At the beginning of the so-called “Arab Spring”, hope for the realization of Palestinian aspirations was at an all-time high. The “apparent” successes of the Egyptian uprising offered hope for the long awaited Palestinian reconsolidation; the lifting of the blockade on Gaza, and a more active Egyptian foreign policy that might restrain Israeli aggression. Almost two and a half years after the removal of Mubarak, the situation for the Palestinian people has never been so bleak. The siege of Gaza continues and the Palestinian movement appears to be fractured beyond repair. The question that imposes itself, is how did the Palestinians reach this situation? To answer this, one needs to look at the wider dynamics of the region, as well as the realities of the Palestinian movement itself.
The Palestinian cause and struggle has been the premier concern of Arabs since 1948, however this position is currently being challenged to the dismay of the Palestinians. The Arab uprisings in general, and the Syrian conflict in particular, have diverted the attention of the Arab street from the Palestinian struggle, effectively relegating it to the periphery. This diversion allows Israel to operate with a freer hand in the occupied territories, and to continue its plan of slowly colonizing whatever is left of the land of Palestine. This loss is not insignificant; the neutralization of Arab popular pressure is one of the major setbacks the Palestinians have suffered from over the past three years. This is compounded by a significant demonization of Hamas as it finds itself embroiled in a secularist/Islamist divide calculated to create deep cleavages throughout the region. And it is especially important in the case of Egypt, the traditional protector of the Palestinians, and the only Arab country that can theoretically curtail and influence Israeli policy and aggression.
As argued elsewhere, Hamas has been the subject of a major smear campaign by the Egyptian military, based on fictitious links with the Muslim Brotherhood and supposed terror activities in the Sinai Peninsula. This demonization has been very successful and has allowed for the continuation of Mubarak regime policies; blockading the Gaza strip, a policy that was one of the major rallying points against the regime. In short, pressure from the Egyptian street is non-existent now, allowing the Egyptian military to play its role as a close ally to Israel in its fight against Hamas. This also means that any hopes for Palestinian reconciliation through Egyptian mediation has all but evaporated, as the current leadership has neither the interest nor ability to play the role of an honest broker between Fatah and Hamas.
On the other hand, the Syrian conflict has had a number of repercussions on the Palestinian dynamic. First, the Syrian civil war has replaced the Palestinian cause as the premier concern of the Arab world. Second, when Hamas distanced itself from Assad at the beginning of the uprising, a wise decision, it lost one of its main supporters, increasing its isolation and strengthening the so-called “moderates” of Fatah. Third, the Syrian civil war has caused a significant loss of a number of regional players who are considered to be radical and pro-Palestinian, namely Iran and Hezbollah. The loss of these soft powers stems from their direct support for the Assad regime, an involvement that has served to harden the Sunni-Shia fault lines, restricting their ability to influence events beyond their direct spheres. All this has weakened the position of the Palestinian movement.
The situation within the Palestinian movement itself is not much better. The divide between Hamas and Fatah seems to be deeper than ever. The continuation of this split has not only drastically weakened the Palestinian movement; it has also allowed Israel to adopt delay tactics and to absorb as much land as it can in the meantime. This divide has also led to a continued siege of Gaza by both the Egyptians and Israelis, increasing the suffering of the Palestinians living in the Strip.
As for the so-called moderates of Fatah, their actions have proved the detractors of the Oslo accords correct. Twenty years after Oslo, the Palestinian Authority (PA) has been acting as an agent of Israeli colonialism, suppressing “radical” Palestinian movements and cooperating closely with the occupation forces in areas of security for the Israeli state rather than the security of the Palestinians under siege. The PA has effectively allowed the occupation to continue without the entailed costs or confrontations, unlike the first Intifada. This crony structure was solidified by their financial dependence on international aid - which can easily be blocked if they “disobey”- and the Israeli transfer of collected Palestinian taxes; the classical example of a rentier state. The PA is more accountable to Israel and the United States than to the Palestinians. There are no real obstacles to the colonialist project in the land of Palestine.
Now the question is, how can the Palestinian movement overcome this rather bleak situation? To move from this point there is a paramount need for drastic societal change within Palestine. The role of the current elites in the PA needs to be changed, the Palestinian movement needs to rejuvenate itself by producing new leaders who are better able to represent the aspirations of the Palestinian people politically and intellectually; like Mahmoud Darwish and Nagi El Ali. This struggle should not only be directed towards the occupation, but also against the current Palestinian elites who benefit from this current stalemate.
Leaders who are organically tied to the aspirations of the people could create a common Palestinian polity linking those living in the occupied territories with those in refugee camps and most importantly the Palestinians living in Israel, which may be the key for a sustainable solution to the conflict.
Finally, the fallacy of a two state solution has to be discarded. It has been made almost impossible due to the increased settlement activity by Israelis. It is also a solution that has allowed the current corrupt PA elites to remain in power with promises of a state that will never materialize, and most importantly a solution that ignores the rights of a sizeable portion of the population that has been living in refugee camps since 1948.
A one state solution should become the declared aim of the Palestinian struggle, where both Palestinians and Jews can live together under one flag. The Iron Wall of Jabotinsky has to be torn down, and it can only be torn down through long term civil and ideological struggles against this heritage of Zionism, with the Palestinians living inside the green line playing a crucial part. The Jewishness of the state of Israel needs to be replaced by another ideological construct, the construct of a state for all.
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