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Towards New Strategies For Palestinian National Liberation

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The Palestinian Strategy Group
1 August 2011

The Palestine Strategy Group (PSG), comprising Palestinians from across the social and political spectrum, issued its first report in 2008, in association with the Oxford Research Group (ORG) and the Badael Centre in Ramallah, entitled Regaining the Initiative: Palestinian Strategic Options for Ending Israel Occupation. The PSG subsequently embarked on a new initiative with the aim of crystallising a national Palestinian agenda, culminating in the present report Towards New Strategies for Palestinian National Liberation (see the Executive Summary below).

The report discusses the options for achieving Palestinian strategic objectives in the light of the breakdown of bilateral negotiations. With the aim of formulating a strategy capable of achieving Palestinian national goals, this report describes the current political realities, sets out certain scenarios related to possible interim solutions to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, and outlines the strategic paths and means that can make the achievement of those goals possible.

The work of the PSG is part of ORG's wider Middle East programme, which has involved working in a non-partisan way for many years with both Israelis and Palestinians. The equivalent Israeli group is the Israeli Strategic Forum (ISF)

Since 2006, ORG’s Israeli-Palestinian initiative has pioneered a new approach to 'radical disagreement' in intractable conflicts. When all efforts to encourage formal negotiation and informal dialogue between conflict parties fail, the focus shifts to facilitating inclusive strategic dialogue within them. Conflict parties are encouraged to develop optimum national strategies that maximise internal unity and take proper account of the complex strategic environment. 

Read the full report.

For  more information, the Arabic-language report, and a list of participants please visit the PSG website.


Note: Below is the English version of the Executive Summary of the Palestine Strategy Group's latest publication. It encapsulates the views of the Palestinians who participated in the workshop. ORG believes that inclusive strategic thinking of this kind, which takes full account of systemic complexity and discusses and compares alternatives to the status quo, is of great value. The benefits apply not only to Palestinians, but also to Israelis - as well as to would-be third party peacemakers. 


Executive Summary

The Palestine Strategy Group (PSG) is an open and inclusive forum for strategic discussion, in which Palestinians from across the social and political spectrum conduct strategic analysis of the environment of the conflict with Israel in order to strengthen and guide the Palestinian national project for liberation and independence. The PSG hopes that this paper will contribute to enriching the current national dialogue and assist Palestinian decision-makers in adopting the policies that can best serve the higher Palestinian national interest during this decisive phase of our national struggle.

The first part of the PSG’s task was completed in September 2008 with the production of the report Regaining the Initiative - Palestinian Strategic Options for Ending Israeli Occupation. This, along with the work and meetings that preceded it, formed the basis of the second phase of the PSG’s work, which has culminated in this report. It was conducted in three workshops held in Jericho and Gaza in 2010 and Istanbul in 2011. Not all members of the PSG agree with every point made, or can be expected to agree. But there was a powerful consensus in support of the broad thrust of the report, which we believe accurately reflects the will of the majority of the Palestinian people regarding their short- and long-term future to be rid of the occupation and to achieve self-determination and independence.

The starting point for this report is the near-consensus in the PSG that the option of ending the conflict with Israel through bilateral negotiations - which the Palestinian leadership has pursued for 20 years - is not available given the intransigence of the present Israeli government. There is no evidence of Israel’s intention of negotiating seriously for a genuinely sovereign Palestinian state. Instead, the endless ‘peace process’ is used as an instrument by which Israel continues to push ahead with plans for ever-expanding settlement and permanent occupation and control. Israel denies to Palestinians the very right to national self-determination on which its own claim to national statehood is based.

Now that the bilateral negotiations option has been closed, we are faced with urgent questions about the possible alternative options and strategies that the Palestinian people can adopt to achieve their legitimate goals. Fortunately, the scope of these options and alternatives has broadened since the onset of the revolutions that are continuing to shake the Arab world. By employing new methods and opening up new horizons, the Arab revolutions have provided the Palestinians with an opportunity to renew their struggle in a different regional context and on a more effective basis.

The report begins by identifying two main strategic requirements without which there can be no effective strategy - (a) strategic unity, now greatly enhanced by the process of reconciliation, and (b) consistent and thoroughgoing strategic thinking itself, to which we hope that this report will contribute.

A key component in this document is the preliminary analysis of strategic scenarios that was discussed at length in Regaining the Initiative (2008). Strategic scenarios are possible futures - in this case those that are acceptable and unacceptable to Palestinians. These are analysed in terms of preferred outcomes (desirability) and the capacity to achieve them (attainability). The shifting relationship between desirability and attainability defines short- and long-terms strategic goals and the relationship between them.

Scenarios acceptable to many or most Palestinians are:

(1) A fully sovereign Palestinian state on the 1967 borders with Jerusalem as its capital, and a just settlement that fulfils the Palestinian refugees’ right to return and compensation.

(2) A single bi-national state for Israelis and Palestinians.

(3) A single democratic state in which all citizens are treated equally before the law.

(4) A confederation between Jordan and an independent Palestinian state.

Scenarios not acceptable to Palestinians are:

(5) Continuation of the status quo, with open-ended and intermittent negotiations providing cover for continuing Israeli settlement on Palestinian land and the consolidation of the occupation.

(6) A Palestinian state with temporary borders and limited sovereignty, permanently under the effective control of Israel.

(7) Unilateral separation by Israel with imposed borders and restrictions on the movement of Palestinians.

(8) Any notions involving the absorption of Gaza by Egypt and the West Bank by Jordan, or other comparable arrangements.

A central strategic aim for Palestinians is emphatically to rule out scenarios (5) to (8), because the Israeli belief that these are preferable to an agreed settlement and are permanently available removes any Israeli inducement to negotiate seriously. Palestinians both can and will counter and block all four scenarios and must convey this forcefully to Israel.

The report then moves on to consider strategic objectives. There is virtual agreement among PSG members that scenario (1) is the immediate national strategic goal - together with the achievement of equal rights for Palestinians living in Israel and an early lifting of the siege of Gaza. Some PSG members ultimately prefer scenarios (2) or (3), but there is a readiness to unite behind (1) so long as it remains the case that it is the most feasible scenario and the one that receives the most international support. There is agreement that, at the end of the day, the final decision must be subject to a general national referendum whose outcome is accepted by all the concerned political parties and players.

But, if scenario (1) proves unattainable, and the new Palestinian strategy outlined here fails, then strategic objectives will inevitably shift accordingly to other scenarios. This is ‘Plan B’, which is discussed under the heading ‘Plan B: What if the new strategy fails?’ in the text.

The main thrust of this report is focused on strategic options available to Palestinians in the light of the new circumstances. Strategic options are alternative paths to strategic goals. Six main strategic options are identified by the PSG. The first option (A) (a possible return to bilateral negotiations with Israel) is not available at the moment. The next four options (B) to (E) are complementary - they link together to form the substance of the new Palestinian liberation strategy. The sixth option (F) (dissolution of the Palestinian Authority) is not yet favoured by the PSG and is not immediately feasible. But it lies at the heart of the default option in case the new strategy fails - Plan B - and as such is already integral to current strategic planning, as explained below.

Strategic option (A): A possible return to bilateral negotiations

The first option is the reopening of genuine bilateral negotiations with Israel, closed at the moment because of the Israeli government’s intransigence. What would need to happen to ensure that this option no longer continues to be a spurious cover for continuing Israeli expansion and permanent control? Essentially, Israeli decision-makers would have to understand that their preferred alternative scenarios (5) to (8) above are not available, and that a genuine negotiated settlement is therefore in the best interests of Israel. The alternatives will be much worse for the security of the Israeli state. Israelis must realise that the present ‘one state’ outcome (Israel is the only state, and retains permanent control over mandate Palestine) is not viable and cannot be sustained. There must be a return to the original 1988 basis of the historic PLO/PNC declaration that opened up the way to bilateral negotiations in the first place.

Strategic option (B): Rebuilding the national movement and renewing the political system

The second option is to reorder Palestinian internal affairs, rebuild the Palestinian national movement, renew the political system and develop Palestinian institutions. The Cairo reconciliation process has now opened the way for the formulation of a unified national strategy. Three main interlinked functions are identified for Palestinian governmental institutions by the PSG: (a) interim management (current administration and service-provision), (b) leader of national resistance in implementing Palestinian strategic options as outlined here, (c) embryonic provisional government of a future independent Palestinian state.

Given the failure of the Oslo plan after 1999/2000, the PSG sees the PA in its present form as hostage to foreign funding and cooperation with Israel in fulfilling role (a) and therefore as yet unfitted for roles (b) and (c). The PSG urges the removal of the current confusion between the roles of the PA and the PLO in relation to these functions.

Within overall Palestinian national strategy the chief purpose of option (B) is its link to option (C) by demonstrating that the Palestinian political system already has in place the political and legal attributes of responsible government.

Strategic option (C): Securing Arab, regional and international support and recognition of Palestinian national goals

This option now moves centre stage in Palestinian national strategy. The PSG sees this as the main ‘balancer’ against Israeli military preponderance, and in the end a more potent one. Despite current turbulence and uncertainty of outcome in a number of countries, the PSG sees the recent upheavals as likely to be increasingly favourable to Palestinian aspirations. Continuing and thorough analysis of the interests and capabilities of the main players and their potential leverage in relation to Palestinian strategy, therefore, forms a centrepiece of ongoing Palestinian strategy.

Much discussion in the PSG focused on the question of seeking international recognition for a Palestinian state. The dangers of premature moves are well realised. Detailed and ongoing advice on international law is essential at every point. Nevertheless, it was recognised that much headway has been made in eliciting recognition, or potential recognition, from many states. In view of disappointment with the performance of the Obama administration, emphasis is placed on other parts of the world such as Europe, Latin America and other regions. An application in September for a UN General Assembly resolution recognising a Palestinian state as a full member of the UN would return the Palestinian issue to its origin. There was also discussion of the possibility of inviting the UNGA to refer the Palestine question to the Special Committee on Decolonisation.

Strategic option (D): Smart resistance

Smart resistance means an intelligent, focused and flexible use of the various sub-components of the broad strategic option of national resistance in general. These include legal action against Israel in the world’s courts and boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) campaigns.

But the main emphasis in the PSG is on non-violent popular resistance, as demonstrated so powerfully in the Tunisian and Egyptian revolutions so far, and elsewhere in the Arab world. Palestinians have been pioneers in this area as in the first intifada 1987. But now a new chapter needs to be opened, because the full force of this strategic option was only partially exploited at that time. It remains a vast and largely untapped resource waiting to be fully activated in the framework of the new Palestinian liberation strategy. The PSG is in general agreement that the scope of popular resistance needs to be broadened and reactivated on all fronts, especially where youth stand to the

The PSG discussed the role of armed resistance and agreed that this is an entirely legitimate tool in international law in cases of foreign occupation. Some see armed struggle as an essential, albeit partial, ‘equaliser’ to Israel’s military power without which Israel will continue to ignore Palestinian demands. Others - probably a majority - think that this is not the moment to emphasise the armed struggle, because it plays to Israel’s strength, provides Israeli right wing elements with propaganda tools to justify the use of force, and enables the nature of the conflict to be misrepresented as a military confrontation between two antagonists rather than a clear-cut case of military occupation.

There was a strong feeling in the PSG that attacks on civilians should play no part in the new national liberation strategy as they are in clear breach of international law, which is what our Palestinian strategy mainly appeals to, and only serves to alienate international opinion. 

Strategic option (E): Framing the issues

In parallel with the conflict on the ground, we are waging a fierce war with Israel in the fields of discourse, slogans, and legal and moral argumentation. The fifth option is to ensure that the cause of Palestinian liberation is argued out in terms of our rights-based discourse, not the Israeli/US discourse that has until recently controlled so much of the discursive terrain. The PSG calls for a high priority within Palestinian strategy to be accorded to promoting and coordinating our discourse via all channels. Recent ferment in the Arab world again demonstrates the importance of this. It includes influencing international news channels, mobilising social networks (facebook, twitter, etc), organising interviews and seminars, coordinating the work of Palestinian ambassadors, organising and mobilising Palestinian diaspora communities, using the creative arts including film, and exploiting all the other dimensions of publicity and influence made available by the communications revolution.

At the core of this effort is not just a ‘Palestinian narrative’ to be set beside an equivalent ‘Israeli narrative’, but a lived reality of 60 years of suffering and dispossession, and the undoubted universal legitimacy and justice of our cause. Great advances in the discursive struggle have been made in recent years to the point where Israeli apologists recognise the heightened international effectiveness of our efforts and are at a loss to know how to stem them.

Strategic option (F): Dissolving the Palestinian Authority and leaving Israel with direct responsibility for administering the status quo (Plan B)

This is the default option that arises in case the new Palestinian liberation strategy fails. In that eventuality would the PA linger on indefinitely as service-provider without real sovereignty, administering the occupied territories at no cost to Israel, preserving calm and security - hardly more than a local municipal authority? Although there are grave difficulties and dangers in dissolving the PA and handing back responsibility for administering the inhabitants of the occupied territories to Israel in its capacity of occupying power (as itemised below), what other honourable option would Palestinians have in that eventuality?

The PSG concluded that there would be no other option, however great the cost. If the possibility of attaining scenario (1) - an independent Palestinian state - is seen to be no longer available, then Palestinians will inevitably switch to scenarios (2) and (3) - a bi-national state, a state for all its citizens, or some variation of these. The strategic goal would no longer be self-determination for Palestinians within a separate Palestinian state, but the entire resistance effort would be poured into the demand for civic equality throughout the whole of Palestine. It would make the Palestinian struggle more akin to the fight against apartheid in South Africa, with which there are both similarities and dissimilarities. The conflict would become endless and implacable. Palestinians will never give up the struggle for their individual democratic and collective rights. The suffering of Palestinians would continue, but others would suffer, too, as radicalisation and instability increased throughout the region as a direct consequence. Should this happen, it would not just be Israel’s legitimacy, but its very existence that would be under threat. And this will have been brought about by Israel itself.

This is the outcome that Israeli planners need to understand now. Scenarios (5) to (8) simply are not available. Even scenario (7) - unilateral Israeli separation including redrawing of borders and population movement - would in the end inevitably fail in the face of international outrage and never-ending Palestinian opposition as the torch of resistance is handed on from generation to generation.

The remainder of the report outlines the key points raised as a result of this analysis for further national discussion over the next six months. This includes ongoing analysis of Israeli politics and society in order to determine how best to influence friendly Jewish and Israeli opinion, and anticipate and counter hostile Israeli strategy. The full development of a new Palestinian national liberation strategy, contributed to by Palestinians from every region and constituency and commanding maximum support, is now an urgent national priority. The complex external conflict environment is changing rapidly. Our own prospective internal elections (local, legislative, presidential, PNC) are likely to be disruptive, and to tempt us to look inwards. This may distract our attention from the priority of formulating, developing and implementing the new external strategy.

In response to this, therefore, the PSG intends to continue its work, hopes that as many Palestinians as possible may be inspired to participate, and suggests that a national ‘strategic thinking’ unit should be set up to guide and motivate the national strategic debate at this critical time.

For more information visit our PSG project page.

Visit the PSG website for the Arabic report, a list of participants in the PSG, and the earlier Regaining the Initiative report. 

Our publications are circulated free of charge for non-profit use, but please consider making a donation to ORG, if you are able to do so.