Sunday, February 7, 2010

Palestine Strategy Study Group: Prerequisites for an effective strategy

Posted: 06 Feb 2010 08:25 AM PST
escher spiral

Excerpt from an August 2008 Report. 

The Palestine Strategy Study Group suggests that the following three requirements are essential for there to be an effective Palestinian national strategy that is unified, strongly formulated, and clearly communicated to the outside world. All three lie firmly within the capacity of Palestinians to achieve. They can be acted upon straight away. This Report calls on all Palestinians to make this happen.

An essential prerequisite for seizing the strategic initiative is to shape the nature of the discourse within which the issue of Palestinian independence is discussed.
A discourse is a framework of language within which verbal communication takes place. It is the discourse that determines what can and cannot be said within it and how this is to be understood. At the moment the Palestinian national struggle is nearly always discussed in terms of other peoples’ discourses. This is like playing all football matches on other teams’ pitches. It is always an away game – we begin one goal down. Palestinians must refuse to participate on those terms. We must explain and promote our own discourse and make this the primary language within which the Palestinian issue is discussed.
Two international discourses in particular are inappropriate for the Palestinian case. Unfortunately these are the usual frameworks adopted by the international community.

The first is a peacemaking discourse, which assumes that the problem is one of ‘making peace’ between two equal partners, both of whom have symmetric interests, needs, values and beliefs. This is the wrong discourse because there are not two equal conflict parties. There is an occupying power and a suppressed and physically scattered people not allowed even to have its own identity legally recognised.

The second is a statebuilding discourse, which assumes that the problem is one of ‘building a state’ along the lines attempted in Cambodia or El Salvador or Mozambique – or even to a certain extent in Afghanistan. This is the wrong discourse because there is no Palestinian state.
The result of the dominance of these two discourses (not to mention the prevailing Israeli-US discourse) is that the essence of the Palestinian problem is not recognised in the first place. This is disastrous for the Palestinian cause.
The Palestine Strategy Study Group strongly urges fellow Palestinians to seize their destiny in their own hands by refusing even to enter these other discourses until it is appropriate to do so and to focus all their energies on explaining and promoting the prior Palestinian discourse. The appropriate discourse uses the language, not of peacemaking or statebuilding, but of national self-determination, of liberation, of emancipation from occupation, of individual and collective rights, of international law. This must be the primary discourse. Only when the priorities defined within the primary Palestinian discourse of emancipation are recognised can the hitherto rightly subordinated discourses of peacemaking and statebuilding move properly into the foreground.
Perhaps the most appropriate comparable discourse here is the discourse of decolonisation. This needs to be clearly understood by the international community. For example before 1947 Gandhi’s primary discourse in India was not a peace-making discourse, because he was not making peace with Britain but struggling to end British occupation. And it was not a state building discourse because there was not yet an Indian state. His primary discourse was one of emancipation and national struggle. The same is true of the Palestinian discourse. Palestinians are of course ready to enter serious negotiations. They are more ready to do this than Israelis. But such peacemaking has to be defined within a context that genuinely aims to deliver Palestinian national aspirations. Anything less is simply not peacemaking but a confirmation of continuing occupation and repression.
There is no space to pursue this in detail further here, except to note the importance of combating a central idea in the peacemaking discourse that what is at issue is two equivalent ‘Israeli’ and ‘Palestinian’ ‘narratives’. No doubt there are Israeli and Palestinian narratives. But what is centrally at issue is not a mere Palestinian narrative, but a series of incontrovertible facts – facts of expulsion, exclusion, dominance and occupation bitterly lived out by Palestinians day by day over the past 60 years and still being endured at the present time. This is not a narrative. It is a lived reality. Finding the best strategy for ending this lived reality is the main purpose of this Report.
Transforming the discourse within which it is discussed is a major part of that effort.
For example, here are some undeniable facts. In 1922 there were 84,000 Jews living in Palestine (census data). By 1947 this number had risen to 608,000. Much of this was the result of deliberate policy to build immigrant Jewish numbers in order to create a Jewish state in Palestine. At that time (1947) there were 1,364,000 Palestinians. Palestinians owned some 95% of the land where they had lived for centuries. Yet in November 1947 UN General Assembly Resolution 181 called for a division in which Jewish land would be 57.12% and Palestinian land would be 42.88%. This was not a Security Council Resolution. The Jewish State of Israel was declared in May 1948. By the time of the ceasefire in 1949 Israel held 78% of historic Palestine and the Palestinians were left with 22%. The 1949 Armistice Line was not and is not a legally defined political border. UN General Assembly Resolution 273 (III) of 11 May 1949 admitted Israel into the UN, not a ‘Jewish’ State. Some 750,000 Palestinians had become refugees (about half the population – see UN Resolution 194). In 1967 Israel occupied the remaining 22% of the land of Palestine.
In November 1988 the Palestine Liberation Organisation, recognised by Palestinians as their sole representative, made the extraordinary sacrifice of accepting the existence of the State of Israel and determining to establish an independent Palestinian state on the remaining 22% of historic Palestine in accordance with UN Security Council Resolutions 242 and 338 (PNC Political Communique, Algiers, 15 November, 1988). Has a national movement ever made a concession on a similar scale? To this day this remains the basis for official Palestinian strategic objectives. Yet for twenty years these objectives have not been realised. Why? In negotiations Israelis repeatedly say ‘we do all the giving and the Palestinians do all the taking’. This is the opposite of the truth. Palestinians continue to demand no more than 22% of their historic land. It is Israel that has done all the taking through continuous government backed settler encroachment on this remaining 22%. The aim has been to create ‘facts on the ground’, now reinforced by the ‘security wall’, in order to reduce the land left for a future Palestinian state below even 22%.
This is not just a ‘Palestinian narrative’. These are facts. At the time of writing Israeli government-backed settler encroachment is still continuing relentlessly despite the negotiations. Palestinians know that Israel is not yet a serious negotiating partner. It is on the basis of these facts and on this understanding that the strategic objectives for Palestinians are set out in the next section.
The second prerequisite is national unity. A house divided against itself cannot stand. Palestinian strategic action is impossible if the Palestinian nation is unable to speak with one voice or to act with one will. This does not mean agreeing about everything. Nor does it cancel internal Palestinian politics. But it does mean that, when it comes to formulating and enacting a national plan in relation to the outside world, Palestinians must subordinate internal politics to the superior demands of shared destiny and unity of purpose.
It is not surprising that, under the intolerable pressures of occupation, deep internal divisions have surfaced, particularly since the passing away of the charismatic national leadership of Yasser Arafat. It is also true that external powers – particularly Israel but also others – have adopted a deliberate policy of ‘divide and rule’. But this is all the more reason for Palestinians to rise above such rivalries, pressures and provocations when formulating a strategy for national liberation. The future in this respect is in our own hands.
After the hopes engendered by the creation of the National Unity Government in the wake of the achievement of the manifestly free and fair January 2006 elections, the events of June 2007 were a severe blow to Palestinian national unity. The Palestine Strategy Study Group has no interest in allotting blame and it is not its business to make pronouncements on internal Palestinian politics. But the Group is unanimous in calling on all political leaders to conduct internal politics in such a way that the Palestinian people present a unified face to the outside world. The Group is convinced that this is also the wish of the vast majority of the Palestinian people. We owe this to all those who have struggled for so long and made such great sacrifices for the national cause. This is essential not least because of the prospect of a possible national referendum on the current negotiations. How can the Palestinian people make an informed decision on a matter of such supreme national importance without prior extensive and informed national debate that rises above partisan political interest? This Report is an attempt to encourage such a debate.
The third prerequisite is that as broad a spectrum of Palestinians as possible should join in the task of strategic analysis, strategic choice, and strategic action. In this report the Palestine Strategy Study Group invites readers to participate in a strategic approach to the national project, because this is the essential means for its realisation.
Strategic thinking is a particular kind of thinking. Strategic thinking formulates clear national objectives and keeps them firmly in view throughout. Everything is subordinated to the achievement of those objectives. But analysis is also guided by hard-headed assessment of relative power capabilities – what Palestinians and others can and cannot do on their own or in combination.
Strategic thinking combines ultimate vision with a firm grasp of practical possibilities.
So the analysis of power links objectives to strategy. The concept of power is central in politics and is elaborately discussed in the literature. But it will be taken here in its simplest sense as the ability to get what you want done. If you get what you want done you have power. If you do not get what you want done you do not have power.
Four aspects of power are important in strategic thinking and are worth bearing in mind while reading this report because they have guided its formulation.
First there is the nature of power (types of power). The American political analyst Joseph Nye distinguishes between ‘hard power’ and ‘soft power’. He sees international politics being played out on a three-dimensional chess-board where the top board represents military power, the middle board represents economic power, and the bottom board represents cultural power. Dominance of any one board does not guarantee strategic success. It depends on the situation. For example in the late 1980s the Soviet Union had invested in enormous military power, but was deficient in economic power and had lost cultural power. The collapse of the Soviet Union demonstrated the severe limits of military power on its own over the longer term. In those circumstances military power proved to be no power at all.
Kenneth Boulding similarly distinguishes between ‘threat power’, ‘exchange power’ and ‘integrative power’:
§ · Threat power says ‘do what I want or I will do what you do not want’.
This is an approach that relies on force and the threat of force.
§ · Exchange power says ‘do what I want and I will do what you want’.
This is an approach that emphasises bargaining and compromise.
§ · Integrative power says ‘do what I want because you want it as well’.
This is an approach that focuses on ‘winning hearts and minds’.
Boulding argues that threat power may be effective over the short term, but is less effective than exchange power and integrative power over the middle term. Repression on its own cannot endure. For Boulding integrative power is the most effective form of power over the long term – the power of legitimacy, of loyalty, of cultural identity, of trust. Enduring families, communities, nations and religions in the end rest on integrative power.
In strategic planning agents must choose the most effective form of power (or combination of forms) in different circumstances, and must be prepared to be flexible in switching from one to the other where appropriate.
Second there are the locations of power (who has power).
The strategic analysis that follows is based on an assessment of what Palestinians can and cannot do on their own or in combination with others in relation to different kinds of challenge. Similar analysis is undertaken of Israeli relative power and options, and those of regional third parties and relevant international players including the United States.
It is essential in strategic thinking to take constant account of how the chessboard
looks from the perspective of the opponent. This is fundamental. A player who does not do this – who only looks at the board from its own perspective – will never be a grandmaster. Such a player will lose. The strategic purpose is to exert mounting pressure on the opponent to act as we want. This can only be done if we understand what the opponent desires and fears, and the sources and limits of the opponent’s power. The same applies to inducing third parties to behave in the ways we want them to.
Third there is the application of power (the strategic deployment of threats and inducements).
Strategic players are able to use threats and inducements (sticks and carrots) effectively in influencing the behaviour of others. Strategic threats must be credible to be effective. This almost certainly means that they cannot be a bluff. Palestinians must therefore be prepared to carry out the threatened actions in case the opponent does not heed them. More is said about this in section 7 below.
Fourth there are the uses of power (how to deploy power to attain strategic goals).
In the end the whole purpose of strategic thinking comes down to the way the various forms of power are used. Oliver Ramsbotham distinguishes between the politician, the visionary and the statesperson in this regard:
§ · The politician understands how to manipulate the levers of power inorder to stay in office, but is not able or willing to use power consistently in order to attain strategic purposes. This use of power is ultimately pointless.
§ · The visionary, in contrast, does keep long-term strategic goals clearly in view. The visionary can inspire aspirations and can articulate longings. But the visionary does not keep the short-term workings of power in his sights and
consequently cannot deliver. This use of power is ultimately ineffective.
§ · The statesperson never loses sight of strategic objectives, but also clearly understands the workings of political power. The statesperson is able to step back at times in order then to leap forward further (reculer pour mieux sauter), has a good grasp of timing, can sense opportunities and act on them, remains flexible but determined in the face of unexpected events or setbacks.
When the statesperson meets an impasse, he does not remain clutching the bars that block his path. He lets go, finds another path around the barrier, and suddenly appears from an unexpected side to turn the tables on those who thought that they had stopped him. The statesperson surprises his opponent.
He does not act as his opponent expects. The statesperson is capable of strategic thought and action. This use of power is what achieves lasting results.
The Palestine Strategy Study Group wants Palestinian leaders to be statespersons. It is hoped that the report may make a contribution towards clarifying what this entails.

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