Palestine in the Age of Arab Uprisings

  • Middle East Policy

    Middle East Policy has been one of the world’s most cited publications on the region since its inception in 1982, and our Breaking Analysis series makes high-quality, diverse analysis available to a broader audience.

As’ad AbuKhalil

Professor of political science at California State University, Stanislaus

Zionists may be deluding themselves if they think that Arab uprisings will marginalize the Palestinian question. While the Arab uprisings have shifted the attention of many Arabs inward, the developments of the last year may indicate that Zionists may have more worries than before.

The Arab state system that has been in place since 1990-1991 has enabled the US and Israel to ignore the Palestinian problem on the assumption that Arabs do not care that much about Palestine anymore. The US was able (with the help of the Saudi, Egyptian, and Syrian regimes) to impose an Arab order that would not pose a challenge to Israel. To be sure, the US did arrange for the Madrid peace conference, and the end of the “peace process” was never officially declared. But the US operated on the Zionist premise that “benign neglect” may be the rule of the day. Mubarak’s Egypt strictly adhered to the Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty and treated it as the primary item in his agenda, knowing that the US cares about the treaty as much as it cares about oil in the Gulf. Syria, while abandoning the course of preparation of war with Israel (to liberate the occupied the Golan Heights), continued to support resistance groups in Lebanon while avoiding any confrontation with Israel, and even avoiding defending its own territory against Israeli attacks.

But the US was disabused of its myths: the second Palestinian Intifada even surprised the Bush administration and forced it to yet again commit itself to another round of the unending “peace process”. But instead of pressuring Israel (and that premise is faulty at its core), as some Arab governments wished, Arab governments faced American pressures to submit yet more concessions to Israel in order to entice Israel to the negotiation table. But none of that transpired. Israel did not think that the Saudi Arab peace plan was enough, and it continued its violent settlements policies and actions. And the Bush and Obama administration continued to provide Israel with unconditional political support and unprecedented military aid.

But the Arab uprisings have shaken the Arab state system. The Arab world is not what it was a year ago. The US cannot rely on Saudi Arabia anymore to shape the regional order according to its own wishes. While Saudi Arabia and Gulf regimes were able to buy time thorough a generous system of state co-optation and welfare, Saudi Arabia now stands opposed to the aspirations of the Arab youth who drive the train of Arab uprising. It was not accidental that the Egyptian youth attacked the Israeli, American, and Saudi embassies in succession shortly after the downfall of Mubarak. The Israeli Mossad team inside the Israeli embassy was only saved by direct order from the Obama administration, which led to the dispatch by the Egyptian high command of a squad team which smuggled the Mossad agents out of the embassy, disguised as Egyptians.

In all the countries that underwent radical political transformations and changes of regime (Tunisia, Libya, Yemen, and Egypt) public expressions of support for the Palestinians were recorded. In Tunisia, the leadership of the Tunisian uprising insisted that a clause of the new draft of the Tunisian constitution include a ban on any normalization with Israel (the US embassy had to arm twist the new Islamist leaders to abort the plan). In Egypt, public condemnation of Israel and of the US are articulated by both sides of the deep political divide there.

The collapse of the Mukhabarat regimes in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, and Bashar Assad’s Syria will make the efforts of Israel in the region all the more difficult. Israeli violent actions won’t go on unnoticed as before. Furthermore, the radical changes that have been caused by the Arab uprisings have not taken their final shape. The Arab world is in the midst of a historic transformation and regardless of the final outcome of change, the region will be less hospitable to US and Israeli plans for the region. And most importantly, the Arab uprisings may spread slowly like a rare disease, and may eventually affect the Palestinians, inside the West Bank, Gaza, East Jerusalem, and even inside the 1948 borders of Israel. It is too soon for Zionists to take comfort. Palestine, yet again, will prove defiant.

  • Middle East Policy

    Middle East Policy has been one of the world’s most cited publications on the region since its inception in 1982, and our Breaking Analysis series makes high-quality, diverse analysis available to a broader audience.

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