The United Front for Palestinian Liberation (UF) will voluntarily pack up their encampment at the quad over the weekend after striking a deal with the University of Washington (UW). Administration agreed to evaluate a proposal to divest from Israel through the Advisory Committee on Socially Responsible Investing, be “transparent” and “examine” the University’s relationship with Boeing and other weapons manufacturers, and waive tuition for at least 20 students from Gaza, among other things. It is unclear if protesters reached a consensus on the deal, but no one seems happy.

In a statement, UF said they are “under no illusions that this agreement is a win. The only true win is Palestinian liberation.” 

“Many of our demands remain unfulfilled as the UW has shown clear reluctance to make even the smallest progress towards reducing our complicity in the ongoing genocide in Palestine,” UF said in a press release “The UW has demonstrated its commitment to neoliberal values, war profiteers, and facilitators of oppression over the calls of its students, faculty, and workers. UW would rather maintain the status quo than stand against genocide.”

Given increased hostility from UW President Ana Mari Cauce toward the protesters in the past week, this agreement may be the best deal the students could broker without escalating their tactics, which UW said would cause them to walk away from the bargaining table. 

The UF pitched tents in the Quad on May 1 to establish an encampment, picking up a Gaza solidarity movement launched by students at Columbia, UCLA, and other colleges. The encampment went by several names, including the Liberated Zone and the Popular University for Gaza. 

Students tacked up their list of demands to a canopy: Materially and academically divest from Israel, cut ties with Boeing, and end the repression of pro-Palestinian voices on campus. At the time, organizers said they would not leave until their demands were fully met, even if that meant camping through summer break. 

While conservative media clearly wanted a show, the protesters didn’t take the bait. Instead of engaging with counter-protesters, students and their allies defended their encampment from MAGA-head spillover after the May 7 Charlie Kirk event, and again on May 12 when a bunch of pro-Israel Christians tried and failed to “buzzsaw” through the quad. Aside from some isolated scuffles, protesters stayed relatively peaceful. 

Nevertheless, UW President Ana Mari Cauce seemed to snap on May 15. After the protesters managed to keep their cool under the pressure of the two confrontations, in a public statement Cauce called the graffiti on University buildings an “antisemitic” “escalation.” She did not specify what she considered antisemitic. 

The word “escalation” should sound an alarm for UF. UW admin made it clear that if the students escalated, then they would end negotiations over their demands. Cauce’s statement implicitly threatened just that. 

It would seem that UF only had two main paths at that point: Escalate to put pressure on the admin, even if it meant losing access to sit-down negotiations, or take what they could get at the bargaining table to avoid the consequences that students at other schools saw. 

For a moment, it looked as if UF wanted to keep the encampment alive. The group started sharing more details about their negotiations with UW, which they had previously kept private so as to not jeopardize a potential deal. They even revealed how uncompromising the UW had been, showing their demands next to admin’s measly offers. 

It is unclear what changed in the last two days, but in a May 17 press release, UF struck a more positive tone, highlighting the places where UW did concede:

  • Representation on Divestment Committee: “Advance two representatives recommended by this group to serve on the ACSRI for Board of Regents consideration.”
  • Scholarships for Gazans: “UW will waive tuition for at least 20 displaced Palestinian students from Gaza, and commits to fundraising to cover additional costs for these students.”
  • Academic Boycott: “UW will establish a faculty committee to recommend and solicit changes to study abroad programs, that exclude participation from students from specific countries or communities, including Palestinian or other Arab students.”
  • Center for Scholarship of Palestine: “On the recommendation of this committee and the corresponding Deans, the Provost will commit seed funding to accelerate a hiring plan (e.g. cluster hiring) beginning in fall 2025 to build thematic strength as a foundation to pursue faculty-led future fundraising, grant applications, and/or organized research or study units.”
  • Palestinian Universities: “The University’s Office of Global Affairs is prepared to help interested faculty pursue new and renewed academic connection with Palestinian Universities. Efforts will initiate in summer 2024.”
  • Military-Industrial Complex and Ethical Labor Task Force: “The University will be transparent about its investment holdings and fund managers. The University has no direct investments in Boeing, major weapons manufacturers, or companies domiciled in Israel. To the extent there are additional calls to divest from additional companies, we will be transparent about if and how the university is invested in these companies and make available our process for divestment.”

UF maintains they are not satisfied with these concessions. They promise to “contribute to the Palestinian national liberation struggle for years to come until Palestinians can return home, until the olive trees grow and the red poppies bloom.”

UW seems to chalk it up to a win. In a statement from Cauce, she wrote, "I’m pleased to reach this resolution so that our campus can begin to heal – including by coming together for Commencement next month – and so that once again all UW community members, regardless of religion, race or national origin, can live, learn and work without fear."

The UW agreed to "forgo referrals for citations or conduct violations for camping." However, the UW will investigate and potential punish "any other violations of law and policy, such as for vandalism, harassment or discrimination." Cauce said UW "will be closely observing the withdrawal of the encampment, recognizing that there may be individuals, particularly from outside the UW community, who refuse to depart."