When the ceasefire between Israel and Palestinian organizations in the Gaza Strip took effect in the early hours of May 21, celebrations erupted in the Palestinian world. From their cities in Israel and the occupied territories to the refugee camps of the surrounding Arab states, Palestinians did not take to the streets to express relief at the end of Israel’s latest disaster, but to affirm the recovered unity. with which they had sabotaged the war machine of Israel.
It is a remarkable transformation that, in a few weeks, has given its struggle for self-determination a new life and has had a strong echo throughout the Arab world and beyond.
In March, Prince Jared of Kushner, the Trump administration, Metternich, triumphantly announced that “we are witnessing the last vestiges of what has come to be known as the Arab-Israeli conflict.” Casually dismissing the Palestine issue as “nothing more than a real estate dispute,” he ridiculed its centrality in the region as a “myth” that he had punctured effortlessly with an F-35 fist.
Kushner was convinced that, along with former Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, he had resolved the issue of Palestine with a formula that had been hidden from view for more than seven decades: pretend it does not exist and vanish. .
At one level, reality – shaped by the events of the last three decades – seemed increasingly aligned with this hubris.
A municipal model of Palestinian politics
The Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) for many years functioned as a genuinely representative and overwhelmingly popular national movement. If this began to wane after the forced departure of the 1982 PLO from Lebanon and subsequent internal divisions, it was offset by the First Intifada which erupted in the occupied territories in 1987. That mass revolt had such a powerful impact on the region that in a few weeks the Lebanese Amal movement and the Syrian government felt compelled to lift the murderous siege for years of the Palestinian refugee camps in Beirut.
The 1993 Oslo Accords were a turning point. The separatism implicit in Palestinian nationalism was formalized in an agreement that severed the issue of Palestine from the Arab-Israeli conflict. It could be argued that Egypt’s earlier abandonment of the Arab ranks, the concern of Arab states for the Iran-Iraq war throughout the 1980s, the pressure that the Gulf states imposed on the PLO after the crisis of Kuwait in 1990-1991 and its Fatah movement dominating the rise of Hamas in the occupied territories and then the preparation of Syria – and therefore Lebanon – to negotiate an independent peace with Israel, left the leader of the PLO, Yasser Arafat, with few alternatives. If so, he chose the worst of the bad choices.
With a stroke of the pen, the Palestinian diaspora and the Palestinians in Israel, who together constituted more than half of the world’s Palestinians, were shunned outside Palestinian politics. As the center of gravity shifted from the PLO to the newly created Palestinian Authority (PA), these communities were explicitly excluded from participation in their institutions and elections. Although the Palestinians in Israel had their own political parties, the political significance of the diaspora, which had disproportionately led and sustained the national movement, was reduced to little more than a demographic reality.
A similar process was taking place within the occupied territories. When Israel began to replace cheap labor from the territories occupied by foreign workers after the First Intifada and the transformation of its economy required less, successive governments worked to increasingly isolate the West Bank, East Jerusalem. and the Gaza Strip of Israel. and each other.
After the arrival of the PA in the mid-1990s, this process of geographical fragmentation accelerated exponentially, now also applied to each of these territories. This policy is an essential ingredient in the 2007 Fatah-Hamas schism, and many analysts have noted that maintaining a divided Palestinian policy has become an Israeli priority.
The fruits of these efforts, matured by Palestinian leaders concerned with maintaining power and cultivating foreign support for their factional struggles rather than conflict with Israel, became increasingly visible.
Like municipal governments, and with few exceptions, the leadership of each Palestinian community dealt only with local issues. Thus, Hamas’s relationship with Israel was greatly reduced to seeking relief from the punishing blockade of the Gaza Strip; Israel’s Arab parties focused on the state’s increasingly blatant racism toward its constituents, while in Ramallah, President Mahmoud Abbas devoted himself almost entirely to dying in office. At the formal, institutional level, national politics was increasingly a thing of the past.
At the regional level, a similar trend emerged. Convinced by the paralysis of Abbas and the walls and fences of Israel that Kushner and Netanyahu had freed them from the troubled question of Palestine, the Arab autocrats openly embraced Greater Israel for special treatment from Washington. They gambled that the Palestinians would no longer be ashamed of rebellion and martyrdom, and that their own peoples would obligatorily leave to the courts the resolution of what was left of this “real estate dispute” and move on.
Palestinians have a habit of getting up when they are weakest and desperate and have been demonstrably abandoned to their fate. And this is what they did in 2021. The expulsions of Palestinians from their homes in the Sheikh Jarrah district of East Jerusalem and the repeated incursions into the Al-Aqsa Mosque, which according to Israeli calculations would have confronted the force of the state against the kidnapped and impoverished. the residents of East Jerusalem, mobilized the Palestinians inside the Green Line, first in the holy city and then in Israel.
In contrast to previous clashes with Israel, this time Hamas struck the first blow and did so for reasons that apparently had nothing to do with the conditions in the Gaza Strip. Within days, Palestinian protesters in Jordan and Lebanon, along with at least as many Jordanians and Lebanese, were crowding into the borders as growing demonstrations erupted in the West Bank and the Arab world in support of the Palestinians.
In Washington, the top military officer, General Mark Milley, warned of the “risk [of] wider destabilization … [and] a whole series of negative consequences if the fighting continues ”. In other words, it was revealed that the main creators of myths were Kushner, Netanyahu and their now invisible partners.
Collectively, the mobilization sent an unmistakable message that, despite all efforts against it, Palestine remains a national and Arab cause. Perhaps it was because of the powerful resonance of the Al-Aqsa Mosque. More likely, it was a confluence of dynamics that produced a collective understanding that if rights are not defended here and now, they will be lost forever. In any case, the municipal model of Palestinian politics has been shattered.
In the recent past, the 1987-1993 Intifada led to Oslo, while the 2000-2004 Intifada ended with Abbas in power and the Palestinians largely domesticated. Now Israel and its Western allies will work hard to pacify the Palestinians again and revive a model that has focused Palestinian attention primarily inland and that has worked so well for its opponents.
For Palestinians, staying mobilized is crucial. More importantly, they must find a way to seize the moment and definitively consign the fragmentation to the past to face their existential challenges at the national level again. The alternative is the perpetuation of what is erroneously called the status quo. Instead of being a static state of affairs, the status quo is in fact a dynamic reality characterized by a continuous process of dispossession that shows no signs of diminishing.
The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial stance of Al Jazeera.