The Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) is the second largest armed group in the Gaza Strip after Hamas. It was founded in 1980 due to the disillusionment of some members of the Muslim Brotherhood within Gaza with the society’s lack of violent struggle against the Israeli occupation. In fact, the PIJs distinctive characteristic is its unwavering involvement in armed struggle, consisting of firing rockets into southern Israel, suicide bombings of Israeli buses and armed infiltration into Jewish settlements. Although the organisation prides itself on this, there are good reasons to show that actually it would gain from a more pacifist approach.
First, attacks against Israeli military and civilian targets give Israel an excuse to retaliate using disproportionate force. Although these retaliations are claimed by the IDF to be aimed at the source of the attack, namely at the PIJ militants, many times they include the death of innocent civilians (“collateral damage”). According to a recent study on the relationship between the Palestinian use of violence and popular support for such Palestinian factions during the Second Intifada, an increase in Palestinian fatalities not only shifts public support away from all the political factions but, specifically, PIJ-claimed fatalities raise significant disaffection at the expense of the PIJ itself.
Furthermore, although it is widely believed that claiming responsibility for Israeli fatalities increases political support, this is not the case for the PIJ. In fact, statistics show exactly the opposite: Israeli fatalities claimed by the PIJ cause a decrease in public support for it. The authors of the study conjecture that the root cause of this trend is that the PIJ employs a spoiling strategy in its attacks: the PIJ commits its attacks when there are on-going negotiations between a Palestinian political group and Israel in order to spoil the negotiations. What this shows also is that, on the contrary to Selin Kavlak’s piece, at least a significant part of the Palestinian public is against the disruption of negotiations and thus is in support of them.
Second, the renunciation of violence on behalf of the PIJ would make the brutality of the Israeli occupation more conspicuous. Israel justifies its continued occupation in terms of security: it cannot give up the territories unless it is certain it is safe. In fact, one of the pre-conditions for recognition of a future Palestinian statehood is that it be demilitarized. If the PIJ keeps on firing rockets into Israel it only serves to make the Israeli position more convincing.
Third, the PIJs international reputation would ameliorate, and thus earn more credibility, once it gave up armed struggle. This is what happened with the PLO. Before Arafats speech at the UN in 1988 where he denounced terrorism, the PLO was considered a terrorist organisation. After the speech, the PLO earned credibility and with it the Palestinian cause earned more international recognition.
Fourth, if we look at some of the most important Islamic organisations which gave up armed struggle and pursued a more reformist approach, we see that they made considerable gain. Within Gaza, Hamas, once it accepted to take part in the PAs democratic election in 2006 and the same year give up its call for the destruction of Israel, it won an internationally recognised fair election. The Egyptian Brotherhood won the parliamentary elections and, once the military junta decides to step down, will rule the country (though there may be problems on the horizon with such a development).
Fifth, acts of violence on behalf of Islamic political factions on Israeli targets encourage the Israeli public to vote for right-wing parties who believe in the historical right of the Jewish people to the whole of Judea and Samaria and who support government policies to increase settlement construction and to not give back land to the Palestinian people, precisely what the PIJ is fighting for.
Having said this, the PIJ would probably retort that peaceful and reformist policies on behalf of Palestinian political factions never achieved anything. Israel is expanding settlement construction daily and keeps the Gaza Strip in a painful humanitarian crisis. Whilst non-violence patently doesn’t work, violence will only exacerbate the Israeli approach to the Palestinians.