A New Palestinian Initiative That’s Hard to Read

By Stuart Littlewood – London

I have just stumbled across an important-looking report entitled ‘Regaining the Initiative – Palestinian Strategic Options to End Israeli Occupation’ by the Palestine Strategy Group. It is dated August 2008, but I don’t recall any fanfare to launch it.

Were we actually meant to discover it? The only mention I’ve seen was buried deep within the text of an excellent article, ‘Coexistence with Occupation Not an Option’ by Sam Behour, recently posted on the Palestine Chronicle website.

Sam Behour is one of 45 politicians, academics, business people and others who participated in the study. He says the document "reflects an alternative to an official but impotent Palestinian discourse that will very shortly, in the judgment of most Palestinians, run head-on into a brick wall."

The report is 52 pages long, maintains that Israel’s strategic calculations are wrong and sets out three strategic tasks for Palestinians if they are to bring the present sterile ‘peace’ negotiations to an end and re-focus efforts towards achieving the Palestinian dream.

Apparently the work was funded by the EU. But if taxpayers are to see value for their money the report must be made a lot easier to digest.

I’m passionately interested in the subject but found even the Executive Summary, which runs to 5 pages, hard going. When I tried to absorb the main body of the report I gave up in defeat.

Here’s an extract:

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…

At this point my eyes glazed over. What audience is it written for?

The primary audience. say the authors, is Palestinian. "The purpose of the report is to articulate a common platform that will unite fellow Palestinians in order to strengthen the effectiveness of our unified voice. The aim is to support national leaders in their efforts to formulate an agreed national programme with clear goals and tools for implementation. But there are also other audiences…"

Yes, a whole host of people need to be informed and educated, engaged and convinced… not least the media, the countless activists, campaigners and sympathisers around the world, and the multitude of politicians – in particular those in the west. They have a limited attention span and you’ll be lucky to get 30 seconds to capture their interest. They are not going to wade through 52 pages and 16,500 words, or even 5 pages of summary, to get to the point.

First Things First

Yet there are flashes of brilliance in the Study Group’s report. Its central plank is to urge Palestinians "to seize their destiny in their own hands” by refusing to enter into peace negotiations unless the international community deals first with issues relating to national self-determination, liberation from occupation, individual and collective rights, and enforces international law. That seems to be the gist of it. Only when these priorities are recognised and actioned can peacemaking and state-building rise to the top of the agenda.

A second plank is the need for national unity. "Palestinian strategic action is impossible if the Palestinian nation is unable to speak with one voice or to act with one will." Of course the relentless pressures of occupation, and out-and-out bribery by meddlers like the US, are designed to cause internal divisions and self-destruction. Strategic action is indeed impossible until the collaborators in Ramallah are banished.

The rest of the world long ago came to accept Israel’s distorted definition of the situation. Now, at the eleventh hour, Palestinian thinkers produce a brilliant new strategy and wrap it up in a long-winded, impenetrable document that few people outside their own circle will have the stamina to read.

The document and the ideas it contains might well herald a turning-point in the 60-year struggle if its message could only reach and register with targeted audiences. But in 52-page form it is unlikely to win hearts and minds in the corridors of power or penetrate the general political ‘noise’ in Washington, London and EU capitals.

As Churchill used to say, “Please be good enough to put your conclusions and recommendations on one sheet of paper in the very beginning of your report, so I can even consider reading it.” Brevity is a virtue, and I think the Palestine Strategy Group (or the Oxford Research Group – it isn’t clear who is ultimately responsible) would do well to re-write and turn their report into a much more user-friendly vehicle for their ideas. The challenge is to make the complex subject-matter easily and quickly understood by differing audiences and media.

"The essence of the Palestinian problem is not recognised", moans the report. Churchill’s advice: “When you have an important point to make, don’t try to be subtle or clever. Use a pile driver. Hit the point once. Then come back and hit it again. Then hit it a third time – a tremendous whack.”

-Stuart Littlewood is author of the book Radio Free Palestine, which tells the plight of the Palestinians under occupation. For further information please visit www.radiofreepalestine.co.uk. He contributed this article to PalestineChronicle.com.

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