Have the Palestinians Given Up?

They may not admit it to themselves, but facts on the ground look as though Palestinians are conceding to the occupation, with no change in sight.

A Palestinian youth waves the national flag as the Israeli military digs in search of smuggling tunnels at the border east of Gaza city on May 15, 2016, on the 68th anniversary of the "Nakba."
Mahmud Hams, AFP

“The Palestinians will never resign themselves to Israeli rule.” This is an axiom of the anti-occupation camp, the so-called pragmatic argument against the status quo – that it’ll blow up in our faces sooner or later, like it always has.

But maybe this prediction isn’t accurate. Maybe the Palestinians, after fighting Israel for 100 years, have finally given up. They wouldn’t admit it, of course, probably not even to themselves, but on the ground that’s the way it looks, and has looked for several years. 

I’m not declaring this situation as permanent; that would obviously be premature. But I am saying that there’s no sign of change, and that the possibility of ongoing, long-term Palestinian acquiescence to the occupation ought to be recognized, if only for the sake of honesty. 

The wave of terror that began last September has died down. It was never more than a streak of hysteria in the air, a collection of lone-wolf attacks; it never gained mass support. Hamas gave it little more than verbal encouragement while every day the Palestinian Authority helped the Shin Bet and Israeli army put it down. Israeli-PA cooperation in fighting terror is “better than ever,” according to top Israeli security officials quoted by Haaretz’s Amos Harel three weeks ago

In Gaza, Hamas acquiesces to Israel’s blockade of the Strip, as well as to its violent enforcement of the no-go zone on the Gazan side of the border and the arbitrary nautical limits on fishermen. Hamas also restrains jihadist groups from firing rockets at Israel, while its own rocketing has slowed to a trickle since Operation Protective Edge two summers ago. In fact, it wasn’t much more than a trickle for most of the five and a half years before that, having been effectively overpowered by the first of Israel’s Gazan onslaughts, Operation Cast Lead at the turn of 2009. 

On the diplomatic front, PA President Mahmoud Abbas’ “UN strategy” continues spinning its wheels. He’d planned to bring an anti-settlement resolution before the UN Security Council, but he backed off last month at the behest of the French, who didn’t want anything to interfere with their new peace initiative, such as it is. In the international halls of power, Abbas is powerless. 

On the whole, Palestinians in the West Bank have been fairly docile since Israel put down the second intifada a dozen years ago, while those in Gaza have been largely impotent since Israel first bashed up the Strip seven and a half years ago. There have been flare-ups – two more mini-wars with Gaza, a mini-intifada in East Jerusalem, and this last wave of terror – but in each case Israel gave incomparably more than it got, and when the dust cleared the occupation remained rigidly in place.   

Military power can be a very useful thing. So can diplomatic power. And Israel has used its military and diplomatic power over the Palestinians very, very effectively. The Palestinians seem exhausted – and why shouldn’t they be?

Aside from Israel’s military and diplomatic advantages, there are two other important things that have pacified the Palestinians – money and relative security. In a sense, the Palestinian Authority is a business, one that collects about $2 billion a year in foreign contributions and provides jobs to some 200,000 Palestinians and their families. It keeps the peace for Israel in the West Bank’s cities, villages and refugee camps, making the occupation quite tolerable for the occupier, which galls the Palestinians, of course – but on the other hand, who among their leaders and insiders is going to close down a business that gets $2 billion a year in donations and employs 200,000 people? 

Abbas has cried wolf so many times about “giving back the keys” to Israel, about letting it resume policing nearly 4 million Palestinians in the West Bank like it did before Oslo, which would turn the status quo upside down and make the occupation acutely uncomfortable for the occupier – but Abbas has never gone through with the threat. Too many Palestinians (especially the leaders and insiders) have too much to lose. The population would be made destitute, and would once again get much, much the worse of it in the inevitable violent confrontation with the IDF. Abbas, at 81, won’t be around much longer, but the PA almost certainly will; the battle for succession is well underway.

As for the “international community,” they’re so weary of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and as long as the Palestinians aren’t making things difficult, why should the EU or UN or anybody else pay more than lip service to saving them?     

I get no pleasure charting the Palestinians’ cave-in. As an Israeli I don’t want to see Israelis get hurt, and as a human being I don’t want to see Palestinians get hurt, but as a supporter of freedom, I don’t like seeing the Palestinians going on being subjugated, especially when the one holding them down is my country. 

But what’s taking place is a cave-in. That’s what’s been taking place for a long time. The Palestinians as a nation are not mobilized for the cause of freedom, neither violently nor non-violently. And while this may change, there is no sign of it. Israel has overpowered them – and now the indelicate Avigdor Lieberman is on his way to becoming defense minister

Tragically, there are examples in history of weaker nations being crushed permanently by stronger ones. In his last days, humiliated and under house arrest in the Muqata, Arafat said defiantly that the Palestinians “are not red Indians,” meaning American Indians. I really hope he was right, but I wonder. 

The writer is a copy editor at Haaretz and blogs at larryderfner.com. Follow him on Twitter: @DerfnerLarry