Palestine, behind the Osama smokescreen

Published: May 18, 2011
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The populist uprising in the Middle East has opened avenues for Palestine to take action. PHOTO: AFP

The Bin Laden killing has gripped the global media and has been a source of relief, as well as misery, for many people around the world. Nevertheless, the practical impact of his killing on international terrorist activities and the war against terror is yet to be seen.

This event, however, has inadvertently served as a smoke screen for more substantive events in the Middle East, specifically Palestine. Recently, Fatah and Hamas, the two groups representing the Palestinians, came together in an agreement to end the tensions between them and to formulate a plan for government formation.

The history of these two organisations has been marred by conflict and has in the past resulted in a civil war as well. Now that they have agreed on reconciliation, chances are that any future Palestinian demands will reflect the wishes of the majority factions and could be put forth with greater confidence. Additionally, now it also addresses the concerns of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that talking to President Mahmoud Abbas, the Fatah leader, is pointless since he does not represent all the Palestinians. It should be noted that Palestinians are expected to put forward a demand of an independent nation in the September session of the United Nations this year.

A further development on Israel’s part was to postpone a planned construction of a Jewish settlement in eastern Jerusalem at the start of May, 2011. It is speculated that this postponement order, coming straight from the prime minister’s office, is in preparation of Netanyahu’s visit to the US at the end of this month.

Furthermore, French President Nicolas Sarkozy and British Prime Minister David Cameroon have, to a varying extent, warned Israel to cooperate or they would recognise Palestine as an independent state in September, when the demand is put forth. Netanyahu, however, has yet to appear before the US congress at the end of May where he will address and plead his case. This opportunity has been secured for Israel by Republican speaker John Boehner so that Netanyahu may counter Obama’s Mideast policy speech which would expectedly have a stern stance towards Israel.

Roots in revolutions

Though it may seem spurious at first, but all of the above developments can be explained in terms of the populist uprisings in the Middle East, referred to as the Arab Spring. The unconventional mode of those uprisings created the possibility that traditional party structure is dispensable in the eyes of the people, and they may go on to fight for their rights on their own. This idea surely put the pressure on Fatah and Hamas and the reconciliatory agreement was deemed necessary for them to be relevant to the Palestinian cause.

On the other hand, the EU and the US are wary of the situation in the Middle East and cannot afford to lose any goodwill that the Arab people may have towards them. This directly translates into diluting support for Israel to be sure the anti-Israel sentiment does not swallow their interests in the Middle East. Hence Britain and France found it necessary to signal the world that they are serious about promoting peace in the Middle East and their measures will not be limited to military interventions in Libya.

At this point, prudence is well taken by Israel also. Netanyahu’s decision to postpone settlements shows that Israel realises that the situation is not in their favour. In fact, Netanyahu has also announced that Israel could support a Palestinian state if the conditions were right. Although one cannot pin much hope to such statements but this is in stark contrast to the way Israel used to handle international pressure previously. The reason for this show of cooperation is that Israel’s status quo with Hosni Mobarek’s Egypt has burnt in the flames of uprising and Obama, on the other side, is bent on squeezing something concrete out of Middle East to bolster his election campaign. Israel suddenly finds itself struck out of balance and feels the need to take the situation seriously.

It seems, finally, that the people of Egypt and Tunisia have not only secured their rights but have cleared the way for others too. It has cautioned the leaders of the region to represent their people well and forced the West to prove their sympathies for a people fighting for their cause; something which decades of haggling by oil rich monarchs could not produce.

Though extremism may be pompous and attractive to the eyes of the wary world and Bin Laden may still be a sizzling piece of news flash, it is nothing more than a dying creed in the face of the newfound identity of the oppressed peoples; it is not what the people of that region ought to write as their future.

Therefore, while the Arab states have failed to support a solution to the Palestine issue, the Arab people may as well contribute towards it.

Rehan Arif

Rehan Arif

An investment banker who is deeply interested in matters of political economy. He tweets @rehan3416

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