2023 Yearender: Anatomy of the Palestinian resistance

Ahmed Kamel Al-Beheiry, Saturday 23 Dec 2023

The US and the West in general have consistently used their terrorism laws to put pressure on supporters of Palestinian rights in order to achieve their own political ends and in support of Israel.



The West, meaning the US and Europe, use terrorist laws to identify security threats, whether from individuals, groups, or states, and each country has developed its own set of criteria for classification and ranking purposes.

However, these criteria are shaped by these countries’ own outlooks and interests, rather than by any impartial scientific process. As a result, double standards are the rule, not the exception, in these countries’ application of the terrorist branding.

This is easily observable through an analysis of terrorist-related legal provisions at the international or country level in Europe and the US. Such an analysis, substantiated by statements by government officials, shows that the US leads the way in using the terrorist label to achieve its own political ends, rather than to help safeguard international peace and security.

This hypocritical behaviour is on fuller display than ever in the West’s handling of the Palestinian crisis. Throughout the history of the Arab-Israeli conflict, the US and its European satellites have consistently used their terrorist laws to exert pressure on individuals and groups who support Palestinian rights and the pursuit of justice against the Israeli occupation.

Whether a Palestinian resistance movement is secular and pro-democratic, leftist or Islamist, the kneejerk reaction of Western governments has been to designate it as a “terrorist” group. The rule of thumb is that any individual or group that opposes Israel or Israeli policies is a terrorist or a terrorist sympathiser.

This irrational and biased approach has become more extreme than ever since 7 October this year. Not only Hamas and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) but virtually every Palestinian group or faction has been lumped into the “terrorist” basket out of deference to Israel, which sees every Palestinian who moves as a terrorist.

This is the same attitude that has now led to over 70 days of indiscriminate slaughter in Gaza, where the death toll now exceeds 20,000 people, at least half of whom are women and children. The US and many European countries are complicit in perpetuating the atrocities carried out by Israel through their determination to silence all voices that defend the Palestinian right to life and dignity and oppose Israel’s racist policies.

The question is why does the West behave in this way? Why does it refuse to treat the Palestinian factions as resistance and national-liberation movements?

The first reason has to do with the dominance of the Israeli narrative. Since UN Resolution 181 of 1947 partitioning Palestine and establishing the Israeli state on Palestinian land, the Zionist Movement has managed to ensure that its narrative has prevailed in Western minds and, more importantly, in the newly formed international order that emerged after World War II.

This narrative rests on four pillars of Zionism: the right of Jews to create an ethnic state; the historical victimhood of the Jews which culminated in the Holocaust in Europe; the need for Israel as an “oasis of democracy” in an anti-democratic environment; and its existence as an outpost of Western military might with the ability to take on the threats that some of its Arab neighbours might pose to Western interests in the region.

The grip of these ideas, combined with other instruments of Zionist influence in the West, such as lobby groups, financial support for pro-Israel politicians, and economic clout, have convinced many Western countries to broadcast and defend the Israeli narrative and to suppress any Palestinian, Arab, or allied voice that defends Palestinian and Arab rights and legitimate demands.

These include the right to Palestinian self-determination in a sovereign independent state, the Israeli withdrawal from the Occupied Syrian Golan Heights and the Lebanese Shebaa Farms, and the need for Israel to implement the UN Resolutions regarding the Palestinian right of return, as well as a halt to settlement construction and the cessation of provocative actions such as the storming of the Al-Aqsa Mosque and attempts to claim Jerusalem as the Israeli capital.

The second reason why the Israeli narrative has continued to dominate in the West stems from the schism between the Palestinian national liberation and resistance groups and the collapse of the unifying symbolic value of the Palestinian Authority (PA) since the death of former Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) chairman Yasser Arafat.

These developments accelerated the weakening of the Palestinian cause that had begun with the Oslo Accords in the 1990s. With the death of Arafat and the rise of Hamas to power in Gaza, the antagonism between Fatah and Hamas increased as each side focused on asserting its influence in internal Palestinian power dynamics instead of working together to forge a unified vision for an assembly of groups that share the same goals.

As a result, the Palestinian political scene descended into a battleground, and this contributed to the declining international concern for the rights of the Palestinian people and to the Western thrall to the Israeli discourse.

The third factor is the divergence in Arab attitudes and outlooks on the Palestinian cause. Although the Arab states have repeatedly reaffirmed their commitment to the Arab Peace Initiative (API) adopted at the Arab Summit in Beirut in 2002, some Arab governments have shifted their positions in practice by establishing bilateral relations with Tel Aviv.

Such unilateral steps depart from the spirit and substance of the API. Some Arab parties have gone even further and have tried to reorder regional political and security arrangements through security and intelligence alliances with Israel. There were even moves to create a “Middle East NATO” that would include Israel and whose ostensible purpose was to forge a geopolitical axis to fill the security vacuum after a planned US withdrawal from the Middle East.

All this naturally lent itself to reinforcing the fourth pillar of the Zionist narrative, namely Israel as the military arm of the US and the West in the Middle East. This outlook was translated into the so-called “Deal of the Century” that sought to purchase Arab/Palestinian acquiescence, help Israel evade its obligations under international law, and circumvent the Palestinian people’s right to self-determination in a sovereign independent state.

Despite Israel’s relative success in imposing its narrative, the scale of the atrocities that are unfolding in Gaza has plunged the international community into a moral crisis, to the extent that even some of Israel’s staunchest backers have been forced to revise their positions and even re-examine some of the premises of the Israeli narrative.

Some European countries have been more courageous than others, of course. Belgium and Spain, for example, have demanded an immediate ceasefire in Gaza and the international recognition of a Palestinian state.

Even the US, the main material and political backer of the war on Gaza, has been forced to modify its uncritical support of Israel.  On 12 December, in a speech to Democratic Party donors in Washington, US President Joe Biden said that Israel had begun to lose support in Europe and elsewhere in the world because of the mounting civilian death toll from Israel’s indiscriminate bombing of the Gaza Strip.

He urged Israel to learn the lessons from US mistakes after the 11 September attacks on New York and Washington, adding that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his government, which Biden described as the most right wing in Israel’s history, had to change course.

“The whole world’s public opinion can shift overnight. We can’t let that happen,” Biden said, advising Netanyahu to take tough decisions if he wants to avoid losing international support.

Although Biden’s remarks and the new positions of some of the European countries reflect a marked shift in the discourse of the international community, this has yet to translate into actions to force Israel to cease its aggression and impose a solution that will lead to the establishment of a Palestinian state.

On the other hand, if the outlooks of the Western governments continue to shift due to mounting public pressure, this may be reflected in their attitudes towards Palestinian movements and activists, leading to their removal from the West’s politicised terrorist lists and their recognition as national liberation and resistance movements.

Essentially, a two-fold crisis has led the international community to misperceive the Palestinian movements as violent extremist groups: the hold of the Israeli narrative over the West and Palestinian political divisions and factional infighting and the consequent decline of Palestinian influence in the international arena since the death of Arafat.

 However, an opportunity is at hand to redress the balance now that the Israeli narrative is crumbling under the weight of its crimes. The starting point is to reorder the Palestinian house, reunite the resistance movements, and strengthen the defence of the Palestinian cause, and the key to the success of this is famous Palestinian political figure Marwan Barghouti, now in his 21st year of confinement in the Israeli occupation’s jails.

On 15 April 2002, Israeli forces arrested this prominent leader of the Palestinian Intifada in Kobar northwest of Ramallah. Two years later, he and five others were sentenced to 40 years in prison by Israeli courts.

While it is clearly a moral and political duty to call for this freedom-fighter’s release, to champion his cause is also to champion the drive to free the current Palestinian political situation from its internal contradictions and to properly develop the Palestinian struggle for justice.

Barghouti can help in bringing the leadership of Fatah (or, more precisely, what is left of Fatah) back on course, in reassembling the Palestinian factions beneath one umbrella, and in restructuring the PLO. In this sense, he is the solution.

* A version of this article appears in print in the 21 December, 2023 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly

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