Palestinians must capitalise on the growing global support for their cause

The pursuit of international legal avenues to hold Israel accountable for its crimes must continue, and Palestinians need to unite behind a shared vision for the future

A woman walks past a mural painted in solidarity with Palestinians in Gaza on a wall in Nairobi, Kenya, on 14 March 2024.
A woman walks past a mural painted in solidarity with Palestinians in Gaza on a wall in Nairobi, Kenya, on 14 March 2024.

Palestinians must capitalise on the growing global support for their cause

For five months, war has raged, Palestinians have suffered, Israel has had international backing, and a path out of this most horrendous of conflicts has been hard to see.

Tens of thousands of civilians have been killed—mostly women and children. At least 10,000 more are missing, presumed buried under rubble. Most of the Gaza Strip’s 2.3 million residents have been displaced. Most of the Gaza Strip has been reduced to rubble.

Meanwhile, progress towards ending the war has been painstakingly slow. The Qatar-mediated week-long ceasefire in return for hostages in the first few weeks feels like a long time ago now.

Israeli leaders say their mission is to destroy Hamas entirely and take over Gaza’s security, which many see as a partial reoccupation. With no one able to pressure Israel to stop its onslaught, exasperation grows.

Read more: The Israeli view on the 'day after' in Gaza

Dealing with death

The situation on the ground in Gaza is dire. On Day 1, Israel cut off food, electricity, and fuel supplies. Ever since, it has let the bare minimum of humanitarian aid dribble in. It has also killed hundreds of hungry Palestinians waiting for aid on several occasions. One in four Palestinians in Gaza are now facing starvation.

Public order has broken down. Sanitation no longer functions. Disease is rife. More than a million displaced sit in Rafah, near the Egyptian border, which remains shut. Last week, at least five people were killed after Israel attacked a UN food aid warehouse.

Meanwhile, Israel has kept its border crossings closed, making it nearly impossible to bring any aid by truck. This has prompted some countries to start airdropping aid, which is both expensive and ineffective.

Humanitarian aid is seen being airdropped over Gaza on March 10, 2024.

Read more: Aid airdrops in Gaza recall their use throughout history

Around the world, images from Gaza are being seen. As atrocities escalate, global popular outrage grows.

Yet sustained international support still underpins Israeli action. Many now seem to be waiting for this supportive alliance to crumble.

Renewed urgency

The Israeli-Palestinian conflict remains one of the most intractable in global geopolitics and has defied all attempts to find a lasting solution, yet the scale of hatred being witnessed has now reached a whole new level.

The question being asked now is the same as the one that has been asked many, many times before: How can this be stopped? What can be done to prevent it from being repeated?

Israel's devastating war on Gaza has renewed the urgency to ensure there is an actionable and holistic plan to address Palestinians' longstanding grievances.

Many can be found in Hamas's rationale for its attack, which it released on 21 January. In the declaration entitled 'This is Our Story,' Hamas listed four main injustices:

1) the suffocating 17-year-long Israeli blockade on Gaza

2) Jewish transgressions on Muslim holy sites in occupied East Jerusalem

3) increased settler and military aggression against Palestinians in the occupied West Bank and Jerusalem

4) thousands of Palestinian prisoners languishing in Israeli jails, many of whom have never been charged, let alone convicted of a crime.

There is a renewed urgency to ensure there is an actionable and holistic plan to address Palestinians' longstanding grievances.

Hamas has admitted that the targets of its attacks—carried out by its military wing, the Al-Qassam Brigades—included Israeli civilians. It now says violations against civilians were unequivocally unacceptable.

The group, which Israel wants to eradicate, maintains that its objectives on 7 October were specific and not intended to be a declaration of war. Its fighters were not seeking to "liberate Palestine", they said.

Justifying Israel's response, Benjamin Netanyahu has said the Hamas fighters who crossed the border on 7 October would have continued up to Jerusalem and Tel Aviv if they could have, claiming their aim is to destroy Israel and to kill all Israelis.

A divided Palestine

On its part, the Palestinian national movement remains deeply divided. On the one hand, there is the Palestinian Authority (PA) in Ramallah and the leadership of the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO), built around the secularist Fatah faction.

To many Palestinians, the PA and PLO have eroded their own credibility by having collaborated with the Israeli occupiers, accepting a subordinate role in return for a salary and a sedentary life.

In contrast, Hamas positions itself as leading the resistance against occupation in the absence of a national consensus. It has not disarmed, believes in armed struggle, and often engages in military hostilities with Israel.

In contrast to a generation ago, when the chances of a lasting solution with Israel seemed achievable, most Palestinians today are fed up, apathetic, and disengaged, in part because many now struggle to put food on the table.

Palestinian woman Umm Nael Al-Khlout cooks food on the rubble of her house, which was destroyed during Israel's military offensive during Ramadan on 13 March 2024.

Amidst the suffering of their people, Palestinian leaders have utterly failed to protect them or to make their lives better. Across all factions, none have been able to halt the Israeli onslaught. The significance of this failure could not be more apparent.

If Palestinians are to be able to hold onto even some of their homeland, achieve their aspirations for statehood, and live with a measure of security and independence, they need a collective strategy.

Building and agreeing on a collective strategy requires effective Palestinian leadership (both personnel and structures) after the war. That will not be easy, given the deep-seated animosity between Hamas and Fatah.

The rise of Israel's far right

As if the challenges were not enough on the Palestinian side, Israel is currently ruled by those with far-right, racist, and fascist ideologies, some of whom have been arrested for incitement against Palestinians.

Read more: Extremist Jewish militias and their links to the Israeli state

This government of extremists—including Benjamin Netanyahu, Bezalel Smotrich and Itamar Ben Gvir—seized on 7 October to rally Israelis for a revenge mission against Palestinians in general, hence the horrific violence in the West Bank.

Israelis feel wounded and vulnerable. The breach on 7 October humiliated Israel's military and its famed foreign intelligence service, which is meant to have eyes and ears all over Gaza.

Israel's war of revenge, which has slaughtered more than 30,000 Palestinians and destroyed or damaged 70% of Gaza, shows no sign of ending as the world looks on in horror.

Israel's war of revenge shows no sign of ending. More than 30,000 Palestinians have been killed, most of whom are women and children, as the world looks on in horror.

Some states have taken action. On 29 December, for instance, South Africa brought a case before the International Court of Justice, accusing Israel of genocide. It later ruled that there is a plausible case for it and laid out a series of steps for Israel to take, which it has largely ignored.

The symbolism of this shuddered around the world. That the accusation was being made by a country that had suffered apartheid and that the charge was the same charge laid at the door of the Nazis was lost on no one.

Read more: South Africa's decades-long solidarity with Palestine on display at ICJ

Seeking to expand?

Meanwhile, Israel shows no signs of seeking a sustainable solution to the conflict once the war ends. If anything, they seem to be avoiding one.

Perhaps this is because Israel's right-wing ideologues, including ministers, appear to be intent on asserting full control over all of historical Palestine, violating Palestinian rights, and disregarding international laws.

They have support at home, too, having effectively united much of Israel behind their goals. In some cases, this includes settlement projects in Gaza, almost 20 years after Israel pulled its remaining settlers out.

Within Israel, any meaningful internal criticism of the war and its associated humanitarian violations is stifled. Israelis are almost entirely united behind what their armed forces are doing in Gaza, which they see as necessary.

A very small minority protest. They include left-wing commentator Gideon Levy, who writes in the Israeli newspaper Haaretz, and Israeli historian Ilan Pappe (who lives in the UK) and Israeli parliamentarian Ofer Cassif.

As if to demonstrate that criticism is being stifled, Cassif was suspended for comments he made on 8 October, calling Israel's government "fascist" and accusing it of ethnically cleansing the Palestinians.

Read more: What's it like for an Israeli Jew to express sympathy for Palestinians?

Support and opposition

Internationally and within the Arab region, a significant divide exists between the stance of governments towards Israel and the stance of their citizens.

Most governments acknowledge Israel's right to defend itself, even as the war in Gaza rages on. This, in effect, gives Israel international support and diplomatic cover for its actions in Gaza.

There are exceptions. Turkey's President Erdogan and Brazil's President Lula have been vocal in their opposition to Israel's military onslaught. Lula called Israel's retaliation "insane", while Erdogan called it "a massacre".

Allies have seemed to waver, too. Initially supportive of Israeli military action, both Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and French President Emmanuel Macron have since rowed back to some extent.

Macron said Israeli defence did not mean "flattening Gaza or attacking civilian populations indiscriminately", while Trudeau urged Israel to "stop killing women, children, and babies". Israel criticised both for their comments.

Having said that, most states around the world continue to treat Israel as a legitimate peer rather than a pariah state that violates international laws and norms.

Despite Israel's blatant war crimes, most states around the world continue to treat it as a legitimate peer rather than a pariah state that violates international laws and norms.

A popular disconnect

On the street, the situation is very different. Support for the Palestinians has surged amid a global public outcry against Israel's bombing and the humanitarian crisis that its blockade has caused.

Yet there is a disconnect between this popular sentiment and the official comments emanating from states' governments. Ministers seem to support Israel even while the voters want their politicians to help end Palestinian suffering.

This disconnect poses a risk to US President Joe Biden, who is up against Donald Trump in November. Biden's approval ratings are low, while Trump is riding high.

While Republicans tend to support Israel regardless, many Democrats support the Palestinians and feel that Biden has written Israel a blank cheque, so the Gaza conflict may yet have an impact on the US presidential race.

Meanwhile, South Africa's genocide lawsuit against Israel marked a significant escalation in the international effort to confront Israel for its actions.

In view of the world, Israel is now accused of the same crimes as the Nazis. The court's initial decisions and partial condemnation highlight the severity of Israel's predicament.

The role of civil society, solidarity movements, supportive governments (notably South Africa) and both international and Arab institutions is vital in maintaining pressure on Israel and highlighting its actions to the world.

Asma Mohammed (C), an activist with Uncommitted Minnesota, addresses media during a watch party during the presidential primary in Minneapolis, Minnesota on Super Tuesday, March 5, 2024.

Read more: Super Tuesday showed how Gaza is shaping the tight race for the White House

Reform also needed

For all the pressure on Israel, there also needs to be pressure on the Palestinians to resolve their issues and remedy their weak and divided leadership since effective Palestinian engagement at all levels seems to be troublingly absent.  

The PA, led by Mahmoud Abbas, 88, has long been accused of corruption. This week, he appointed his confidant, Mohammad Mustafa, 69, as the next PA prime minister.

Mustafa, a technocrat who worked at the World Bank for 15 years, is expected to be asked to step into a governance role in Gaza once the war ends in an effort to rebuild the enclave.

One of the tasks for Palestinian leaders will be to seek a unified Palestinian national forum, build a broadly consensual vision for the Palestinians, and reform the range of sclerotic and corrupt Palestinian institutions.

In short, Palestinians must unite around a clear vision if they are to make progress towards political and economic independence.

The ongoing Gaza conflict underscores the urgent need for this. Priorities have to be a halt in the violence and the facilitation of humanitarian aid. Israel must also be held accountable for its actions.

The pursuit of international legal avenues must continue, given that Israel appears to have broken international law. It is also crucial that grassroots support for Palestinian rights continues to grow. 

South Africa's genocide lawsuit against Israel marked a significant escalation in the international effort to confront Israel for its actions.

The grassroots support is conspiciously absent in some Arab states who now seem closer to the Israelis than they do to the Palestinians, having signed normalisation agreements with Tel Aviv to turbocharge bilateral trade, tourism, diplomatic contacts, and cultural exchanges. 

Just as the Palestinians must reach out to Arab leaders, so must they reach out to Israelis who dissent from the current government's standpoint. Fostering relations and dialogue will increase understanding on all sides.

If Palestinians cannot plot a future trajectory that resonates in the West Bank, Gaza, and elsewhere, they will struggle to garner international support that aligns with global principles of justice and human rights.

This requires a comprehensive reassessment of the Palestinian national movement, aimed at restoring its dignity and relevance. Currently, Palestinian representation falls far short of what is required.

In many ways, the Palestinians stand at a juncture: either their national identity erodes further to the point of no return, or they are led by capable leaders who can win back allies and chart a clear course towards a better future.

The latter is the only course worthy of Palestinians' honour, resilience, and spirit.  

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