When I was younger, I used to wonder why there wasn't a Palestinian equivalent to the Israeli peace movement. Israel had Meretz and groups like Peace Now -- where were they in Palestine? Palestinian politics, in my mind, was a battle between different varieties of terrorists: secular Fatah, Islamist Hamas and Islamic Jihad, and Marxist PFLP and DFLP. It wasn't so much that I expected every Palestinian to adopt a Meretz-like line so much as the seeming lack of political diversity that confused and frightened me.
These were the opinions of a young kid, and of course today I recognize them to be too simplistic and ill-informed. Nonetheless, there remains the nagging question of why the movement to create an independent Palestinian state has so persistently remained within the confines of violent struggle?
Gershom Gorenberg (via) has a fabulous essay examining that precise question in, of all places, The Weekly Standard. It explores the idea of a Palestinian Gandhi or Martin Luther King -- the history of Palestinian nationalism, the persons promoting non-violent ideologies, and the barriers to seeing such a dream become reality. It is a stellar piece of work, and I highly recommend it.
There is one more obstacle to the emergence of a non-violent Palestinian resistance movement that Gorenberg doesn't really address. Palestinians want an independent state and an end to the Israeli occupation -- both just goals that persons worldwide ought support. But for some of them, including many of the political leaders, that is not all they want. Some want to destroy the state of Israel. Some want to slaughter the Jewish inhabitants. Some might be willing to allow Jewish inhabitants, subject to Palestinian domination or Islamic theocracy. Some might settle for expelling the Jews (or the "Zionist" Jews -- the Jews who can't trace their ancestry in Israel/Palestine prior to some arbitrary date). These goals, of course, should not be supported by anyone concerned with justice or progressivism. The general problem is that these agenda items bleed together: when Hamas kidnapped an IDF soldier, were they trying to advance the goal of ending the occupation, or killing off the Jews? The answer is: both. The trouble is, I can support one, but I'm obligated to abhor the other.
Whatever support I have for the creation of a Palestinian state is tempered by the fact that -- even outside the tactics they use to achieve the goal -- many of the people pursuing such an outcome are also pursuing much darker and ignoble ends; ones I cannot support; ones that put my very life in peril were they to come to pass. And unfortunately, the tactics for the former are applied equally to pursue the latter.
When it comes to non-violence, however, the mixture of laudable and terrible ends does more than just muddy the waters -- it is outright poison. While Gandhi's satyagraha may have succeeded in getting the British to leave India, he never extended the principle to see if it could get them to leave London as well. I'm skeptical the expansion would have met with much success.
The point isn't to undermine the possibility of a Palestinian non-violent resistant developing. I believe one can, and I sincerely hope it does. The point is that the viability of such a movement will depend on disentangling various Palestinian political aspirations -- some of which are the sort which could be worthy heirs of King and Gandhi's legacy, and others which are nightmarish inversions of them.