Edition 2: No. 5
In this issue of Palestine Update, we bring you an article – Palestine: Left Behind by the Arab Spring? – written from an Arab nationalist perspective which argues that the promotion of the Palestinian cause is the ultimateexpression of the ideals represented by the Arab Spring.As Islamists have been swept into power by the uprisings of 2011, Palestine is conspicuously absent from the Arab agenda. Talal Salman, the writer, argues that while the Arab League seems unlikely to take the cause seriously, it may well be that it will be the Muslim Brotherhood and its affiliates that work to uphold Palestinian rights.Talal Salman’s analysis may defy the mainstream take on the Arab Spring and predictions on how the Palestinian Question may be resolved. But is must make those who seek an urgent and comprehensive solution to the seemingly intractable Arab-Israeli conflict rethink their approaches.
Palestine: Left Behind by the Arab Spring?
By Talal Salman
Following an entire year of popular uprisings, which shook the pillars of the Arab regimes in many a Levantine and North African country, the Arab Spring has yet to arrive in Palestine! [It may] have lost its way; or the northern winds may have swept it far off course, in terms of Arab political action, from that holiest [of cities] – Jerusalem. This, despite the fact that in terms of both logic and interest, [Palestine] is supposed to be [the Arab Spring’s] main rallying cry, and its central goal.
Apart from the repetitive announcements of the wish to establish “a Palestinian state on the June 4 1967 borders”, which reached the threshold of the UN Security Council [in 1988], culminating in the historic delivery by [the late] Palestinian President [Yasser Arafat] of the “proclamation of the State [of Palestine]” to the UN Secretary-General, the [Palestinian] cause is suffering from the shameful lack of interest at both the Arab and international levels. News [reports] on [Palestine] – if any are [to be found] – are placed on the inside pages of Arab newspapers, or are mentioned in the torrents of commentaries and analyses on the Arab Spring speaking about the broad prospects for change it heralds or may involve.
Driven by desperation, or [perhaps] boredom, Palestinian Authority President [Mahmoud Abbas] abandoned the current presidency of the Arab League to Qatar, specifically to its ‘second Hamad’ [Qatari PM Hamad Bin-Jassem Al Thani]. Abbas did this so that he would not be dismissed – and thus embarrassed, or offended – and reveal that which must not be mentioned. In any event, “Abu-Mazen” [Abbas] believed that the explosive situation in Syria deserved [more urgent] attention from the Arab world than the Palestinian issue, which has been referred – once again – to the Quartet under US auspices. Additionally, the Jordanian monarchy has reasserted its claim to the right to sponsor [the Palestinian issue]. It hosted a new round of meetings [between Palestinian and Israeli negotiators] whose irrelevance was such that they were over before they had even begun.
The Arab League Council – drowning in concerns over Syria – has not found time to hear about developments pertaining to “the central Arab issue” [Palestine], except through a statement by Abbas at the latest meeting of the Arab League, which left [behind] its headquarters – as well as its responsibilities – [in favor of] a luxurious hotel in Cairo. Certainly, all the Palestinian president could do was to complain about [Palestine’s] abandonment by [its Arab] family; the neglect of friends; the intransigence of the [Israeli] enemy, and its continued confiscation of territory in the West Bank – and even the Jordan Valley.
What Abu-Mazen did not expressly say was that in between Arab League meetings, enemy [Israeli] authorities are always in the process of “confiscating” more lands to build more settlements. Even more serious is that [Israel] has seized the few remaining Arab neighborhoods in Jerusalem, expelling their residents under the pretext that they are “strangers” or “intruders” who do not hold Israeli citizenship, and are thus denied the right to own [property] in the eternal capital of the state of the world’s Jews.
Jerusalem has been subjected to an all-encompassing proces of Judaization. What’s more, Israel is now examining ways to get rid of the Arab neighborhoods surrounding the Al-Aqsa Mosque. As a result, bulldozers are working round the clock to “cleanse” the area around the mosque of its [Arab] identity and turn it into a “touristic site” with no religious values or people to defend its holiness. Subsequently, it will be easy to assign an international organization, such as UNESCO, to sponsor and protect [the Al-Aqsa Mosque neighborhoods] as a shrine generating considerable additional tourism revenues for Israel.
But Palestine’s abandonment of the current presidency of the Arab League Council was far from random. Qatar – which “bought” the [Arab League] presidency – had a specific agenda [in mind], the successive episodes of which we have witnessed at the UN Security Council. First, the Arabs commissioned NATO to “free Libya” by overthrowing its former regime through military force, even at the risk of sparking a Libyan civil war. Next, the [Arab League] put the Syrian regime on trial at the UN Security Council, seeking by all means to commission the international organization with the task of overthrowing the regime and freeing the Syrian people of its bloody dictatorship.
Thus, the Palestinian presidency [of the Arab League] is destined to play a historic role in “liberating” two Arab countries of their repressive regimes, while [Palestine] itself cannot so much as appoint a new police chief in any “liberated” Palestinian city without direct Israeli permission, ratified by the Quartet and blessed by the United States.
At times like these, the question that imposes itself is:
If this Spring is really Arab, where does Palestine stand?
Considering the Arab uprisings’ preoccupation with the necessity of change in their respective countries’ domestic affairs, and the conflicts among the factions that have supposedly played a role in [bringing about] change, the absence of the Palestinian cause from these uprisings raises several questions. [These questions pertain] to the [political] identity and direction of the leaderships [of these uprisings], and the nature of the Arab future the seek to construct.
Arab citizens in general and Palestinian citizens in particular have not heard from the leaders of these revolutions – and particularly not from those who assumed power in their own countries – of any prospect for a radical change in the policies adopted toward the Palestinian issue and the Arab-Israeli conflict. Several leaders of the uprising in Tunisia have given contradictory statements and positions, which were later clarified or corrected.
As for the Muslim Brotherhood and the Salafists in Egypt, they have taken several positions that transcend the essence of the conflict and fall within the “practical policy” framework, even before they won the majority at the [Egyptian] parliament and Shura [Council]. Other contradictory statements [given by these groups] has made it difficult for observers to know where exactly the Islamists stand with regards to the Arab-Israeli conflict, particularly in all matters relating to the rights of the Palestinian people in their own land – especially that they now hold the power of decision-making [in their countries].
The Muslim Brotherhood is required to declare its principled endorsement of the popular slogan, “the liberation of Palestine from the river to the sea”, which has become old-fashioned, having been overtaken by Arab policies. It is also necessary that the people know the position of this political organization – which possesses a long history and recognized popular support – on the future of the Palestinian issue in light of international developments, the collapsing Arab [regimes], and the [inter-] Palestinian rift that allowed Israel to declare itself the state of the world’s Jews. And may the Palestinians – along with the rest of the Arabs and their friends in the world – now do what they can.
Palestine is an issue of internal importance in any Arab country. It transcends politics to [impact] society, and the past and present to [impact] the future. Any Arab citizen, Muslim or non-Muslim, is entitled to his own opinion on this holy cause, for which the Arab nation – including the people of Palestine – has offered processions of martyrs. Moreover, the Brotherhood should be recognized as having been among the vanguard of the political forces that recruited volunteers and sent them [to Palestine] to fight in defense of the right of the Palestinians to their land, and to prevent Israeli expatriates overseas from occupying the Holy Land and establishing their hybrid entity over it.
But what is required now is to identify the policies and adopt them as a plan of action in the face of continuous Israeli expansion, which has almost Judaized the whole West Bank and erased the Arab identity (both Islamic and Christian) of Holy Jerusalem.
It is time for the [Arab] public discourse to become a political plan [representing] the popular will – [a will] that has moved from the street to the halls of power.
Regardless of what has been said or is being said about the Brotherhood’s “cleverness” in stealing the uprisings – which they did not initiate and of which they did not constitute the largest part, in the squares of capitals and cities that rose up to overthrow the tyrannical regimes – the people now expect those who have stepped forward to rule in the name of the uprising. [They expect them] to transform the slogans and cheers of the squares that reflect the people’s sentiments into the officially adopted policy [of the state].
Palestine, first and foremost, is an internal issue in any Arab country.
The position taken on Israel almost sums up the goals of the popular struggle in any Arab country: it sets all the policies, whether domestic or foreign. Justice cannot be compromised; national dignity is indivisible; and the land is sacred because it holds within it the history and the struggle of the forefathers who have preserved its identity, which includes religion.
We say: Do not pass early judgments on the uprisings that have become authorities. Give them some time to take charge and plan their ruling agenda amid the enormous difficulties they face, the heavy legacy left behind by the tyrannical regimes, and the great pressures exerted on them by the forces of global hegemony – mainly the United States. Those forces may be tolerant toward internal developments within [the Arab countries]; but they will not compromise with regards to ensuring the security of Israel, whether at present or in the future.
But time does not stop. And the successive failures the Palestinian issue is witnessing threaten to cause it to lose its sacredness and its supporters, which have protected it throughout its long years of struggle.
The Arab League has forfeited its role to the lords of the “black gold” in the Gulf Cooperation Council, whose leaders amplify the “Iranian threat” to play down the imminent Israeli threat – which confiscates land, expels the people, and does away with the right of the Arabs – both Muslims and Christians – to Jerusalem, by imposing realities on the ground.
There is still hope that the “Islamists” – both the Brotherhood and the Salafists – prove more capable and determined to struggle [for Palestine] than the “Arab nationalists” now being held to account for their regimes, which carried the slogans [of the Arab and Palestinian people], only to dump them in prisons or the warehouses of [civil servants] – until the Arab Spring creeped up while they weren’t looking.