Nonviolent Strategy is Needed Before Palestinian Leaders Can Resist Pressure
To many people, the entire nonviolent Palestinian movement came down to a moment last Friday in Zurich and many would argue that the leader of the Palestinian football federation (PFF) blinked. In the very last seconds of a match that witnessed a steadfast and unyielding determination the Palestinian captain/coach blinked avoiding a possible embarrassment to the Israelis.
It might not be that simple and it would be unfair to put so much on the shoulders of one man. The head of the Palestinian football association, Jibril Rajoub probably had much more than he can handle alone but many would argue that people got excited about his effort because they feel let down having believed in him.
Rajoub who insisted up to the last minute, that he is going to demand the ouster of the Israeli Football Federation, accepted an amendment to the resolution that avoided the call of dismissing the Israeli federation and instead agreeing to a committee with the participation of the world football body to look into the Palestinian charges against Israel of discrimination, racism and violating the FIFA bylaw. The decision was taken by a vote of the general assembly and the issue is no longer in the hands of the FIFA executive.
What caught many off guard is that the committee has been charged to check with the UN about whether five Israeli settlement clubs are actually in the occupied territories!! FIFA regulations are crystal clear that no national team is allowed to play on the grounds of another association without its consent. The Jewish settlements are clearly built on Palestinian lands and the UN vote declaring Palestine a nonmember state clearly demarked its borders as those of June 1967.
In explaining his position, Rajoub noted the tremendous pressure he has been under from the German and South African associations among others and of course from the power FIFA chief Sepp Blatter who was opposed to the motion from day one.
Palestinian activists and supporters who had held demonstrations, passed around petitions and were lobbying international support to the motion, felt betrayed by Rajoub’s move. They felt that he was outmaneuvered by Israel and its supporters, and that the idea of setting up a committee to look into the violations and to check the location of settlements is a joke.
For his part, Rajoub and his supporters might argue that if in fact Europe wasn’t with Palestine that means that the motion didn’t have the 75% votes that are needed to ouster Israel. They might also argue that they raised the issue at the highest platform possible and that with the presence of Tokyo Sexwell, a south African anti apartheid representative heading this newly mandated committee by the general assembly they will ensure that Palestinian football players will have a chance to play without Israeli harassment. The ‘suspension of the suspension,’ as Rajoub calls it, can be lifted again once the committee hands its recommendations against Israel without the latter making major changes.
Perhaps the more important discussion is the larger political narrative. Palestinian activists argue that the last minute reversal by Rajoub has weakened the international nonviolent boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) efforts that have been picking up steam around the world. They state that by playing politics, the Palestinian football official actually proved that the complaint was political and not related to a clear violation of a number of clauses in the FIFA constitutions.
But if the argument against Rajoub is that of betrayal of the larger nonviolent struggle then one needs to ask a simple question what are the details of this strategy, where is the consensus behind and of who is the leader of this struggle. Palestinian nonviolent resistance is certainly active in and out of Palestine but it is far from being part of a unified national strategy by Palestinians who are divided on various issues.
The divisions within the Palestinian community is not limited to the divide along the Hamas- Fatah fault-line. While major Palestinian factions and parties give lip service to nonviolence, no nationally agreed to strategy and action plan exists. It certainly is not the Palestinian leadership or the PLO under Mahmoud Abbas even though Abbas and his political opponents in Hamas regularly use the term “popular struggle,” a coded word for nonviolent resistance. Leaders of the academic boycott movement might be based among intellectuals in Ramallah but they are worlds away from the leadership in the muqata.
The gap between both sides was noteworthy two weeks ago at Bir Zeit University. Apparently under pressure from boycott activists, the university disinvited one of the founder of the International Criminal Court (ICC) because he gave lectures at two Israeli universities. At the same time, however, Egyptian born Dr. Charif Basiouni, was welcomed by senior officials in the Palestinian government. So while Palestinian nonviolent activists and the government have huge expectations of charging Israel with war crimes, they can’t agree on meeting with an Arab founding member of the ICC.
Palestinians are also in great disagreement on the issue of what acts constitute ‘normalization.’ Palestinian president and many local leaders in Jerusalem consider a visit by Arabs and Muslims to East Jerusalem to be an act of support to Palestine and its people. The anti normalization movement and many Islamists, however, vehemently oppose visits to Jerusalem and considers it almost akin to national treason. This was clear last week when a fist fight broke as a senior Jordanian religious official attempted to give the Friday sermon in Al Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem’s old city.
What Jibril Rajoub did at the very last minute in Zurich needs to be seen within this larger perspective. He has extended almost single handily the opportunities and possibilities of effective change with the abilities and circumstances that he had at his disposal but blinked at the last moment due to external pressures. The lesson of the debacle at Zurich shouldn’t be simply to criticize the head of the Palestinian football team but to think long and hard as to what is needed for the Rajoubs and others in the future to be able to withstand the kind of pressures. The best way to show support and solidarity for leaders to take courageous decision will require a national nonviolent strategy for liberation that is agreed to by all Palestinians.