Frustrated by the lack of progress in negotiations with Israel, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas is determined to push for United Nations recognition of a Palestinian state to break the logjam.
We believe there is a better way -- and it requires a Palestinian commitment to peaceful protest.
In his speech yesterday to the UN General Assembly, Abbas said that Palestinians should “enjoy a normal life like the rest of humanity,” and that the time has come for them to have a “sovereign and independent homeland.”
We agree. But while Abbas has succeeded in one of his objectives -- getting the world to focus on the Palestinians’ demand for a state -- his approach is not going to improve the lives of his people.
Palestinian Prime Minister Salaam Fayyad, among others, has pointed out that UN resolutions will not change the Israeli occupation one bit. When that becomes clear, Palestinian frustration will grow, perhaps leading to violence against Israelis and Abbas’ government. If terrorist groups exploit the moment to launch new attacks on Israeli settlements or military posts in the West Bank, Israel will retaliate. As happened in 2000 during the last outbreak of Palestinian violence, Abbas’s security forces might split, with some joining the terrorists.
That’s why Abbas needs to develop a strategy to divert Palestinian anger into constructive channels, rather than savor a public relations victory at the UN.
The lesson of the popular demonstrations that brought down Egypt’s president Hosni Mubarak and Tunisia’s Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, and which are shaking the foundations of Bashar al-Assad’s dictatorship in Syria, is the power of peaceful protest.
Mubarak and Ben Ali were brought down by mass nonviolent demonstrations, not by armed resistance or “martyrdom operations.” Abbas can do his people a great service by leading them away from Che Guevara’s resistance strategy and toward Martin Luther King’s.
Peaceful protest doesn’t mean giving up on goals. After all, during his discussions with British colonial authorities, Mohandas Gandhi insisted that he would accept nothing less than full Indian independence. King insisted unequivocally on achieving full civil rights for blacks. Both men recognized the enormous power of peaceful resistance to accomplish these goals. Abbas should throw his government’s support behind the popular committees that are led by Palestinian peace activists, often working with sympathetic Israelis. The committees are already organizing nonviolent protests. At the same time, he should continue to crack down against Hamas and other terrorist organizations in cooperation with the Israelis.
Even those supportive of Israel would find it difficult to reject the legitimate demands of multitudes of Palestinians demonstrating peacefully. A nonviolent Palestinian movement might well inspire a new attitude from the majority of Israelis who are prepared to accept a Palestinian state but now fear it would be a base for anti-Israeli violence.
The Palestinian people deserve a state. Most people around the world have a great deal of sympathy for their plight. But the Palestinian leadership’s strategy of violent resistance, reluctance to compromise and political theater has utterly failed. Once this UN drama is over, we can only hope Abbas decides to lead his people in a different direction.
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