Palestinians Waver Between Politics and Nonviolent Revolution

06/05/2015 01:02 pm ET | Updated Jun 05, 2016

To many people, the entire non-violent Palestinian movement came down to a moment last Friday in Zurich.

Many would argue that head of the Palestinian Football Federation, Jibril Rjoub, blinked at that moment. In the very last seconds of a match that witnessed a steadfast and unyielding determination, the Palestinian team leader backed away, avoiding a possible confrontation with Israelis and their supporters.

It might not be that simple and it would be unfair to put so much on the shoulders of one man. Rjoub probably had much more than he could handle alone, but many would argue that people feel let down having believed in him and expected him to stay steadfast until the end.

Rjoub, who insisted up to the last minute that he was going to demand the ouster of the Israeli Football Federation, accepted an amendment to the resolution that avoided the call to dismiss the Israeli federation and, instead, agreed to a committee with the participation of the world football body to look into the Palestinian charges against Israel's discrimination and racism that violate FIFA by-laws.

The decision was taken by a vote of the general assembly and the issue is no longer in the hands of the FIFA executive.

What caught many off guard is that the committee has been charged to check with the UN about whether five Israeli settlement clubs are actually in the occupied territories.

FIFA regulations are crystal clear that no national team is allowed to play on the grounds of another association without its consent. The Jewish settlements are clearly built on Palestinian lands and the UN vote declaring Palestine a non-member state clearly demarcate its borders as those of June 1967.

In explaining his position, Rjoub noted the tremendous pressure he has been under from the German and South African associations, among others, and of course from the powerful FIFA chief Sepp Blatter who was opposed to the motion from day one.

Palestinian activists and supporters who had held demonstrations passed around petitions and were lobbying for international support for the motion felt betrayed by Rjoub's move. They felt that he was outmaneuvered by Israel and its supporters, and that the idea of setting up a committee to look into the violations and to check the location of settlements was a joke.

Rjoub and his supporters might argue that if Europe was not with Palestine, the motion did not have the 75 per cent votes needed to ouster Israel. They might also argue that they raised the issue at the highest platform possible and that with the presence of Tokyo Sexwale, a South African anti-apartheid representative heading this newly mandated committee by the general assembly, they will ensure that Palestinian football players will have a chance to play without Israeli harassment.

The "suspension of the suspension," as Rjoub calls it, can be lifted again once the committee hands its recommendations against Israel without the latter making major changes.

Perhaps the more important discussion is the larger political narrative.

Palestinian activists argue that the last minute reversal by Rjoub weakened the international non-violent boycott, divestment and sanctions efforts that have been picking up steam around the world.

They state that by playing politics, the Palestinian football official actually proved that the complaint was political and not related to a clear violation of a number of clauses in the FIFA constitutions. But if the argument against Rjoub is that of betrayal of the larger non-violent struggle, one needs to ask simple questions: what are the details of this strategy, where is the consensus in its regard, and who is the leader of this struggle?

Palestinian non-violent resistance is certainly active in and out of Palestine, but it is far from being part of a unified national strategy by Palestinians who are divided on various issues.
The division within the Palestinian community is not limited to the divide along the Hamas-Fateh line.

While major Palestinian factions and parties give lip service to non-violence, no nationally agreed-to strategy and action plan exists.

Certainly not for the Palestinian leadership or the PLO under Mahmoud Abbas, even though Abbas and his political opponents in Hamas regularly use the term "popular struggle," a coded word for non-violent resistance.

Leaders of the academic boycott movement might be based among intellectuals in Ramallah, but they are worlds away from the leadership in the Muqata.

The gap between the sides was noteworthy two weeks ago at Bir Zeit University. Apparently under pressure from boycott activists, the university disinvited one of the founders of the International Criminal Court because he gave lectures at two Israeli universities.

At the same time, however, Egyptian-born Charif Basiouni was welcomed by senior officials in the Palestinian government. So while Palestinian non-violent activists and the government have huge expectations to have Israel charged with war crimes, they cannot agree on meeting with an Arab founding member of the ICC.

Palestinians are also in great disagreement on the issue of what acts constitutes "normalisation".
The Palestinian president and many leaders in Jerusalem consider a visit by Arabs and Muslims to East Jerusalem to be an act of support to Palestine and its people.

The anti-normalization movement and many Islamists, however, vehemently oppose visits to Jerusalem, considering them almost national treason.

This was clear last week when a fist fight broke as a senior Jordanian religious official attempted to give the Friday sermon in Al Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem's old city.

What Rjoub did at the very last minute in Zurich needs to be seen within this larger perspective.
He has extended almost single handily the opportunities and possibilities of effective change with the abilities and circumstances that he had at his disposal, but blinked at the last moment due to external pressures.

The lesson of the debacle at Zurich should not be simply to criticise the head of the Palestinian football federation, but to think long and hard of what is needed for the Rjoubs and others in the future to be able to withstand pressure.

The best way to show support and solidarity for leaders to take courageous decision is to come up with a national non-violent strategy for liberation that is agreed to by all Palestinians.