When the Palestinians take to the streets, the squares and the checkpoints in mass nonviolent protest against the occupation, they will win. And when it’s all over, we will be grateful
Congratulations to the people of Egypt! They have shown the real power of the people. Their success was, of course, linked to the fact that their feeling of being disenfranchised and without the ability to improve their lives was shared by the army. Tahrir Square was filled with young people who had no job, so their energies and frustrations were poured into the struggle for freedom, human rights, economic justice and democracy. They won also because their cause was just and they clearly held the higher moral ground.
Everyone is now asking: Where next? We see the beginnings of uprisings in Algeria, Jordan, Bahrain and Yemen. Our analysts are busy examining the social, political and military elites of all the Arab countries to determine whether there is the social energy to overthrow those dictatorial regimes as well.
The one place they are not looking is in our own backyard – Gaza and the West Bank. What’s going on there? Palestinians are struggling with two main issues – how to return the West Bank and Gaza to one unified regime, and how to end the occupation.
Under the surface, they also want more democracy, but their first need is to free themselves from Israel.
The current strategy for reaching statehood is a reaction to the lack of negotiations.
The Israeli narrative on that is that during the 10-month settlement freeze, the Palestinians procrastinated for nine months. Then, when the freeze ended, they refused to continue negotiations unless it was extended.
The Palestinian (and American) version of the story is that even before the settlement freeze began, they submitted a detailed position paper, including maps, based on the final round of negotiations between Ehud Olmert and Mahmoud Abbas. The position related to Olmert’s offers and indicated a clear willingness to continue those negotiations.
Throughout the proximity talks, 16 hours of direct negotiations between Binyamin Netanyahu and Abbas, and all attempts to renew the negotiations since, Israel has yet to respond to the American request for a position paper. The Palestinian feeling is that when they see an indication Israel is serious about negotiations, it will find a serious partner. Until then, they are pushing forward with gaining international recognition of the Palestinian state based on the June 4, 1967 borders.
THE GREAT debate among the officials who are successfully collecting one recognition after another is how to bridge the great gap between a virtual Palestinian state (or as Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon called it, a Facebook state – prior to witnessing the power of Facebook in modern revolutions) and a real one. The strategy builds on the typical Zionist approach of creating facts on the ground – building a state from the bottom up – coupled with the international political drive that will culminate with a UN Security Council resolution granting Palestine full membership.
The thinking is that once that happens, Israel will be a UN member state in full occupation of another, and this would be a game changer. The Palestinians still understand that in the end there must be a negotiated agreement, but their strategy is aimed at changing the rules of the negotiations, removing the issue of statehood and ending the occupation from the negotiating table, leaving the issue of final borders (which will be based on June 4, 1967), territorial swaps, Jerusalem and refugees.
The negotiations will be conducted stateto- state not state to non-state as they have been throughout the Oslo process.
Even if this strategy plays out, the main question concerns the reality on the ground. Here Cairo provided the answer.
The Egyptian Facebook, Twitter, SMS and satellite television revolution, which brought millions into the street, can also work in Palestine, except that it will not be against the Palestinian Authority, as some people would like to think, but against the occupation. If anyone questions the power of nonviolence, after the past weeks they should seriously reconsider what “a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can do to change the world,” as Margaret Mead used to say.
Yes, in Gaza the people’s revolution will be against the Hamas despots, but in the West Bank and Gaza as well, their just call for freedom and liberation will be directed at the occupiers. And just as the entire world was with those young people in Tahrir Square and celebrated their victory, so too will the world be with the Palestinian people in their nonviolent outpouring for freedom, liberation and democracy.
If the response is violent, the world will look at Israel just as it looks at Hosni Mubarak today.
When the Palestinians take to the streets, the squares and the checkpoints in mass nonviolent demonstrations, they will win. We will eventually sit with them and negotiate final borders, and we will find a way to share Jerusalem as the capital of two states, and we will find a common way to address the refugee issue.
And when it is all over, we will thank young Palestinians for leading us to our freedom and our liberation, because we Jews, we Israelis, do not want to occupy another people. We want to live in peace with all our neighbors. So in the name of Israel, in the name of Palestine and in the name of peace, I say to the people of Egypt – thank you!
Gershon is an advisor to Israeli, Palestinian and International Prime Ministers on the Middle East Peace Process and the founder and director of IPCRI, the Israeli-Palestinian Public Policy Institute. He was the initiator and negotiator of the secret back channel between Israel and Hamas for the release of 1,027 prisoners – mainly Palestinians and Arab-Israelis of which 280 were sentenced to life in prison for planning and perpetrating various attacks against Jewish targets that resulted in the killing of 569 Israelis in exchange for one Israeli soldier, Gilad Schalit. Gershon is actively involved in research and advocacy concerning topics such as social policy, environmental security, political strategy, peace education, economics, culture and in the development of affordable solar projects with the goal of providing clean electricity for 50 million people by 2020.