By Mikail Jubran
Popular revolt has transformed Tunisia. A budding revolution takes hold in Egypt. Civil war is raging in Libya. Social unrest intensifies in Yemen, and sectarian strife heightens in Bahrain.
What this all mean for the Palestinians?
During the past several weeks they have held their breath with high anxiety, watching as events have unfolded around them. The tension in the Palestinian territories is so thick now that one can feel it rubbing against their faces. They are witnessing a massive popular ‘Intifada” that threatens to leave them behind in a state of perpetual uncertainty.
Sure sounds pretty gloomy.
To make it more confusing, self-proclaimed specialists, commentators, analysts, pundits, and countless others really think that they know what is best for the Palestinians.
Who are they fooling here?
Let’s step back a bit and examine the real landscape that lies before the Palestinian people at this juncture.
First and foremost, Israel’s occupation remains intact. Settlements are ever so expanding, new construction continues unabated, and Israel’s arrogance of power persists.
All of this Israel flaunts into the face of its main ally – the United States. Israel’s intimidation prompted the U.S. to veto the recent United Nation’s Security Council resolution condemning Israeli settlements, and underscored the hypocrisy of U.S. Middle East policy.
Furthermore, in light of such depressing circumstances, the Palestinians really need to ask themselves – can they really trust the Americans. As they observe the fall of dominoes around them, the Palestinian Authority and the PLO leadership must now take stock and reassess all of its policies relative to the peace process, its political and social stances, and it international support; and in particular its relationship with the U.S.
After seeing the Obama administration backing away from further pressure on Prime Minister Netanyahu to desist from further settlement construction, it is no wonder that the Palestinians have become greatly disenchanted with the Americans. The recent veto at the U.N. has only proved to them that the U.S. is unable and even unwilling to facilitate a fair policy that could have had a tinge of balance within it.
The tension only heightens.
So what are the Palestinians to do?
In the midst of losing hope and sensing that they are going nowhere in their struggle to end Israel’s occupation and to attain a sovereign state of their own, Palestinian attitudes only harden. It would appear that the time is now ripe to openly pose a real challenge to Israel and its U.S. ally. As Palestinian official Nabil Shaath stated recently, “you can become more adversarial.” What this really implies is that the Palestinian leadership must become more assertive in its political strategy. While new or revised strategies may be risky, one must take risks to initiate bold strategic moves when your choices are limited.
It’s now or never for the Palestinians.
As the strained relations between the PA and Israel further deteriorate in the coming weeks, the PA may be politically correct in moving to bolster its legitimacy. At the forefront of its new strategy is the move toward a unilateral declaration of statehood at the United National General Assembly next September.
What are the alternatives? For starters, there’s the possible dissolution of the PA and its leadership being swept away by a wave of mass popular protest, leading to chaos, and possible civil strife. Let’s not fool ourselves – this is a very likely scenario.
So to whom do the Palestinians have to thank for this probability? Well, none other than the United States, and the special benefits that Israel has accrued under its special relationship with America. Going down the list, these range from the billions American taxpayers have given Israel since 1979; the direct and special access to ultra-modern weapons technology and research; unique intelligence sharing arrangements; and most of all, the overwhelming support that Israel enjoys inside the legislative branch of the U.S. government. These are only the icing on the cake. Dig a little deeper and one really finds just how special the U.S.-Israeli relationship truly is. Just look at the rewards Israel receives for its arrogant policies: direct U.S. subsidies for Israeli activities in the occupied territories, like the tax deductible status for American organizations that fund illegal settlements; U.S. government purchases of Israeli products manufactured in the settlements; American tolerance of AIPAC and the Anti-Defamation League, and other rightist groups intervening and meddling in U.S. politics, pressuring members of Congress and past Presidencies with their capacity to raise money and swing elections.
To compound all of the above, there’s Israel’s ability to harness the support from Evangelical Christians who have raised millions for Israeli organizations to support the settlements. Then there are the dual-national Jewish-American “philanthropists” who have set up numerous funds solely for the purpose of supporting residents in Israeli settlements as well as sponsoring “housing fairs” in the U.S. on behalf of Israeli settler organizations. These establishments raise millions at the expense of the U.S. government who has lost enormous tax revenue by allowing these groups to operate as non – profit entities.
Furthermore, Israel’s flaunting its “audacity of arrogance” where it has allowed its intelligence services to openly conduct active espionage against U.S. corporations and the Department of Defense, pursuing civilian and dual-use civilian technology. Israeli operatives have knowingly penetrated and extended its reach within the telecommunications industry in the U.S. whereby it has formed alliances with Israeli owned companies in the U.S. such as Verint to utilize and assist in the surveillance, interception, and eavesdropping of voice and data communications within the U.S. Recently, Israeli agents have been perpetrating “false flag” operations whereby they pose as U.S. Federal agents in order to infiltrate American Muslim communities, in effect targeting them for the sole purpose of collecting information and recruiting informants with full knowledge of the U.S. Department of Justice.
Additionally, the U.S. continually puts up with the ruthless veracity of a well-organized, well financed pro-Israeli lobby that has not hesitated to exercise tactics tantamount to extortion, bribery, blackmail, and treason; a power which grows only more veracious, and is obtaining vast proportions to this very day. Yet, Americas intimacy with Israel grows, and Israel’s arrogance of power and its flaunting of international law becomes more daring – so daring in fact that its prime minister openly displays disdain towards negotiating with the Palestinians and making any concessions what-so-ever. Netanyahu cares in facilitating policies that serve only to underscore the fact that the expansion of Israel’s settlements takes primacy over its national interests – code for maintaining the status quo and the deeper encroachment into Palestinian lands, destroying any prospects for a two state solution. Israel’s Prime Minister has indeed shown his greed.
Does the Palestinian leadership understand and comprehend that the U.S. has willingly allowed all of the aforementioned circumstances to evolve to its extant state? Is all of this enough to force the PA to finally become introspective and alter its course of direction? Their leaders must address these questions, for they must know by now that Israel lacks a true desire to reach a final settlement that will not allow it to retain its presence in the Palestinian territories. What makes this all the more hideous is that the U.S. has been complicit in this attitude through its continuing efforts to block any Palestinian initiative that challenges the directives of established American diplomatic policy. All the above factors have resulted in the literal end of negotiations between Israel and the PA.
This brings the Palestinians to a unique juncture in the struggle for an independent state – and possibly a grand opportunity for the Palestinians to act in their own best interests. There is no better way to communicate this to the Americans than making it clear that any further talk of half measures and interim agreements is no longer viable nor realistic. The political immobility that Israel and the U.S. has produced must be answered by the Palestinian leadership in a manner that makes it clear to both parties that there will be a high economic and political cost in Israel’s continued occupation and its refusal to negotiate in good faith.
The evolving moves of the PA to implement a new political strategy – one in conjunction with its organized worldwide efforts to gain international legitimacy for a U.N. resolution recognizing an independent Palestinian state with membership in the U.N. body – appears to be the beginning of a new Palestinian challenge. Moves toward internationalization may be risky indeed and could alienate its relationship with the U.S. Indeed, this global effort is already showing positive response from the international community. If the PA can properly utilize this international momentum and yet turn it into an effective effort that challenges the extant status quo, then neither Israel nor the U.S. can ignore or dismiss it – particularly since Palestinian-Israeli peace talks have collapsed with little likelihood of resumption.
The Palestinians are losing hope – nothing is moving forward for them. The drastic changes now underway in the Middle East have finally awakened Palestinian senses to the stark realities within their territories of the public dissatisfaction with the Palestinian leadership, thus the resignation of its entire cabinet. It remains to be seen if this was a purely tactical move. However, one thing is clear, the tension in Ramallah heightens daily, and the PA is facing popular discontent that could spill over into its streets.
Scheduling elections in the fall is a gamble – certainly without a platform of political and territorial unity. This would require the PA and Hamas to reconcile for the sake of political unity and normalcy. Otherwise the call for elections in September and the PA’s strategy of internationalization will serve to sharpen the political divide among the Palestinian public and negate the national value of the PA and hence the PLO. To prevent this, and ensure its political survival, the PA leadership must empower itself with electoral legitimacy well before any elections can be facilitated.
Furthermore, the PA must take a hard look at itself and directly confront the acute challenges that are now extant. They truly have to realize that the U.S. administration cannot deliver Israel – and are unable to. The Palestinian leadership must urgently act to reassess its relationship with the U.S. International activism is a step in the right direction, and the PA must be prepared to counter any retaliation on the part of Israel and the U.S. to stunt its new strategy and ensure that any adverse actions, especially those by Israel, would be counterproductive.
Any so-called adversarial posture taken by the Palestinian leadership now would better serve to further expose U.S. intentions to drag out negotiations with Israel and enshrine its role as Israel’s tool. The Palestinian leadership has to understand that if it wants to respond to the wishes of its constituency then it must elevate its hostility to the U.S. and its Israeli paramour. To effect this the Palestinians need to address the acute imbalance of power with Israel; the effectiveness of divestment, and boycott against Israel has underscored this. Above all, the PA leadership has to act decisively to pressure the Americans to openly call for the end to Israel’s occupation and alter U.S. policy, regardless of the consequences to its ties with the Jewish state. For this to occur, the PA must act to change the dynamics toward a genuine peace.
Israel’s isolation deepens; it is becoming increasingly a liability to the U.S. Israel’s behavior also contributes to wider American international stigma. The scales are tipping in favor of the Palestinians. Their leaders have to seize the moment and lay bare the taboo within the U.S./Israeli nexus and the farce that the U.S. is an honest broker in the conflict. Any Palestinian strategy of internationalization must condemn America’s cynical and shameful conduct and publicly call for the U.S. to return to a path of justice, decency, and political expediency. The Palestinian leadership cannot continue to play the game by American rules of engagement. It must adopt its own playbook and force Israel and the U.S. to change theirs.
Palestinian actions toward enhanced international legitimacy are the primary measure in the Palestinians’ acting for their own best interests. The ongoing changes in the Middle East landscape can only serve as the catalyst for new direction and political introspection aimed at throwing off the yoke of Israel’s oppressive and inhumane occupation once and for all. Palestinians must realize that they have pinned way too much hope on the U.S. If their leadership clings to the notion that the Americans are going to be their savior – they are wrong. This belief has only worked to constrain Palestinian political mobility.
The PA now has to realize that the U.S. has little or no influence when it comes to Israel. Therefore its main course of action should be to double its efforts to further delegitimize Israel, for this may be the only way to force the Israelis to budge. Such action requires skill and finesse within the strategy of Palestinian internationalization for any results to bear fruit. The Jewish state is no doubt vulnerable. Israel knows that the Americans cannot protect them forever and that Israel is in dire need of new direction. The Palestinian leadership must leverage itself and punctuate its actions by telling the Israelis that their friendship with the U.S. may become unreliable if Israel persists in its arrogance of power. PA strategy must include measures to turn Israeli / U.S. tensions into political gains for themselves. U.S. behavior in the peace process only shields Israel and deceives the Palestinian people. It is draining Palestinian political energy, and blinds the Palestinians from addressing the acute realities that confront its leadership today. They must not be afraid to implore upon the Americans and their Israeli friends that they as a people, are owed justice, freedom – and a nation.
After enduring the near elimination of their national identity, barbarous assaults upon their national movement and the trampling of their civil and human rights – the Palestinian people have suffered too much in their struggle for national sovereignty. Enough is enough. U.S. complicity in Israel’s occupation further increases the cost for the Palestinians. Thus Palestinian hope lies with the international community and that it will finally see the stark realities and move to take the necessary steps to help the Palestinian people attain their liberty and freedom.
As Thomas Friedman of the New York Times writing from Ramallah recently stated, “A huge storm is coming.”
A huge storm is indeed on the horizon for both Israelis and Palestinians.
Will the Palestinians truly be prepared? Are they willing to take the gamble? Can they trust the Americans? These are indeed hard questions that the Palestinians must ask themselves, sooner, not later.
Will the surging storm throw the Palestinian national movement into the dustbin of history and even thrust Israel out of the way, or on the other hand, will the Palestinians ride the crest of the coming wave and seize the momentum towards a new dawn?
For the sake of the Palestinian people, let’s certainly hope they will. Otherwise the price they will have to pay may consume them..
– Mikail Jubran is a professor of Middle East History and a consultant on international law. He was formerly the Director of Communication with the PLO mission in Washington, DC, from 1988-1992, and divides his residence between Ramallah, Palestine and Washington, DC. He contributed this article to PalestineChronicle.com.