Despite the internal and external obstacles it faced and the occasional decline in its performance, the Palestinian resistance was gradually able to pose a strategic threat to Israel. The military operations of this resistance have sometimes put the Israeli occupation before serious challenges.
It is possible for the Palestinian leadership to resume an effective role if the conditions necessary for the success of the resistance were secured. These include the agreement on a unified national program to fortify internal security, preparing fighters as per the requirements of the conflict, shedding light on the phased and strategic goals of the confrontation and gaining permanent support of the Arabs, Muslims and freedom lovers in addition to the halt of security coordination with Israel.
In light of the Arab uprisings which have reflected the people’s will, it is likely that the Palestinian resistance restores its position after Egypt reduces pressure on the Gaza Strip. There is also a possibility of the emergence of many resistance movements or supporters of the resistance in the strategic spaces surrounding Palestine. Besides, it is expected that the new Arab regimes pursue the resistance option and open the door for media and cultural activities supportive of the resistance in their countries.
Forms of Resisting the Occupation
Elements Essential for the Success of the Resistance
The Arab Landscape and the Palestinian Resistance
The Palestinian Interaction with the New Arab Situation
The Palestinian resistance has undergone varied stages where its performance fluctuated according to the different prevailing conditions. Thus, it waxed and waned, faced many crises and enjoyed stability at other times. Sometimes, it resorted to revolution or entered war to face, for example, the Israeli incursions into Lebanon and the war on Gaza in 2008-2009. The Palestinian resistance has bothered Israel and succeeded to pose a real challenge which urged Israel to seek strategic preparedness as in al-Aqsa Intifadah. Further, it formed a military phenomenon when the self-immolation operations emerged in the 90s of the last century and the first decade of the 21st century.
Throughout its history, the Palestinian resistance had to counter crises imposed by internal and external conditions; however, the internal factors undermining its role were always the most dangerous and influential. In this context, the Palestinian resistance suffered the lack of seriousness on the levels of training, security fortification, military planning and arming. Apparently, the different political orientations among diverse political factions had the prominent role also in weakening the resistance.
On the other hand, external forces worked always against the Palestinian resistance and people, while supporting Israel. In addition, many Arab regimes worked to weaken the resistance just as they managed to keep their peoples subject to colonialism, poverty and underdevelopment. The resistance suffered many setbacks because of the policies of some Arab governments which chose the peace process, and which soon became acceptable for most Arab regimes. Still, the internal Palestinian arena was always subject to interference from different Arab regimes tampering with the Palestinian national goals and priorities.
Now that a wave of changes has hit the Arab world and caused the collapse of some Arab regimes, it is likely that the resistance faces new conditions which would affect it on different levels.
The resistance to Israeli occupation has many forms, they are:
1. Boycott: Boycott has different forms including political, cultural and social. This form of resistance is within the capacity of everyone, as every person can refrain from buying Israeli goods unless there is national decision on some goods which cannot be bought except from the enemy. So far, this form has not been achieved by the Palestinian resistance despite the lapse of tens of years since the usurping of Palestine in 1948 and the 1967 occupation.
2. Total civil disobedience: This level of resistance includes abandoning Israeli IDs (the Palestinians in the West Bank carry an ID bearing the Israeli number) in addition to not abiding by the laws related to occupation or reflecting its security interests. These steps are possible now taking into account that this form needs conscientious people who respect the general order to avoid chaos, and it requires the formation of professional popular committees willing to sacrifice in order to organize peoples’ civil affairs.
3. Uprising: This is an act of protest rather than resistance. The uprising is a spontaneous popular reaction caused by deep frustration and by the absence of resistance to occupation. When there is no genuine resistance to the occupation, people take to the streets to protest against oppression and express their suffering. Since 1920, Palestine has witnessed the outbreak of around 25 uprisings which urged the occupation (the British and then the Israeli) to reconsider its calculations due to the high price of seizing lands and controlling people. However, the occupation was able to elude the impact of the uprisings with the help of international, Arab or Palestinian sides.
4. Armed resistance: This is the most violent and advanced level and the most useful from a historic perspective. Historically, armed resistance was the most successful form of resistance to expel the occupation and colonialism and achieve the right to self-determination and national independence.
The basic fundamentals for the resistance of occupation or colonialism to succeed include:
1. Security fortification: Resistance must ensure high security to prevent any infiltration by corrupt or ignorant elements and spies. Security flaw is indeed very dangerous and it is even more threatening than the enemy’s espionage through technical means. Spies impose serious danger which impacts fighters and supporters of the resistance alike. In this sense, the Palestinian factions have failed to maintain security fortification and it was only in recent years that some factions have started to focus on this factor.
2. Exemplary leadership: It is very important for the resistance leadership to enjoy a very high moral standard which garners wide support. Leaders of the resistance must be virtuous, wise and always willing to sacrifice and lead the efforts against the occupation. This kind of leadership can gather people around the resistance. In fact, the Palestinian resistance has presented many exemplary leaders yet it seems that the urban-based leaderships living in luxury have always had the upper hand in final decisions.
3. Training combatants to execute guerrilla operations and martial art techniques within the context of popular war. Combatants must benefit also from technology, expertise and advanced techniques that are suitable to the Palestinian case.
4. Clarity of aims and objectives: The lack of clarity has negative impact on the fighters who become vulnerable and more likely to give up on the resistance work. Defining clear aims and objectives requires clear vision by the leadership and a national educational program in order that everyone would share the same goal. It is even better to have a consensus document on the aims and objectives of the resistance.
5. Persistent work to earn the support of the Arab countries hosting the Palestinian resistance. For this to be achieved, the Palestinians must be modest and work on the consolidation of exemplary leadership while demonstrating seriousness in facing Israel.
6. Ending security coordination with Israel which aims at revealing the secrets of the resistance, assassinating its leaders and cadres and destroying its infrastructure. In addition, it is necessary to postpone the talk about limiting weapons to the security institutions till after the removal of the occupation and restoration of national rights.
The Arab political landscape was not suitable for a Palestinian resistance, at least since the defeat of June 1967. The Arab regimes continued to rotate within the Western orbit, thus in order to avoid external pressures, they abstained from providing any support or appropriate environment for the resistance to operate
However, in the light of the changes in the Arab world, it is possible to note the following developments:
1. The peoples in the Arab world are now leading the change and they are always keener than their leaders on their interests. Rulers are usually motivated by their personal interests and their aspiration for staying in power or passing it to their sons. The peoples, especially in Tunisia and Egypt, are now taking hold and assuming control, thus transparency in governance became fundamental.
2. Arab nations want complete independence more than their rulers do. They refuse the ongoing subjugation to the West. Consequently, after their uprising, they will fortify their capacities after achieving internal stability.
3. Arab nations feel closer to each other more than they are to their rulers. The differences between the Arab ruling regimes are a consequence of prioritizing personal interests, weakness in decision making and the submission to the West, and consequently, the Arab nation remained shattered. The Arab peoples share feelings of unity, brotherhood and common destiny which will impact Arab cooperation and the work of the Arab League.
4. The parameters of the new Arab regimes will be defined by elections and the freedom of choice. It is true that the idea of free choice might need some time to become a behavior; still, the mere start is better than staying under the tyranny and control of security apparatuses. Periodic elections are likely to correct the course should the people mistake the way.
5. The domino effect of Arab uprisings will inevitably pressure rulers in calm countries to make substantial reforms.
6. It is noticed that Israel is accused and ostracized by the revolutionary masses where in Egypt, Tunisia, Libya and Bahrain they launched slogans and cries against Israel and those rulers dealing with it. It is unlikely that the new regimes accept Israel or have smooth relations with it.
7. The ethical dimension in the Arab revolutions was very clear. The masses sought to defend their freedom and to stand firmly against submission, tyranny and corruption. Thus, those who cling to the values of team work, cooperation and freedom would not give in and abandon their different causes. This will eventually be reflected in the work for the Palestine cause.
Does the Palestinian resistance have the elements necessary to cope with the above mentioned features? As the Arab arenas turn into areas of freedom and change, would the Palestinian resistance develop new concepts of work and pursue different methods and approaches? Would this resistance be able to have a new address to the Arab masses that will mobilize their support?
Therefore, those who want to benefit from the changes have to adopt the following steps:
1. Liberating the Palestinian cause from the cocoon of “Palestinization,” i.e., from restricting the cause to the Palestinians. Palestinization has indeed marred the resistance, marginalized the masses and made the impression that the Arab regimes are the key for regaining the Palestinian national rights.
2. Focusing on resistance inside Palestine where the Gaza Strip must have a leading role. In the West Bank, it is necessary to stop negotiations and embrace the idea of resistance again. The Arab masses would not support a Palestinian side which maintains security coordination with Israel.
3. Developing programs which aim at making the Palestinian resistance an integral part of the work towards liberating the Arab land and expelling Western colonialism from the Arab region.
4. Acting as a role model and abandoning improvisation, intolerance and extortion. This requires adjusting the ethics governing bearing arms and the security fortification and ethics that consider the geographic location of the resistance.
5. Achieving Palestinian national unity on the basis of resistance rather than bargain in addition to unifying the Palestinian resistance under one military leadership with a unified military doctrine.
The expectations in the short and long terms are as follows:
First: In the short term, the Egyptian masses will pressure to phase out Camp David Accord related to Sinai and to cancel the natural gas agreement signed with Israel. This approach is clear through the bombing of the gas pipelines which transport Egyptian gas to Israel. The Egyptian interim regime is already easing the pressure on the Gaza Strip where it intends to open the Rafah border crossing on a daily basis. Indeed, we have started to see change and the Arab resistance in Sinai and Palestine seems to enjoy better conditions now.
Second: In the long run, the Palestinian resistance will enjoy freedom in media and educational work in different Arab arenas and it will be able to interact with the masses with more ease. This will provide the resistance with wide support on the public, moral and financial levels. The new regimes will face pressures from the West to restrict public resistance in the Arab countries; however, the will of the people would prove to be stronger. This will eventually be reflected on the different Arab institutions such as the Arab League which might reconsider its policies and tend to align itself with the resistance rather than the peace settlement bloc. Consequently, resistance will enjoy Arab legitimacy.
1. Putting the Palestinian house in order and setting national priorities in a way that the resistance regains its status and role.
2. Networking with the new Arab regimes, other official Arab institutions, the elites and the active forces present in the Arab arena in order to support the Palestinian national choices.
3. Developing new strategies which take into account the different aspects of resistance: boycott in all its forms, total civil disobedience, popular uprising and military resistance.
4. Pressuring countries to stop normalizing with Israel and providing it with moral and material support.
5. Making the liberation of Palestine and the restoration of the usurped rights a daily program on the agenda of Arabs, Muslims and freedom lovers of the world.
Al-Zaytouna Centre thanks Dr. ‘Abdul Sattar Kassem for authoring the original text on which this Strategic Assessment was based.
The Arabic version of this Assessment was published on 19/05/2011