Middle East Roundtable
Internal Palestinian Dialogue:
The Non-Violence Strategy
Tawfiq Abu Bakr, CGNews in partnership with Al-Hayat,
12 July 2003
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In 1974, Palestinian political thought experienced an
upheaval with the endorsement of the establishment of a Palestinian state on
part of Palestinian land, which was approved, for the first time, at the
twelfth National Council in June of that year. Palestinian masses mobilized
in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip in a pervasive non-violent movement to
support the decision and resist occupation. No large-scale military
operations took place from beyond the borders. Instead, the external PLO
leadership relied on this popular movement, organizing it within an
institutional framework and discovering (albeit too late) that national
movements have significant influence on the Israeli public and on the
capacity to alter equations.
That was the first major political shift in the course of the PLO, which
prior to that only believed in armed struggle and military power. The second
major shift was caused by the December 1987 Intifada, in which weapons
played no role and stones represented mere symbolic violence, and the fight
against the devil, according to pilgrimage traditions in Islam that give the
stone sacred meaning. In that Intifada, popular activities gained tremendous
momentum, providing no reason for Hamas to resort to weapons. There was,
despite this, a broad distinction between political powers operating within
the framework of the PLO and Islamic factions. The Intifada had two
leaderships: A unified national leadership incorporating factions that
believe in peace and the establishment of a Palestinian state using
non-violence as a method; and a Hamas leadership, with Islamic political
factions, within the framework of another leadership.
The unified national leadership exerted intense pressure on the PLO
leadership “outside” to be politically moderate, sending a memorandum to the
meeting of the Palestinian National Council in Algiers (November 1988)
demanding unambiguous recognition of UN Security Council Resolution 242, and
declaration of a Palestinian state in a push for an historical
reconciliation. I was witness to all of this. The National Council approved
the demands listed in the memorandum, which I believe is the second shift in
the course of Palestinian political thought.
The first Intifada represented a shining example of the non-violent
movement. Blood won out over the sword, and the “power of the weak” won out
over the weakness of force. The Israeli army used force, and the Palestinian
masses retaliated with a wide-scale national movement without arms. When you
respond to force with non-violence, the victim is seen for what he is, and
the oppressor for what he is, without ambiguity or obscurity. That
non-violent Intifada helped to effect major changes in both Israeli and
international public opinion. We also exchanged places on the world map: The
Israelis practice breaking arms, and we feed the flesh of our children to
their tanks hoping blood is victorious over the sword.
After the first Intifada, the Labor Party took power, after an absence of a
decade and a half, and the journey toward peace was launched in Madrid and
Oslo. The movement of history started in a new direction, until it was
obstructed by Israeli and Palestinian extremists, bringing it back to square
In the Intifada of 2000, events moved in the direction of popular action for
a few weeks, away from weapons, and the Intifada reaped tremendous results
that culminated in the Clinton initiative, which surpasses the “road map” in
all aspects. At the beginning of 2001, and because of the failure of both
parties to seize the opportunity offered by the Clinton initiative, Hamas
and Islamic Jihad have taken significant control over the course of the
Intifada, and the Likud Party reached the top of the political pyramid on
the other side, starting a journey of violence that eventually reached a
Nobody on the Palestinian side was capable of ending this widespread chaos
and the general direction was one of daily death and incredible destruction.
Behind tightly closed doors, a number of Palestinian leaders talked about
the catastrophe we were inflicting upon ourselves by fighting the other side
with weapons they use so perfectly, and by losing Israeli and international
public opinion through killing civilians.
The other side raised the slogan: “Let the army win,” and reached the
conclusion that it is impossible to achieve this goal with weapons only.
Circumstances were ripe for a major revision. Abu Mazen refrained from
political activity for months on end in 2001, because the Intifada was
militarized, and reached an agreement with Abu Ammar (Yasser Arafat) in July
of that year to put a halt to everything. Nobody could stop that
militarization or the cycle of revenge and counter-revenge.
A number of initiatives to end violence took place over the past two years,
and thousands of Palestinian intellectuals signed public petitions demanding
an end to the killing of civilians in order to break the vicious circle of
violence. The petition was published in the Jerusalem daily Al Quds as a
series of advertisements, and timid movements took place in the Palestinian
and Israeli peace camps. However, the voice of extremism was more powerful.
Recent Palestinian public opinion polls show a significant change, emanating
from a conviction resulting from bloody experience, that the use of violence
brought us no benefits. A poll carried out by shows that a vast majority
supports a halt in killing civilians and reviving the negotiations with A
majority also supports the
“road map” and an historical settlement with Israel
The other side is witnessing similar changes, according to Israeli public
opinion polls. The latest polls show that a majority support the “road map”
and a freeze on settlement activity, including natural expansion.
There is, therefore, a conviction among both Israelis and the Palestinians
that violent confrontations have not solved any problems, and that both
sides have matured enough to walk down the road to a settlement.
For the first time, a majority of Palestinians talks of how the use of arms
in the Intifada resulted in the destruction of all the Palestinian people’s
institutions, the re-occupation of its land, the destruction of its economy,
and the unification of the Israelis behind a rightist leadership, when
realizing that the objectives of the Palestinian extremist forces are the
destruction of the Hebrew state; a war that is an extension of the 1948 war.
After September 11, the killer of civilians, under any pretext, is a
miniature Osama bin Laden.
Therefore, it was expected that Hamas and Islamic Jihad will bend with the
wind and accept the truce, especially since their leadership abroad were
subjected to severe pressures to accept it, as a result of new regional
equations after the collapse of Saddam Hussein’s regime. The lesson remains
clear, however, that in circumstances such as the Palestinian situation,
deliverance from occupation, the last occupation in the world, can never be
achieved through the use of weapons.
This is the paramount lesson, the results of which
should be firmly and strongly established in the minds of the public by the
advocates of peace and non-violence, so that they do not revert to the cycle
of violence. Abu Bakr is veteran political analyst, the director of for
Strategic Studies and a member of Palestinian National Council.
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