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Elections, a new leadership and BDS are pivotal for Palestine

May 26, 2020 at 10:03 am

A Palestinian protestor seen during the weekly protest near the Gaza-Israel separation fence in the Gaza Strip on 11 November, 2019 [Mohammed Asad/Middle East Monitor]

Ever since President Donald Trump blundered blindly into the Middle East with his woefully inexperienced team of advisors, US foreign policy has swung wildly out of control. Predictably, it has destroyed the already fragile two-state solution as defined by the Oslo Accords.

It’s no use pretending that such a solution is still viable. That, though, may not be all bad news for the Palestinians, whose current leadership in Ramallah is incapable of actually leading the people and taking control of the situation.

The Palestinians have never worn the cloak of victimhood very well; it is simply not in their DNA to sit back and moan about their suffering which is real, very real. Any reasonable person can see that those who were driven from their homes in 1948 by Zionist terror gangs which became the “Israel Defence Forces”, as well as their descendants, have been treated unjustly. The ethnic cleansing of Palestine and its ongoing consequences are on a scale that few of us – mercifully – have experienced.

However, nothing is going to change unless there is the political will to do so within the international community. Daunting as that may seem – mission impossible, we might say – if recent history has taught us anything it is that when ordinary people mobilise they can bring about seismic political change.

I was reminded of this the other day while researching another article. I came across a column by British Palestinian academic and political activist Dr Azzam Tamimi. In his opinion, the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement and the example set by sanctions against in Apartheid South Africa is how change may come about in his homeland.

“Well, it would seem to me that just as peace was finally reached in South Africa by dismantling the racist ideology known as apartheid, the only way to make peace in the Middle East would be to dismantle the racist ideology known as Zionism upon which the very idea of a Jewish state is based,” observed Tamimi. “Once that battle is won, we would end up in a situation where human beings, irrespective of their creed or race, are of equal status and equal rights. This is what one may call the one-state solution.”

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How realistic is such a scenario? To be brutally frank, under the current Palestinian Authority in Ramallah, it looks extremely unlikely. The old men in control of the PA are like pampered hamsters on a treadmill. They look busy but aren’t making progress, all the while knowing that there will be plenty of food and privileges provided for them by their masters in Tel Aviv. They are there to collaborate with the Israeli occupation, not liberate their people from it.

In years gone by, whenever peace talks came to a grinding halt, the late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat could always rely on his people to rally around and increase the pressure to move things forward. That much was obvious from the First and Second Intifadas (uprisings). As a revolutionary leader, Arafat never lost the fire in his belly nor lacked the courage to rise up and resist Israel’s military occupation, leading from the front more often than not.

I met him in Ramallah in 2002 when he was under siege in his compound, which was surrounded by Israeli tanks. The late Israeli leader Ariel Sharon was threatening to have him physically removed from his office. Sitting there defiantly with a gun on his table, he vowed that he would never abandon his people and that he was prepared to die for Palestine. I believed him; more importantly, so did the Palestinians.

Powerless Israel facing BDS - Cartoon [Sabaaneh/MiddleEastMonitor]

Powerless Israel facing BDS – Cartoon [Sabaaneh/MiddleEastMonitor]

Flawed though he may have been, he carried within him the rage of millions of Palestinian refugees and their descendants whose land was stolen by force of arms. Arafat always insisted on their legitimate right of return and was adamant that it would never be up for negotiation in any talks with the occupation state.

Sadly, Arafat’s successor Mahmoud Abbas is a pale imitation; he’s way past his sell-by date and has lost the trust of his people. “As a result of the Oslo peace process,” said Tamimi wryly, “there are today in the West Bank thousands of Palestinians who are completely dependent on the occupation and earn their living in its service, including Mahmoud Abbas, his cabinet, his bureaucracy and his security forces. None of these people are willing to jeopardise the status they have been given and the privileges they enjoy as a result.”

A few days ago, President Abbas announced that the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) believes that it is no longer obliged to submit to the peace process involving the US and Israel; he has, of course, made many such announcements before. His latest presidential declaration has been made in the wake of the formation of a new Israeli government which is committed to the annexation of huge swathes of the occupied West Bank, with the full backing of the Trump administration.

If Abbas wants to be taken seriously, he should follow this by announcing that Palestinian elections are going to be held to let the people choose a new leadership. A genuine unity government or coalition can then move forward to set about exposing the racist ideology of Zionism and the unacceptable racism directed towards the Palestinians who make up 20 per cent of Israel’s population, as well as those millions in the occupied Palestinian territories.

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Pressure on Abbas to do this can only come through popular movements; politicians around the world will not join in until such moves are too big to ignore because they can and will influence local voting patterns. As Tamimi alludes in his article, the anti-Apartheid movement brought about unimaginable change in South Africa because of the international pressure that it was able to bring to bear on the regime in Pretoria.

Critics of Zionism are accused of being “anti-Semitic”, which is ridiculous; when has it been racist to suggest that people should have equal rights under any regime? Moreover, there are far more Christian Evangelical Zionists than there are Jewish Zionists, with around 50 million Christians backing Israel in America alone. They are the people who Trump is relying upon to get him re-elected, hence his support for Israel which has included gifting occupied Jerusalem and the Syrian Golan Heights to Tel Aviv.

Zionists, though, have an Achilles heel; BDS is a non-violent grassroots movement for Palestinian freedom, justice and equality which has captured the imagination of millions of ordinary people around the world. It must be working effectively, because the Zionists from East to West are throwing millions of dollars at campaigns to outlaw its peaceful activism.

The beauty of BDS is its powerful simplicity. It demands that Israel must fulfil its obligations under international law; withdraw its military from the occupied Palestinian territories; dismantle the Apartheid Wall which snakes through the occupied West Bank; and deliver real equality for Palestinian citizens of Israel. The most contentious demand from Israel’s point of view is the legitimate right of Palestinian refugees to return to their homes and properties from which they and their families have been driven from the time of the 1948 Nakba to the present day. That right is enshrined in international law for all refugees, not just the Palestinians.

BDS supporters include several notable Jewish organisations which never tire of telling us that not all Jews are Zionists and not all Zionists are Jews. They also draw parallels with the 20th century anti-Apartheid movement which used all forms of boycotts in South Africa during that infamous era.

“In the present circumstances, nothing seems to perturb Israel and the Zionist lobby more than BDS,” noted Tamimi. “This movement has been instrumental in exposing the ugly face of Zionism and the hypocrisy of world powers that support it or that tolerate its offences.” Such an ideology, he added, is not something that decent human beings can tolerate or coexist with.

Ordinary Palestinians, therefore, are getting a wake-up call to make their voices heard. Inaction at this stage could be seen as a passive acceptance of Israel’s annexation of more Palestinian land.

The stale Ramallah leadership does little to inspire international solidarity but the new, emerging faces of resistance in Palestine today could become the drivers for change. Perhaps it is down to them to refocus “the voices on the Palestinian street” and mobilise grassroots activity. The huge sacrifices made in Gaza during the Great March of Return protests – 215 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli snipers with another 14,580 wounded – are not in vain because of the negative publicity they shone on Israel across the world.

However, uninspired by the current leadership, the Palestinian street now seems to be fatigued and unenthusiastic. A few decades ago, the very talk of annexation on the scale that Israel now proposes would have triggered a Palestinian intifada against the occupation. Tens of thousands of Palestinians would have emerged from refugee camps, cities and villages across the region to make their voices heard by the entire world.

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The anger is still there, but the Palestinians have no trust in Abbas and his cronies; in the absence of a centralised liberation, rather than collaboration, leadership any protest on the scale of an intifada is difficult to take place; in effect, the people are leaderless. Holding elections could reconnect the people with a leadership of their choice. The way to overcome the leadership problem is to demand national presidential and parliamentary elections.

With what should then be a fresh new resistance movement from within and global pressure from the BDS movement bearing down on world leaders, ordinary people could be the agents for change. The Germans did it in November 1989 with the fall of the Berlin Wall and the reunification of their country, and the Cubans toppled the military dictatorship in their revolution from 1953 to 1959. There’s no reason why a united Palestinian liberation movement can’t bring about their own peaceful revolution with elections and people power.

Now that the two-state solution is dead in the water, the time has come to focus on “one state” where everyone, regardless of faith, ethnicity or political affiliation are equal. Which democrats and democracies worthy of the name could possibly object to that?

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.