National Sections of the L5I:

Palestine and the Arab revolution

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How will the emerging Arab revolution affect the struggle of the Palestinian people for self-determination, equal rights and the right to return to their homeland?

This question is on the minds of millions throughout the Middle East, where solidarity with the Palestinians remains a key component of popular democratic and national aspirations.

The same question is also asked elsewhere. Fear that a democratic Egypt would tear up the treaty with Israel was a key factor behind US President Obama’s decision to back Hosni Mubarak to the very last minute. It continues to motivate US attempts to “manage” the fallout of the revolution they could not prevent.

The rapid spread of the unrest also raised hopes that Mahmoud Abbas, head of the Fatah-led collaborationist Palestinian Authority, might now face his own “Mubarak moment”. So far, however, little has changed in Palestine itself, at least on the surface. The Palestinians remain hopelessly divided, geographically and politically. Abbas’ Authority clings on to power in the West Bank with Israeli support, while Gaza’s 1.5 million people languish under a murderous Israeli siege, their punishment for voting for Hamas’ Ismail Haniyeh.

Both Fatah and Hamas repressed protests in support of the Tunisian and Egyptian people, although Hamas later hypocritically “celebrated” Mubarak’s resignation. Mahmoud Abbas was amongst the first Arab leaders to declare his support for Mubarak. He knew full well that his strategy of prostration before Israel and the United States would be doomed if they lost their militarily most powerful Arab ally.

As if to show how little has changed, tentative demonstrations calling for Palestinian political unity were attacked by Hamas security forces in Gaza, and “contained” by Fatah security forces in Ramallah. The protesters also demanded new elections to the Palestinian National Council, the executive body of the Palestine Liberation Organisation, which is supposed to represent Palestinians world-wide.

Nor will political freedom in the Arab world automatically mean practical solidarity with the beleaguered Palestinians. The Arab revolutions of the 1950s and 1960s may have provided strategic depth and military assistance to the Palestinians’ armed struggle, but this went alongside the regimes’ manipulation of Palestinian internal divisions for their own ends. They were prepared to use force to discipline the Palestinians whenever the struggle threatened to achieve real victories that might have ignited the masses in their own countries – as in Jordan in September 1970, and Lebanon in June 1976.

In any case, the military disparity between Israel and the Arab states combined is greater today than in June 1967, when Israel inflicted a crushing defeat on the nationalist Arab regimes, and began its occupation of Gaza and the West Bank.

The real threat posed by the Arab revolutions to Israel’s domination of the Palestinians is political. Israel’s victory in effectively depriving the Palestinians of the basis for a separate state of their own may well turn to defeat in a Middle East where the masses, by their own actions on the streets, have captured democratic rights and made democratic values their own.

With Palestinians now close to a majority in the territory under Israel’s control, the demand for a Palestinian state, on whatever scraps of land Israel does not want, will come to seem much less attractive than the demand for “one person, one vote”, in an undivided country. Then Israel will no longer be able to present itself as “the only democracy in the Middle East” when it tries to deny the Palestinians that right.