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Will the Palestinians keep silent?

Alaa Tartir

11pal-118448.jpg

Ma'an, March 1, 2011

The Palestinian-Israeli conflict remains the heart of the persistent crisis in the Middle East. But within the persistent revolutionary wave, new questions on the issue have been raised. Most importantly, where are the Palestinian people? Why they are 'relatively’ silent, and when and how they will break this silence and have their own say?

So far, Palestinians have been in front of their televisions watching Al-Jazeera, and not out in the thousands. What kind of changes have there been that Palestinians now consume revolutions rather than produce them?

These are hard questions to ask, but important to answer, particularly given the central characteristic which makes the Palestinian situation different from other revolutions; the occupation.

Even as the revolution sweeps around Palestinians, the fervor will bring development, progress and freedoms to the region that have hitherto been unrealized. Within that new Middle East, Palestine will remain a cornerstone, and we will still have to work to break the silence, or at least understand it, so we can carry out our own revolution when the time comes.

The Jasmine and Nile revolutions inspired Arab youth and whole nations, showing a whole range of new possibilities, but also illustrating how long the walk to freedom is.

These two revolutions mobilized millions of people and created an ultimate revolutionary moment. While the movement is spreading and Libya is passing now in the revolution’s bottleneck phase, the question who is next? remains, and Palestine remains on the list of possible candidates.

Analysts are right, the 'ingredients' for revolution are all here, but actions remain limited, fragmented, unorganized and arguably disappointing. It seems we have the ingredients but no chef.

It seems for the moment, that Palestinians are confused about the target of a revolt. We would like to revolt against the occupation, against the Palestinian National Authority and its leadership, against both Hamas and Fatah to end the intra Palestinian divide, against the international and regional intervention in the internal Palestinian affairs, against the US administration for its role as a 'dishonest broker’ for the peace process and against its veto, against their dire socio-economic conditions, against the siege on Gaza, against the marginalization of youth, to name a few.

Our confusion though, cannot explain the relative silence. So what is the matter?

Part of the answer lies in the rapid response of the Palestinian leadership, who worked to avoid any popular anger it the streets. They offered a cabinet reshuffle, ambiguous presidential and parliamentary elections in a few months time, local elections in July, and newly appointed Prime Minster Salam Fayyad offered Hamas to join his government, and the PA said it would re-start unity talks.

Fayyad went further, talking to youth and getting them involved, and even opening nomination forms on Facebook.

The series of moves acted as a sort of painkiller for the West Bank, but in no way addresses the legitimacy crisis Palestinian leaders face, nor the domestic or international weakness of the PNA.

A second factor is the internal process underway in Palestinian communities, which began with the 2006 elections, and then the factional split. Since then, two governments have been developing their own societies in different ways, and honing the role of their security forces.

Different 'external factors' are at work in each area, and the goals of each are distinct.

In the West Bank, the PA has sought to transform the cities and towns into a peaceful place that can benefit from international aid and governance reform to achieve a high level of economic development and growth and thus a better life.

The West Bank government has used legitimate and illegitimate means to push through progress on the goal, sometimes exacting a high price from the populace. Many of the changes were under the umbrella of security reform and modernization, but resulted in the quashing of freedom of expression and assembly, first in 2006 when teh people came out in support of Lebanon.

The goal was to put out the flame of resistance in favor or other means of development and negotiations.

The PA itself fell victim to the plan, when it was urged to quash the Goldstone report at the UN Human Rights Council.

The situation in Gaza is no better.

The Hamas leadership seems to operate under the "Hamas or nothing" banner, restricting attempts to mobilize any faction or coalition, even in solidarity with other nations. All action needs military approval, with a bottom line of forcing silence unless outrage is organized by Hamas and following the party line.

Rather than fighting each government, the cracks in the silence appear to be fissurnig with a unity call. Insistence on unity will force both governments to re-evaluate the way they work, and may give Palestinians a new voice in developing a new tactic to freedom and independence.

Fayyad, an independent working withing the PA, broke the silence momentarily when he proposed a unity cabinet that take into consideration the existing security arrangements and institutions in West Bank and Gaza, and the inclusion of ministers from Hamas.

That proposal, I believe, was the direct result of the Middle East revolutions, the impact of the US veto of the settlements resolution, and pressure from a growing number of youth movements.

'Stop the Divide Now’, 'Another Voice for Palestine’, 'Thawrat Al-ahrrar-the Liberation Revolution’, 'End the Occupation’, and others, continue to gain support from the Palestinian people. The consensuses among these groups is that an end to the divide is the first step to a new angle for the Palestinian cause, a way to change the dynamics of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict and to end the occupation.

Alaa Tartir is a PhD candidate at the London School of Economics





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