armed confrontations with the Israeli occupation, without considering the consequences of what comes next.
Determining the political and ultimate goal of any form of struggle will act as an incentive for the people to get behind it. Yet, if we only urge the people and preach to them without making the ultimate goals clear, then popular participation will be of no use, nor will it be capable of exercising any kind of struggle. In fact, determining the objectives, outlining the methods and ensuring the requirements of livelihood are all part of the leadership's responsibility, a responsibility even greater than what armed resistance would involve.
Let us return to say that the Palestinian people have lengthy experience in confronting the Zionist occupation. They have carried out armed resistance against the occupation in the same manner that they have also exercised popular nonviolent resistance, but under a unanimously agreed leadership; the revolution's leadership and the 1936 strike, a nationwide strike that shook the then Zionist movement as well as the British Mandate of Palestine.
Each form of struggle has its consequences. Popular nonviolent struggle does not mean that the Palestinian leadership is absolved of any responsibility. If this leadership really seeks to mount nonviolent resistance, then it should take the lead and ensure the prerequisites for this, and only then can the people provide their zealous support. For the leadership to urge people from afar, this means only one thing: armed resistance has been abandoned whilst the climate is not appropriate for any other form of struggle, and this can only result in ultimate failure.
The writer is a prominent columnist. The article was published in the London-based Asharq al-Awsat on Mar. 28, 2012