2-The pre-requisites of a third intifada
This is not the time for another intifada in the absence of a clear review of past failures and a new Palestinian national program, says Hani al-Masri on Palestinian www.masarat.ps
Are we witnessing the opening stages of a new Palestinian intifada, or merely a continuation of the confrontations that have been going on for many years between the Palestinians and the Israeli occupation? Asks leading Palestinian commentator Hani al-Masri on the independent Palestinian website www.masarat.ps
UNPRECEDENTED AGGRESSION: I daresay that the ongoing confrontations – although serious – do not constitute a new intifada, despite the fact that Israeli aggression has reached unprecedented proportions – which would have ignited an intifada in times past. But the current confrontations could yet escalate into what could be described as a semi-intifada, as what happened after the murder of Palestinian teenager Mohammad Abu Khdeir.
Many of the factors essential for the eruption of a new intifada are already there, but other no less essential factors are still missing.
One factor that favors a new intifada is the lack of a political horizon and the absence of any hope of reaching a political settlement that ends the occupation and fulfils Palestinian aspirations for sovereignty, independence and statehood via American-sponsored bilateral negotiations with no reference for Palestinian rights.
Other factors include the continued detention of thousands of Palestinians, deteriorating living standards for Palestinians under occupation, and racist Israeli policies targeting Palestinians living in the occupied territories as well as within Israel itself.
Factors that make a new intifada unlikely include the lack of a coherent Palestinian national program of action. Do the Palestinians want independence and self-determination? Or do they want statehood on lands occupied in 1967? Do they want to liberate the whole of Palestine? Or do they want a unitary bi-national state?
In addition, the Palestinian leadership – President Abbas in particular – does not believe in the need for a new intifada. Abbas sees a new intifada as a destructive development, and has pledged to oppose one. The Palestinian leadership believes that there is no substitute for direct bilateral talks – with a few other options, such as going to the UN, boycotts, peaceful mass action, and reconciliation with Hamas, all of which are designed to pressure the Israelis into resuming peace talks.
The Palestinian leadership has an irrational fear that these steps could turn into strategic choices, which strips them of their importance. This being the case, the reason a new intifada has not erupted – and is not likely to erupt in the near future – is the lack of a unified leadership and a common political program.
The Palestinian political project was eroded by a series of climb-downs, concessions, and failed policies. The PA has turned itself into a security agent for the occupation disguised as limited autonomy with no timetable. The deadline for a final status agreement enshrined in the Oslo agreements (October 1999) has long gone, while the PA plods on regardless.
In addition, the PLO is paralyzed, while Palestinian political parties, trade unions, and civil society administrations are ineffective, having delegated their role to a new class that has gained wealth and influence inside and outside the PA thanks to free market policies that favor the private sector. Palestinian politics are now dominated by private interests, clans, and foreign-funded civil organizations, at the expense of political parties and trades unions that work for the public interest and truly represent the people.
All this has helped create wide discrepancies between the various classes of Palestinian society, with more prosperous Palestinians opposing a new intifada because they fear for their privileges. Meanwhile, the poor classes become poorer with no effective mechanisms to defend their interests. In addition, the PA seems content to survive on conditional foreign aid in order to press on with a sham peace process designed as a cover for continued Israeli occupation and to prevent the Palestinians from choosing new strategies.
To all this must be added the deleterious effects of the Fateh-Hamas split on the prospects of a new intifada. The split has not ended despite the formation of a new government of national accord simply because the new government has not sought – and is indeed unable – to change the ongoing division under present circumstances. In other words, there is a lack of political will to end the split.
Meanwhile, the split continues to waste Palestinian efforts in a fruitless internal struggle for power and influence. The split has deepened differences between a faction that calls for embracing an armed intifada, another that says a new intifada would be destructive (stubbornly refusing to acknowledge that the catastrophic path of Oslo must be abandoned), and a third that calls for peaceful mass action, but does not discount armed resistance.
Because of the profound imbalance between the two protagonists, as well as the prevailing Arab, regional, and global circumstances, this third faction believes that the primary mechanism must be peaceful mass action, with armed struggle only used as a last resort and in very limited occasions (such as in self-defence against marauding settlers, or to defend Gaza against Israeli assaults).
Another factor acting against the eruption of a new intifada is the fact that the previous two failed to live up to expectations or to the sacrifices the Palestinians made. They were utilized to promote an immature political solution, which ended up in the signing of the 1993 Oslo accords (after the first intifada) and consolidating them after the second.
The Palestinian people need to know why they have not won after so many revolts and intifadas. Once they have an answer that opens the road to victory and prevents a new revolt from sliding into anarchy and chaos, they would certainly back a new intifada eventually.
But it would be more constructive if a new uprising were postponed until the Palestinians carry out a thorough review of the experiences of the past and come up with new strategies that envision rebuilding the Palestinian national movement and reinvigorating the PLO such that it represents the entire Palestinian political spectrum. The Palestinians must also understand that the current weak and divided state of the Arab world would not be conducive to the success of a new uprising.
The severe imbalance of power, and the fact that Israel is tilting towards extremism, indicate that no fair political settlement is in the offing. The Palestinians must therefore build their options on these facts. The coming confrontation must therefore be carried out in successive stages with no large hiatus in between, but without turning into a fully-fledged intifada unless conditions that could sustain it are provided.
Confrontations could be limited each time to a certain issue, which, once achieved, could signal new confrontations on other issues. An example for such action is the recent confrontations over Jerusalem, prisoners, and settlements.
Such a strategy could bring to the fore creative new ways by which the Palestinians could combine resistance to occupation with the ability to stand fast and continue a normal existence. It could also produce new leaderships with the ability to lead the coming intifada to victory.
An intifada is a creative and organized form of mass action; it requires a major mutual and achievable goal that deserved sacrifice and struggle. It also needs a unified leadership that can organize the various classes and factions of society towards that common goal.
Finally, an intifada requires a resilient and flexible economy that is able to adapt and survive under occupation.