I remember closely following the Black Lives Matter protests of 2016, just a few months before the last US presidential election. It was interesting to see the sporadic appearance of signs and slogans in support of the Palestinians.
The US is now witnessing more Black Lives Matter protests, again soon before a presidential election. Solidarity with the Palestinian cause is now even more visible, with signs saying “Palestinian Lives Matter” and even going so far as branding Israel an apartheid state. It seems like this cause has never had so much visibility in the media, on social networks and even among leading political figures in the US and the West generally. It is especially relevant as the protests coincide with the Israeli plan to annex parts of the West Bank.
Maybe the last time there was such a high level of international public support for the Palestinians was during the first intifada in the late 1980s. Images of children with rocks facing tanks and soldiers shifted global public opinion, putting true pressure on Israel. These mostly civil actions, of protests and disobedience, continued until the Oslo Accords.
However, following the accords, terrorist and military actions from Hamas and Islamic Jihad, both supported by Iran, broke this international solidarity with the Palestinian cause. It also signaled the beginning of a split and true challenge to Fatah and the Palestinian Authority by Hamas. People in the West will stand with a group that is fighting oppression with civil protests, but will not support a cause that uses terrorism, no matter how just it is. This was true 30 years ago and it is even more so today.
The current movements in the US and many Western countries have also spread to Tel Aviv, where a large crowd gathered to condemn the annexation plans of the current Israeli administration. US politician Bernie Sanders addressed the rally with a strong stand against the Israeli plan. He also called for an end to Israeli occupation.
The Vermont senator’s popularity is increasing and he is part of a new generation of political leaders in the US, such as Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, which have become more prominent within the Democratic Party and have pushed it further to the left of the political landscape. If we continue the comparison with the first intifada, global support was apolitical at that time. However, today, it seems that only people on the left and the radical left in the US and Europe are pushing for this agenda. They also seem to take less of a pro-peace position and more of an anti-Israel stance.
Today, the Palestinian leadership is divided and unpopular. Arab countries and leaders around the world appear to have grown tired of the peace process and all its actors, as it never reaches a conclusion but is always very costly in many ways. Without a unified, recognized and respected leadership that renounces terror and military actions, there is little chance for the Palestinians to capitalize on the growing worldwide support and push for a solution. With the current divisions and Hamas’ political and military objectives, this does not seem realistic, especially as the Palestinian Authority’s weaknesses give Israelis plenty of room to maneuver in the face of these movements. Indeed, without these conditions, Benjamin Netanyahu would not be able to consider annexation today, regardless of US support.’
I had an unpopular view when US President Donald Trump presented his peace initiative in January. I thought the Palestinians should at least take it as a starting point for negotiations. Even if it favored Israel, as the current status quo does, it put the issue back at the forefront of international affairs — and it was even a road map toward statehood. Palestinian Prime Minister Mohammed Shtayyeh finally presented a counterproposal this week.
Israel continues to successfully carve up the map according to demographic conditions, such as the West Bank settlements it plans to annex, which, once done, will be impossible to reverse. And so I ask what will allow us to get back more land than is being offered today? Unfortunately, I do not see one element that could turn the tide of this situation in the Palestinians’ favor. I truly wish I did.
Although, during negotiations, large crowds in the West are a useful, peaceful tool to put pressure on Israel, betting solely on them to change the current situation is extremely risky, as is betting on a one-state solution.
So all we see is continuous humiliation and impoverished conditions for the Palestinians, as well as hypocrisy and political exploitation by their leadership, Western political movements and, most importantly, regional powers such as Iran. All sides are using the Palestinians as pawns to serve their own goals, extending the people’s suffering under the banner of well-written slogans of fighting for justice and human dignity.
Today, it seems that only people on the left and radical left are pushing the Palestinian agenda.
Khaled Abou Zahr
There is, unfortunately, no perfect outcome. However, it is difficult to see that at a time when countries and companies are conquering space and fighting for data in the digital world, we are still stuck on land wars and the Palestinians are still suffering. So the question only Palestinians should answer — not those who do not live under oppression and consider refusing to buy an Israeli orange from their London or Paris supermarket an act of resistance — is whether it is time to take the best deal possible today, accept its unjust conditions, start building something new, and rejoin the world.
In this global economic global climate, the Palestinians have the talent to compete and work toward building a prosperous nation and economy. For now, and to break the current vicious cycle, it may be time for large peaceful crowds in Gaza and the West Bank, not in Washington or London, to rise and make their voices heard in the face of their own leaders. This would be a good start in their mission for change.
- Khaled Abou Zahr