Raymond G. Helmick, Nazir Khaja
Arab News (Opinion)
June 26, 2011 - 12:00am

Young Palestinians, fascinated by the Arab Spring, have demonstrated recently in ways that ignore the contest of parties within their own community and seek simply freedom, justice, dignity and equality. Their movement is still small, only a couple of hundred demonstrators, determinedly nonviolent in their demand, gathered, but of course they were immediately flooded with tear gas and worse by the Israelis, who understand how vital it is for them to provoke nonviolent protesters into throwing that first stone.

The movement deserves to gain wings, and is the epitome of innocence and fresh hope, worthy of the dynamic that is flowing throughout the Arab world. Yet the most important development in their world is the pact between Fatah and Hamas (brokered by the Egyptians). That is pre-condition to any effective move by Palestinians. It is endangered now by the difficulty of agreeing on the makeup of the government of technocrats to which both have already subscribed. This comes upon the plate of both Khaled Meshaal and Mahmoud Abbas. Hamas refuses to accept continuation of Salam Fayyad as prime minister.

That is entirely understandable, given his history, of having replaced, by appointment, a duly elected government, and even having imprisoned elected Hamas representatives. There was massive Israeli and American pressure behind that. He is, however, the technocrat, not a man of either party, and a highly-competent technocrat, someone whose talents are genuinely important. To have him dumped and disgraced would be a humiliation to Abbas, and it is a basic rule in any such agreement as that between Fatah and Hamas that neither side should be humiliated. Accepting him as prime minister would equally be humiliation for Hamas, and unacceptable. The compromise could well be that someone else — a nonparty technocrat — be made prime minister. The Palestinians have plenty of highly educated and talented people on hand, and Fayyad could be made something like minister of development, with authority to do exactly as he has been doing in the creation of functioning institutions.

The Israelis will in fact fight tooth and nail, and successfully, to avert the single unitary state. One need have no sympathy whatever for the ambition to make Israel the “Jewish state” in the sense the Israeli far-right gives it, a state that is only for Jews and yields no equality to its non-Jewish citizens. But one can remain committed to an Israel that is the guarantee of the safety of Jews from the perils that have confronted them for millennia.

Perhaps the unitary state would be that guarantee, since Muslims were for centuries the haven for Jews from the atrocities committed against them by the Christian world, but there is a lot of fear and hatred to be overcome as a result of the last century’s behavior toward Palestinians, and we should expect that fear, on the part of a panicked Israeli public, would win. It may well be that a confederated state could result when those fears and the hatred have been stilled but that could only be later.

What could work now? It is time to recognize that none of the external parties — US, the Arabs, the rest of the Quartet — will do anything to help the Palestinians. That happens to mean, also, that they will do nothing to hold the Israelis back from a course that can only do them grievous harm. Israelis, if they continue on this course, will lose in a spectacular way, but that will be too late for the Palestinians. Many of us had high hopes from Barack Obama, but he has been vanquished once again by Netanyahu when he spoke to the joint houses of the American Congress, which acted as if it were his wholly owned subsidiary. If Obama moves again, it will only be after an election. The Palestinians are on their own.

No Palestinian government can have any legitimacy if it is not a movement of resistance to the occupation. The only effective resistance will be a full mobilization of the people to nonviolence, to a total noncooperation with any aspect of the occupation. No prison works without some degree of cooperation between prisoners and jailers, and that cooperation can be denied. Some say that the Fatah and Hamas leaders, looking instead to the UN for help, are afraid that a genuine popular movement of this sort would detract from their own authority.

That would be so only if they do not lead it. Any and all violence on the part of Palestinians is poison, and their own undoing. The pact between Hamas and Fatah is indispensable if any such campaign were to be mounted, but it would be successful. The people would suffer from a violent Israeli response to it — the Israeli response would be first and foremost an effort to provoke the Palestinians to go over to violence, as they did so successfully at the start of the Second Intifada, and it would take strong organization for the people to resist that provocation tactic — but they would win. Israelis, faced with that kind of nonviolent utter disruption of their lives would find themselves in the position of a Hosni Mubarak, unable to cope with it and forced to back down. They would still refuse to enter the unitary state, but their only alternative response would be to concede a real Palestinian state — granted that, once that existed and the traumas had been overcome, the two states might very civilly come to a confederation. We can respond with delight that young Palestinians have caught the essence of the Arab Spring, the commitment to freedom, justice, dignity and equality. Now it needs some structure to connect it with the realities that face them.


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