The best way to promote solutions that serve the interests of the Palestinian cause is for Palestinian factions to end the longstanding political rift, come together under the PLO umbrella as the sole legitimate representative of the Palestinian people, and continue the struggle as one, using the instruments of peaceful resistance. Palestinian political analysts are generally unanimous on this score. They hold that militant tactics in Gaza not only failed to achieve their goals, but also resulted in massive destruction of infrastructure and thousands of dead and wounded. The military solution is futile, they say.
Nevertheless, some analysts recognise that the military solution still holds appeal among significant portions of the Palestinian grassroots base. They point to demonstrations in Gaza opposed to de-escalation and in favour of retaliation against Israel, despite the huge gap in military strength. Also noteworthy is the kudos won by the Islamic Jihad following the assassination of Quds Brigades commander Bahaa Abul-Ata, when it succeeded — without help from Hamas — in bringing life to a halt in Israel for three full days.
Gaza came under intensive Israeli bombardement for two full days, on 12 and 13 November, following Israel’s targeted assassination of Abul-Ata in his home in the Shejaiya district of Gaza. The Israel aggression killed 34 civilians, including eight children and three women, and injured 111 other civilians before Israel and the Islamic Jihad announced a ceasefire.
Political analyst Riham Awda observed that while both Hamas and the Islamic Jihad subscribed to the principle and practice of armed resistance with the aim of liberating occupied Palestinian territory, the political/military game may dictate the need for different tactics. Armed resistance depends on its military personnel on the ground and their leaders, she said. If they lose a fighter or a commander, they must retaliate. This applied to the Islamic Jihad in particular, after it released a statement warning Israel against targeting any of its commanders. Commanders are symbols of strength, so to lose one signifies a loss in strength, Awda said. That the commander targeted was Abul-Ata was particularly provocative. “Abul-Ata was no ordinary commander,” Awda said. “He was in charge of field operations related to Israeli strategic weapons.”
She added that Israel’s return to the policy of targeted assassinations signified that more such operations could follow. “Islamic Jihad meant to forestall this by means of its escalatory retaliation using missile fire.”
That Hamas stood out the last round of missile fire was because it believed that the Islamic Jihad could handle the retaliation on its own, Awda maintained. “Also, Hamas doesn’t want to get involved in a petty war because it is preparing itself for a larger war. It doesn’t want to waste all its military cards in one go, or be dragged into a military attrition operation,” she said, noting that it was clear from the outset of the last Israeli offensive that Israel sought to destroy the armed resistance’s military infrastructure in Gaza.
“We have to wait a bit before ascertaining whether the ceasefire will hold,” said the Ramallah-based political analyst Abdel-Majid Sweilam. He believes that the Egyptian-brokered ceasefire is fragile, “perhaps because there wasn’t enough time to dot the i’s and cross the t’s on all issues, or because some Islamic Jihad members are dissatisfied with the agreement for one reason or another.”
In Sweilam’s opinion, the plans of the resistance factions now have less to do with resistance against Israel than with rival schemes for controlling and ruling Gaza. The crux of what is happening in Gaza at present has no direct bearing on grand slogans about resistance and territorial liberation, he said. The aims have shrunk and now attention is focused on how far out in the Mediterranean Gazan fisherman can fish, on arrangements to receive money from the Qataris, and how close peaceful demonstrators for the right to return can approach the border without getting shot at, as though higher scores on these matters are major accomplishments. Such are the issues being discussed and “they have nothing to do with the central Palestinian cause, resistance against schemes to eliminate the cause, or Israel’s drive to expand settlements, gobble up the West Bank and destroy the two-state solution and cut Jerusalem off from its surrounding environment,” Sweilam said. “The militant resistance factions are not paying attention to such matters. They’re not focused on Israeli aims, practices and the realities it is imposing on the ground. All they care about is how much they can control in Gaza.”
Sweilam holds that the Palestinian cause can only be served by ending the rift, coming together in the framework of the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) as the sole legitimate representative of the Palestinian people, and using peaceful forms of resistance.
The Palestinian writer and researcher Talal Abu Rukba argues that while Israel’s ability to single out the Islamic Jihad in the last aggression gave the impression that Israeli strategy accomplished its objective, of driving a wedge between resistance factions, this was not the case. The Islamic Jihad had not entered this round in the framework of action against the blockade of Gaza or to improve the conditions of understandings between the Gaza factions and Israel, but rather solely out of the need to avenge the assassination of Abul-Ata.
Abu Rukba also held that all sides (the resistance factions and Israel) realise that escalation will not lead to a satisfactory result for either of them. “Israel recognises that its military options in Gaza are limited and that a full-scale campaign or confrontation would incur material and human costs that it could not sustain politically inside Israel. The factions — Hamas in particular — believe that it is impossible to attain more than they have under the current local, regional and international conditions. In other words, both sides have exhausted their options.”
He added that the Palestinian factions also have come to realise that the option of war or major confrontation against the occupation is a decision that is subject to careful calculations as to how it would add to their strengths or strategic advantage, how it would force the occupation to bear the consequences of its aggression and how to prevent civilians from bearing the brunt of the costs. “These are the ABCs of resistance action.”
In Abu Rukba’s opinion, the popular Palestinian reaction in Gaza threw into relief the constant failure of Israeli policies to force a wedge between the resistance factions and their grassroots base. “This base poured into the streets to express their support for retaliation despite all attempts to undermine the value of resistance in the Palestinian consciousness and to convince Palestinians that they have no alternative but to surrender to bitter reality.”
At the same time, Abu Rukba added, the recent confrontation underscored the need to develop the tools of effective resistance and invent new mechanisms that take the enemy by surprise, so as to keep Israel from breaking the rules of the game whenever and however it pleases. “The resistance needs to explore new means to break the cycle of attrition under the Israeli blockade.”
*A version of this article appears in print in the 21 November, 2019 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly.