Palestinians need MLK's tactics

February 10, 2002|By James J. Zogby

WASHINGTON - There's a desperate need for a new Palestinian strategy. What is now being done is not working. More of the same will produce only more suffering, more tension and ever deepening disaster.

In order to begin a long overdue reassessment, it's important to outline some of the constants that define the parameters of the current situation.

The first of these is that the Israeli government of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon is unwilling to make peace on terms that provide the Palestinians with their basic rights.

Second, it is clear that the Bush administration will not intervene to restrain Israel's aggressive behavior. Given the absence of any possibility of an outside rescue effort, it is important to look elsewhere.

Third, not only are Palestinians losing on the ground, but they are losing the information battle in the United States. Israel has succeeded in defining the terms of the debate, in demonizing the Palestinian Authority and Yasser Arafat and in portraying the Palestinians as the aggressors.

Fourth, there will be no European rescue. The Europeans have no real leverage or no interest in using whatever leverage they do have because they want to avoid a confrontation with the United States.

Fifth, even the Arab states, though deeply distressed by the unraveling situation, will not be able to be the external force that can rescue the situation.

Finally, within the Israeli context, it is important to recognize that the collapse of the peace process and the resumption of violence has hardened Israeli opinion. As a result, Mr. Sharon's hand has been strengthened and the Labor Party has been weakened to the point of collapse.

I believe that is where we are today. The suicide bombings in Israel and the bizarre effort to turn the West Bank into South Lebanon by introducing new weapons are destructive and stupid. They have resulted in increased suffering and done great damage to the Palestinian cause.

Violence in any form only begets more violence. As one Palestinian leader noted a short while ago, "When we use stones, they use guns. When we use guns, they use tanks," and so it goes. If this is the case, and it is, then what possible good would rockets be?

It is, therefore, critical to find a new way. To begin, however, it is vital that the violence must end. This will be hard to do. Israel's brutally aggressive behavior continues and only deepens Palestinian anger and heightens passions. But it must be stopped - even if it is done at great cost to the Palestinian Authority.

The bombings and killings have damaged the world's view of the Palestinians' legitimate struggle for self-determination and have allowed the likes of Mr. Sharon and Benjamin Netanyahu to transform their public personas in the West from the brutal bullies that they are into defenders of a beleaguered people.

With the violence ended, the Palestinian people can begin a full-scale campaign designed to change the political dynamics in their favor.

At work in the occupied territories is a small and courageous group of young people engaged in civil disobedience against the occupation forces. Their efforts should be supported. Large-scale peaceful demonstrations and sit-ins and disruptions of traffic can occur in Jerusalem, on West Bank roads and at checkpoints. If preceded by a period of calm and if completely peaceful, these actions will have their desired impact.

As the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and other practitioners of nonviolence have taught, the genesis of this approach is that it is like "jujitsu." When facing a more powerful foe, never play into his power, but attempt to turn his power into his weakness.

A peaceful march of tens of thousands of unarmed Palestinians converging on Jerusalem from all points in the West Bank, carrying banners that read "Let my people pray" or "Let my people go home," would tie the hands of the Israeli military. If they used violence, they would lose. If they allowed the march, the Palestinians would find new power and win.

There are hundreds of similar little tactics that could be developed into a comprehensive campaign. They should be explored.

All of this must be complemented by a political peace initiative launched by the Palestinian leadership and proposed to the people of Israel. It should hold out the terms of a comprehensive peace based on terms that meet the legitimate needs of all parties. Coupled with a period of peace and nonviolent protest, it could have a transformative impact in Israel and in the United States. It would certainly cause Mr. Sharon some great discomfort. He needs the violence to survive; a real peace campaign would weaken his hold.

The current path has led to a dead end. The anger among Palestinians is so great and the pain so deep that it will be very difficult to carve a new path. But those who care about a just and lasting peace must work together and begin a discussion about a new and radically different approach. Vengeance, by either party, is counterproductive and leads to destruction.

Let us begin a debate.

James J. Zogby is president of the Arab-American Institute in Washington.

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