Beyond Sterile Negotiations: Looking for a Leadership with a Strategy

Al-Shabaka Policy Brief
The BNC presently comes the closest of all these organizations in the Diaspora to representing comprehensive national interests. However, it has steadfastly refused to fulfill a political mandate. Barghouti insists “[t]he BNC is not, and does not, aspire to become an alternative political body. The political leadership of the Palestinian people must remain within the structures of the PLO...” However, because the BNC only seeks to be an authoritative reference with regard to BDS, the tactic, and the lexicon that surrounds it, has often been mistaken for a national liberation strategy.

The BNC position raises two primary challenges for the Palestinian body politic. First, because the BNC does not claim a representational mandate equivalent to that of the Palestinian Liberation Organization, this creates confusion among solidarity groups who can consequently adopt a call for human rights, but without being held accountable to a political program. Second, in the absence of a national liberation strategy, BDS’s major successes can only expand the call for rights; they cannot achieve Palestinian self-determination.

Qutami highlights the danger of conflating BDS as a strategic tactic with the purpose of the movement itself. She attributes this risk to the lack of a broader national strategy, “There is no base, no project, no trajectory, no collective conviction and strategy to ensure the continued sense of accountability to the movement.”

Human rights without a political program

In short, the pressing questions regarding representation and a strategy for national liberation remain to be answered by Palestinians the world over. A few of those questions could include:

  1. Should Palestinians go so far as to support annexation of the OPT in order to usher in an era of struggle for equality within a singular territory and legal regime?
  2. Should settlements be racially integrated or completely demolished?
  3. Will the amendment of Israeli laws ensuring equality ever suffice to change its character from Jewish to secular?
  4. Should Palestinian citizens of Israel focus on an equality struggle or should they articulate a comprehensive frame to combat ethnic cleansing within Israel Proper as well as the OPT?
  5. What is the role of the PA, as an outcome of Oslo, if any? Should it be boycotted, dismantled, or leveraged as recently suggested by PLO Executive Committee member Hanan Ashrawi?
  6. What type of economy should Palestinians advocate for?
  7. With which states and international movements should Palestinians ally for economic, political, and security support?
  8. What is the role of armed resistance? If it is still salient, how does it relate to non-violent direct action?

It is interesting to note that, in 2011, the PYM removed the language of a rights-based approach from its charter, because, according to a consensus among its members, it made them lose sight of the need for a direct grassroots mobilization among Palestinian communities. A similar approach inspired the Freedom Riders action, when a group of independent Palestinian activists defiantly boarded settler buses bound for East Jerusalem to demonstrate against the insidious nature of Israel’s institutionalized segregation of public and private spatial territories. The action drew international attention and praise for highlighting Israel’s apartheid system. It also drew controversy among Palestinians who mistakenly read it as a demand to end segregation amongst settlements and their exclusionary transportation systems rather than to liberate the lands upon which they sprawl. The controversy sparked a healthy discussion amongst Palestinians about the limitations of a human rights language. Both approaches speak to the tension between a rights-based approach and a political program clearly aimed at achieving self-determination and national liberation.

Despite these internal Palestinian tensions, a rights-based approach remains a salient reference for international solidarity activists. Hannah Mermelstein, a leading member of Adalah-NY and a longtime human rights activist, notes “Not every Palestinian person on the street is necessarily active in BDS, but it is a platform that very few Palestinians would disagree with. It’s a bottom line, a set of rights, a framework, and to me that is just as important as the tactic itself.” Though the BNC’s rights-based approach may arguably represent a common denominator amongst Palestinians, the lack of a political program that it can advance structurally limits its ability to achieve self-determination.