Foreign Policy Blogs

On Friedman's Nonviolent Protest Proposal

As Peter Mellgard of the FPA Current Conflicts blog noted last week, Thomas Friedman recently offered a perhaps seemingly novel proposal to the Palestinians.  His proposal?  A massive nonviolent protest movement advocating a two-state solution.  Friedman writes:

If Palestinians peacefully march to Jerusalem by the thousands every Friday with a clear peace message, it would become a global news event. Every network in the world would be there. Trust me, it would stimulate a real peace debate within Israel…

Yet Friedman’s proposal is eerily reminiscent of a similar proposal offered last September by Robert Wright, also writing for The New York Times.  (I wrote about Wright’s op-ed here.)  Wright argued that the Palestinians should start a peaceful movement advocating for a one-state solution in which Israel grants Palestinians the vote.  This movement, claimed Wright, “would gain immediate international support,” and Israel, fearing the movement’s popularity, would begin to take genuine steps toward a two-state solution.

But Wright, and now Friedman, neglect the substantial nonviolent movements already happening in the Palestinian Territories.  I offered some details in my post about Wright’s op-ed.  And Friedman’s piece is particularly peculiar, as it comes just a few weeks after massive nonviolent demonstrations involving tens of thousands of Palestinian protesters in the West Bank and Gaza, which resulted in the Fatah-Hamas reconciliation deal.  Friedman, though, doesn’t mention this fact and states that Israel and the Palestinian Territories “have been untouched by the Arab Spring.”

So aside from the fact that the massive nonviolent Palestinian protest movement went unmentioned by Friedman while he simultaneously asserted that such a movement would “become a global news event” that would change the political realities in Israel, there are other reasons to view Friedman’s proposal with skepticism.  One thing to look at is a report issued recently by the Association for Civil Rights in Israel.  The report examines and critiques Israeli police treatment of Palestinians in East Jerusalem, and observes, among other things, that “the excessive use of riot-control measures in the heart of crowded residential areas has become all too commonplace.”  Additionally, according to Haaretz, witnesses claim that Israeli police have begun using stun guns against demonstrators in East Jerusalem.  The alleged stun gun incident occurred at the settlement of Ma’ale Zeitim, an Israeli settlement in East Jerusalem, and the site of weekly protests.  And last month, Israeli soldiers fired on Gazan protesters marching toward the separation barrier.  As an IDF spokesman stated, “Soldiers fired in a controlled manner towards the legs of the leading rioters, in order to disperse them and prevent them from entering Israeli territory. A number of rioters were injured as a result.”

So there are already significant nonviolent demonstration efforts, Israel is fairly successful at cracking down on them, and they have not played a large role in changing the political dialogue.  That’s not to advocate a violent solution in place of Friedman’s proposed nonviolent route.  I merely think Friedman (and Wright before him) could have done a more comprehensive job of assessing the dilemmas the Palestinians face in their protest efforts, and better address how the Palestinians can surmount these obstacles.