[Marxism] Omar Barghouti on BDS strategy and tactics

A.R. G amithrgupta at gmail.com
Tue Jun 14 12:09:57 MDT 2016

I think this is notable:

But the traditional Palestinian political discourse of the 1960s, 1970s,
and 1980s is largely gone. In South Africa, the national liberation
movement remained active until the very last minute, but we have,
unfortunately, lost much of what made up the Palestinian national
liberation movement largely due to the Oslo agreements. The Palestinian
leadership, with the explicit or implicit endorsement of most Palestinian
political parties, has surrendered basic Palestinian rights and accepted
dictates by the United States and European Union to adapt to most of
Israel’s regime of colonial oppression.

The Palestinian people is now in a state of loss and disarray. There is no
longer a Palestinian “national consensus,” if ever there was one. Even the
Palestinian political parties, right and left, Islamist and secular, with
almost no exception,* talk of “independence” and not national liberation,*
often forgetting the refugees and always omitting Palestinian citizens of
Israel from the very definition of the Palestinian people.

It is up to the entire Palestinian people to determine its future and the
solution to this colonial conflict. In the meantime, every Palestinian
individual, group or coalition must strive to weaken the Israeli regime of
oppression, as a prerequisite to attain Palestinian rights under
international law. We in the BDS movement have opted for developing one,
time-honored form of Palestinian resistance and* the most effective form of
grassroots international solidarity with it, based on rights, not political

BDS of course recognizes that there are other strategies and approaches; *we’re
just saying that we chose to focus on the rights, not the solutions*,
because for any political solution – determined by the majority of
Palestinians everywhere – to be just, comprehensive and sustainable it must
accommodate our rights under international law. Moreover, to be effective
you need to have something close to a Palestinian consensus, and to achieve
that we had to stick to the most principled and strategic lowest common
denominator, to the most significant and least controversial goals of the
Palestinian people that hardly anyone can object to: Ending the 1967
occupation, ending the system of apartheid, and fulfilling the right of
return of Palestinian refugees to their homes and properties from which
they were ethnically cleansed during and since the Nakba. And we adhere to
these rights strictly.


We know the inherent flaws of international law as well as anyone. But we
also know that it is *either that or the law of the jungle, and the latter
does not work for us*, on principle and practically, *given that we are by
far the physically weaker party*.

Barghouti is absolutely correct about the situation -- there is no longer a
functional national liberation movement, as the weaker party has been
crushed. However, his proposed answer is really not an answer at all. It
just returns you to square 1. His answer is to focus on "rights" rather
than "solutions". Reminds me of Arendt's comments in Origins of
Totalitarianism wherein the problem with "human rights" and the like was
that historically, the Rights of Man had always been pinned to national
emancipation. Without a polity to protect one's rights, the rhetoric about
Rights of Man (or, with BDS, "human rights") exists only in a void:

"Even worse was that all societies formed for the protection of the Rights
of Man, all attempts to arrive at a new bill of human rights were sponsored
by marginal figures by *a few international jurists without political
experi- ence or professional philanthropists* supported by the uncertain
sentiments of professional idealists. The groups they formed, the
declarations they is- sued, showed an* uncanny similarity in language and
composition to that of societies for the prevention of cruelty to animals*"
(Arendt, OOT 292)

Ultimately, rights must be tied to some sort of collective polity, and here
he appears to be tying it to the BDS movement; but the BDS movement is just
a group of people outside of Palestine for the most part who separately
advocate for international law, which in turn is largely deferential to
existing states to enforce and uphold "human rights" (which is why human
rights are never enforced anywhere, whether it is the international
conventions used to protect refugees or the various frameworks for
protecting "individual minority rights," etc).

Indeed, the transition from "solutions" (AKA national liberation or at the
very least, some sort of national framework) to "rights" is not really a
transition at all. Even the national liberation movements that Barghouti
references spoke of rights. The difference is, they knew that the only way
to obtain those rights was through national liberation. Here, we have a
discussion of "rights" but there is no answer as to what new framework
could be adopted to uphold them. Rather, you have Barghouti and others
promoting a single tactic (boycotts) in order to obtain those rights; but
the tactics they have proposed are not tied to national liberation, they
are simply tied to "rights," that is, expecting already existing
institutions to uphold them under enough pressure.

In short, this is a transition away from national liberation to traditional
liberalism within Greater Israel. The older movements Barghouti references
wanted to physically liberate all of Palestine; later, some factions
settled for trying to physically liberate only some of it (Gaza and the
West Bank). But the framework Barghouti offers is a third one: he wants to
physically liberate NONE of it, and wants only for international NGOs and
activist groups to pressure the existing regime to extend greater rights to
its subjects (as opposed to overthrowing its rule in whole or in part).

This also explains why much of the BDS movement eschews any discussions of
Zionism. Discussions about Zionism inevitably lead to discussions about
anti-Zionism and national liberation. That is no longer part of this
framework. Likewise, it explains why a significant chunk of the BDS
Movement -- not just the factions Barghouti references -- have also given
short shrift to Palestinian refugees. Refugees, by definition, do not
currently live under Israeli occupation and are least likely to be
deferential to the existing state or a framework that is deferential to
them, which is why refugees are consistently removed from divestment
resolutions and activists see it as "too risky" -- rather than fairly basic
-- to invite refugees to condemn Israel's right to exist as a regime.

- Amith


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