Ziad Asali
The Daily Star (Opinion)
April 30, 2010 - 12:00am

Palestinians have recently been developing a peaceful multilevel strategy to achieve their national goals of a negotiated peace agreement with Israel, an end to the occupation, and the creation of a Palestinian state based on the 1967 borders.

In the past, Palestinians relied first exclusively on armed struggle, then on armed struggle mixed with diplomacy, and then strictly on diplomacy disrupted by two uprisings in the Occupied Territories. The present leadership of the Palestinian Authority, headed by President Mahmoud Abbas and Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, is committed to preventing any return to violence and to continuing to seek a negotiated peace agreement. However, Palestinians are also adding a series of bottom-up tactics to augment top-down negotiations and diplomacy.

This strategy is being developed in the West Bank, while Hamas continues to cling to the ideology and rhetoric of armed resistance – although there is a clear disconnect between what it says and what it does – with tragic consequences for the people of the Gaza Strip and for the Palestinian national interest.

The most thoroughgoing of the new Palestinian Authority measures is the state- and institution-building program it is pursuing. Palestinians are working to build the institutional, infrastructural, economic and administrative framework of their state in spite of the Israeli occupation, in order to end that occupation. They are taking up the responsibilities of self-government while continuing to insist on their right to self-determination.

Palestinians are also increasingly engaged in nonviolent protest and civil disobedience actions designed to challenge an occupation starkly defined by the separation barrier and settlements that violate Palestinian human and civil rights. For nonviolent protest to be effective, however, it must be genuinely peaceful. It must avoid any hint of violence, including stone throwing, and incitement of any kind. Both serious collective discipline among the protesters and, at times, preventative measures by the Palestinian security forces will be required to maintain a thoroughly nonviolent atmosphere.

The models of Mohandas Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr. can represent a powerful tool to peacefully oppose the Israeli occupation, while not opposing Israel itself. This growing nonviolent movement among Palestinians is simultaneously emerging spontaneously from the grassroots and is being encouraged by the Palestinian leadership.

In addition, the Palestinian Authority has initiated steps to try to remove goods manufactured in Israeli settlements from the Palestinian economy and to discourage or prevent Palestinian laborers from working on settlement construction projects. It has also encouraged European and other states to take economic measures against settlement products and companies that supply equipment to elements of the occupation apparatus, such as the separation barrier. All of this is intended to challenge the Israeli occupation by making a distinction between Israel on the one hand and the occupation and the settlements on the other.

Palestinians should avoid counterproductive measures, such as calls for wide-ranging boycotts that target Israel itself, as opposed to its occupation of Palestinian territories.

These three new tactics – state building, nonviolent protests and economic measures – challenging the occupation, are no substitute for diplomacy. The conflict between Israelis and Palestinians is a political problem that requires a political solution, one that takes place through a negotiated agreement.

Violence and incitement are not the only pitfalls that need to be avoided. Palestinians should not be tempted by the prospect of a unilateral declaration of independence. And none of these new tactics should be deployed to delegitimize Israel itself, although they should all forcefully challenge the occupation in a peaceful, sustained, constructive and dignified manner.

As Palestinians rightly demand their independence and emphasize that Israel must acknowledge their own deep history and attachment to the land, they should acknowledge the deep Jewish history in and connection to that land as well. While neither side should be expected to renounce its national narrative, the bottom line is that to reach an agreement, both sides must make significant compromises on all major issues, including the future of Jerusalem.

The development by Palestinians of an integrated peaceful strategy for achieving independence is in the interests of all parties, including Israel and the United States. Anyone seriously interested in achieving a two-state agreement should understand, and welcome, this new diversified and peaceful Palestinian strategy.


American Task Force on Palestine - 1634 Eye St. NW, Suite 725, Washington DC 20006 - Telephone: 202-262-0017