Since the end of the al-Aqsa Intifadah, the West Bank (WB) has been in a state of relative calm, amid a significant decline in resistance against the occupation, except some acts that can be described as “soft resistance.”
The main future scenarios regarding the resistance in the WB can be summed up in the following three directions:
First, for the soft resistance, which has been practiced against the occupation for years, to continue. This scenario is expected to unfold in conjunction with one of the other two scenarios.
The second scenario would see soft resistance evolving into large-scale non-armed popular resistance, a scenario that is possible to implement in the current state of the WB, but requires measures that both the Palestinian Authority (PA) and the factions can implement equally.
The third scenario would see the WB enter a new phase of armed resistance, similar to the second phase of al-Aqsa Intifadah. This is an unlikely scenario in the current circumstances, because of the PA’s political positions and security measures in the WB, and Israeli counter-measures. However, there is a fertile ground for this scenario in the future, especially if the PA reviews its conduct, and especially if the Palestinian political house was put in order on the basis that the Resistance is the main locomotive and engine of national action.
Since the end of the al-Aqsa Intifadah, the WB has witnessed relative calm, where armed and popular resistance against the occupation declined, with the exception of some activities related to the Separation Wall, the boycott of products from the Israeli settlements, in addition to some isolated incidents that take place from time to time in reaction to the crimes of the occupation.
The calm was further entrenched following the Palestinian schism, beginning in June 2007, after which the PA consolidated its security grip on the WB, banning the activities of Hamas and the Islamic Jihad Movement in Palestine (PIJ) there. It also implemented a strategic program to develop a new doctrine for the Palestinian security forces, through which the PA was able to prevent any opportunity for the reemergence of Palestinian resistance in the WB.
International laws and norms, and historical precedents, all support the right of the Palestinian people to exercise all kinds of resistance against the occupation state. In effect, the Palestinian people are required to continue to confront and oppose the occupation’s project to sustain the struggle against it, regardless of the mechanisms and dynamics involved.
However, resistance is not confined to one type. In truth, the peoples of the world, including the Palestinian people, have engaged in unlimited types of resistance, based on circumstances, the nature of the conflict, the abilities of peoples engaged in resistance, and the balance of power with the occupation forces.
Based on the historical experience of the Palestinian people, Palestinian resistance against the occupation can be divided into three categories:
First: Soft Resistance: This means nonviolent protests against occupation practices, including the periodic activities against the Separation Wall, boycott of products made in Israeli settlements, and other symbolic activities that are not exactly permanent and that avoid friction with the occupation soldiers as much as possible.
Second: Popular Resistance: This is the kind of resistance exercised by the Palestinian masses in an organized manner, yet not on a factional basis. This resistance is essentially based on mass popular participation rather than partisan participation, yet without this meaning that the factions have no role in rallying, mobilization, and organization. Popular resistance combine soft methods like civil disobedience, strikes, and boycotts against the products of the occupation, with non-armed and “semi-peaceful” confrontations with the occupation. Perhaps one of the most important examples of this category in the history of the Palestinian revolution is the first Intifadah in 1987.
Third: Armed Resistance: This means resisting the occupation through armed methods. It is characterized by the domination of factions, and the decline of direct popular roles at the operational level. Indeed, resistance factions are better able to recruit, train, and lead fighters, as well as arm them, and provide them with political, security, and media-related support.
One of the most important examples of this category is the second phase of al-Aqsa Intifadah, which was armed with rifles, grenades, and self-immolation operations; and the resistance in the Gaza Strip (GS), which armed itself with rockets, shells, tunnels, down to small arms in land combat following the Israeli disengagement from GS, especially after Hamas’s takeover of GS in mid-June 2007.
Driving Factors of the Resistance in the WB:
There are political, economic, and national factors that drive resistance of all categories in the WB, including:
• Increasing popular belief in the resistance project, especially after the recent Israeli assault on GS, for it represents the symbol of Palestinian liberation, even though no parity exists between the Israeli and the Palestinian sides. Despite the presence of Palestinian and Arab differences over interpreting the outcome of the war, with some seeing it as a Palestinian victory and others as a defeat and suffering, any analysis of the mood of the Arab—and not just the Palestinian public—will reveal pride in this project, which is seen as having achieved major accomplishments during the assault.
• The continuous decline in the hopes pinned on the peace process with Israel, something almost unanimously believed by various sections of the Palestinian people. Indeed, the PA President Mahmud ‘Abbas himself has stressed many times over the past years that the negotiations did not achieve anything for the Palestinians, and that the PA may resort to other options to get the rights of the Palestinian people.
• The presence of the Israeli army in the WB, representing a significant potential for the eruption of clashes between citizens and the occupation, without resorting to the kinds of resistance that lead to wars, an “advantage” that does not exist in the GS.
• Starting to achieve Palestinian unity, signing the reconciliation agreement, and forming a national reconciliation government accordingly. The Palestinian experience during the Israeli assault on GS was a new impetus for national unity, with the unity among resistance factions on the battlefield going hand in hand with political unity within the unified Palestinian delegation that negotiated on behalf of all Palestinians in Cairo. The Palestinian unity is being counted upon to expand the confrontation—in all kinds thereof—with Israel. National unity would also create a favorable political climate to agree on a national program that adopts resistance as a strategic project to confront the occupation.
• The gains made by the Palestinian people at the level of the international public opinion, which has started to accept more and more the Palestinian narrative of the conflict and refute the Israeli narrative. Support for the Palestinians has increased around the world according to many surveys in Europe and the Americas during the Israeli assault on GS. This support reinforces the Palestinians’ faith in the worthwhileness of the resistance, since global support for the Palestinian narrative could push the occupation to offer more “concessions” to the Palestinian people.
There are other factors that impede resistance in the WB, related to objective circumstances and the historical experience of the Palestinian people, and also related to the Oslo Accords, including:
• The experience the Palestinians had in the WB during the al-Aqsa Intifadah. During this Intifadah, the WB people offered a large number of those killed and injured, detainees, and demolished homes. It seems normal therefore to see hesitation in having a similar experience, which may cost them a heavy price without achieving political and national achievements proportionate to their cost.
• The disintegration of organizational and military structures of most of the Palestinian factions after the al-Aqsa Intifadah, due to the blows caused by the Israeli army, and the losses they incurred, whether having members killed or detained.
• Ongoing major PA restrictions and security crackdowns on Hamas and PIJ, especially after the split in mid-June 2007, which weakens their ability to participate in the resistance in the WB.
• The social changes that followed al-Aqsa Intifadah and the Palestinian division, which altered the popular mood of some segments in the WB. They changed from being “people under occupation,” into citizens seeking “well-being,” and that was a result of the policies of the governments of Salam Fayyad, which in one way or another are in line with the plans of “economic peace.”
• The new security doctrine the Palestinian security forces had after the split with GS, or the so called “new Palestinian” as envisaged by Gen. Keith Dayton, in cooperation with the PA. This doctrine represents a new obstacle to the resistance in the WB, whereas in the past, these forces were an essential part of the resistance in al-Aqsa Intifadah.
• The security control of Israeli army in most WB areas, the Separation Wall, the bypass roads, and other elements of Israeli domination that reduce the margin of freedom of all kinds of resistance activities.
• The PA strategic decision to prevent all types of resistance in the WB with the exception of the first category, which this paper defines as “soft resistance.” Despite the fact that Fatah has announced in more than one conference of the revolutionary council its adoption of popular resistance, it has not taken any actual decision in that direction, perhaps by virtue of its association with the PA decisions.
• The economic restrictions on Palestinian citizens because of the organic economic link between PA and Israel.
• The difficulty of exercising any kind of comprehensive sustainable resistance, because of the Oslo Accords restrictions, which linked the PA to Israel through security coordination and control over borders, the economy, and taxation. This makes any decision by the PA to rebel against these restrictions very costly—in an existential sense—for the PA.
First: Soft resistance would continue, through some anti-occupation activities, without direct clashes with the Israeli soldiers deployed in the WB. This scenario is expected to play out by itself, or in conjunction with the following two scenarios, since they are not mutually exclusive.
Second: The existing soft resistance would evolve into the second category, namely, popular resistance that is more costly and painful for Israel, and which would draw in larger segments of Palestinians in the WB. While factors driving the resistance mentioned above support this scenario, the limiting factors mentioned above as well affect its odds. For this reason, this scenario, which represents the best choice for the Palestinians based on their historical experience in resistance, requires strengthening the factors driving the resistance and mitigate the obstacles through a joint national effort.
Third: The eruption of armed resistance in the WB along the lines of al-Aqsa Intifadah scenario. This scenario seems unlikely in the current circumstances, given the nature of the political, social, economic, and security situation in the WB, which has been addressed previously. However, there is fertile ground for this scenario, especially if the PA redefines its role in light of the Palestinian reconciliation program and the active participation of the resistance factions in Palestinian decision-making.
• Promoting Palestinian unity, which will enhance the resistance in the WB, and implementing programs to build confidence between Palestinian factions and forces.
• Reconsidering the PA’s commitments to Oslo’s restrictions, and emphasizing its role in ending the occupation, rather than perpetuating the occupation through the functional roles it serves on its behalf.
• Agreeing on a unified national Palestinian program, which must endorse popular resistance in the WB, and engage mass mobilization, leading to resistance in all its forms.
• Removing PA security and political restrictions on resistance factions, especially Hamas and the PIJ, to give them the opportunity to activate the resistance.
• Engaging in mobilization in the media to elevate the role of the Palestinian people and individual, rather than promoting factional partisan rhetoric.
• Working gradually on steering the economy in the WB to be productive and economically resistant, instead of promoting a consumerist economy.
* Al-Zaytouna Centre thanks Mr. Firas Abu Hilal for authoring the original text on which this strategic assessment was based .