Many claim the recent shaky ceasefire between Israel and the Palestinians is the result of a call by Joe Biden to halt hostilities. But this is to misread the situation.
A poll published on Israel’s Channel 12 indicated that 72 percent of Israelis thought the air campaign in Gaza should have continued, whereas only 24 percent said Israel should agree to a ceasefire.
The poll reflects both the growing right-wing mood in Israeli society and, more importantly, how global solidarity forced a ceasefire on Israel. It was mass protests in Palestine and throughout the world that forced Israel to stop its bombardment. This is tribute to the bravery and strategy of the Palestinian resistance.
But what are the politics of this resistance?
The recent phase of resistance emerged in 1964 with the foundation of the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) which pledged to wage armed struggle against Israel. For a period, Yasser Arafat, the chair of the PLO, was seen as the person who most symbolised the demand for the restoration of the Palestinian homeland. The PLO was a secular organisation and broadly aligned itself with other national liberation movements such as the ANC in South Africa and the IRA in Ireland. It saw the world as being divided between two superpowers, the US and the USSR, and tended to look to the latter for support.
The PLO had one key weakness – it sought to cultivate a friendly relationship with the Arab regimes in the region. These often-voiced support for the Palestinian cause but had little interest in the overthrow of the Zionist state. After the collapse of the USSR, the PLO re-orientated itself to an accommodation with the US.
In 1993 negotiations began on the Oslo accords and these required the PLO to recognise the state of Israel in return for the creation of a Palestine Authority, supposed to rule over the West Bank and Gaza. This was the origin of the ‘two states’ solution whereby Palestinians were assigned a Bantustan type arrangement which awarded them bits of territory criss-crossed by Israeli settlements.
Agreement by the PLO to the accords helped to transform it into a guardian over Palestinian resistance, often restraining it at the behest of Israel. In return the PLO developed extensive patronage networks to control its population.
The rise of Hamas dates from this period. Originally, this Islamist organisation was supported by conservative Arab states as a counterweight to the secular, ‘leftist’ PLO. But after it rejected the Oslo accords many Palestinians began to support it. In 2006, Hamas won elections on a platform of challenging corruption and adopting a more militant stance towards Israel.
The response of the EU and the US was to freeze all financial aid and seek the overthrow of the new government. Tragically, the PLO co-operated with these efforts and so today there are two separate regimes on the West Bank and Gaza. Hamas has its own weakness. Its main strategy is a purely military response to Israel and it has no perspective on how a mass movement can defeat the Israeli state.
However, while these divisions have emerged at the top, a powerful young radical movement has developed in Palestinian society, both at home and in the diaspora. The Palestine Youth Movement (PYM) which represents young Palestinians in the US, for example, takes its inspiration from both the Black Lives Matter movement and the Arab spring. It stresses the need for mass mobilisation and wants a one state solution whereby Jew and Arab are treated as equal citizens in historical Palestine. The linkages between movements like the PYM and those living in Palestine is extremely strong due to the use of social media. Significantly, Palestinian society is one of the youngest in the world.
These developments have helped characterise the latest phase of the resistance. It has taken the form of mass resistance, linking Palestinians inside Israel with those in the occupied territories. One of the key moments in recent weeks was a general strike where Palestinians displayed great unity. Alongside this mass movement, there is wider global support for the BDS campaign and Israel is now on the backfoot, even in the US.
The hope is that these protests will connect with mass movements in many neighbouring Arab countries which, despite their rhetoric, have aided the Israeli regime. The Jordanian regime, for example, prevented protestors marching on the border. The Saudi regime has maintained a covert relationship with Israel for years, all the better to please the US. Egypt has cooperated in the sealing off of Gaza.
There is, however, a deep insecurity in these regimes as indicated by large protests in Oman recently. If the Palestinian movement can help tear down the props which support Israel, it will go a long way to defeating Zionism in the region.