Faced with tough opposition to their UN membership bid, the Palestinians hope their case will be bolstered by a strictly non-violent protest campaign, officials say.
In the run-up to September’s historic request for the United Nations to grant membership to a Palestinian state, Mahmud Abbas and his leadership in the West Bank city of Ramallah repeatedly stressed their commitment to non-violence and insistence on keeping demonstrations away from flashpoint areas.
“Our commitment to non-violence is absolutely watertight, and it is supported both by our political commitment and by our security policy,” Palestinian negotiator Nabil Shaath said Saturday.
“We have not had one single act of violence despite the fact that there were demonstrations all around the West Bank,” he said.
Officials and experts in the West Bank say there has been a major shift in public sentiment, away from violence and towards a peaceful model for protesting against the Israeli occupation in line with an approach which Abbas has himself championed for years.
“As Mr Abbas has always said, peaceful popular demonstrations and struggle are encouraged to be totally non-violent, and to stay away from areas where things could get violent,” Shaath said.
“That kind of popular struggle will continue.”
Indeed Abbas pledged as much in his address to the UN General Assembly on September 23, shortly after he formally presented the request for state membership.
“Our people will continue their popular peaceful resistance to the Israeli occupation and its settlement and apartheid policies and its construction of the racist annexation wall,” Abbas said.
And last week, the Palestinian president said the Arab Spring had proved popular resistance was “the most effective way” for people to gain their rights.
“We encourage these popular and peaceful protests, which are not against international law, or anyone for that matter, but only against the occupation, while using peaceful methods,” Abbas told the Christian Science Monitor.
“Our Arab brethren have taught us with their uprisings and their Spring. They talk about the peacefulness of their protests. And indeed, this has proven to be the most effective way for people to attain their rights,” he said.
Abbas has for years pushed a doctrine of non-violence and was known for his view that the “militarisation” of the second intifada, or 2000-2005 uprising, to be a tactical error which harmed the Palestinian cause.
And according to former intelligence chief Tawfiq Tirawi, that position increasingly resonates on the Palestinian street.
“There is an awareness among Palestinians of all these questions, particularly about Israel’s attempts to drag us back to a place of violence where the balance of power favours them,” he said.
“A cycle of violence would give Israel ample justification to undermine what we have achieved for the Palestinian cause in front of the world at the United Nations,” he told AFP.
Tirawi, who belongs to Abbas’s ruling Fatah party, said the leadership had repeatedly stressed the importance of non-violence in various public forums in the run up to September.
“We clearly stated the danger of entering a cycle of violence and instead called for popular resistance.”
Adnan Damiri, spokesman for West Bank security services, said Abbas’s personal commitment to non-violence had inspired a shift in public opinion.
“There is an awareness of, and an adherence to the political line of peaceful resistance as adopted by president Abu Mazen, especially as the political approach to the United Nations has proven its efficacy — and because we have won a major political battle,” he said, using Abbas’s nom de guerre.
The shift appears to be borne out by facts on the ground, with no sign of any violence among the tens of thousands of Palestinian who took part in multiple rallies across the West Bank in support of the UN bid.
Since the end of the second intifada, violence has tailed off significantly, although sporadic clashes between Palestinians, settlers and Israeli troops do still occur.
Just hours before Abbas submitted the statehood request to the United Nations, Israeli troops shot dead a Palestinian in the northern West Bank in clashes which erupted after Jewish settlers pushed into the village.
On the same day, a Israeli settler was killed with his infant son when their car spun out of control after being hit by stones thrown by Palestinians.