Peaceful popular resistance is not a new option as its adoption has been considered throughout the last years. However, it has been marginalized due to prevalence of the armed resistance option during al-Aqsa Intifadah and the continuous Israeli aggression on the Palestinians.
The option of popular resistance started to regain some of its momentum, at least on the theoretical level, in light of the disruption of armed resistance in the West Bank (WB) and the relative calm in the Gaza Strip (GS), the fact which made popular resistance a matter of consensual solution at this sensitive stage in the Palestinian history.
However, the obstacles and challenges facing the Palestinians, and the related visions and calculations, confine popular resistance within theoretical frame and reduce the calls for its adoption to mere slogans.
Fatah expressed its support for activating peaceful popular resistance against the occupation after the failure of peaceful settlement and the collapse of negotiations, and in light of the hard-line Israeli policies adopted by Netanyahu government which rejects any halt of settlement building even for a limited period of time.
President Mahmud ‘Abbas has shown great support for the idea due to the following considerations:
1. Exercising pressure on Israel through the reactivation of the peaceful popular resistance which is a nuisance for Israel’s policies and plans.
2. Covering up the failure of the peace process by suggesting the resistance options which would ultimately be limited to peaceful popular resistance.
3. Attracting international attention to mitigate the Israeli intransigence and settle the ongoing Palestinian-Israeli conflict.
The choice of popular resistance was not on Hamas’ political agenda except recently. Indeed, Hamas started to consider this option after the Palestinian reconciliation agreement which was signed in Cairo in May 2011 and the rounds of dialogue which followed between Hamas and Fatah. This is due to the following considerations:
1. Relieving the pressure on Hamas cadres and supporters in the WB and giving them the opportunity to regain their powers and participate in the popular events against the Israeli occupation.
2. Reconciling with Fatah will allow for a partnership in the management of the conflict with Israel.
3. Changing the international perception regarding Hamas whose name has been associated with armed work and terrorism. This would allow the movement to communicate and extend bridges with the political and parliamentary circles in the West.
The Stance of the Palestinian Factions
The stance of the Palestinian factions is very much related to that of the major forces (Fatah and Hamas). Thus, factions with Islamic background do not show any enthusiasm about popular resistance and stress their commitment to armed struggle, while the PLO factions support Fatah’s stances which favor the former option.
Israel seems concerned about the Palestinians’ pursuit of popular resistance as its ability to legitimize the repression of peaceful resistance is weaker than its ability to confront armed one.
In many occasions, Israel has warned the PA against allowing popular demonstrations targeting Israeli forces and settlers. Thus, allowing such demonstrations in the WB would lead to punitive measures against the PA. In fact, Israel relies heavily on the security forces of the PA which show strong commitment to security coordination in addition to firmness in handling demonstrations.
Calling for the pursuit of popular resistance seems justified in light of the following considerations:
1. The apparent ineffectiveness of armed resistance in the WB and GS due to the division, which makes it necessary to find alternative methods of resistance enjoying national consensus.
2. The need to keep up with the spirit and essence of the Arab uprisings which have showed the effectiveness of unarmed popular movements.
3. Many Arab countries are preoccupied with putting their houses in order; hence, it is not expected for now to have a wide Arab role in supporting the Palestinian issue. Consequently, a smart nonviolent approach to the conflict is needed.
4. The need to foil any Israeli attempt to export its internal crises to the Palestinian arena where the recurrent escalation of military campaigns are under the pretext of retaliation to Palestinian missiles and armed acts.
5. The need to keep the resistance spirit alive and vivid among the Palestinians who are frustrated by the division and its repercussions. This will guarantee the participation of all popular segments in the battle against the occupation.
6. The need to embarrass Israel internationally and disrupt the Judaization and settlements plans. Any day which passes without a Palestinian resistance act makes their mission to curb the Israeli encroachment on the land and the holy sites more difficult.
7. The need to overcome the contradictory factional agendas through a unanimous agreement on a practical program to face the occupation.
No genuine efforts have been made to seek the popular resistance model despite the consensus by the two major forces (Fatah and Hamas) on its importance during the last reconciliation talks. Thus, the issue is still a matter of mottos and has yet to be released from political theorizing.
It seems that Palestinian parties are not complying with popular resistance demands due to the continued state of schism. In addition, there is the desire of both sides to maintain the political and security interests they have secured throughout the last years.
Hence, the demands for popular resistance are not expected to exceed the limited aspect of resistance as demonstrated in Bil‘in and Ni‘lin.
However, even if the division files are settled, facts on the ground indicate that no real breakthrough leading to spreading the popular resistance model is probable.
The possibility of Palestinian consensus regarding popular resistance in the next phase is possible, if the PA, Fatah and the loyal factions are convinced that being captive to negotiations would mean national suicide.
Theoretically, this possibility is enhanced by Israel’s violation of Oslo agreement regarding the PA powers together with its continued usurpation of the WB and undermining the PA. However, the PA’s fear of popular resistance, coupled with its determination to prevent any possible uprising in face of the occupation, weakens, or almost eliminates, any chances for the crystallization of this scenario.
The main obstacles and challenges facing the popular resistance option are:
1. The PA fears Israeli outrage which might entail the imposition of political and economic punitive measures, thus impacting PA’s role and entity.
2. The PA and Fatah fear that Hamas might exploit popular resistance environment to rebuild its apparatuses and restore its infrastructure which has been destroyed by the PA after the 2007 division.
3. The fear by the PA and Fatah leadership of losing control over popular resistance and its deviation from peaceful means to armed struggle.
4. The skepticism among a wide segment within Hamas regarding the feasibility of adopting this option.
5. The geographic obstacles which face popular resistance in GS as compared to the conditions in the WB.
6. The masses’ lack of confidence in the PA and the factions in general and the state of indifference which governs the behavior and thinking of the Palestinians who have been deeply affected by the division.
Al Zaytouna Centre thanks Mr. Mu‘min Bseeso for authoring the original text on which this Strategic Assessment was based.
The Arabic version of this Assessment was published on 26/3/2012.