Times of Changes in the Mediterranean: The Arab Spring and Israel.
Civil societies, political changes, and democratic processes
The Arab Spring is an ongoing and deeply significant process occurring in the Middle East that in the future will have important implications not just for the Arab world and the region, but on the entire world.
When the first popular demonstrations broke out in Tunisia and Egypt, Palestinians showed solidarity and claimed their demands for democracy and equality.
The Arab revolution, however, inspired hopes and beliefs in the younger generation that they can be the masters of their future. This was no longer a dream or fantasy. It was a reality being witnessed everyday in different Arab countries, with masses willing to fight for their own liberation.
The Arab world has lived for decades under suppression, with dreams and aspirations stolen by their tyrant governments and totalitarian regimes. These ‘leaders’ represented an image that was disconnected from the lives of their people.
This massive union of Arab nations for one simple call for freedom and human dignity was so genuine and so desperately needed that for the first time in the long history of cries for jihad and martyrdom, the Arab people found a real reason for sacrifice… FREEDOM .
In the Palestinian case, We are the only Arab people without a state. Palestinian society, physically divided as it is, faces a variety of different challenges including settler colonialism, a stifling siege, national and racial discrimination, refugee status, and moreover a surreptitious totalitarian rule that is marked by a vicious split and fragmentation amongst the two ruling parties. This split has resulted in the absence of legislative and executive institutions and divided the national movement.
The Arab Spring of the Tunisian, Egyptian, Yemenite, Libyan, Syrian… kind does not only have implications for the Israeli occupation. It might also overturn the corrupt and authoritarian Palestinian leadership, whether the fundamentalist Hamas or the secular nationalist Fateh. Palestinians have not been well served by their leaders, who have been far too little interested in democracy and peaceful protest.
However, the national cause remains inseparable from the democratic imperative. Since Oslo Agreements the institutions of the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) have been demoted and efficiently submerged by the Palestinian Authority (PA).
Meanwhile, the PLO’s sectoral and professional associations – the trade unions and other organizations of students, women, workers, engineers, teachers, writers and journalists, among others – have gradually lost the role they used to play in engaging all parts of the Palestinian people in the national struggle for liberation. The institutions and mechanisms that used to connect the Palestinian national movement to the Palestinian population in the 1970s and 1980s have gradually eroded. The result has been the fraying of the textile that used to connect the struggle for national, democratic and human rights.
We can summarize the major reasons that were the cause of the transformation of this mass movement as Dr. Hanan Ashrawi, PLO member describes it:
Demographic trends: A demographic phenomenon is known as the “youth bulge” produced a large generation of socially conscious and politically frustrated young people who had grown increasingly impatient with the authoritarian regimes.
Blatant corruption: Increased scrutiny from the media and civil society exposed the blatant corruption and injustice of totalitarian undemocratic regimes that used the backing of international sponsors to repress their people.
Indignity and humiliation: For decades, the dignity of Arab citizens had been insulted by leaders who monopolized political power and perpetrated glaring human rights abuses. Equally humiliating was the inability of Arab states to confront Israel’s occupation of Palestine. The uprisings that erupted in January were largely driven by demands for human dignity and self-respect.
Israel’slegitimacycrisis: Democratic movements in the Arab world have “exposed Israel’s undemocratic agenda,” For decades, Israel derived international support and legitimacy by claiming to be a lone democracy surrounded by hostile, authoritarian enemies. However, when protests broke out in Egypt, Israel urged the United States to protect Mubarak’s embattled regime, proving that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is committed to preserving the regional status quo at all costs, and is deeply opposed to the removal of authoritarian leaders with whom he has cultivated alliances. As the hypocrisy of Israel’s position becomes increasingly apparent, it will be made more difficult for its government to “maintain a system of domination that has no place in the contemporary realities of the Arab world.”
The Implication of the Arab Spring on Palestinians
For the first time in decades, the Palestinians are observing other Arab countries and other populations rising, and they remained relatively inactive for some time. There was a sense that they too want to join this movement, and that they are learning the advantages of nonviolent popular protests. When Palestinians have risen in the past, it took the form of acts of violence against the occupation. The Arab Spring helped Palestinians learn that there are other ways of effective courses of action that don’t involve violence.
Palestinian youth started to ask how the popular democratic uprisings in Arab countries can inform their national struggle. They launched the first intifada in 1987 and fueled the second intifada in 2000, and they now believe they can have a role to play in the Arab youth uprisings calling for democratic changes. Palestinian political and civil society organizations also started seeking answers to this question.
The Revolutions proved that there’s a youth movement and that it is the youth that can force change. The masses of young people in the different Arab Freedom Squares gave back the belief that there is still hope, and that youth, only youth, can make the change.
Palestinian activists started examining the Arab Spring to bring new energy and methods to their struggle against Occupation.
Palestinians on all levels reached a stage where they became exhausted and hopeless about the fight of the past 20 years. It has been a dual failure of diplomacy and negotiations. It has been nearly two decades since the Oslo agreements were signed, and the Palestinians still don’t have their independence or their state. Talks in the last two years resulted in greater distrust, not less distrust, and further setbacks. It has also been a failure of the resistance strategy. So you have young people who are looking and saying, “Neither of the ways that our leaders have promoted has gotten us anywhere closer to where we want to be. Our living conditions are not particularly good. We are still under occupation. We still are divided between Gaza and the West Bank. So it is time for something new.”
Major Events and Frustrations that have pressured the PA towards change
The publication of the Palestine Papers from Al Jazeera, the secret records of the last fruitless round of talks with Israel. The Palestinian Authority found itself losing what little authority it had left.
The loss to the Palestinian president, Abu Mazen, of his closest allies Hosni Mubarak and Omar Suleiman, which made Gaza a more vulnerable place for the PA.
Abu Mazen’s faith in Barack Obama finally cracked. For a man who dedicated his career to the creation of a Palestinian state through negotiation, the turning point came when the US vetoed a UN resolution condemning Israel’s settlement-building and threatened a new one at the Security Council whether a vote comes on the Palestinian Statehood bid
The sequence of relevant events in Palestine during the Arab Spring:
March 15th, 2011
Using shared grievances to unite and ignite resistance a group dubbed the “March 15′′ movement has capitalized on the symbolic national dates to articulate their plight.
The movement’s strategy has been based on using symbolic dates to rally around, and then using any fallout, mainly a disproportionate violent reaction from the Israeli military, to mobilize support for the next date. This approach is based on the understanding that Israel will respond to protests in an aggressive way.
This date-specific approach has been borrowed from the anti-wall campaign in West Bank border villages such as Bil’in, a symbol of our resistance against the separation wall. An alternative to the armed struggle component of the second intifada, anti-wall demonstrations gained international media attention and modest successes in their efforts to reclaim lands annexed by Israel.
Connecting these fronts has required the concept of inclusion, representation and a program based on freedom through a shared, indivisible political future.
Bilin, Nabi Saleh,
Bilin is a village of about 1,700 people west of Ramallah. Every Friday after prayers for the last six years, a group of about a hundred people – villagers, international activists and radical Israelis – have marched to an electrified section of the security fence which cuts Bilin off from much of its farmland. Bilin’s struggle is beginning to achieve results: in late June – four years after Israel’s Supreme Court ruled that the electric fence have to be moved – the IOF started to dismantle parts of it, though much of the village’s land will remain on the Israeli side of the border.
This has, therefore, become a successful model for civil society and politicians as well since the Arab Spring started.
Dead end to negotiation
Abbas has realized that negotiations can go nowhere so long as Israel refuses to reach a deal based on 1967 borders and stop the policy of extending Israeli settlements both in West Bank and East Jerusalem. Having withdrawn from negotiations, the PLO’s plan was to pursue a long-term strategy of not- violent resistance on two parallel tracks: mass protests in villages and at checkpoints; and diplomatic and economic pressure tactics such as the statehood declaration at the UN and the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign, a movement launched in 2005 by a broad coalition of Palestinian NGOs in the West Bank.
Finally, a clear Palestinian vision
Statehood is a tactic, not a goal. The struggle to end injustice is gaining momentum. Palestinian officials do not want to waste all the sharp gains that have been achieved in the last 40 years. If the two-state solution materializes, Palestinians will accept it. If it does not, there is a willingness to move to a different strategy. In any case, the strategic objective is not two states or one state, but to end the occupation, to ensure that the right of return of refugees is implemented, and to establish equal rights for the Palestinian citizens of Israel (so called the Arab Israelis).
Whether these objectives are achieved in one state, or two states, or a nonstate, doesn’t matter to most Palestinians. Palestinians may not be strong enough yet to realize their objectives, but at least they can block the Israelis from achieving theirs. We have options. The most dangerous option is to dissolve the PA, but there are also other means that can be resorted to, such as withdrawing security co-operation or transforming the PA into a resistance authority.
The Arab spring seemed to have had a core impact in the form of a draft agreement between Fatah and Hamas which took everyone by surprise. After four years of bitter and violent conflict between the rivals, Fatah announced that it has agreed to all of Hamas’s political conditions to form a national unity government. (However, this reconciliation agreement has not been formalized until; this moment)
Commemorating ‘Nakba’ or ‘The Catastrophe’ 18 May
The idea of return for the five millions of refugees is connected to melancholy for the Palestine lost in 1948, and sharpened by Israel’s rejection to allow for the creation of a state on the 1967 borders.
Generations of Palestinian refugees living in refugee camps in Lebanon, Syria, and Jordan have been paying close attention as their fellow Arabs have risen against corrupt and oppressive leaders, as have those living in Gaza, the West Bank and Israel. On May 15, Palestinians launched their movement with a symbolic enactment of the return to Palestine. They marched from every corner of the Palestinian world, in a tech-savvy, coordinated campaign in what looked like a Palestinian version of the Arab Spring.
The event’s organizers chose to emphasize collective action, rather than the collective sorrow that has tended to mark the date in previous years.
In a symbolic reversal of the flow of people forced to flee Zionist violence in 1948, as many as 40,000 people gathered in the southern Lebanese town in Maroun al-Ras, which lies within walking distance of the boundary with Israel.
In Syria, protesters managed to break through the fence near the Druze city of Majdal Shams.
After more than 100 Palestinians breached Israel’s border with Syria on Sunday, May 15 2011, knocking down a fence and striding into a village in the Golan Heights, overmatched Israeli security forces scrambled to glean what they could from the protesters who had just, without so much as a sidearm, penetrated farther into the country than any army in a generation.
Under close questioning, the infiltrators closed the intelligence gap with a shrug and one word: Facebook. The operation that had caught Israel’s vaunted military and information complex flat-footed was announced, nursed and triggered on the social-networking site that has figured in every uprising around the Arab world — and is helping young Palestinians change the terms of their fight against Israel.
Commemorating ‘Nakba’ or ‘The Catastrophe’ 18 May
The converging of thousands of Palestinians on Israel’s borders was a clear sign that they have lost faith in American promises—and that if Israel and the U.S. do not work toward a Palestinian state based on 1967 lines, others will seize the initiative in shaping the Middle East. Something fundamental has changed. Americans and others can no longer plan and create reality; they are no more the shapers of history in the Middle East.
The technology Palestinians used to co-ordinate their movements exploited an Israeli weakness. The military was totally unprepared for the border crossings, because the upper echelons of Israeli intelligence have an institutional bias for secret information acquired through spies, collaborators, prisoners and phone taps, and tend to discount what is publicly available.
The West Bank has yet to see a movement on this level. If and when that does occur, it could be a “game changer” for Israel and the United States.
This day was the start of the making of a new narrative. The Palestinians in Syria, Lebanon, Gaza and the occupied Palestinian enclaves of the West Bank approached Israeli gun positions without arms of their own.
On June 5, 2011, when Palestinian protesters tried to march from Ramallah to Jerusalem in observation of the 44th anniversary of Israel’s 1967 occupation, they were sent rushing amidst clouds of Israeli tear gas and a hail of rubber bullets. Hours later on the Syrian border, Israeli soldiers responded to a separate demonstration by killing 23 unarmed Palestinian refugees who were also trying to exercise their right of return.
Both of these incidents illustrate an often overlooked component of the Arab Spring: as Israel stands forcefully to oppose Palestinian rights, Palestinian unity is deepening. Moreover, as the wave of uprisings demanding freedom and equality sweep the Middle East, the struggle for unity has brought the Arab Spring to the Palestinians’ door.
The events of June 5 reaffirmed the fronts, tactics, and demands of the Palestinian Spring, but may ultimately fail to build upon the momentum gained in the streets or successfully build on past responses to repression
Using mass protest and direct action to demand their freedoms, Palestinians are collectively using a resistance strategy championed by a handful of West Bank border villages.
The second international Gaza flotilla following the first one organized at the end of May 2010– was set to sail at the end of June 2011– it could have provided an opportunity to break this pattern before it sets in.
If the flotilla managed to break the Israeli siege and reach the shores of Gaza, it would have been being the first meeting between the international Palestinian solidarity movement and the Arab Spring, a meeting that would have added a new dimension to the unity struggle. However, it was stopped, and it was a clear military statement by Israel of its current commitment to Palestinian division, generating new grievances to mobilize with.
The flotilla provided Palestinians with a context similar to the March 15 protests, whereby setting the terms of the showdown, Palestinians would have the chance to dictate politics and announce their demands.
There have been some small Palestinian demonstrations in the West Bank against the corruption of the Fateh-dominated Palestine Authority, but these were quickly broken up.
However, Marwan Barghouti sent out a message from his cell with an idea of combining the diplomatic push at the UN with public demonstrations.
A Rally to September
Now some national, regional, and international issues are intersecting in a way which will make an uprising by the Palestinians and a confrontation with Israel almost unavoidable.
In September, the PA applied to join the UN as a member state. While the vote will be largely symbolic, it will force the issue of the continuing occupation of Palestine by Israel. If the vote passes, it could embolden the Palestinian National-Liberation Movement.
If it fails, it will engage tens of thousands who will rightly see the vote’s failure as a result of US political and economic bullying on behalf of Israel, as well as a clear view of the world’s insincerity.
With a Palestinian movement emboldened by the UN vote, and with Israel hemmed in by Egypt, Turkey, and Syria, and dealing with its mass-protest movement, the autumn looks like we will see the struggles of the Arab Spring arrive in Palestine with full force.
Having Palestine recognized as a state in which Palestinians have citizenship is important, and is probably a prerequisite for any real peace process. Most Palestinians outside of Jordan at the moment are stateless.
They lack citizenship in any state that can protect their rights. This condition of lacking so much as a passport, or the right to own property robs them of any real legal standing.
Without citizenship, you are permanently caught in a desperate situation. Which is what the Palestinians are.
The Israelis have treaty obligations to the Palestinians as a result of the Oslo process but have reneged on virtually all of them. They have not only failed to return control of the West Bank to the Palestinians but have settled hundreds of thousands of Israelis on Palestinian land since 1993.
The Israelis, therefore, do not now and have never had any legal claim to the West Bank regarding contemporary international law. They continue to occupy 4 million statelessPalestinians, some of them refugees whose families were chased out of what is now Israel and who have never received a penny in compensation.
By being recognized as a member by most of UN members, Palestine will gain some badly-needed legal standing to oppose the illegal action of Israeli settlers. They may even gain standing in some countries to sue settler companies with accounts abroad. They will be in a better position to pursue international sanctions and boycotts on Israeli squatters.
The benefits of a majority United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) voted for Palestine, in case we will not pass the Security Council scrutiny, won’t include a real state. It is more about giving the Palestinians standing, as they wind their way to some classic, humane status other than their current degradation at the hands of strangers in their land.
Using mass rallies of the kind seen in the Arab Spring to draw the world’s attention to the plight of the stateless Palestinians just before the UNGA vote could increase the support.
President Abbas stood before Ramallah crowds after coming back from the UN in September 2011, commending a “Palestinian spring.”
For years, Abbas was seen as too gray and technocratic and too close to Israel and America. No more.
“Hold your heads up; you are Palestinians,” he said.
In one motion Abbas managed to hijack the word “spring” from the rest of the Middle East.
After September, Palestinian Autumn?
Addressing the parliamentary assembly of the 47-nation Council of Europe, President Abbas called on Europe to back the “Palestinian Spring” by supporting his government’s bid to win a place at the United Nations.
“Today we are at the heart of the Arab Spring: we say that the hour of the Palestinian Spring has struck.”
“You supported the Arab spring which was seeking democracy and freedom.”
“Now the Palestinian Spring has arrived, asking for freedom and an end to the occupation. We deserve your support.”
“Though there were many attempts at provocation by the Israeli side, we will not let them drive us to extremism; we will not go that way,” Abbas said.
Since the fall of the Soviet Union in 1989, Americans declared superiority over the world. Later Saddam Hussein was thrashed in the Gulf War.
Throughout the 1990s, the Arab world has been an obedient recipient to the American globalization by all forms; technology, economics, investment. During this time the message was
Clear: We make the rules; you play by them.
That world is gone. America and Israel are no longer driving history in the Middle East; for the first time in a long time, Arabs are.
The Palestinians no longer listen to functionaries like George Mitchell. They have lost faith in American promises, and they no longer fear American threats. Instead, they are putting aside their internal divisions and creating facts on the ground
The young Palestinians do not seem as pragmatic as all that; they are somewhere beyond wildly idealistic. “The goal is to liberate the minds of our people,” We want to get past all the old identities—Fatah, Hamas, religious, secular, Israeli and Palestinian Arab —and create a mass nonviolent movement.”
The current political plan is to go back to the future—to achieve Palestinian unity by resurrecting and holding elections for our Parliament, the Palestinian National Council, which took a backseat after the Oslo accords.
Ever since Israel occupied the West Bank and Gaza in 1967, the Palestinian national movement has been defined by terrorism, intransigence and, until recently in the West Bank, corruption.
Israeli officials acknowledge that the recent, peaceful economic and security reforms led by Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad have been the most effective tactics the Palestinians have ever used in trying to create a state. However, they have not gotten the Palestinians anywhere in their negotiations with the equally intransigent Israeli government.
Jewish settlements continue to expand on Palestinian land.
A mass nonviolent movement might tip the balance, especially if the world —including the Israeli public —began to see Palestinians as good practitioners of passive resistance rather than as suicide bombers.
The Facebook rebels may have more influence on the suddenly old Islamists than vice versa.
The rush of history is in the region. The young activists were preoccupied with the chimera of Palestinian unity, but now they have turned their full attention to the occupation.
The statehood declaration matters to the leadership, which wants the fruits of diplomatic recognition, and hopes to sell that recognition as a victory for the national cause.
The Palestinian push for a U.N. resolution recognizing statehood, the attempts between Fatah and Hamas to form a unity government, and how the Arab Spring has affected — and will continue to affect — the Israeli- Palestinian conflict.
As both Israel and Palestinians are celebrating in the last few days prisoners exchange, and event that managed to take the focus of the whole world, towards the swap with a Netanyahu\Hamas achievement.
Both sides using the vast masses of all society into a shared positive humanitarian emotion of freedom.
Even though it is a hundred percent political move, probably got both Hamas and Israel to unite in their interest against the recent popularity Abbas has been harvesting after the UN call for a State. One cannot deny that if Abbas did not manage the huge mobilizing of the people and the world, this swap deal would have never taken place. Moreover, hence, it is clear that Abbas’s recent move has been a direct result of the Arab Spring.