Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Arab Spring, Palestinian State, American Irrelevance

Anyone who follows sports is familiar with the concept of momentum shift: that point during a contest at which things come together for one team, and that team often (though not always) rides that shift to victory.  I think it's fair to say that in their contest with Israel over sovereignty over the West Bank, the Palestinian side is riding a momentum shift.  And even though it's not at all sure that they will prevail, the odds seem to be moving almost inexorably in their favor.

The Arab Spring, of course, has been the prime mover in that shift, with Palestinian Arabs seizing upon the example of Arabs across the Middle East who have risen up to demand that their leaders afford them dignity, accountability, and hope.  In the case of the Palestinians, that has forced Fatah and Hamas to come together, with common purpose, or face being rendered irrelevant by the new spirit.  And even before this broad awakening, Mahmoud Abbas seemed to have a more individual awakening to the fact that the US-sponsored "peace process" was a sham (something that observers like Tony Karon have been pointing out for a long time), and that it was time to end-run Messrs. Obama and Netanyahu by going directly to the United Nations General Assembly with the case for Palestinian statehood.

With this weekend's al-Nakba demonstrations (where rock-throwing Palestinians stormed Israel's borders with Syria and Lebanon, to be shot at - and in some instances, killed - by IDF troops firing live ammunition), the Palestinian momentum got an even stronger push.  One senses among the Palestinians now a feeling of no-going-back.  And as Peter Beinart notes, on the Israeli side, one senses a looming awareness that they have lost the initiative,
America and Israel are no longer driving history in the Middle East; for the first time in a long time, Arabs are. . . .   Netanyahu and his American backers are demanding that Obama rewind the clock, but he can’t. 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.

And as for the US's ability to shape a settlement between Israelis and Palestinians, well . . . ironically, it reminds me of that song that our youthful chest-thumpers were singing outside the White House the night that Bin Laden's execution was announced: "Na na na na, hey hey eh, good-bye."  Again, Beinart points out:
if Netanyahu continues to entrench the occupation and Palestinian leaders keep nonviolently demanding a state near the Green Line, it won’t ultimately matter what Obama does. The more America sticks by Netanyahu, the less relevant America will become. Other powers will begin taking matters into their own hands, and their strategies for achieving a two-state solution will have none of the tenderness of Dennis Ross. . . .
The Palestinians are taking control of their destiny because Israel has not. Zionism, which at its best is the purposeful, ethical effort to make Jews safe in the land of Israel, has become—in this government—a mindless land grab, that threatens Jewish safety and Jewish ethics alike. Once upon a time, when the Arabs were hapless and America was omnipotent, Israel could get away with that. Not anymore. If Barack Obama cannot get Benjamin Netanyahu to endorse—and work toward—a Palestinian state near 1967 lines, events will pass them both by. Others will take the initiative; in the Middle East, the U.S. and Israel will increasingly find their destinies in other nation’s hands. For those of us raised to believe that Americanism and Zionism were can-do faiths, it is harder to imagine any crueler irony than that.

One would hope that Mr. Obama would want to put the US on the right side of history - and by that, I mean supporting the Palestinians and their drive for statehood in the face of the hyper-Zionism of Netanyahu/Lieberman et al.  He indeed has an opportunity to do the right thing when he addresses the American people from the State Department in two nights' time, in a speech advertised as signaling America's stance in the ongoing drama in the Middle East.

But, I fear, no brave words, no new vision will be forthcoming.  For, it's been announced, Mr. Obama plans also to address the upcoming convention of AIPAC, the Jewish-U.S. pro-Israel lobby AIPAC.  As IPS notes, "The President couldn't possibly appear before staunch Netanyahu supporters had he wanted to knock Israel's occupation and its settlement enterprise."

So sad.  From the president who came to office by inspiring so many of us with the promises of change and new thinking that were inherent in the words "yes we can," we will continue to hear stirring words, finely crafted, stylishly delivered, but belied by a lack of courage to act.





1 comment:

Activist27 said...

That is really interesting..
I like the snappy headline.
There is quite good article on this on http://wordplayblog.co.uk/2011/05/the-arab-spring-clean/

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