The number of Gaza residents willing to participate in the riots along the border fence is dropping, as could be seen in last Friday’s protest. Hamas is no longer hiding the fact that the demonstrations are not intended to be quiet marches, but violent attempts to carry out attacks on Israeli forces and civilians, as well as damage the fence and military equipment, and burn fields and forests.
We can assume that leading up to May 15, on which the Palestinians mark the Nakba (or “Catastrophe”) of their displacement during Israel’s 1948 War of Independence, the border will heat up again. Hamas will spur on Gazans to head out for the “marches of return,” reminding Israel and the world that the Palestinians are still committed to the dream of return, which in essence means the destruction of the State of Israel.
As Hamas prepares for more rounds of violence—since it has nothing to offer the residents of Gaza other than that—the Palestinian Authority in Ramallah has been keeping mum. This is due in part to internecine Palestinian power struggles—primarily, the fight over who will succeed P.A. leader Mahmoud Abbas—but also because Abbas and his friends do not want and actually cannot escape the trap they closed on themselves when they turned up their noses at the American administration’s attempts to kick-start the peace process.
The Palestinian nationalist movement is at one of the lowest points in its history. Some, even among the Palestinians, argue that it has come to the end of the road. Its goals—even the smallest ones—are slipping out of its reach. No matter what happens, their fate is once again out of their hands and out of the hands of their leadership, whether that happens to be the P.A., which is pinning its hopes on the international community, or Hamas, which is now making its way back to the welcoming embrace of Iran.
The celebration of Israel’s achievements over the 70 years of its existence is an excellent opportunity for the Palestinians to spend some time thinking about where they went wrong and what could extract them from the dead end they have found themselves in.
After 100 years of clashes (dating from the Balfour Declaration), 70 years of conflict (starting with the 1948 War of Independence) and a quarter-century since the Oslo Accords, which were supposed to have given the Palestinians both peace and land of their own, it looks like they are losing the little they have managed to obtain.
The Palestinian nationalist movement was always a mirror image of Zionism; in other words, it was born out of and in response to the advent of Zionism. This means that the battle against the Zionist idea and the desire to serve as an antithesis to everything that Israel symbolizes were and are simply a common denominator, rather than a defining element of the Palestinian identity. This is not enough to sustain a victorious national movement and lead it to success.
It would appear that the sources of the Palestinian weakness have never changed: the lack of a national identity that supercedes the tribe, the clan or the village, and is nothing more than a rejection of the other (Zionism); the lack of any legitimate, effective leadership that lays out a path and convinces the public to take it; a weak economy; religious radicalization; and, above all, depending on others to rescue the Palestinians from their distress.
From 1948 to 1967, the Palestinians hung their hopes on Arab nations. For the P.A., it’s now the international community—that same vague and amorphous entity whose efficacy we have seen in Syria, and for Hamas, in Iran and Turkey.
Incidentally, this is a challenging reality for Israel because it means that the hope that one day Israel would find a Palestinian partner for either a peace deal or in the case of Gaza, a truce, is a false one.
It’s hard to think that the Palestinians in their current situation are capable of compromising, much less making a compromise acceptable to Israel, which is the stronger side. It also means that in the future, the ball is in Israel’s court when it comes to its approach towards the Palestinians, and it’s doubtful whether the Palestinians wish to or can take part in the game.
Eyal Zisser is a lecturer in the Middle East History Department at Tel Aviv University.