Historically, popular resistance represented a precursor to armed forms of resistance against the occupation. It was the instrument wielded repeatedly in Palestine against the occupation. A number of objective factors are strengthening popular resistance as an option in the West Bank (WB), including: the Arab revolutions; the new termination of the peace process; the 2014 war on the Gaza Strip (GS); and settler attacks, ongoing Judaization of Jerusalem, and the clashes in the holy city, in addition to other factors.
At the same time, other factors inhibit popular resistance, such as the mentality of the current Palestinian leadership; security coordination with Israel; economic pacification strategy; and political division.
In light of all this, there are three possible scenarios: the favorable factors lead to full-scale popular resistance; the current situation continues unchanged; or a new phase of negotiations and the economic pacification project is launched bringing more years of calm in the WB.
The 2014 GS war brought back questions about resistance in the WB. The contrast was stark between an enclave under siege fighting a long war using effective military tools and tactics, holding its ground, and achieving field successes, and the WB, which could not join or match the confrontation fought in GS. There was an obvious need to understand the objective reasons that produced the “symbolic” solidarity in the WB, as opposed to the real confrontation seen in GS.
This assessment is an attempt to explore the prospects for the restoration of an effective form of resistance, namely popular resistance, which the Palestinian people had experienced over successive eras of their modern history. By this, we mean the broad popular adoption and involvement of various segments of society in the direct confrontation with the occupation. They would use various methods in achieving Palestinian national aspirations. This study primarily seeks to diagnose objective factors that drive popular resistance, and those that impede it, and then come out with possible scenarios and recommendations.
Popular resistance formed an essential part of the Palestinian national project from the early stages of resistance against British occupation in the uprising of al-Quds or Mawsim al-Nabi Musa (Prophet Moses Season) in 1920, al-Buraq revolution in 1929, and the Arab Revolt in Palestine, particularly in its first phase from 1936 to 1937. It was also one of the most important methods in the later stages; in the 1987 Palestinian Intifadah, al-Aqsa Tunnel Riots of 1996, and in the beginnings of the al-Aqsa Intifadah in 2000. A brief analysis of the Palestinian national experience gives us two conclusions:
First: Popular resistance and large-scope popular uprisings were a prerequisite of any organized armed movement, because they formed the buds of the popular incubator that allows evolution towards organized and relatively stable armed struggle, and provides it with safe havens, recruits, and resources.
Second: Popular resistance was the most common tool of resistance in the land of Palestine, and it was present in almost every confrontation that took place in Palestine; providing direct occupation was present.
First: Objective Factors Driving Popular Resistance in the WB:
1. Arab Popular Uprisings: Or the so-called “Arab Spring.” These revolutions, since 2010, vindicated the concept of the people’s power, and the effective role of making change. The revolutions brought back questions about the role of the Palestinian masses, who were always pioneering and active in confronting the occupation. However, the Palestinian masses were nearly absent when their counterparts were leading the scene in Tunisia, Egypt, and Yemen. We can consider this factor less effective today.
2. The Peace Process Reaches A New Dead End: The impasse that the Oslo negotiations and beyond in Camp David in 2000 reached, and the failure to agree on Jerusalem or the independent Palestinian state, are all among the most prominent factors that paved the way for al-Aqsa Intifadah of 2000. The United States and world powers were keen to re-launch the “peace process” from this standpoint. We thus saw the Annapolis conference in 2007, but continuing the peace process indefinitely without results was impossible. US Secretary of State John Kerry came up with a new initiative for a framework agreement to bring about achievements that can revive and maintain this process. This explains the “messianic” character of Kerry’s perseverance in this regard. However, his failure to get it approved and get Israeli consent to it brought the Annapolis experience to a new dead end, which in one form or the other brought back the situation that had paved the way for al-Aqsa Intifadah in 2000.
3. The GS War in 2014: and the paradoxical state between two societies, two authorities, and two realities where the disparity lies in their strategies and visions for the national project, and where one is under siege and isolation yet it makes achievements, and the second is well-funded, supported, open and yet fails to achieve security for its residents.
4. Settler Attacks and Excessive Settlement Building: The security coordination and the pacifying economic project of the PA and its successive governments since 2007 produced a society without teeth. Meanwhile, the Israeli authority, which is moving more and more towards the absolute control of the Israeli right, produced more settlements and support for the settlers. All this led to a state of unprecedented dominance by the settlers over Palestinian resources and communities in the WB, especially in the villages and roads in “Area A,” according to the Oslo Accords division of WB areas. This has promoted among Palestinians the sense of need to confront and protect themselves, especially in light of a political decision not to confront the Israelis with Palestinian police forces, and the latter’s subsequent inability to provide any protection for its citizens.
5. Ongoing Judaization of Jerusalem and Ongoing Confrontation: The al-Aqsa Mosque is being targeted for both temporal and spatial partitioning. Settlement building continues in Jerusalem, and Jerusalemites are being placed under very bad conditions to force them to migrate. The possibility that Jerusalem will be a part, even symbolically, of any Palestinian state arising from the settlement process has become impossible in the eyes of those living the reality of the WB, and it has become clear that the holy sites and the Palestinian fundamentls, and the identity and presence in Jerusalem, will be lost if things continue as they are. This also reproduces in some way the foundational conditions that led to the al-Aqsa Intifadah in 2000. But in addition to that, Jerusalem is witnessing today a continuous state of ignition, with daily confrontations moving between Bab Hatta, Silwan, Ras al-‘Amud, Shu‘afat, the Shu‘afat Refugee Camp, Qalandiya checkpoint, and Issawiyah, with clashes breaking out endlessly due to various Israeli provocations: Storming of al-Aqsa mosque, bans on prayers, attempts to arrest, the evacuation of homes, demolition of houses, or even the opening of new facilities belonging to the municipality. We can say that Jerusalem has witnessed over the past two years continuous popular confrontations that circumstances have not yet allowed to move to the adjacent surroundings in the WB.
6. Continuation of Individual Military Attacks: 2013 and 2014 saw a dramatic rise in individual resistance operations, including attacks by bulldozers and cars, sniping and attacks using firearms, and kidnapping of settlers. These attacks, even though not yet widespread and systematic, indicate the presence of a latent and persistent resistance impeded by the current circumstances – which we will discuss in detail below – from expressing itself. However, this resistance may be able to evolve and adapt to appear in other forms that are more likely to spread and be embraced, and popular resistance is one of these forms.
7. The Political Environment Surrounding the WB: The WB is geographically isolated. Israel surrounds it from three sides, and Jordan from the fourth side. Both Israel and Jordan are in agreement over not allowing the emergence of armed resistance in the WB, and on ensuring that there would be no way to arm, supply, and organize said resistance. This makes it almost impossible to create infrastructure there for manufacturing weapons, and organizing and training fighters. Furthermore, the Israeli settler and military presence perforates the WB thoroughly, making popular resistance the most logical choice. Despite the fact that major urban centers are under the control of the Palestinian Authority (PA), it will not be difficult or impossible to find points of contact with the Occupation. At the same time, there is another variable that could influence matters represented by the successive attempts of the Israeli government to outlaw the Islamist movement in the territories occupied in 1948. If this happens, popular resistance and civil disobedience becomes one of its most prominent choices.
8. Formal Agreement on Popular Resistance: Popular resistance was the future strategy agreed upon by Fatah and Hamas in the Mecca Agreement of 2007, which Fatah endorsed in its Sixth General Conference in Bethlehem in 2009. It is also a slogan raised by leftwing factions and Palestinian forces such as the Popular Initiative, which grants broad legitimacy to this form of resistance, even through adopting it on the ground was a face-saving way out from the bipolarity of resistance/negotiations, more than being a strategic instrument that all sides truly meant to activate.
Second: Objective Factors That Inhibit Popular Resistance:
1. The Functional Role of the Palestinian Leadership: The Oslo Accords has succeeded in remolding the Palestinian leadership and its definition of “national interests.” This leadership moved into thinking in the logic of preserving and sustaining its entity, which is the logic of states, before it had a state. It thus defines everything that affects this entity and the survival of the PA as a threat, including armed resistance or popular resistance. Everything that could lead to cutting off aid and subservience to international support becomes a threat. Accordingly, the Intifadah of 2000 is seen as a defeat, because it led to the destruction of certain parts of the PA. Similarly, the PA sees that risk is “futile,” and sees the need to guarantee the flow of international aid as “fulfilling national interests,” regardless of the costs associated with this path, and without any criticism or scrutiny of the viability of a state that depends on aid and defines national interests accordingly. This path simply means criminalizing any act that could incur costs to the Palestinians, including resistance, whether popular or armed, and therefore seeks to redefine resistance in forms that do not result in a hefty price tag.
2. Security Coordination: This is the security feature of this political mentality. For maintaining Israel’s security is the gateway to continued support, and maintenance of the PA institutions, making it a “sacred” path. The remolded Palestinian leadership under Oslo produced “new Palestinians” who serve in Palestinian security forces. For these Palestinians, confrontation with Israel is not an option. This was not the case with the previous Palestinian leadership who founded the Oslo political era, and who maintained all cards including using Palestinian security forces against the occupation when needed. Security coordination has a compound relation with popular resistance. On the one hand, it makes forming military and organizational cells difficult, and a risk that the masses avoid. However, this means that it redirects options towards popular resistance, as an approach that can overcome security coordination and be effective even in its presence.
3. Economic Pacification: This is based on over-hiring and overpaying cadres, removing the public from productive sectors in manufacturing and agriculture and placing them in services jobs that rely on foreign aid, while promoting an idea about “easy” income in parallel with extensive facilities in bank loans to foster consumerism. This would make thinking about resistance or of an act unacceptable by the authorities a risk that would bring harm or humiliation to those who engage in it, and who could be threatened by losing their homes, belongings, and vehicles. This is the most important factor that makes resistance a costly choice for the people, and has a deeper and more profound effect than security coordination. Resistance cannot be restored and spread among the people without establishing something to counter this situation.
4. Political Division: This has given the PA’s policies a national cover of “fervor” as a result of the polarization, creating a strange and compound state: The Palestinian leadership adopts in Fatah’s names choices that most Fatah members do not approve, but which nonetheless obtain legitimacy for being opposed to the rival side