he idea that the Palestinian struggle for self-determination can be made to disappear and the question of Palestine removed from the global agenda has been given the lie yet again. Despite unprecedented regional turmoil, a global refugee crisis, and the best efforts of Israel and its western patrons to declare the Israeli-Palestinian conflict an insignificant sideshow until further notice, it is again in the headlines.
How we arrived at this point is no great mystery. Under cover of the Oslo agreements, Israel has during the past two decades consolidated and intensified its control of the occupied Palestinian territories to an unprecedented degree. Simultaneously, the Palestinian people are today more isolated and fragmented than at any point since their initial dispossession and dispersal in 1948. Their leaders, who once enjoyed levels of popular support that would be the envy of democratically elected heads of state, have today been reduced to illegitimate and widely reviled appendages of Israel’s colonial project.
The current decade has for Palestinians been particularly calamitous. Any remaining illusion that Israel would negotiate a historic compromise with the Palestinian people, or be compelled to relinquish the occupation by the Nobel peace laureates in Washington and Brussels, can no longer be sustained. Rather, the self-proclaimed leaders of the international community stood idly by while the government of Binyamin Netanyahu established one new settlement after another in the West Bank, and endlessly pontificated about Israel’s right of self-defence as it periodically launched murderous assaults against a Gaza Strip it helped to transform into the world’s largest prison camp.
As Palestinian refugee communities in the Arab world again faced existential crises, Israel’s leaders engaged in a systematic campaign of de-legitimisation and marginalisation against Arab citizens of Israel. This helps explain why the current unrest is not limited to the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Yet it was in East Jerusalem and the West Bank that the fuse for the current events has been lit.
Israel’s separation policy (“us here and them there”) has again proven itself incompatible with reality. The West Bank wall and blockade of the Gaza Strip have indeed insulated much of the Israeli electorate from the conflict. But constant violence and provocations by the Israeli military; the activities of Israel’s settler auxiliaries; and the Netanyahu government’s determination to change the status quo in Jerusalem’s Haram al-Sharif to shore up its belligerent credentials, have produced the inevitable once again.
That we are seeing this level of Palestinian protest at all is itself a minor miracle, and – voluminous reporting to the contrary notwithstanding – conclusivelydemonstrates that today’s youth is no less entrapped, and no less determined to achieve collective freedom, than earlier generations.
Yet their efforts are unlikely to develop into a sustained, organised rebellion. This only partly reflects the pitiless ruthlessness of Israeli tactics. Simply put, the organisational infrastructure required to mobilise and sustain a widespread rebellion has been systematically dismantled over the past decade, primarily by the Palestinian Authority. It remains committed to security collaboration with Israel, which its leader, Mahmoud Abbas, has described as “sacred”.
The chances that Israeli actions will push Abbas over the precipice are nil. Indeed, when he again cried wolf at the UN last month the sheep died of laughter. Because Abbas has systematically foreclosed upon all other options, he will remain more exercised by threats to Israeli security than the security of his own people for the remainder of his tenure. For its part, the Islamist movement Hamas remains committed to the survival of its rule in the Gaza Strip above all else.
The current crisis may yet prove a catalyst for the hard work of reviving a unified, coherent and dynamic Palestinian national movement capable of conducting the struggle for Palestinian self-determination. The hard reality is that, until Palestinians overcome the domestic obstacles to their ability to rebel, they will remain incapable of successfully challenging Israel or effectively taking on those who support its policies.
To be clear, none of the above in any way absolves Israel and particularly its patrons of their responsibility for perpetuating the occupation. In this respect I am reminded of a recent meeting with a European diplomat. When I asked her to name a single form of Palestinian non-violent resistance her government would be prepared to support, I received nothing more than a bemused stare.
Mouin Rabbani is Senior Fellow with the Institute for Palestine Studies and co-editor of Jadaliyya