Palestine, the Arab Spring, and the Middle East Lobby

During the upheavals sweeping the Arab world, a common refrain among hawkish supporters of Israel has been that the Arab street is indifferent to the plight of the Palestinians, and thus the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is not at the heart of Middle East troubles. In theNew Republic, Jamie Kirchick argued that the much-touted divide between democracy promoters and pro-Israel hawks was proof that neoconservatives were not in thrall to the Israeli rightwing. On theCommentary blog, John Podhoretz was particularly gratuitous, running with the headline, “Palestinians Killing Jews While Other Arabs Seek Freedom.”

Contrast these notions with the sermon of Muslim Brotherhood spiritual leader Yusuf al-Qaradawi, which during the official celebration of the overthrow of Mubarak regime in Tahrir Square prompted the crowd to chant that it would march on Jerusalem. And while Palestinian flags were notably absent among the protestors in Egypt, they have been a much more common sight in Yemen and Bahrain.

For their part, the Palestinians have begun in earnest to put into practice the example set by the Egyptians. In stark contrast to Podhoretz’s inaccurate inferences, on March 15, tens of thousands demonstrated in the Palestinian territories for a new unity government to recommit to a non-violent intifada (see also, Samer Araabi, “Is It Palestine’s Turn?” Right Web, April 5, 2011).

While it is true that since these Palestinian demonstrations began there has been a sudden increase in violence among Palestinian militants, this could be interpreted as an effort by Hamas to get out in front of any uprising. The Israelis, out of habit, are answering in kind by threatening a new invasion of Gaza, with several exchanges of fire having already taken place as of this writing.

To be sure, the countries that have undergone these upheavals, particularly Egypt, have more than enough problems of their own to resolve before they can deal with the plight of the Palestinians. But to take the case of Egypt, it has been necessary for the current military rulers to take certain confidence-building measures with the people, which have included gestures like abandoning enforcement of the Gaza blockade.

Whether the desire of Palestinian civil society for democratic and civil rights—rather than land or nationhood—can overcome these challenges remains to be seen. But many conceits about the Palestinian struggle as it relates to the broader upheavals throughout the Arab world cry out for debunking.

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Jack Ross, a blogger for The American Conservative and a contributor to Right Web, is the author of Rabbi Outcast: Elmer Berger and American Jewish Anti-Zionism, and is presently at work on a complete history of the Socialist Party of America.