Peace talks broke down between Israel and Palestine at the beginning of the Israeli offensive against Gaza in 2008 and, after a 16 month hiatus, have begun again, albeit indirectly. Despite the pessimism that surrounds the proximity talks, the newest push for peace comes at one of the calmest moments in Israeli-Palestinian relations. Of course, the daily injustices of the occupation continue and are generally overlooked by many in the international community; yet the argument for a peaceful response to these injustices is probably more defensible now than at any point in recent memory. Although talks have begun again, many scholars and politicians have already started to draft the eulogy for a two-state solution. A violent end of these peace talks could inspire such defeatism at an official level. Considering the relative break in violent in Palestine and the increasingly aware eye of the international community, Palestinians must find a way to collectively and fully implement the use of non-violence as a political tool.
The current round of talks has already been deemed to failure by many. On the Palestinian side, Hamas and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine have both denounced the talks with Israel while the Arab league has set a four-month lifeline on the peace efforts. For Israel, Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman has recently expressed doubts about the Palestinian commitment while Deputy Prime Minister Dan Meridor said that the indirect talks ‘will not yield results.’ Furthermore, while Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas says that talks will break down if Israeli settlement construction continues, Israeli officials are happy to reiterate plans to continue construction throughout Jerusalem. Add a conservative Israeli government backed by the settler community and a fractured Palestinian leadership and the pessimism that surrounds these efforts is understandable.
[tweetmeme] Yet, despite the myriad reasons for doubt, the talks are taking place in a time of relative peace. Although the UN reports that since the beginning of the year, 23 Palestinians and 4 Israelis have been killed and a staggering 672 Palestinians and 77 Israelis have been injured in the West Bank and Gaza, there is a sense that non-violence can yield tangible results. In addition to Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad espousing the non-violent movement, there have been non-violent protests occurring weekly throughout the occupied territories. Additionally, Hamas and the Islamic Jihad have officially renounced rocket fire into Israel. While tensions remain high and the potential for a flair in violence continuously threatens the calm, a continuation and expansion of the non-violent movement throughout the peace talks is essential for Palestine.
The need to fully commit to the non-violent movement is two-fold. Domestically, reverting to violent resistance to the occupation would precipitate the failure of the current proximity talks. Perhaps worse than a failure in the diplomatic effort would be the perception of Palestinian responsibility for death of negotiations. A return to violence by Palestinian in Gaza or the West Bank would only strengthen the conservative Israeli argument that Palestine is not ready or willing to accept the Jewish state. In other words, Palestinian violence, regardless of its cause, would strengthen those Israelis opposed to peace. The conservative Netanyahu government would become increasingly hesitant to re-engage with Palestinian leadership out of fear of losing the extreme-conservative foundation of the ruling coalition. Worse still, Israel would be able to argue to the international community that the failure to make peace was due to Palestinian intransigence, thus claiming an important moral victory.
Internationally, the necessity of non-violence is due to the slow awakening of western morality. For decades, the west – and particularly the United States – has implicitly backed the Israeli occupation of Palestine. Indeed, it was not until the late 1990’s that an American president even offered the idea of an independent Palestinian state. Yet, for the first time since perhaps the 1950’s, the diplomatic cover provided to Israel is fraying. Non-governmental agencies are receiving more press with their efforts to end the occupation and, perhaps more importantly, states are beginning to distance themselves from the continued suppression of Palestinian people. Lobby groups, specifically J-Street in America and J-Call in Europe, have formed to promote active pursuit of a two-state solution and to counter to political weight of groups such as America’s AIPAC. In May of this year, pro-Palestinian groups from over 30 countries including the US and England are sending ships packed with humanitarian supplies to Gaza in an effort to break the Israeli blockade of the ting strip of land. Officially, officials in the UN and the European parliament have called for an end to the siege of Gaza while the US has reportedly threatened to abstain from votes in the UN Security Council that condemn Israel. Furthermore, the International Atomic Energy Agency has for the first time placed Israel’s secret nuclear program on its agenda.
The Palestinian cause has perhaps more international support now than at any other time in history. A renaissance in Palestinian violence could easily erode the substantial goodwill Palestine is currently enjoying.
The current proximity talks are not the sole reason why collective non-violence has increasingly become a political necessity for the Palestinian cause; the same domestic and international conditions that could be undermined by violence existed before the start of talks. Indirect talks simply add another dramatic consequence to a reversion to violence, The recent surge in support for the non-violent movement has helped to promote international support for a Palestinian state, something that could be undermined by Palestinian violence. Non-violence, therefore, begets the need for further non-violence. As talks between an unconvinced Israeli leadership and a fractured Palestinian leadership proceed, those opposed to the talks will predictably attempt to derail the talks by presenting the opportunity for violence. As the opportunity and temptation for violent resistance grows stronger, the need for Palestinians to remain true to non-violent resistance will prove to be paramount.
Photo from CSMonitor