BERLIN - The Arab Spring has come to Palestine. Not, as might have been expected, with a popular uprising against the rampant cronyism of a corrupt Palestinian Authority headed by President Mahmud Abbas, that powerless friend to Israel and the West. Nor even with jeers for Hamas whose governance has brought Gaza nothing but war, death and destruction.
No: last week the Arab Spring drove into Gaza in a black limousine out of which Egypt’s Prime Minister Hesham Qandil emerged. In tears, holding a bleeding child in his arms, he swore solidarity with the people of Gaza.
"What is happening in Gaza is a blatant attack on humanity," he said – a statement that, in Cairo, Egypt’s President Mohammed Morsi lost no time in seconding.
No sooner had the Egyptian Prime Minister gone than Tunisia’s Foreign Minister arrived. Next, the head of the Arab League is due on Tuesday. The recognition of Hamas as the representative of Palestinians in the new Arab world offers real prestige. What Israel’s air offensive against Hamas has done is weaken it militarily, while making it politically acceptable.
For a week, the Israelis have been bombing the strip of coast that is a 350-square-kilometer prison for 1.7 million Palestinians. The government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says the reason for the bombing is the rocket attacks from Gaza that have been going on for months, threatening Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, and killing Israelis. Such attacks would “not be acceptable to any government,” the Israeli Prime Minister said.
Of course civilians, including children, are being killed in Gaza too. For 60 years, the suffering and pain on both sides has not shaken the sick logic of the Palestine conflict. Terror or war – which amount to the same thing for victims – are apparently the only means to achieve political goals in this unholy land.
The behavior of the adversaries is pathological: violence has for a long time become part of the DNA of both Palestinians and Israelis. Radical Arabs want all of Palestine back, and do not acknowledge the right of the Jewish state to exist. In response, the Israeli comeback is to periodically decimate the firing power of the enemy they see as surrounding them. This madness could easily have gone on for another 50 years. But the popular revolutions in Arab countries have reframed the situation, and the entire Palestinian question is now up for a rethink.
The new Arab world
Secular leaders like Gamal Abdel Nasser and Hafez al-Assad tried unsuccessfully to solve the issue among Arabs, but their illusory Arab unity ended with the 1967 and 1973 wars. Since then, although lip service has been paid to Arab solidarity, the Palestinians have been on their own, while corrupt Arab regimes pressured by the West have tolerated the Israeli hardline. Now that Islamists have succeeded the dictators, they are turning towards Palestine – not a difficult thing to do - and in Hamas, they recognize one of their own.
Let’s take the case of Egypt. The peace agreement with Israel was never accepted by the people. President and Muslim Brother Morsi may understand his international commitments, but he also wants to keep the electorate happy. The Palestine question and the Camp David Accords could, despite pressing social problems, become the acid test.
And so it will be with every Arab country under popular pressure. Even countries where there has been no revolution, so far, are getting into the act. The Emir of Qatar is standing by, checkbook at the ready; the Turks are siding with Hamas. Balances are shifting outside the Arab world as well. The United States and Europe are looking for ways to start a conversation with the new Arab world, and unconditional solidarity with Israel is by no means guaranteed.
Yes, Israel can make yet another show of strength; drop bombs that provoke greater and greater radicalism; build more settlements and boycott attempts at finding a solution. The growing sense of Arab awareness will load the Palestine issue down with even more ideological baggage. Netanyahu is creating a useful enemy, and soon Israel isn’t going to be looking at a Pan-Arabic front but an Islamist one: it’s just a question of time.
We already know what the outcome has to be: security for Israel, human dignity and a state for the Palestinians. And if one thing is already clear, it’s that the old excuses just aren’t going to wash anymore.