Imbalance of Power Aids Israeli Occupation

Daoud Kuttab writes that Israel's continued occupation is a result of an imbalance of power, rather than a lack of Palestinian strategy.

al-monitor An Israeli border police officer aims pepper spray towards a Palestinian man during clashes between Jewish settlers and Palestinians in the West bank village of Urif, near Nablus, April 30, 2013. Photo by REUTERS/Abed Omar Qusini.
Daoud Kuttab

Daoud Kuttab


Topics covered

palestinian, forced displacement in the west bank, apartheid

May 6, 2013

It is not clear whether Salam Fayyad uttered these exact terms, but what the New York Times' Roger Cohen quoted the outgoing Palestinian prime minister as having said resonated with many Palestinians. Frustrated as to the lack of progress after 46 years of occupation, Palestinians are ready to find any scapegoat to pour all their frustrations on. The statement that the Palestinian leadership lacks a coherent strategy and that many decisions are taken without study and thought sounds about right to many people. But is it that simple?

There is definitely much to be said about the importance of tactics in negotiations and the need to maximize one's strengths while trying to capitulate on the weakness of one's opponent. But is the delay of a breakthrough in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict only the result of bad tactics and the absence of a strategy among Palestinians? Many would agree wholeheartedly. But the evidence is not that persuasive.

To begin with, it is important not to blame the victims. While the Palestinian-Israeli narrative is witness to the most contradictory claims of victimhood by both sides, it is hard to reject the Palestinian narrative. Living under a foreign military occupation for decades, unable to enjoy freedom of movement, access to one's own land, skies and water below the surface, the Palestinian narrative can’t be compared to the Israelis living at a 10 times higher GDP and enjoying military and political superiority not only to Palestinians, but to all surrounding countries.

The onus of responsibility is clearly on the party whose soldiers are still manning the occupation in contradiction to the preamble of UN Security Council resolution 242, which states clearly the inadmissibility of taking land by force. Israel has not only refused to withdraw its troops, but has carried out a campaign of land grabbing and movement of its own population to occupied areas in violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention. This fact was reconfirmed by the International Court of Justice when it gave an opinion on the illegality of the wall built deep in Palestinian territories occupied in 1967.

But aside from the blaming of the victim or identifying the existence of occupiers and settlers, Palestinian-Israeli negotiations have failed to produce results for multiple reasons, among them the balance of force between Israel and the Arab side.

To remedy this obvious balance of force in favor of Israel, Palestinians have tried two different methods. Both have failed for different reasons. Initially, Palestinians tried to use a military strategy. This included attacks inside the occupied territories and outside. Radical Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) groups went overboard in their zeal, causing major damage to the Palestinian cause and giving Palestinian resistance the label of terrorism.

Palestinians in the occupied territories attempted to change this uneven balance of force by launching a popular uprising, which focused on a declaration that Palestinians are opposed to the occupation and not to Israel proper. The intifada also included small scale violent acts of stone throwing against the illegal Jewish settlers driving on Palestinian lands. The first intifada is credited for the breakthrough in the political stalemate in Madrid, and later in Oslo. Some, however, say that the fall of the Soviet Union and the PLO’s failure to clearly oppose Saddam’s invasion of Kuwait forced it to accept compromises it was previously rejecting. But again, this small breakthrough was insufficient to produce an end to the occupation and after years of inconsequential talks and another, more violent intifada, the main balance of force has not changed.

The departure of Yasser Arafat and the Abbas-Fayyad era brought another opportunity for peace, yet again without any game changers. If anything, the soft style of these moderate leaders has resulted in even more loss of Palestinian land.

Could Palestinian leaders have produced better results had they played their cards wiser during those years? It is hard to say. Would a breakthrough have happened if Palestinian leaders had taken more risky decisions for peace? No clear evidence exists to prove that Israel responds to either violent or nonviolent overtures. And there is little evidence that the world community, especially the United States, would have been willing to expand political capital to produce a political breakthrough had the Palestinians taken better decisions during the past years. It is true that politics is the art of the possible. And in pure political terms, Palestinians have not been able to play the political game to its fullest.

But to be fair, few neutral observers can point out a single political action/decision that the Palestinian leadership should have taken in the past, or should take now, that can produce the desired results of ending Israel’s 46 years of occupation, annexation of Jerusalem and colonialization of Palestinian lands.

Daoud Kuttab is a contributing writer for Al-Monitor's Palestine Pulse. A Palestinian journalist and media activist, he is a former Ferris Professor of journalism at Princeton University and is currently the director general of Community Media Network, a not-for-profit organization dedicated to advancing independent media in the Arab region. Active in media-freedom efforts in the Middle East, Kuttab is a columnist for The Jordan Times, The Jerusalem Post and The Daily Star in Lebanon.

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