According to Locke, a society is chiefly valuable because it allows conflicts between individuals to be referred to a common judge. Without a common authority, any conflict can only be judged by each’s conscience according to its interpretation of natural law, and the attempt of each to enforce natural law will put the two in a state of war with each other.
International law is perhaps the best example of a very weak society. Although some common law exists which can be appealed to in conflicts, it is easy for states to avoid its enforcement as long as they have powerful friends, ideally a friend with a veto on the security council.
Israel’s position on the Occupied Territories is a rejection of the arbitration of International law, as I have argued above. Having rejected arbitration, it has put itself into a state of war with its opponents.
War, however, can be pursued by many means. Arms are just one way that force can be used between parties in the state of nature. In a sense, we could think of the UN statehood bid by Abbas a form of war against Israel, in the sense that Israel rejects the authority that the Palestinians are appealing to, and therefore insofar as this appeal is an exercise of force, and insofar as the Palestinians and Israel are in a state of war with each other (they recognize no authority which they can both appeal to), then any use of force puts them into a state of war with each other.
Israel tries to de-legitimize peaceful struggle against its policies, i.e. things like Boycotts and calls for Divestments and Sanctions, by calling them “economic warfare” – but maybe that is exactly what they are, and maybe we should support that. If there is no common authority which those who support the Palestinian cause can make an argument for and who’s decision Israel must obey, then must not they be in a state of war against Israel? Following this line of reasoning, might not armed struggle be but one form of war, and then even if the armed struggle ends, should we think the war is over? Maybe activists should embrace the idea of war, and while making arguments in favour of non-violence, emphasize that the arguments for non-violence must be grounded in the tactical considerations that non violent struggle is a more effective tactic of war against an enemy. In other words, non-violence could actually be more violent than violence, in the sense that it might be more effective at weakening and vanquishing the enemy.
Israel often appeals to its right to defend itself. But if it defends itself only because it is in a state of war, do not its opponents have the same rights? If Israel has the right of targeted killing of Palestinian militants, does that not mean Palestinian militants have the right of targeted killing of Israeli militants? And if every Israeli is in the army, then can even suicide bombing truly be considered “terrorism” anymore than a targeted assassination?
I don’t make this argument to support suicide bombing, but rather to oppose just as much the use of force against Palestinian militants insofar as they are engaged in defence of their territory and their communities. It may be imprudent for Palestinians to attack Israelis in the territories, but the argument from prudence is separate from the argument from right. It may be that Palestinians have the right to armed struggle in the territories against the occupier, but it may be that the best way to exercise this right is through non-violent resistance. This seems likely to me, but at the same time I believe strongly that it is up to Palestinians to make these decisions – the attitude of foreign activists who want to tell people engaged in struggle elsewhere what the most effective tactics are for them to pursue, is paternalistic and unfortunate.