Impact of the Revolutions in the Arab World on the Palestinian-Israeli Conflict and Future Prospects

To what extent does the "Arab Spring" influence the Palestinian-Israeli conflict?

Many turbulent events are currently affecting the Palestinian and Arab sphere, starting with the American position against Palestine's bid for statehood at the United Nations Security Council, and their defeating a proposal against Israeli settlement expansion. As a matter of fact, this was another expression of the well-known American stand consistently biased in favor of Israel.

This means that the Americans have lost their position as an honest interlocutor between the Palestinian and the Israelis.

Huge changes are evolving in the Arab World as a whole in view of the popular uprisings in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, Yemen and Syria. The Palestinian situation does not differ much from that of other Arab peoples and regimes, despite the fact that it has been defined by their major confrontation with the Israeli occupation. This does not mean that the experiences of the neighboring Arab people will pass without affecting Palestine, entailing demands for more freedoms, democracy and fighting against corruption. It is worth noting that the Arab Spring uprisings did not point at all to the Palestinian cause or the Israeli occupation, since they are more concerned with internal affairs, arranging their priorities according to the national agenda and not the external policy of the state.

The large public demonstrations, especially at Tahrir Square in Cairo, represented a historical phenomenon and a lesson for all people, including the Palestinians, on the viability of perseverance and peaceful resistance against injustices and tyrannies and the refusal of provocation by the regime or the occupation.

Lessons for Palestine

Based on the above observations, the Palestinian people should concentrate their efforts on challenging settlement activities and continuing their popular resistance against the occupation. Such peaceful resistance should focus on areas of particular importance, especially in East Jerusalem and the rest of the friction and confrontation sites. This is exactly the lesson learned from the Egyptian experience and which the Palestinians have applied with partial and reasonable success at Sheikh Jarrah, Bil'in, Nil'in, Ma'asarah, Nabi Salih, Jayyus and other locations.

Attention should be given to Egypt's preoccupation in the coming stage with its internal affairs, resulting in less attention to the Palestinian file within Egyptian decision-making circles, which means the absence of Egyptian political support and possibly Egyptian political pressure.

People Need Internal Unity

As we have seen, the unity between Muslims and Christians (Copts) or between the progressive and Islamic parties in Egypt was able to achieve results. The first lesson from Tahrir Square that the Palestinians should learn is to end internal division and start working together. This will hopefully get the Palestinian cause beyond the present dilemma of the closed horizons of the peace process.

Once again, we should go back to the people in new public elections, to reunite the two wings of the Palestinian nation and renew the legality of institutions on the local, legislative and presidential levels. Actually, steps have been taken in this direction.

The Palestinians' rights and interests enjoy worldwide support on the peoples' level, in contradiction with policies, interests and alliances that govern international positions. The big query here is about these popular positions and their relative weight in contrast with international interests and policies. The continued Palestinian struggle for freedom, justice and independence has become a symbol for all people, and the Palestinian Kefiyyeh "al-Hatta" has become a symbol for protest and resistance against injustice throughout the whole world.i

This introduces the perception of "soft power" that is based on ethics and values of political position rather than only on military "hard power" or on state interests.ii Self-determination and freedom from occupation are two ethical and human rights-based positions that the Palestinians can build upon. Consequently, we should present our great gratitude to all people of the world who support our just struggle for the establishment of an independent state, based on ethical commitments to human rights and justice.iii

Palestinians shouldn't expect much from the American position in the coming stage, despite America's role as a broker of the peace process, whereby it controls the international Quartet, and as the only superpower at the Security Council and most international institutions. Palestinians should reconstitute their alliances, relationships and long-term strategies on the occasion of going back to the UN General Assembly. It is important to urge the Arab states, the Conference of Islamic States and friendly states to take serious stands utilizing all pressures, whether economic, political or legal, to bring an independent Palestinian state into existence.

Many states all over the world have given recognition to the independent state of Palestine, especially in Latin America. The Palestinian political endeavor has also gained ground in Europe by raising diplomatic representation of the Palestinian delegation to the level of mission of Palestine. In addition, Russian President Dmitri Medvedev's historical visit to Jericho to meet with Palestinian Authority (PA) President Mahmoud Abbas to inaugurate the Russian Theatre was completed without visiting Israel, despite intensified Israeli pressures. All of these points underscore the fact that the time for ending the Israeli occupation has finally arrived.

These developments and accomplishments form an introduction to the upcoming phase of building the institutions of the state of Palestine as envisaged by Salam Fayyad and the Palestinian government. Clearly, the PA calls on the Quartet and other related institutions to recognize the independent state of Palestine based on the borders of 1967.

In the Security Council sessions to discuss the Israeli settlement activities in the West Bank (including East Jerusalem), America has used the veto, as it used to, in spite of the adoption by the 14 Security Council member states of the resolution that complies with international law. So, what would the American position be on demands for the dismantling of settlements in East Jerusalem and the rest of the West Bank?

Is the "Two States for Two People" Solution Still Possible?

International and local observers have believed for a long time that a negotiated peaceful solution based on a vision of "two states for two people" is the ideal and only possible solution to the Palestinian national cause. This vision offers a solution to the Israeli occupation and all the suspended issues between the two peoples, including, especially, the two issues of Jerusalem and the refugees. Because of the lack of Palestinian means of pressure and power against Israel, international observers and Palestinian negotiators have convinced themselves that the establishment of an independent Palestinian state is basically a strategic Israeli interest. This constituted a milestone in the role of the American broker and attitudes of the world community and the Israeli peace camp (if it exists). Nowadays, after almost 20 years of Palestinian-Israeli negotiations, it is obvious that the Israeli side has abandoned the world consensus in support of ending the Israeli occupation and the establishment of an independent Palestinian state on the boundaries of 1967.

Among Israeli government coalition parties there is consensus over not ending the occupation of the West Bank and Gaza. The existence of 1.5 million Palestinians within the borders of the state of Israel is the real problem for Israel, in their view. What is the expected benefit, from the Israeli point of view, of creating an independent Palestinian state with sovereign borders, and at the same time having these Palestinian citizens (Palestinians of 1948) remain inside the Israeli borders?iv

Thus there are increasing statements by Israeli politicians in the extremist, religious and national parties calling for the exchange of residents in various forms. This is categorically rejected by the Palestinians on the popular and official levels, as explained by Abbas, who stated: "The subject of residents' exchange is unacceptable, even if the peace process completely depended on it.

Elements of Structuring Palestinian Strategy

The Palestinian people have several strong points that should not be ignored when planning the upcoming stage, the first of which is the existence of the Palestinian people on their homeland, despite all the efforts of the Israeli occupier to uproot them. This factor, which is a certain source of power, is still the most stable factor in the interests of the Palestinian people and the most disturbing to the Israeli side.

The second factor, which did not exist during the first intifada, is the existence of the Palestinian National Authority for the first time in history over Palestinian land. It is impossible to belittle the importance of this factor, even to those who politically disagree with the PA, since authority means a disciplined governance mechanism based on existing functional and continuous economic, education and health institutions. The PA is one of the important factors of steadfastness for the Palestinian people over their national land as a first step in establishing their independent state.

The Palestinian people have achieved, through their continued struggle, extensive support for their right of self-determination and freedom from occupation. Here is one of the major Palestinian sources of power, which is supported through international institutions, international law and world public opinion. There can be no comparison between the Palestinian position calling for self-determination and the Israeli position advocating Jewish settlement in the Occupied Palestinian Territories.

Palestinian civil society exerts continued and sustained pressure to develop the democratic institutions in Palestine and accomplish justice and rule of law for the Palestinian citizen, and increase transparency within official institutions.

The scenario of ethnic cleansing of Palestinians as in 1948 has ended forever. This development is a result of everyone's awareness that there is no other place for the Palestinians in this world. Consequently, the present division between the West Bank and the Gaza Strip is unacceptable, no matter what the causes and excuses are.

Remaining Scenarios Facing the Palestinians

First: The "status quo" option, which can be called the option of economic peace that requires no peace precondition or economic boom, whereby there is no stopping of settlement construction, no independent state at the end of negotiations, no sovereignty and no return of refugees, but just the continuation of the "status quo."

Second: a clear and open declaration by the Palestinian side of failure of the present negotiation track that entails the need for a radical change in the current policy. That requires gathering public, Arab and international support for the Palestinian position and trying to conduct a comprehensive evaluation of the situation and the negotiations, while starting to prepare alternatives for the coming stage.

It is obvious that Palestinians cannot accept the first option and must prepare for the second.

iAl-Quds, June 14, 2010.
ii Joseph Nye, Jr., Soft Power. The Means to Success in World Politics (New York: PublicAffairs, 2004), pp.5-11. See also Anthony Pratkanis, "Public Diplomacy in International Conflicts - A Social Influence Analysis," Routledge Handbook of Public Diplomacy (New York: Routledge, 2008), pp.11-12.
iii Edward W. Said (in Arabic): End of the Peace Process: Oslo and After (Beirut: Dar Al-Adab, 2002), p. 210.
iv Ilan Pappe, The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine (Oxford: Oneworld Publications, 2006), p. 274.