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Opinion: Has the Arab Spring silenced the Palestinian issue? | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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In this photo taken Dec. 3, 2013, a giant Palestinian national flag flutters from the highest point of the city and over looking the neighboring Israeli settlement of Ateret in the background, at the under construction Palestinian city of Rawabi, north of the West Bank city of Ramallah. A state-of-the art Palestinian city under construction […]

I do not believe that the Palestinian cause was on a smooth path to a just resolution acceptable to Palestinians before the Arab Spring; however, neither can we accept what some Palestinian figures proclaimed, that the Arab revolutions were a source of strength and momentum for the Palestinian cause. Both points of view have suspect validity and need to be corrected.

Today, the Palestinian issue has almost transformed into an internal issue; the Palestinian cause has become solely “Palestinian,” and is not an Arab nationalist issue as it was in the past. This has been true at least since the revolutions in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, Yemen and Syria. Indeed, the decline in the number of Arab countries concerned about Palestine goes back to the start of these revolutions.

Strategic political interests were weakened by the massive failure of the Brotherhood movements across the Arab world. Their failure did not only strike a fatal blow to the future of political Islam, but also a painful one to the Palestinian political activists who gambled on the rise of Islamist political parties and who saw in those parties a chance to refresh the Hamas movement, and with it the whole Palestinian cause.

Among the important facts that were not given needed attention is that the elite were occupied with their own Arab revolutions. The Palestinian cause was absent from the revolutionary slogans in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, Syria and Yemen. Neither was there discussion of it in the first phase after the revolutions.

Of course, the revolutions were not born of or for the Palestinian issue. But one only needs to understand the centrality of this issue and its political, cultural and social weight in the Arab world, the coverage it has received in the press, the political alliances that arose from it, and the powerful diplomatic efforts expended on it (regardless of their outcome) to see that it could have been one of the secondary or marginal slogans of the Arab revolutions.

Even months after the elections in some of the Arab revolutionary states, such as Tunisia and Egypt, it became apparent that the Palestinian issue was not a concern.

For example, after the elections for the National Constituent Assembly in Tunisia on October 23, 2011, some political voices with Arab nationalist backgrounds and others from civil society called for the inclusion of a particular article in the Tunisian constitution. That article would have criminalized the normalization of relations with Israel. But those calls were ignored, and many doubted the need to raise the issue to the level of including it in the constitution.

It was a clear message from the ruling troika, and especially from Ennahda, which has a relative majority in the constituent assembly, that introducing the Palestinian issue in that manner was a red line. An Islamist party that seeks or needs American support cannot cross that line.

I mention this example not in support of the criminalization of normalizing ties with Israel per se, but to highlight the massive change in behavior (but, apparently, not position) of Ennahda on the Palestinian issue. Palestine used to be among the top items on its agenda. This shows that Ennahda is using a new approach to the cause; perhaps, it has come to understand the pressures and burdens of governance. This has moderated its political behavior, making it more rational and pragmatic, despite the fact that when it came to political niceties Ennahda became more generous and flexible. (For example, it invited Hamas leader Khaled Meshal to its ninth conference, in June 2012.)

In Egypt, the change in attitude was even more apparent. While former President Hosni Mubarak’s government used to sponsor negotiations between different parties on the Palestinian issue, including with active Arab parties such as Saudi Arabia, there was a change after the election of Mohamed Mursi to the presidency. When he was toppled he was subsequently accused of collaboration with Hamas, and in recent days Egypt announced openly that Hamas poses a danger to Egyptian national security.

What we can take from this is that the Muslim Brotherhood falling into the pit of violence has indirectly harmed the Palestinian issue. It has created an impression that political Islam was unable to benefit the Palestinians, because its links to world leaders are weak and marred with suspicion and skepticism. That impression has grown to become a widespread belief.

Thus the Palestinian issue has become more complicated, because it has lost both its position and its prominence among the major powers.