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The Arab Spring and Palestine

Impact of the revolutions in the Arab World on the Palestinian Israeli conflict and the future prospects

Dr. SAMIR AWAD
Department of Political Science, BIRZEIT UNIVERSITY

To what extent does the "Arab Spring" influence the Palestinian-Israeli conflict?

Many turbulent events are currently affecting the Palestinian and Arab sphere, starting with the American position against Palestine  bid for statehood at the security council, or their causing a defeat to a proposal  against Israeli settlement expansion. As a matter of fact, this was an expression of the well-known stand of  American bias in favor of Israel.

This means the loss of the American position as an honest interlocutors  between the Palestinian and the Israelis.

So is the case with the huge changes that are evolving in the Arab World as  a whole in view of the popular uprisings in Tunisia, Egypt, and Libya, while  Yemen, and Syria were exposed by popular uprisings.

The Palestinian situation does not differ much from that of other Arab people and regimes, despite the fact that Palestinians have defined their major contradiction with the Israeli occupation. This does not mean that experiences of  the neighboring Arab people will pass without affecting  Palestine, entailing demands for more freedoms, democracy and fighting against corruption.  It is worth noting that uprisings of the Arab Spring didn’t point whatsoever to the Palestinian cause or the Israeli occupation, since they are more concerned with their internal affairs, arranging their priorities to the national agenda, and not to the external policy of the state.

The large public demonstrations, especially at the liberty (Tahrir) square in Cairo represented a historical phenomenon and a lesson to all people, including the Palestinians, in the viability of perseverance and peaceful resistance against injustices and tyrannies and the refusal of provocation by the regime or the occupation.

Lessons to Palestine

Based on what was mentioned previously, the Palestinian people should concentrate their efforts on challenging the settlement activities and continue the popular resistance to occupation. Such peaceful resistance should focus on areas of  particular importance  especially in East Jerusalem and the rest of friction and confrontation sites. This is exactly what is learned from the Egyptian experience which the Palestinian apply with partial and reasonable success at Sheikh Jerrah, Bil’in, Nil’in, Ma’asarah, Nabi Salih, jayyus and other locations.

Attention should be given to Egypt’s preoccupation in the coming stage with its internal affairs, resulting in less attention to the Palestinian file at the Egyptian decision making  centers, which means the absence of the Egyptian political support and possibly the Egyptian political pressure.

People need internal unity: As we have seen the unity between Moslems and Christians (Copts) or between the progressive and Islamic parties. The first  lesson from the Tahrir square for the  Palestinians is to end the internal division and to start working together. This will hopefully get the Palestinian cause beyond the present dilemma of closed horizon of the peace process.

Once again, we should go back to the people in new public elections, to reunite the two wings of the Palestinian nation, and renew the legality of institutions on the local, legislative, and presidential levels. Actually, steps have been taken in this direction.

The just Palestinian rights and interests enjoy a worldwide supported on the peoples’ level, in contradictions with policies, interests, and alliances that govern international positions. The big quary here, is about these popular positions and their relative weight in contrast with international interests and policies. The continued Palestinian struggle for freedom, justice and independence has become a symbol for all people, and the Palestinian Kufiyyeh “Al-Hatta” has become a symbol for protest and resistence against injustice throughout the whole world. ([1]).     

This introduces the perception of “soft-power” that is based on ethics and values of political position rather than only on military power “hard power”, or on state interests ([2]). Self determination and freedom from occupation are two ethical and human positions that the Palestinians can build upon them. Consequently, we should give our great gratitude to all people of the world who support our just struggle for the establishment of our independent state, based on ethical commitments to human rights and justice([3])

Palestinians shouldn’t expect much from the American position in the coming stage, despite America’s role as a broker of the peace process, whereby it controls the international Quartette, and being the only super power  at the security council and most of the international institutions. Palestinians should reconstitute their alliances, relationships and long term strategies in the occasion of going back to the united nations general  assembly. It is important to urge the Arab States, States of the Islamic conference and friendly states to take serious stands utilizing all pressures whether economic, political, or legal to bring into existence the independent  Palestinian State.          

Many more consecutive recognitions of the independent state of Palestine by many states all over the world, especially Latin America. The Palestinian political endeavor gains ground in Europe by raising the diplomatic representation of the Palestinian mission to the level of commission of Palestine. Russian president Medveder visit to Jericho to meet with president Abu Mazin to inaugurate the Russian Theatre without ending this historical visit by visiting Israel despite intensified Israeli pressures. All of this points to the fact that the time for ending the Israeli occupation has finally arrived.

These development and accomplishments form an introduction to the upcoming phase of  building the institutions of the state of Palestine as envisaged by Dr. Salam Fayyad and the Palestinian government. Clearly, the Palestinian Authority calls upon the Quartet and other related institutions to recognize the independent state of  Palestine on the borders of 1967.

In the security council session discussing the Israeli settlement activities in the West Bank (Including East Jerusalem),  America has used the Vito, as it used to do, in spite of the adoption of the 14 security council member states of  the resolution that complies with international law. So, what would the American position be when demanding the dismantling of settlements in East Jerusalem and the rest of the West Bank.

In the solution of “Two States for two people” still possible 

The international and local observers have believed for a long time that the negotiated peaceful solution based on the vision of “two states for two people” is the idealistic and only possible solution to the Palestinian national cause. According, this vision offers a solution to the Palestinian cause and the Israeli occupation and all the suspended issues between the two peoples, including especially, the two issues of Jerusalem and the refugees. Because of the rareness of the Palestinian means of pressure and power against Israel, the international observer and the Palestinian negotiator convinced himself that the establishment of an independent Palestinian state is basically a strategic Israeli interest. This was a milestone in the role of the American broker and the attitudes of world community and the Israeli peace camp (if it exists) . Nowadays, after the passing of almost 20 years on the Palestinian-Israeli negotiations, it is obvious that the Israeli side has abandoned this world consensus in support of ending the Israeli occupation and the establishment of an independent Palestinian state on the boundaries of 1967.

The governmental coalition parties of Israel have consensus over not ending the occupation of the West Bank and Gaza. The existence of one and a half million Palestinians within the borders of the state of Israel, is the real problem for Israel, in their view. What is the expected benefit, from the Israeli point of view, of creating an independent Palestinian state with sovereign borders, and at the same time having these Palestinian  citizens (Palestinians of 1948) remain inside the Israeli borders([4]).      

The increasing statements by the Israeli politician in the extremist, religious and national parties calling for the exchange of residents in all of its forms. This is categorically rejected by the Palestinians on the popular and official levels as explained by the Palestinian President Abu Mazin by saying: “The subject of residents exchange is unacceptable, even if the peace process completely depended on it.

Elements of structuring Palestinian strategy

The Palestinian people have several power resources that shouldn’t be ignored while planning the upcoming stage, first of which is the existence of the Palestinian people on their land, despite all efforts of the Israeli occupier to uproot them. This factor which is a certain power resource is still the most stable factor in the interests of the Palestinian people and the most disturbing on the Israeli side. The Zionist movement vision for the national Jewish homeland project included the evacuation of the Palestinian land from its indigenous people and replacing them with Jewish settlers as an application to the term “evacuation-settlement colonization”, Has this vision succeeded, a democratic Jewish state would have been accomplished as Mr. Netanyahu wants, but the steadfastness of the Palestinian people have had forfeited this plan this plan forever. 

The Palestinian citizens in the Jewish state, those who remained on their lands, even after the “Nakba” of 1948, constitute one-fifth of the population, whereby the number of Palestinian residents on the historical land of Palestine almost equals that of the Jewish settlers([5]).

The second factor, that didn’t exist in the first Intifada as an example is the existence of the Palestinian National Authority for the first time in history over the Palestinian Land. It is impossible to belittle the importance of this factor, even to those who politically disagree with the Palestinian Authority, since authority means a disciplined governance mechanism based on existing functional and continuous economic, education and health institutions. Authority is one of the important factors of entrenchment for the Palestinian people over their national land as an introduction for establishing their independent state.

The Palestinian people have achieved through their continued struggle extensive support to their right of self-determination and freedom from occupation. Here is one of the major Palestinian resources of power which is world support through international institutions, international law, and world public masses who support our people’s weights and freedom. There can be comparison between the Palestinian position calling  for self- determination and the Israeli position advocating Jewish settlement in the occupied territories from a future perspective. 

The Palestinian civil society has a struggling stance corroboration the establishment of the independent state of Palestine through its wide relationships with the developed societies that support the Palestinian position materialistically and morally on the world arena. This position is exemplified by the boycotting economic and academy boycotting movements against Israel, last of which was the case of the French senator Aleema BU Median who was accused of antisamism and hatred provocation merely because her call for economic boycotting of Israel. The Palestinian civil society exerts continued and sustained pressure to develop to develop the democratic institutions in Palestine and accomplishing justice and law informant for the  Palestinian citizen, and increasing transparency in the official institutions and the rest of cases of integrity and sound governance.

The fifth categorical issue, although of its importance, is the steadfastness of the Palestinian society over its occupied territory, despite all adverse conditions. The scenario of evacuation and ethnic clearising of Palestinians as happened in 1948 have ended forever. This development is a result of awareness of all that there is no other place for the Palestinian in this world, and certainly, no two places for the Palestinians in this world, consequently, the present division between the West Bank and the Gaza strip is unjustified. Therefore, the Palestinian citizen should not accept any division, no matter what are the causes and excuses.

Information plays a major role in sending the message of the Palestinian people to the world community, here, the Palestinian Authority bears the largest response ability in specific and wording of this message, its activation and publication through its information system and institutions. Attention should be taken so that no contradiction will be made in message to the world community([6]).     

However, the danger multiplies if contradicting messages were sent to the Palestinian community itself. As an example, the Palestinian citizens were busy, especially in the last period with a major important crisis in the negotiation process, but made a break through at the same time in the subject of Palestinian national reconciliation.

It was obvious that the information and public were more concerned with talk of the media and politicians about alternative and last opportunities and so on, but they minimize it to one alternative, which is dismantling of the authority, without discussing what ensues that as if that would solve all of the Palestinian problems.

Actually, there are several diversified Palestinian problems: including, the refugee problems; political and geographical existence; the problem of absence of a state that takes care of their daily affairs on their lands and host states to Palestinian minorities; the continuity of settlements expansion the decrease of Palestinian lands and agricultural and residential areas.

First: The ‘status quo’ option which can be called the option of economic peace that requires no peace precondition nor economic boom, but rather the solution according the insistence and the present rightist government, whereby there is no stopping of settlement construction, no independent state at the end of negotiations, no sovereignty and no return of refugees, which is the continuation of the ‘status quo’.

Second: a clear and open declaration by the Palestinian side of failure of the present negotiations that entails the need for a radical change in the current policy. That requires gathering public, Arab, and international support to the Palestinian position, and trying to make a comprehensive evaluation of the situation and the negotiations, and starting to prepare alternative for the coming stage.    

It is obvious that Palestinian cannot accept the first option, which is the option of ‘status quo’ or economic peace; whereby Palestinian policy requirements related to this option will be explored later.


([1]) Al-Quds newspaper, Monday, June 14th, 2010.

([2]) Joseph Nye, Jr. Soft Power. The means to success in world politics. New York. P 5-11. See also Anthony Pratkanis: Public Diplomacy in International conflicts – A social Influence analysis. In Rutledge Handbook of Public Diplomacy. P 11-12.  

([3]) Edward Said (in Arabic): End of the peace process-also and Aftermath, Dar el-Adab, Beirut, 2002, p. 210.

([4]) Ilan Pappe. The Ethnic cleansing of Palestine, 2006, p. 274.

([5])  Edward Said: (in Arabic) Culture and Resistance. P 55-56.

([6]) (in Arabic Dr. Said M. Abu Abah: Diplomacy-History, Institutions, Types, laws. Dar el-Shaimai for publication and Distribution. Palestine, 2009, P. 60-61.