Violence- The Last Resort for the Palestinian People?

International Relations, Long Reads
Reading Time: 10 minutes


For 70 years, the Palestinians have been without an internationally recognised state, confined to refugee camps and their rights marginalised by Israeli politicians (Aruri, 2003). The Israelis and Palestinians have not been able to come to an agreement that suited their interests and nearly a century later, there are 5.4 million Palestinian refugees without a home (United Nations, 2018) and there is still bitter tension with the Israelis. This begs the question: what options do the Palestinians have left? All peaceful methods have been exhausted and the Palestinians have never been able to find a solution that met their demands, leaving violence as the only option to achieve what they want.

1 What do the Palestinians Think?

Firstly, we need a framework to determine under what conditions the Palestinians are likely to be satisfied as the result of a certain cause of action. The first thing to note is that there is an overwhelming distrust in Palestinian, Israeli and American authorities, with 90% saying they do not trust Israel or America (PSR, 2019). This is important as any peace plan from any of these three major actors requires the support of the Palestinian public. If the Palestinian people are unhappy, then the Palestinian authorities will be unable to sign such an agreement as they want to please voters in order to get re-elected or prevent a violent uprising. This will be important later. Equally, Palestinians express negative feelings against the citizens of Israel with the general consensus being that Israelis are violent and dishonest (JMCC, 1999).

The Palestinian attitude to violence is also important. 98% of Palestinians did not share the view that certain attacks that Westerners have classed as terrorism were in fact terrorism. However, they viewed Israeli attacks on Palestinians as terrorism (PSR, 2001) which demonstrates that the Palestinians are much more likely to see violence committed by themselves as legitimate. Furthermore, violence is seen as effective (PSR, 2001-2006) and common views include that ‘armed confrontations so far have helped achieve Palestinian rights in a way that negotiations could not’. To this extent, a significant number of Palestinians are willing to support armed attacks against Israel.

2 Why Amicable Resolution is Unlikely

In a general case of conflict resolution, there are three (applicable) methods of attempting to resolve a conflict and then two major barriers to resolution. Conflict can be resolved through negotiation, mediation (a neutral third party tries to help both parties come to consensus, but does not impose a solution) or arbitration (a neutral third party takes into account the arguments presented by both sides and makes a binding decision). Resolution can be hindered by self-serving fairness interpretations (where a party interprets fairness as something most fair to them instead of from a neutral perspective) and overconfidence (overconfidence in a party’s own beliefs can result in them being overconfident that they can successfully get what they want, leading to escalation and clashes).

2.1 In Context of the Palestinian-Israeli Conflict

We’ve looked at the barriers to resolution, but let’s examine this in the context of the Palestinian-Israeli Conflict.

As shown by the PSR polls on terrorism, there are clear signs of self-serving fairness interpretations as the Palestinians view Israeli violent attacks as unjust, but simultaneously, Palestinian terrorists are praised (PSR, 2003). Polls aside, this self-serving interest is likely to exist for a few reasons. Firstly, the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict is ultimately religious (Rouhana & Bar-Tal, 1998) which has several implications: the intrinsic nature of religion means that people are likely to be very self-interested in religious issues due to the fear of an omnipotent god; the importance of many areas in Israel and Palestine are of great importance to both Islam and Judaism and both religions have equally legitimate claims to these areas. The result is that it is very hard to find a compromise which both the Israelis and Palestinians will find fair as both parties believe they have sole legitimacy. Secondly, when there are finite resources, the optimal path of action for two parties often leads to outcomes that are inefficient overall, making a compromise in which both parties agree difficult (Klein and Bauman, 2010) as both are likely to only see ideal outcome as fair for themselves.

In order to overcome an undesirable outcome that is likely to stem from selfish interests, some form of regulation is required (Klein and Bauman, 2010). In the case of the Israelis and Palestinians, this can be done through mediation where a third party can try to overcome obstacles to peaceful negotiations and explain the need for compromise in order to get an ideal outcome. However, the pre-requisite for these two methods to be effective is that the third party overseeing these talks is neutral and given the current global context, this is practically impossible. The most likely mediator would be the US as they have been the most involved in peace talks such as the Camp David Accords and recently Donald Trump has been attempting to find an (albeit unpopular amongst the Palestinians) peace plan (BBC, 2020).  Allies of the US are unlikely to get involved because they are not concerned in gaining regional hegemony and do not want to risk relations with either the Israelis or the Arabs. The issue with the US as an arbitrator is that US foreign policy is influenced far more by the Israel lobby than the Arab lobby (Mearsheimer and Walt, 2007). The Israeli lobby has far more grassroot members than the Arab lobby and this is shown by huge disparities in opinions polls regarding American support the Israelis and the Palestinians (Fine, 2010). This means that policy favourable to Israel is also more likely to be supported by American citizens which as earlier mentioned is important for any government. Therefore, America is unlikely to enable a peace deal that benefits the Palestinians nearly as much as Israel and this is evident in the Palestinian reaction to Trump’s new peace plan (BBC, 2020).

Finally, arbitration is also unlikely to satisfy the Palestinians. There is already a degree of resentment for the UNSCOP Partition Plan which was widely rejected by Palestinians (Morris, 1948) and thus a distrust of the UN as an effective arbitrator. Furthermore, structural issues such as Palestine not having full membership of the UN and America having a strong foothold in the UN mean that similar issues with mediation also occur with arbitration.

3 The Merits and Demerits of Violence

It is evident that given the current global context, there are too many barriers for the Palestinians to achieve their goals. In order to prove that violence can overcome this, I will show four things: violence can be successful, it mitigates the barrier to conflict resolution, it forces Israel to the negotiating table and creates more neutral mediation and arbitration.

For violence to be successful, the Palestinians do not necessarily need to overpower Israel, but they need to shift the power balance towards Palestine. This is because in order to be able to carry out negotiations, there is a psychological prerequisite for acceptance where people must perceive change such that they anticipate the need for further change (Kelman, 1978). A shift in power balance spurs this perceived change in political affairs required to get the mutual acceptance that facilitates negotiation. In addition, this removes the overconfidence that Israel has had (which as previously explained is a barrier to conflict resolution). This can be done by groups such as Hamas gaining strategic footholds in Israel territory, small-scale terrorism and large-scale uprisings such as the Intifadas to influence the Israelis and their government to make concessions to the Palestinians. If Hamas solely focus on gaining a few strategically important locations, it could be possible to succeed. Combined with small-scale terrorism in episodes in a large-range of geographic locations, this creates domestic pressure from the Israeli electorate to find a peaceful solution (although larger-scale terrorism can result in a hardened stance and a crack-down from Israel). In addition, it ensures a constant publicity of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict which draws pressure from the international community forcing Israel to negotiate peace (Gould and Klor, 2010). It is within America’s interest to maintain peace in the Middle East (Brands, 2019) due to their reliance on oil and the UN in its very nature has an interest in maintaining peace in the Middle East, making mediation and arbitration likely to occur as well.

In the past, Violence has proven to yield some degree of success for the Palestinian cause. The use of terrorism by the PLO enabled them to get attention and eventually gain international recognition (while Yasser Arafat had to renounce terrorism to gain international support, this is what would also happen during mediation or arbitration). Till today, terrorism has also been vital in slowly shifting Israeli opinion to one of acceptance of the Palestinians and support of a two-state solution involving peaceful talks (Dershowitz, 2002). The First Intifada demonstrated perhaps the most powerful mechanism for which violence is a viable solution for the Palestinians. It is in Israel’s interest to react to violence with disproportionate force to effectively shut down Palestinian protests and to set and to set a strong precedent to discourage future violence. They did this during the first Intifada which drew heavy criticism from international media and fora (Shaïm, 2000). This demonstrates why small-scale terrorism is so effective. It is disruptive enough such that the Israeli electorate force the government to take action. If the government responds with disproportionate violence, this results in international backlash which means that during mediation, political capital from organisations like the Israel lobby are outweighed by the general public opinion condemning these disproportionate responses. This means that mediation or arbitration is far more likely to appease the Palestinians. Alternatively, if Israel immediately go to the negotiating table, they have no option but to make concessions that suit the Palestinians in order to get a peace deal or risk backlash from their citizens.

However, binding peace has not been achieved in the past despite large-scale terrorism and two Intifadas, why will change be achieved this time? The reason why violence is only uniquely likely to be effective now is because it results in a combination of two-party negotiation processes, but also separate neutral third-party mediation. If Hamas can successfully gain strong footholds, this not only forces Israel to try and negotiate, but shifts the power balance to the point that they have to make concessions they were not willing to make before. While religious extremism that stems from violence is likely to exacerbate the self-serving fairness interpretation and a lack of collaboration, this is mitigated by the fact that there is a mediator or arbitrator to iron out these differences. Palestine has been slowly growing in strength (as has been demonstrated by their increasing recognition in the UN), forcing Israel to also acknowledge them increasingly more. But as explained earlier, violence is intrinsically divisive, so there also needs to be some moderation to repair these divides. Due to the nature of small-scale Palestinian terrorism, there is less of a justification for Israel to react with disproportionate force, so when Israel do react (which they have to do because of their entrenched commitment to quelling Palestinian uprisings), America is more likely to take a sympathetic view to the Palestinians and the Israel lobby’s power would be mitigated. This would allow for a more level discussion between the Israelis and Palestinians to ensue.

But ultimately, the negotiation would have to be made without moderation as the Palestinians do not trust American authority. This would uniquely result in a solution that for the first time, suits many Palestinian incentives, but this scenario is uniquely created through violence.

3.1 Even if Violence is not Necessarily Successful

The problem is there is no way to guarantee that violence can be successful and there are too many fine lines that can easily be crossed. While violence can make Israeli citizens push for negotiations, it can also encourage more of a crackdown on Palestine with increased IDF presence in the West Bank. In addition, Israel have proven with the incredibly violent attacks in the Gaza Strip that neither do they care about international opinion nor does it damage their relations with their allies.

However, there are some things to note here. Just because violence has not been a one hundred percent fool-proof strategy in the past, it does not mean it is ineffective in the future. Overtime, the massacres in the Gaza Strip compound and as mentioned above, the opinion about Israel is slowly shifting to a more unfavourable position. For example, the left-wing have been very critical of Israel in most Western countries and even the Israeli public are starting to have more favourable views to the Palestinians. Disproportionate attacks are likely to continue because Israel think they can get with it and it is required to effectively shut down Palestinian attacks. But these disproportionate attacks compound to the point where either there is sufficient international backlash that warrants Israel carrying out negotiations out of fear of losing foreign aid support, or the Israelis themselves demand a more peaceful solution. Either way, violence has more potential when we look to the future,

But even if we never reach this tipping point, we mustn’t forget our framework regarding what the Palestinians themselves think. I think it’s clear that there isn’t really anything else that works in the minds of the Palestinians. At the end of the day, Palestinian support is vital. If they do not trust Israel or America and therefore do not trust current peaceful processes where Israel and America have a stronger hand in negotiations, then Palestine will never back a peace deal. Groups like Hamas are particularly likely to reject these deals, and resort to terrorism, violating peace deals and rendering them useless. But as the PSR polls have shown, Palestinians are more than willing to support violent attacks against Israel.

Finally, when the Palestinians will ultimately have to negotiate with Israel to create a formal agreement, violence is the only way for Palestine to gain enough power to have a stronger hand in negotiations. This does two important things. Firstly, it allows Palestine to finally have a sufficient number of their demands met in a way that is likely to please Palestinians. Secondly, it has a signalling effect, that Palestine is in control and the peace deal will not be a Israeli-American conspiracy against the Palestinians. This is vital in winning the trust that is so vital in making sure that a peace deal is lasting and does not break-down in a few years.

It is true that violence may be unsuccessful, but no other course of action can appease the Palestinians. No matter how unlikely it is that Palestine can shift the balance of power, there is still a small chance that it does work and this small chance is the only hope that the Palestinians have left and the only solution.


Ultimately, in order for the Palestinians to find an effective course of action, they will require national backing and a plan that can feasibly meet their demands. The reason why peaceful negotiations failed to achieve long term success is that the demands of the Palestinians were never met. Violence is absolutely the only answer as the Palestinians do not trust anyone else and therefore action can only come within. It is clear that Palestine is willing to support this course of action. Furthermore, the only peace deal Palestinians will except is one where Palestine have the upper hand in negotiations and can have their demands met. Yet again, this can only be achieved by violence. To conclude, the current political situation has proven that even if violence is unlikely to be completely successful, the small chance it does succeed is more than the certain failure of peace processes that occur in the current political environment.


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One thought on “Violence- The Last Resort for the Palestinian People?

  • I’m not convinced by this argument. I also wonder if the author is from that region—israel-plaestine. If so, would he participate in a violent insurrection on the Palestinian side.
    From what i have seen , everytime Hamas or one of the other groups like Islamic Jihad fire a few rockets from Gaza or do some random terrorist attack, Israel cracks down, such as bombing Gaza into near total ruin. Also my view is all this does is support the extremists on both sides—they want continual conflict. has a slightly more nuanced view.

    Unless someone has ‘skin in the game’ or a ‘dog in that fight’ I don’t think they should be advocating for things they may not want to do themselves. I hear these arguments at times by people in ‘the radical media’ or who are academics in elite universities in UK or USA. They also at times support violence but they don’t want to be in it—they just run a web site or write books in their posh university.

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