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Competing narratives for the liberation of Palestine

Nov. 29, 2012 2:19 P.M. (Updated: Nov. 29, 2012 2:19 P.M.)
By: Daoud Kuttab
Two narratives are competing for the hearts and minds of Palestinians, regarding the best way to end the Israeli occupation of Palestine: one military, the other nonviolent.

Each has strong arguments, but neither has produced any result yet. Both narratives were being displayed in parallel fashion this month. The PLO will seek statehood through the UN, while Hamas sought to convince the Israelis to quit their occupation through the use of rockets.

The military narrative has been with us for decades. The Palestinian guerrilla movements, starting with Fateh in 1965, argued that the only way to liberate Palestine is through armed struggle. Fatah began its struggle with a guerrilla operation from south Lebanon and celebrated when joint Palestinian and Jordanians forces repulsed an Israel incursion in the Jordanian town of Karameh.

Over the years, the various PLO factions used force against what would be considered legitimate military targets, as well as what many in the world would consider illegitimate civilian targets, be they in Israel, in the occupied territories or abroad. This has brought both attention and scorn to the Palestinians.

The struggle for liberation was tainted by the use of the term terrorism, which made gaining worldwide support difficult.

The relatively nonviolent Palestinian Intifada in 1987 encouraged the PLO to put aside its guns and attempt the political track. In 1993, Arafat set down his gun and raised the olive branch; he shook hands with the Palestinians' archenemy Yitzhak Rabin.

The Oslo peace process brought hope which was partially dashed by Rabin's assassination by a radical Jewish settler and the election of Benjamin Netanyahu as prime minister.

While the PLO temporarily put down its guns, others never believed in the peace process and continued following the argument popularized by the late Egyptian president Gamal Abdel Nasser. After the 1967 defeat, Nasser said: "What was taken by force can only be retaken by force.:.

Military opposition carried out by the Islamic resistance movement, Hamas, began with suicide bombings and then developed to the use of rockets, especially after the evacuation of the illegal Israeli settlers and the Israeli army's redeployment from populated Gaza areas. The Israeli action was considered a victory of the Islamic resistance even though it brought a crippling siege that is now in its sixth year.

Use of force was not restricted to Islamists. Seven years after the famous White House handshake between Arafat and Rabin, Palestinians were still under occupation; they had some of the trappings of the state without any sovereignty.

Secular Palestinian nationalists and at times even members of the Palestinian police took part in the second Intifada, which was much more violent and costly in human terms and that deepened the hatred on both sides.

The unexpected death of Arafat while attempting to walk both peaceful and military tracks led to a new phase in Palestinian struggle. Mahmoud Abbas, who campaigned under the slogan of "no to the militarization of the Intifada" and publicly criticized the Hamas rockets, brought to the conflict one of the longest periods of relative calm. Palestinian-Israeli security coordination was revived and has brought tranquility to the Israelis, but no real change on the political front.

Israelis reacted to the military and political narratives with different arguments, but with the same result: refusal to end their occupation.

In response to the military acts, Israelis de-legitimized the Palestinians as radical, extremist terrorists whose aim is the destruction of Israel and, therefore, not qualified to be partners for peace.The Israeli public response to the Palestinians; espousing the political narrative was much more nuanced. Palestinians had to prove that they unequivocally recognized Israel, that they teach their kids to love Israelis and that everything can be resolved through negotiations that one Israeli leader said would drag for tens of years. Hence, Israel's demands for the amendment of the PLO charter, the continuous demands for changes in the Palestinian curriculum and incitement.

This was never quid pro quo. It was an excuse to cover the real Israeli attitude, which is not to give up land.

Foreign powers unable to press Israelis often bought these silly arguments even while Israel was building exclusive Jewish settlements and transferring its citizens to the occupied territories, in contradiction to international humanitarian law.This month witnesses manifestations of both narratives. The war on Gaza, which saw the assassination of a Hamas leader and rockets from Gaza reaching south Israel, Tel Aviv and the outskirts of Jerusalem, brought back international players who have abandoned Palestine for some time.

On the other hand, the Palestinian leadership will present on Nov. 29 a request for a vote at the UN General Assembly for Palestine to acquire non-member observer state status, asking the world community to address the unfair decision it took in 1947 when it agreed to partition Palestine. At the time, the UN supported a plan to create a Jewish state on 54 percent of the territory of the British Mandate of Palestine for 31 percent of the population that owned less than 6 percent of the land.

World leaders, especially some from the Western world, will have to decide which narrative they support.

Will they vote for the peaceful intentions of a people wishing to live in freedom in a state on the 1967 borders (22 percent of Mandatory Palestine) alongside Israel, or will they indirectly support the violent track?

Every country that will not support the PLO's UN move is actually sending a message to the Palestinians that the world community will not do anything to end this injustice.

The subtext to all of this is an indirect encouragement of the Palestinians to take up arms in order to liberate their country.

The choice made in New York will be closely watched in the streets of Ramallah and Gaza. Let us hope that the peaceful narrative wins the day.
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