Inspired by the Vietnam model, the strategy of Palestinian revolutionaries from 1965 until leaving Beirut in 1982, was based on liberating the land, backed by an Arab Hanoi. The example to emulate was the Vietcong rebels fighting in South Vietnam, backed by North Vietnam. The US and other western countries were supporting the South, while the former USSR and China were supporting North Vietnam.
However, the Palestinian revolution never had an Arab Hanoi or the chance to start in the Palestinian homeland, unlike other revolutions, such as the Algerian one. But following this model ended when the first intifada broke out in December, 1987. It was a strategic shift for the entire Palestinian struggle. The centre of gravity of the struggle had shifted from being abroad to the homeland. There was another big difference: The struggle became civilian-led and was not armed.
That historic shift came only four years after the exit from Beirut. However, since then, the Palestinians have faced a big and tough challenge: The question of using weapons. This has divided Palestinians at a crucial time and has caused unprecedented weakness.
The point is not whether the Palestinians should lay down their arms, but the strategic goal of the struggle itself. What are we fighting for? A Palestinian state on West Bank and Gaza within the 1967 borders? Or the liberation of historical Palestine?
During the height of the first intifada in 1988, the Israeli defence minister at that time, the late Yitzhak Rabin, visited the detention camps and asked the Palestinian prisoners one question: What do you want? The answer was clear a Palestinian state in West bank and Gaza within the 1967 borders, with occupied East Jerusalem as the capital and the right of return for refugees. Rabin asked again: With whom should we negotiate? The prisoners replied: You know the address in Tunis, talk to Palestinian Liberation Organisation (PLO).
However, as the uprising was gaining sympathy and support all over the world and pushing Israel into a corner, there were demands among Palestinians to turn the civilian uprising into an armed struggle. The PLO leadership refused to fall into this trap, because it would only give the Israelis the green light to use their full military might in an unequal battle. The civilian struggle was utilising the real power of Palestinian people it was ethically superior.
Israel confronted the intifada with hysterical brutality and repression for a good reason: To push it to face the existential question. For Israelis, it was not about giving up the West Bank and Gaza, but the fate of the State of Israel itself.
That chapter came to an end when Iraq invaded Kuwait in 1990. Soon after the Madrid peace conference in 1991, the PLO and Israel signed the Oslo Agreement in 1993. But the question of armed struggle or civilian uprising came up again. While military and political means are in harmony in a struggle for liberation, Palestinians tend to fall into a destructive dualism of resistance and betrayal.
The Israelis had never favoured any recognition of Palestinian rights until the Oslo Agreement. Oslo was not a perfect deal, but it was the only agreement in which Israel recognised the fundamental rights of Palestinian people and, in particular, the right to an independent state. The issues of Occupied Jerusalem and refugees were postponed and set aside for final negotiations.
With the formation of the Palestinian National Authority, the Palestinians had to face another tough challenge: What was the target now? For many, the big and crucial mission was to build the foundations of the state at all levels. But that process was obstructed by Israel. For Tel Aviv, obstructing the Oslo Agreement was the main strategic goal. Starting in 1993 the Israelis tried to prevent the emergence of an independent Palestinian state either under Yasser Arafat or Mahmoud Abbas or Hamas leaders. The enemy for the Israelis is the idea not the persons.
One main way of achieving this Israeli goal has been to divide Palestinians and push them towards civil war. Israel achieved that when Palestinians took the bait by falling into the resistance-betrayal mode. When Abbas says that the goal of Israeli aggression in Gaza is to prevent the PNA from heading to the UN to gain recognition for a Palestinian state based on the 1967 borders, he is right, whatever a lot of people may think about him. Israel will not go to war just to embarrass the new leaders of Egypt, as many are speculating, or as a rehearsal for the war against Iran. The campaign against Iran is just a smokescreen for a greater aim that is key for Israel. The aggression is just another chapter in Israels historical effort to put an end to the idea of the two-state solution.
Originally published in Gulf News November 19 2012