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How Palestinians can reverse Israel’s divide and conquer tactics

Oslo allowed Israel to reduce Palestinians to disparate fragments, each with their own challenge to merely survive. It’s time to reset that reality and view the Palestinians for what they are — physically fragmented, politically divided, but a whole people.

By Sam Bahour

Palestinian youths force open a gate in the Israeli separation wall, built on land belonging to the village of Bil’in, which leads to the Israeli settlement of Modi’in Ilit, also built on village land, February 17, 2017. (Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

Palestinian youths force open a gate in the Israeli separation wall, built on land belonging to the village of Bil’in, which leads to the Israeli settlement of Modi’in Ilit, also built on village land, February 17, 2017. (Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

Most veteran observers, including Israeli security authorities and Palestinian leadership, were dumbfounded by recent events in Jerusalem, where tens of thousands of Palestinians mobilized non-violently in response to the Israeli closure of the Old City and placement of metal detectors at the entrance of the Dome of Rock and Al-Aqsa Mosque. What was the secret ingredient that made such a mass action take place and be a successful example in Palestinian non-violent resistance to the 50 years of Israeli military occupation? How did it happen so spontaneously, non-violently and with seemingly no leadership?

A new report by the group, titled, Relations Between Palestinians Across the Green Line (Arabic here, English here), in the works for over two years, may hold the answer to some of these questions. For months, a group of dedicated Palestinian analysts, activists, intellectuals and politicians working with the Palestine Strategy Group (PSG) have been meeting to explore an angle of the Palestinians reality that is many times ignored—the relationship between the Palestinians living inside Israel, today coined as Palestinian citizens of Israel, and Palestinians living under Israeli military occupation in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, and the Gaza Strip.

Transcending artificial boundaries

The report identifies Jerusalem as a place where, paradoxically, the boundaries of Israel and Palestine collapse — a site for joint work, cooperation and struggle against Israel’s colonial policies. Many political leaders (Palestinian members of Knesset, as well as Jerusalemites, Fatah members, Hamas-affiliated academics, etc.) who were part of the group that produced the report testified to the existing, nascent cooperation and possibility and need to further develop it.

Even beyond the recent developments in Jerusalem, there are also indications of grassroots and bottom-up engagements transcending conventional and formal realms of political engagement elsewhere. The cross-border mobilization and cooperation to address the Prawer Plan, for instance, a 2011 Israeli government plan to forcibly relocate some 40,000 Bedouin citizens living in dozens of villages in Israel’s Negev desert, was identified as additional proof to this growing phenomenon of Palestinians on both sides of the Green Line finding common ground.

The PSG report starts with stating an obvious, but no less bold, fact that “Fifty years after the Israeli occupation and forced annexation of Palestinians under Israel’s discriminatory ruling regime, political projects associated with ending the occupation and attaining full citizenship have ended in stalemate.”

That statement is not groundbreaking in and of itself. When coupled with the following realization, however, it provides more than just food for thought — it also sheds light on this rather invisible phenomenon which has the potential to rejuvenate the entire Palestinian national liberation movement. The report continues: “In light of different political projects, national cohesion among the Palestinian people on both sides of the Green Line is a key tool to create a unified, collective umbrella that allows networking, empowerment and development. While it does not abolish political specificities, this umbrella will seek to integrate political projects. Every component of these projects will support the other with a view to realizing respective demands, including ending the occupation of the 1967 territory, return of the refugees, full citizenship, and individual and collective equality inside the Green Line.”

A new Palestinian agency?

The strategy presented is premised on two hypotheses. First, is the need to maintain a clear distinction between the national and the political realms. That means an inclusive Palestinian national project that brings together all Palestinian people — those under occupation in the (New) State of Palestine, those in Israel, and those refugees and diaspora abroad. Secondly, discrepant political interests and perceptions of Palestinian groups need to be viewed as complementary, rather than contradictory to one another. Doing so means embracing diversity, transforming it from a source of divisions into a foundation for rebuilding a national project.

It is important to emphasize that support, networking and joint action of Palestinians across the Green Line have always been in place. The Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) and Palestinian party leaders inside Israel have acted in concert and coordinated with and supported each other on innumerable occasions. However, coordination always took place beyond any institutional frameworks. Oftentimes, the report notes, “collaboration was arbitrary, individual [and not] bona fide.” Today, this cross-border cooperation is not only targeted, collective and authentic, but has within it the seeds of a new type of Palestinian leadership.

In this context, namely the lack of institutional networking, PSG discussants proposed several potential options to institutionalize relations between Palestinians on both sides of the Green Line. A major thrust of the report entertains the “creating an inclusive, apolitical framework for all Palestinians.”

Palestinians are 12 million in number, and stuck in institutional paralysis. The nearly 25-year-old Oslo Peace Process successfully, and sadly, facilitated Israel’s strategic desire to utilize the age-old divide and conquer strategy to reduce Palestinians to disparate fragments, each with their own challenge to merely survive. It’s time to reset that reality and view the Palestinians for what they are, physically fragmented, politically divided, but a whole people nonetheless, from Ramallah to Santiago.

Sam Bahour is a Secretariat member of the Palestine Strategy Group and policy adviser to Al-Shabaka, the Palestinian Policy Network. He blogs at www.epalestine.com. @SamBahour. The PSG report was implemented in cooperation with the Palestinian Forum for Israeli Studies (MADAR) and the Oxford Research Group (ORG). It was supported by the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Representative Office of Norway to the Palestinian Authority (2015-2017) and Konrad Adenauer Stiftung (2016-2017).  This latest report is the most recent of a series of important and influential documents the PSG has issued since its founding in 2008.

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    1. i_like_ike52

      “Civil Society initiative”? Where does such a thing exist anywhere in the Arab world that can serve as a prototype for what is being proposed here?
      During the period of the British occupation from 1917-1948 the Jews were allowed to set up an autonomous authority which quickly developed the civil society Bahour is talking about. The British also offered the Arabs a similar authority but they refused to accept it. One reason was that it would lead to a civil war due to arguments who would run it. This is indeed what happened when the Palestinians were given the opportunity to establish such a thing under the Oslo accords. What was the result? A civil war in which HAMAS took over Gaza and so the Palestinian Authority is divided to this day.
      Another example….an Israeli went to a visit on the West Bank and visited, among other things, one of the refugee camps. After seeing the appalling conditions there, as opposed to the prosperity in Ramallah, the Israeli asked one of the Palestinian Authority officials how he can explain and justify the neglect in the refugee camps. His answer is “they are Israel’s problem”. So right there you can see how Bahour’s dream of establishing a Palestinian “civil society” is a pipe dream.

      Reply to Comment
      • Ben

        This is more of your very predictable, cynical, begrudging nay-saying. The truth about you I have come to realize is that the things you complain about not existing are the very last things you actually want. It’s almost a natural law. Wouldn’t want those Palestinians to actually develop effective, democratic grassroots mechanisms, would we? It’s the last thing you want. Israel created Hamas. And uses it, regards it as a convenience. A few convenient things it does is provide useful fodder for duping the world about Israel’s true situation and true aims, keeping the Palestinians divided, and providing fodder for right wing bloviators and the hasbara factory. Hamas won a free and fair election. Then Israel and the United States engineered and backed an armed coup against that democratic result. All of this represents hypocrisy and cynicism to the maximum possible extent.

        Reply to Comment
        • i_like_ike52

          You are one of the biggest racists I have ever seen because you keep saying the Palesitnians are stupid and have no backbone. Your conspiracy theory that “the US and Israel engineered” the ousting of the freely elected HAMAS gov’t implies that that Palestinians are quite willing to to go along with these nefarious plots and have no democratic instincts. Wouldn’t the free, noble Palestinian people that Sam Bahour and James Zogby are telling us about REFUSE to go along with these plots? Wouldn’t they rebel against a regime imposed on them by force? The Jews set up an functioning, autonomous democratic gov’t under British occupation during the Mandate period. Oslo gave the Palestinians the same opportunity. Are you saying they are merely a servile people who submit to the dictates of others?

          Reply to Comment
          • Ben

            You give every appearance of not knowing what you are talking about. The Bush Administration, spearheaded by George Bush, Condi Rice and Elliot Abrams, colluded with Israel, Egypt and Mohammed Dahlan to overthrow the democratically elected government –it was a covert US plan to provoke a Palestinians civil war rather than give Hamas, who won 56 percent of the seats in the Legislative Council, the chance, the benefit of the doubt, to govern. One of the main driving forces of the Hamas 56% victory was the Palestinian people’s disgust with Fatah’s corruption and plutocracy and incompetence. Not because of your ultra-racist and offensive theory that they are primitive, stupid people who seek war because they just hate Jews. Many people, including Israel’s Mossad chief, Ephraim Halevy, had argued that Hamas had a substantial moderate wing that could be strengthened if America coaxed it along into the peace process. But true idiot that he is, Bush decided he had to overthrow a democratically elected government, an experiment in self rule and power sharing, because he felt that Hamas did not share his idiotic “freedom agenda.” Get that? “They don’t share my ‘freedom agenda’ [the Israelis and the PA did??] so I’ll just undemocratically overthrow them with a military coup.” This secret plan backfired, provoking Hamas to seize total control of Gaza and become further radicalized. Which I think is what the Israeli right wing wanted all along. Bush, so easily manipulated, went right along. The fundamental reason the Israelis hated Obama was because he was too educated and too smart to be manipulated.

            “Oslo gave the Palestinians the same opportunity.” Oh please.

            An agreement on indefinite occupation: Oslo celebrates 19 years

            Reply to Comment
    2. Lewis from Afula

      The so-called “fakestinians” are essentially Jordanians who renamed themselves after losing the war that they themselves started in June 1967. The only fair and sane solution is to forcibly repatriate them, en masse, to the East Bank.
      What’s fair is fair.

      When Mr Bahour is re-established in Amman, he will be in a morally stronger situation to reflect on his history of aggression.

      Reply to Comment
    3. Lewis from Afula

      I like how the author does NOT mention the murder of 2 Israeli policemen that started all the recent fuss on Temple Mount.

      No honesty. That is the problem with devious liars and PLO terrorist / Islamofascist apologists like Mr Bahour. In my mind, he should be first to be deported to the East Bank when the big day comes.

      Reply to Comment
      • Ben

        Y’all remind me of Seb Gorka. ​
        Same offensively stupid blather
        Why Is Alt-right Favorite and Academic Fraud Seb Gorka Starring in an Israeli Counter-terror Conference?
        He’s out the White House, but Sebastian Gorka is still the same anti-Muslim fearmonger with primitive and misleading ideas that still pose a threat to American values and social cohesion
        read more: http://www.haaretz.com/opinion/1.811450

        Reply to Comment