ARAB WORLD – A suspended political transition


The purpose of this paper is to identify a few key issues related to political transitions in Palestine, in the Arab countries, and in Asia, in order to identify the main conditions connected to what will be a long process and an uncertain outcome, which varies from one country to another.

The current situation in the Palestinian territories is marked by continued Israeli occupation and colonization. In the West Bank: the wall, the settlements, the checkpoints, and the bloody attacks by Israeli soldiers and settlers against civilians. In the Gaza Strip: a brutal Israeli blockade for more than nine years against the civilian population that has suffered three Israeli offensives in five years (in 2009, 2012 and 2014). The prevailing feeling in the Palestinian territories is a lack of prospects for the future, particularly with the failure of the peace process and the silent complicity of the official international community, not to mention the regional and international circumstances, which are not in favour of a quick solution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Faced with this harsh situation, the Palestinian resistance takes different forms: political negotiations, armed struggle, and non-violent actions.

We will present these forms of resistance and the particularity of each one, as well as the adopted strategy, the achievements on the ground, and the consequences on the civilian population. And we will especially try to see how the political transition in the occupied Palestinian territories has failed to achieve the Palestinians’ demands. Indeed, it has brought no radical change in comparison to other countries in the area (especially in neighbouring Arab countries) and South Asia.

The three forms of resistance in Palestine

The inter-Palestinian situation is very complicated, since we are facing three different projects with different strategies: negotiating peace with the Israelis, although it is a peace process that has not led to concrete results (project promoted by the Palestinian Authority); popular resistance and non-violence against the occupation; military resistance, another project that is opposed to the first and prefers an energetic form of resistance to the occupation (it is the Gaza factions’ project). This last option is often marked by a truce, respected by the Palestinian factions but never by the Israeli army which continues its attacks, incursions, and bombardments against the Gaza Strip.

There have been more than 50 Palestinian deaths between September 2014 (end of the Israeli offensive in 2014) and November 2015. In addition, silence and non-engagement can be seen from these factions concerning the new popular uprising triggered in early October 2015 in the West Bank, with a toll of 200 dead and 5,000 wounded Palestinians (uprising triggered in October 2015 in the West Bank only). But the Palestinian political situation has changed today.

Divisions and intrigues have fractured the Palestinian resistance, making it almost impossible to envisage the reappearance of the popular mass movement of earlier years. More than twenty-two years after the Oslo Accords (1993 – peace agreement between Palestinians and Israelis), the creation of a Palestinian state coexisting with Israel has never seemed so illusory – only part of the West Bank is under the exclusive control of the Palestinians – while the death toll remains high and continues to rise. Today, half of the Palestinian population lives below the poverty line, unemployment is around 40%, and water resources are increasingly limited. Not to mention the list of the injured and dead people, without any effective reaction from the international community, for instance in July and August 2014 when the Israeli army shelled for fifty days the densely populated cities of Gaza (over 2,200 civilian deaths; that was in July-August 2014).

It is not conceivable today to see the emergence of a new Intifada, or of leaders able to ensure its development in the long term. Crucially, on the external regional front, with economic crisis, division, and a Middle East region increasingly marked by instability and constant shifts of power, there is no longer any priority given to the Palestinian cause. These are the three trends in Palestine that are contesting the policy consisting to confront the occupation and to restore the fundamental rights of the Palestinians: one continues to cling to the prospect of a successful conclusion of the peace negotiations, the second advocates a military resistance, and the third calls for non-violent actions. Thus, in the West Bank, despite clashes between Israeli soldiers and Palestinian youth, the Palestinian Authority is completely involved in a peace process that has yielded no results (except the permanent expansion of Israeli settlements on Palestinian land), and sees no realistic option for a militarization of the conflict, that is an intifada. Yet in this gloomy atmosphere, the PA remains convinced that there should be one more chance for negotiations.

In Gaza, however, Hamas (in particular) supports military action; but since the events in Egypt (with the change of power in 2013), the Palestinian factions can only watch helplessly the turmoil that unfolds regionally. And they cannot use their ineffective missiles against nearby Israeli towns, which would be anyway outside the terms of the truce they (pretend to) have respected. There is moreover some military tension with the new military power in Egypt, plus the closing of the Rafah crossing point, and the destruction of tunnels linking Gaza to Egypt (more than 1,000 tunnels have been closed by the Egyptian authorities). In addition, they fear that any imprudent action may further complicate the situation of a population already in crisis and under a paralyzing pressure. Popular committees, committed activists, and others, including those in the West Bank, meanwhile opt for non-violence and peaceful actions. But besides the fact that Israel (or even the international community) pays no attention to these events, which bear no consequences for the occupier, the problem is mainly that there is no coordination between the different committees that are active on the field, not to mention that these actions are not permanent: they usually only occur when the IDF evacuates homes or destroys neighbourhoods or villages. Two other factors contribute to the ineffectiveness of these actions: the lack of official support enjoyed by the Palestinian Authority and the absence of a broader popular support. Finally, each association focuses on the defence of its own project without supporting other initiatives or considering other trends within Palestinian society.

This state of division and fragmentation, the rivalry between two governments (one in Gaza and one in Ramallah) which hate each other, and the three projects of resistance already mentioned, prevent a Palestinian uprising, i.e. a third Intifada. Although the situation is becoming more and more critical, and the youth more radicalized, the basic question is: who could successfully ensure the mobilization and organization of a new Palestinian revolt? In the first two intifadas, in 1987 (non-violent) and 2000 (militarized), there was only one watchword, respected by all political parties and all who acted on the ground, and there was a Supreme Council which monitored and structured actions, which were then implemented and respected by all. For its part, the actual last phase of the Palestinian national struggle is carried out non-violently and in a manner consistent with the purest traditions of constitutional democracy.

There are many reasons to consider the Palestinian struggle for self-determination a lost cause. Israel has a paramount military force with undisputed control over the Palestinian people, in the context of a political reality periodically dramatized by brutal attacks against Gaza, that cause mass civilian casualties. Organized Palestinian armed resistance has almost completely disappeared, which thus limits the anti-Israeli violence, that then only reacts against Palestinian individuals acting for themselves and running to an almost certain fatal fate by randomly attacking Israelis they see in the streets, especially soldiers and those they think are settlers, armed only with simple knives. Accordingly, Israel suffers no pressure to publicly display some kind of receptivity to the idea of negotiating a peace that may lead to the creation of an independent Palestinian state. Regional turmoil in the Middle East is also useful to Israel in that it diverts the world’s attention towards the Islamic state group, Syria, and the waves of migrants who (are said to) threaten the European Union’s cohesion. This gives Israel a pass and makes the Palestinian claims barely visible on the radar screens of public opinion.

The divergence between military factions, national conflict, regional and international influence, and the risk of radicalization

In addition, there is the issue of security in the Palestinian territories (more than ten security services in the West Bank and seven in Gaza): how to organize the work of the various services in the West Bank and in the Gaza Strip? There is also the problem of weapons detained by different factions plus – not to be forgotten – the reconstruction of Gaza (after three Israeli offensives that destroyed civilian infrastructure in this remote region), the imperious need to end the blockade, to allow travels between Gaza and the West Bank, to revive geographical continuity between the two regions, and of course, how to erase the consequences of this division which has lasted more than ten years. The remarkable aspect of this struggle is the rule of the military factions, particularly in the Gaza Strip, with 13 factions standing in the name of resistance. This obviously causes violence and a lack of democracy in a region which is increasingly stifled. The three resistance projects have all shown their ineffectiveness, since the Palestinians got nothing on the field after two Intifadas – and a popular uprising – and are under continuous pressure, with the extension of the wall, the accelerated colonization of the West Bank, and the maintenance of the blockade in the Gaza strip (a destroyed region without any reconstruction project).

The Palestinian National Authority, widely accused of corruption, received a symbolic membership in the United Nations in 2012. But such international diplomatic recognition, however, brought nothing on the ground, where naught has changed for the civilian population, in constant suffering under Israeli occupation. Meanwhile, the military factions in the Gaza Strip defend themselves when there are Israeli attacks, but cannot manage even to reclaim a few kilometres in the buffer zones on the borders (for the benefit of farmers) nor impose the lifting of the Israeli blockade. Faced with these two projects, there is no real third alternative, despite some initiatives from the civil society, suffering a lot under the occupation. And crucially, the non-violent resistance has no support neither from the authority nor from the political parties.

Non-violence and civil society: as already said, popular committees as well as committed activists and others continue to opt for non-violence and symbolic peaceful actions, yet with many factors contributing to their ineffectiveness, such as the lack of official support from the Palestinian Authority and the absence of a broad popular backing. Finally, it can be assessed that each group only works in the end for the defence of its own project without supporting other initiatives or considering other trends in Palestinian society. The most important aspect in this regard is the determination of these activists, despite the brutality of the occupation forces. They have remained non-violent despite ceaseless attacks and Israeli arrests, which is a strong indication of the ability of the Palestinians to develop peaceful actions against the occupation forces, colonization, and confiscation of their land. These substantial actions come in addition to various other activities organized regularly by dozens of Palestinians, including those in the West Bank, who protest near the ‘Apartheid Wall’ and against land confiscation supported by the Israeli army. These are less significant in the Gaza Strip, with only a few demonstrations against the security buffer zone imposed by the Israeli army in northern Gaza (there are three buffer zones to the south, north, and centre of the Gaza Strip).

The media (including the Palestinian media) report little on these peaceful actions, and parties and factions, or even official Palestinian institutions, have not supported them heartily if at all. Sadly, the media are apparently not much interested in this type of resistance and prefer to look for war dead and acts of violence, as has been seen during the recent Israeli aggression against the Gaza Strip last November. The Palestinian National Authority is for its part more preoccupied with the negotiations and a hypothetical ‘peace process’ with the Israeli side, which seems to be no less than an open failure, twenty years after the Oslo accords, since Israel has never applied any peace agreement nor international resolution, and frequently finds a complicit silence within the international community in the face of these ongoing Israeli violations. As far as they are concerned, Palestinian factions are split on this very divisive alternative: a unique choice about some kind of armed resistance, which enjoys no consensus, and other forms of resistance that have proved ineffective, not to mention the total imbalance between Israeli military might and the firepower these factions possess. The problem is therefore that the resistance, through its non-violent means, is neither supported nor encouraged by this Authority and the many armed factions, and has consequently always been obliged to adapt and develop through the following of citizen initiatives and of individual commitments but without any real strategy, nor planning, nor organization on the long term (often two or three villages in the West Bank as Beline, Neline, and Massara). Non-violent actions, while important, are of short duration and moreover occasional, albeit resistance by non-violence could perhaps, in fact, help the Palestinians end the colonial occupation.

Comparative studies with South-East Asia

By southeast Asia, we essentially mean the Indochinese Peninsula, Burma, Malaysia, Brunei, Singapore, Indonesia and the Philippines.

The main political, economic, social, environmental, or religious events throughout the Asian subcontinent show that the global trend encourages political transitions in a region with eleven countries and nearly 600 million people, which acts as an interface between the major Asian hubs and the West. In a regional space where there are political regimes at the extremes, it may be legitimate to draw from a vast literature on transitions. While the ‘democratic transition’ in Eastern Europe has been much studied, it has never been truly relevant to situate southeast Asia within this dynamic. In southeast Asia, each state jealously guards the contours of its political specificity, while realities and appearances, sometimes attributed to some of the democratic virtues, condemn other phenomena for their overt inclination towards authoritarianism. For many elites in southeast Asia, this is too often a label designed by the West that is very distanced from understanding the political culture prevailing in the region. And the inaccuracy of any development list considers that the transition towards democracy is the result of forced economic and social progress, which in turn further reinforces this perception.

In this region, the close connection between political and economic reform is hardly obvious, and determinism has been denied or minimized by the big powers, whether the political issue seems to be more upstream and downstream, as well as also resulting from a distant and uncertain process initiated on the basis of economic rationality. The political changes in many states are important – especially in Indonesia (the most populous Muslim country in the world) – but do not appear immediately as major events. And everywhere, a recomposing process of the political order is to be observed despite the parallel surge of a civil society in search of alternative social projects. This is all the more true since this region has witnessed many violent events. Indonesia, probably the epicentre of radical Islam, has been experiencing violence for many years. Indeed, in the 1980s and 1990s, hundreds of Indonesians, Malaysians, and Filipinos left to fight the Soviets in Afghanistan (during the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1980). They have returned trained and indoctrinated by al-Qaeda and therefore have committed several attacks and hostage-takings. But besides Burma, the Philippines, and Indonesia, one can describe the situation in the ten other countries – Brunei, Cambodia, Laos, Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand, East Timor, and Vietnam – in terms of prevailing political transitions, with the holding of elections and the setting up of successful political processes, although many authoritarian regimes still continue to predominate.

However, it is through non-violent popular revolts and social claims that the opposition has based its demands, such as the Cambodian popular revolt that has threatened the power of the prime minister Hun Sen, who has reigned for more than thirty years.

Often, some radical groups in the region try to have recourse to violence to support their claims. In Indonesia, the Islamic State has claimed responsibility for attacks that killed seven people in January 2016 in Jakarta, and these attacks assuredly contribute to its presence in southeast Asia. The Islamic State (Daech or ISIS: Islamic State in Iraq and Syria) relies moreover on existing jihadist channels such as the Jamaah Islamiyah (a violent armed group close to Daech). According to Alain Rodier, the director of the French Centre for Research on Intelligence (CFR, an independent centre) and a terrorism expert, the Jakarta attacks are those of local, radical groups whose members have pledged allegiance to the Islamic State. To which extent will such threats hinder democratization? In the Palestinian territories, and despite the presence of some radical parties like Hamas and the Islamic Jihad (a political and military group connected to Iran),the security situation has not yet witnessed a real jihadist presence, conducting attacks, although there is a lot of gratuitous violence (especially during clashes between Fatah and Hamas in the streets of Gaza in 2007).

In the Philippines as well, very influential armed groups operate and have claimed several deadly bombings and hostage-takings in the country, like Abu Sayyaf (a fundamentalist group that has claimed several deadly attacks in the country). On the contrary, in Burma, the 969 group has been called a civil society initiative in a country torn by violence and massacres, but it has also supported crimes against Muslims carried out by the authoritarian regime.

No real comparison in terms of political transition can be made with Arab countries, especially as far as Asian countries are concerned, since they have not witnessed any real revolutions in the streets nor any kind of ‘Asian spring’. Another point of divergence between Arab and Asian countries is connected to external military interventions into conflicts and revolutions, as has happened in some Arab countries (particularly in Syria, Yemen, and Libya), whereas this has not been the case in southeast Asia’s countries. In the Gaza Strip, if it has been established that some attacks have targeted cars and property belonging to political parties, similar brutal operations have apparently not happened in Asian countries, which is a point to be made. And if it is true that the Islamic State is trying to get more and more leverage in Arab countries, particularly in Iraq and Syria, and moreover forge new alliances in some southeast Asian countries, in Palestine, however, this has not happened yet. The situation in neighbouring Arab countries shows that violence does dominate the public sphere in an unstable region affected by civil wars, dramatic events, and external interventions, whereas Palestine has been more or less immune to these predicaments.

However, in Palestine, the heavy presence of the Israeli occupation is the key element to understand the focus of the fight and of the attacks against soldiers and settlers, particularly in the West Bank.

The situation in the Arab countries: the reign of violence

Although the Palestinian case is different from others, because of the presence of occupation and colonization, which both force the Palestinians to use several forms of resistance in their struggle, including the resort to arms, many examples in the region show that violence finally dominates in almost every country and has been used during the revolutions, sometimes by opposition groups. In many cases, non-violence and the spirit of Gandhi will probably remain a slogan without practice. Democratization may be characterized by some degree of variable geometry.

With the notable exception of Syria, all the neighbouring Arab countries of Palestine have experienced varying degrees of pluralistic and democratic ‘procedures’. In 1989, Jordan followed Egypt by launching its own process of limited and controlled political pluralism; Lebanon has returned, at the end of the war, to its tradition of consensual democracy; and the Palestinian Authority has held its first ‘free’ elections on January 20th, 1996 (the first legislative elections in Palestine have shown the victory of Hamas). It is even possible to measure the degree of democratization in these countries through some quantifiable criteria: electoral procedures, civil and political liberties, the associative network’s density, independence of the judiciary, independence of trade unions.

Despite all that separates them in terms of liberalization, Egypt, Jordan, the Palestinian Authority, Lebanon, and Syria have common characteristics. The first of these relates to the weak commitment to the principles and to the philosophy of democratic ethics. For if Western democracy is characterized by a set of practices that underpin a political system, it is also a system of values and standards. The second characteristic is the famous ‘red lines’ not to be violated under any pretext and that prohibit any criticism against the person of the monarch or of the president. This of course severely limits the scope of democratic practices to the extent that the opposition, in order to be tolerated or legalized, must demonstrate a flawless allegiance to the head of state. However, both the Palestinian and the Lebanese cases have some similarities that distinguish them in terms of liberalization, i.e.from the dominant model today in the rest of the Arab world: the absence of a territorially sovereign state on one side versus weakness of the state on the other; a relatively strong civil society due to the vitality and independence of the Lebanese community structures on the one hand, and a historical national mobilization of the Palestinian society from within on the other; and finally, the particularly strong impact of external constraints on the modalities related to the exercise of democracy.

The main question concerning the specific case of Palestine is how far the Oslo agreements, the installation of the Palestinian Authority, and the organization of elections (January 1996) with a chairman and a board, helped it boost a genuine democratization process. The close interweaving of three equally precarious processes – the building of a nation-state entity, the implementation of the Oslo accords, and the ‘democratic transition’ – is so complex that it would be very risky at this stage to use the Palestinian case so as to support this thesis: that there would be an automatic cause-and-effect relationship between the advent of peace and the establishment of democracy in the region. Indeed, this democratic process, despite its importance, was a failure and the political transition did not last long. It is noteworthy that the Egyptian state was a pioneer concerning this method of ‘authoritarian liberalization’. Fully defined and controlled by a regime eager to defuse and channel popular discontent, the liberalization process aimed at strengthening established political legitimacy both inside and outside. The Egyptian case is therefore one occurrence which best exemplifies all the contradictions and, above all, the precariousness of democratization.

The periodicity of elections, the existence of many legal parties and of an opposition press, the relative autonomy of the judiciary, without forgetting the vitality of the Egyptian community network are all elements which are worth mentioning. But in 2013 (the arrival to power of an Egyptian general), the political transition failed and the democratic process, through the presidential elections, did not last more than a year, before the transition finally became military, with an Egyptian society now managed by the army.

What characterizes the Jordanian democratization experiment is more instability, apart from the inclusion of Islamists that has emerged under the weight of the interaction between internal and external constraints. Indeed, the launch of the 1989 democratization process came to meet the urgent need to deal with the double threat posed by the Palestinian uprising and the Jordanian option – always dear to the heart of the Israeli leadership (the Jordanian control of the West Bank) – on the national cohesion, and even on the viability of the Jordanian entity. Divorce with the West Bank (in 1988), while boosting the socio-economic tensions, alerted officers to the urgent need to strengthen the country from within, that is to say, by a better integration of the Palestinian component into society and by bringing the Islamist movement into political legality. Since the external danger was real, it was vital for the regime to pacify the home front. So the government had to manage an internal economic and social crisis, which was directly related to regional issues. King Hussein thus used the November 1989 elections for legitimation and consolidation, and Jordan became one of the freest among the Arab countries.

For its part, Syria continues to embody the model of the most complete Arab authoritarianism. The society is deeply penetrated and invested by the state, the community sector is virtually non-existent, there are no political parties or opposition press, and trade unions are incorporated into the party leadership and the state. Moreover, the constitutional powers of the president remain almost absolute. But according to president Assad (president in power since 2000), Syria would have developed its own form of democracy without importing any model from abroad, were it not for the war… Despite a non-violent and popular start, the revolution against authoritarian rule turned into the proliferation of internal and external armed groups, which have made the country the scene of regional and international military intervention that has killed some 500,000 people and caused the emigration of millions of Syrians abroad. In Yemen, the Arab military coalition has failed to recover even the capital Sanaa to Houthi rebels (a minority in Yemen, but with power and a very important economic and military presence.), despite a rather decisive military campaign which began more than a year ago, the result of which being that Yemeni society has become increasingly radical.

Islam per se is also critical in the political transition process

If almost no one now disputes the reality of Islamism as the main political and ideological force in the Arab world (the Islamists have won several elections in many countries), the perception of the phenomenon, its meaning, and especially its place in the dynamics of democratization are however far from being unanimous. Sometimes, it is interpreted as a step backwards from the political transition process; sometimes, on the contrary, as the most visible sign of the emergence of a civil society, whereas the formulation of ideas through religious language is seen as a form of political mobilization. Is Islamism a movement of isolationism based on a mythologized past in response to the deteriorating socio-economic conditions, or the only true alternative to political regimes that have worn out their capital of legitimacy? Is the Islamist surge simply the reflection of a multifaceted crisis that affects to varying degrees all the Arab countries, or the emergence of a civil society in a region previously dominated by ‘strong’ and ‘weak’ states? Should therefore Islamists be politically integrated into the game, legally, or should they be scared away by all possible means to prevent them from seizing power that they would later be unwilling to share?

Violence, attacks, and the use of arms by groups or revolutionaries in all these neighbouring countries show that violence has only brought destruction, the radicalization of an entire society, and especially the rise of extremist groups. Consequently, civil movements usually end up crushed by bloody military powers, and then these movements are forced to resort to weapons to make their voices heard. The danger in Palestine is that Palestinian factions will be forced in the end to resort to unnecessary violence against the occupation after bloody ripostes by the Israeli military forces (there have been recently three Israeli military offensives against the Gaza Strip in five years), plus the harsh Israeli measures against the current popular uprising in the West Bank. The risk may finally be that violence turns against the Palestinians themselves, as has been the case during the Hamas rule of the Gaza strip, and also in the West Bank with the unleashed security forces of the Palestinian Authority which have trampled human rights.

For the Palestinians, the ‘Arab Spring’ has meant a return of hope, after decades of neglect by fraternal peoples, not to mention the progressive and increasingly hopeless deterioration of the situation in the face of systematic appropriation of Palestinian land by the rampant colonization policy implemented by the Israeli government. But have the Arab revolutions, which took place in the Maghreb (in Tunisia and Libya) and Mashreq (Syria and Egypt) countries under many forms, yielded concrete results and radical changes for Arab populations yearning for freedom? Has the radical protest’s wave that rose in many of these countries against injustice, for democracy, for a change of power, and especially for social justice, borne any fruit? Five years after the beginning of the ‘Arab Spring’, in a few countries, and despite the departure of some corrupt leaders as well as serious challenges to political and economic systems, what has fundamentally changed? For the young, the national movements and the different social and political forces that participated in daily protests to demand the abolition of authoritarian and repressive systems – old systems that never took into consideration the most basic aspirations to live in dignity and never respected the citizens’ rights, nor freedom of expression and of organization – are still waiting for the disappearance of these very systems that continue to deprive them of anything.

The Palestinians are thus still waiting for the other Arab peoples to go to the end of their revolutions, to get rid of their tormentors, inside and outside, so that they can reclaim the dignity and wealth that were confiscated. Palestinians do have to wait because their fate certainly depends on the future of the other revolutions. But the dramatic consequences of the Arab revolutions have ruined all hopes: thousands of deaths, massive destruction in Libya, Syria, Iraq, Yemen, external military interventions, destabilization, and, ultimately, sustainability of the dictatorships. These disappointed hopes have doubled with serious consequences: the huge upheavals that have shaken several Arab countries, plus the emergence of the Islamist wave, have diverted attention away from the Palestinian cause, which was once the central cause of the Arab world, the symbol of every person’s commitment to freedom and justice. Could Palestine be again the guiding compass of all Arab revolutions? There is certainly still a lot of uncertainty about the future of the nations affected by the ‘Arab Spring’.

Emancipation, dignity, and justice are combats for which so many young people have already given their lives, and these people, in the long term, will not allow themselves to see the confiscation of their revolution, and will therefore continue their fight (apart from Tunisia, revolutions in Arab countries have failed to attain real changes or install stability).

A Palestinian state between violence and lack of democracy

The relationship between the Palestinian Authority and the Islamist movement, embodied by Hamas and the Islamic Jihad, is quite unusual and beyond the traditional pattern ‘power versus opposition’ that is found in most other Arab countries. The main reason is the lack of sovereignty of the Palestinian Authority, both on the external and internal levels, which thus makes the Jewish state a full partner in a game that is played by three. This triangular relationship cannot however avoid the fact that the central issue of the competition between them remains to this day the recognition of the historical legitimacy of the main resistance and national liberation movement. In Gaza, the various factions observe the events occurring in Egypt and cannot launch missiles against nearby Israeli towns because, apart from the truce observed by these factions, the tension with the new military power in Egypt, the closure of the Rafah crossing point in the southern Gaza strip (the only passage linking the Gaza Strip to the outside via Egypt), and the destruction of tunnels totally inhibit any such action, not to mention their interest in not aggravating the situation of a population already in crisis and under pressure. In the West Bank, despite some clashes between Israeli soldiers and Palestinian youth, the Palestinian Authority remains very involved in a peace process that has not given fruit, and it does not want any militarization of the Intifada so as to give – even weak – a chance to negotiations.

The problem is that each party only defends its own project and claims it to be the best and most effective, without thinking of the other projects on the ground nor without taking into account the events that take place, the need for adaptation, especially through consultation with other trends within Palestinian society. In such a state of division and fragmentation, with two rival governments and three resistance projects, the Palestinians will certainly not trigger their third Intifada, even if things get radicalized on the field. It would indeed be difficult to ensure a real organization of this eventual new revolt against the occupying forces. Yet observers say that the use of an uprising against the occupation would probably be a clear message that the current situation cannot last, because of all the Israeli aggressions and the total failure of all proposed peace initiatives. It would therefore be difficult to carry out a third Intifada and ensure its continuity in the current situation, with a divided Palestine as well as with a region marked by instability and constant changes of power that do not always support the Palestinian cause as a priority. And the hardest part is to know what form this Intifada should take to confront Israeli soldiers and settlers: military confrontation, non-violent actions, or something else? Unfortunately, there is no consensus on any single form of resistance.

During the first two Intifadas, the ‘non-violent’ one in 1987 called the stone revolt (an Intifada that lasted 6 years from 1987 to 1993) followed by the second one in 2000, which was more militarized (the second Intifada lasted 5 years), there was only one watchword respected by all political parties and all trends existing on the ground, owing to the presence of a Supreme Council in charge of managing and organizing all proposed actions, which were then respected by almost everyone. Currently, and with the prevailing division, the three projects have shown their inefficiency, and with the lack of coordination on the ground, nothing has changed: the occupation is still there, the settlers are still present. Instead, Palestinians see their territories disappear progressively in favour of the settlers. The only resistance that works and that has proved effective is the everyday resistance, the real strength of the Palestinians, who have decided to stay and not to leave. It is thus the attachment to the land of women, young people, fishermen, students, peasants, families, and to resume: of a global civil society that, despite all Israeli aggressions, have decided to face the harsh reality through goodwill, patience, and strength. An Intifada, a revolt, an uprising, a revolution, and a change will in the end always go through the unification of all the forces and trends.


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The civilian population in Palestine resists, remains patient, is waiting for a political solution, and is interested above all in education, which is the only way to ensure a better future (the enrolment rate in January 2015 was over 92%, as estimated by the UNESCO). To achieve their aims, Palestinians must unite their efforts and agree on a form of resistance, which should enjoy some large degree of national consensus in order to organize their struggle against the occupation and to fulfil their dream of creating their free and independent state. Ambiguity, unpredictability, and reversibility of democratic transitions are what we all have to face.

Added to that, the socio-political realities across the Arab world are much more complex than ever. National political trajectories and experiences of democratization are increasingly differentiated, and Arab societies have become more complex over the last two decades. Overall, the transition to democracy in the Arab world is not seen as an end in itself but as a process that may be very long, especially with uncertain and reversible outcomes. But whatever form it will borrow, democracy in the Middle East will not happen against the state but with the state, since relations between state and society cannot be seen as a zero-sum game. Similarly, it will be difficult to act against the main political actors: Islamists.

Faced with sporadic but violent explosions of urban riots, democratization has emerged as a safety valve, an instrument for legitimizing and stabilizing the internal order as well as a way to broaden its base. The difficulty of the task is great. It is first subjective since democracy, because of its strong normative and ideological burden, is a key element in the register of perceptions (north / south for example) and thus revives a series of prejudices and stereotypes which still persist. Like everything that relates to political and cultural representations from both sides, Arab countries constitute an area where dialogue is particularly difficult and where resentment and mutual recriminations have accumulated, to the point of maintaining cultural barriers and negative perceptions, which affect the political dialogue that they precisely seek to encourage, if not to establish.

Political transitions are slow to show up, but national unity will remain the only credible solution to the plight of Palestinians. In this case, finally, civil society as a political transition engine has a responsibility to promote democratic principles in a freedom-seeking society.



About Author

Ziad Medoukh

Directeur du Département de langue française à l'Université Al-Aqsa de Gaza (Territoires Autonomes Palestiniens)

1 Comment

  1. Emmanuel Aguera on

    Bonjour Ziad,

    Quel travail! c’est admirablement bien documenté.
    Nous aurions beaucoup à discuter tant il est vrai que la vision de l’intérieur diffère de celle que pouvons avoir de plus loin. J’ai beaucoup appris, pas seulement sur la situation, qu’il est facile finalement de connaître à travers l’internet, mais à travers la re-contextualisation à laquelle tu l’as soumise, historiquement et culturellement.
    Même si je comprends l’intérêt que l’éveil des peuples arabes (the” arabic springs”) a pu susciter chez les opprimés du monde entier, je n’en ai pas exactement la même vision et n’en retiens qu’une série de manipulations géostratégiques pensées et orchestrées outre-Atlantique…
    Quoiqu’il en soit, j’ai dévoré ce pavé, amélioré mon anglais, j’imagine, et actualisé mon regard.

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