Saturday, May 5, 2012

Hunger Strikers’ Goal is Not Peace

by Jonathan S. Tobin

For decades, foreign cheerleaders for the Palestinians have sought to portray those fighting against Israel as potential disciples of Gandhi as they seek to portray the Jews as stand-ins for the role of colonial oppressor. But there have always been two main problems with this scenario. The first is the fact that most Palestinians view violence against Israelis as not only a legitimate tactic but also something that is integral to their national identity. The second is that even if they were to adopt a policy of non-violence, the Palestinian goal is not their own state living in peace beside Israel but the end of the Jewish state and its replacement by one in which Arabs will rule.

These obstacles to the creation of a movement of Palestinian Gandhis remain. But that didn’t stop the New York Times from going back to a familiar theme today with a feature by new Israel bureau chief Jodi Rudoren in which a hunger strike by some security prisoners is used as a launching point for a discussion about a possible change in tactics by the Palestinians. Since, as she notes, the peace process is “stalled” and “internal Palestinian politics adrift,” activists hope to use “the hunger strike as a potential catalyst to bring an Arab Spring-style uprising to the West Bank.” But the question Rudoren fails to ask is what do the hunger strikers or their supporters think will come from what they hope will be a new intifada? Do they see it as a path to a Palestinian state or something else? If the goal is a state, then they need not bother with non-violent resistance or violence. What they need to do is to instruct their leaders to negotiate with Israel.

The peace process remains “stalled” for one main reason: the Palestinians won’t negotiate unless Israel guarantees in advance that they will give in on every territorial dispute. But even then there is no guarantee or any likelihood that the leadership of the Palestinian Authority as currently constituted, let alone after it consummates its unity deal with Hamas, would be able to recognize the legitimacy of a Jewish state no matter where its borders are drawn.

A new intifada, whether conducted by people throwing rocks and Molotov cocktails or mere demonstrators, is no substitute for a commitment on the part of the Palestinians to live in peace with their Jewish neighbors. With even Israel’s supposedly right-wing government willing to accept a two-state solution, the time is long passed for stunts whose only purpose is to embarrass or intimidate the Israelis.

As it happens, even the supposedly non-violent Palestinians gave away some of the game in Rudoren’s account:

On Thursday in Ramallah, 300 women marched to Al Manara Square, chanting, “Yes for hunger strike, no to submission” and “Down with the olive branch, long live the rifle.”

Is there another way to interpret a chant that calls for an end to peace and the use of “the rifle” but as a call for violent attacks on Israel?

The featured hunger striker, one Thaer Halahleh, is described as a sympathetic character. We are told that he “stopped political activity” soon after his marriage in 2009. But given the Palestinian definition of that term, a more experienced observer than Ms. Rudoren might have concluded that this meant he was a terrorist operative. Because people involved in such activities rarely voluntarily retire, the suspicion of Israeli authorities that he was not innocent is understandable. While the policy of administrative detention which can result in long periods of incarceration without trial may seem contrary to an American sense of justice, it should be pointed out that neither does the usual expression of Palestinian “politics” which is terrorism. As the return to violence on the part of Palestinians released in the Gilad Shalit exchange deal illustrate, the idea that Halahleh, if sent home will not engage in violence, is either naïve or deceitful.

However, the article does accurately portray the difficulties encountered by those seeking to create this new intifada. Their biggest problem is apathy from a Palestinian population that understands this latest plan for confrontation will not improve their lives and won’t lead to self-determination. Despite the obstacles the imperatives of Palestinian political culture of Palestinian society put in the way of peace, perhaps some are starting to recognize that the glorification of those who engage in violence and the identification of communal rights only in juxtaposition to the denial of the same to Jews is a dead-end street.

Jonathan S. Tobin


Copyright - Original materials copyright (c) by the authors.

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