On today’s New York Times op-ed page, Palestinian parliamentarian Mustafa Barghouti makes the argument that what his people need to do is to eschew terrorism and to concentrate their efforts on promoting peaceful protests against Israel. Barghouti believes the limited success of a hunger strike by a Palestinian imprisoned by Israel ought to show the way for an escalation of non-violent demonstrations that will embarrass the Jewish state and pave the way for statehood for his people.
This is something supporters of the Palestinians have long wished for because the obsession with violence that has characterized the Arab national movement’s politics has been difficult to defend. Israelis would also cheer an abandonment of terrorism even if it would boost the international standing of the Palestinians. But the notion that a new round of peaceful protests against Israel has anything to do with the promotion of peace or the creation of an independent Palestinian state is pure fiction. That’s because the Palestinians need not resort to terror or to non-violent demonstrations or protests of any kind in order to achieve those goals. All they have to do is have their leaders negotiate with Israel and to be willing to recognize the legitimacy of a Jewish state, no matter where its borders are drawn. Unfortunately, that is the one thing no Palestinian leader or activist such as Barghouti appears willing to do.
What makes Barghouti’s appeal so disingenuous is that it ignores the fact that the Palestinians have repeatedly turned down Israel’s offers of peace and statehood. Whereas once it could have been argued that the Jewish state had to be persuaded to contemplate a two-state solution, in the wake of the Palestinian Authority’s refusal to accept independence in almost all of the West Bank, Gaza and a share of Jerusalem in 2000, 2001 and 2008, it is impossible to claim the obstacle to statehood is anything other than a Palestinian political culture that cannot accept peace with Israel.
Barghouti’s piece draws comparisons between the situation of the Palestinians and the Arab Spring revolts against autocracies throughout the Middle East. He also cites the philosophy of Mohandas Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr., as inspirations for the Palestinians and throws in the tactics of Irish Republican Army terrorists for good measure. Yet the only thing Mubarak’s Egypt, Northern Ireland, British-ruled India and the segregation-era American South have in common is that none of these examples are remotely analogous to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
If, as their repeated refusal to contemplate a peace that includes their recognition of Israel’s legitimacy makes clear, the Palestinians’ ultimate goal is the Jewish state’s destruction, the debate about the use of violence or non-violence merely becomes one of which tactic is more useful to obtain that end. That is an interesting discussion, but it is one that has little to do with peace.
Indeed, rather than focus their non-violent protests against an Israel that is willing to compromise on territory (though perhaps not quite so much as the Palestinians may wish) to obtain peace, what Barghouti and other like-minded Palestinians should do is to conduct a civil disobedience program whose purpose will be to persuade PA President Mahmoud Abbas and his new Hamas allies to go back to the negotiating table and sign a peace that will end the conflict.
Considering the nature of a Palestinian political culture that has always glorified violence and treated the murder of Jews as a source of prestige and legitimacy, such a campaign would be an uphill struggle. And given the ruthlessness with which Abbas and Hamas have always stamped out any dissent from their rule, Barghouti’s reluctance to try their patience with a Gandhi-like campaign is understandable. But anyone who thinks non-violent protest against Israel will help bring peace or Palestinian independence is ignoring the reality of the conflict.