Palestinian Self-Determination In The Arab Spring

Palestinian Self-Determination In The Arab Spring Picture

Albert Einstein once famously suggested that insanity was “doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” With this definition in mind, what is more insane than Washington’s approach to the so-called “peace process?” Indeed, the same tired and regurgitated paradigms for negotiations remain dogma among American and Israeli officials. President Obama’s latest recommendation, no doubt influenced by the leading advocate of incrementalism Dennis Ross, is for Israelis and Palestinians to negotiate borders and security now and worry about “emotional issues” like refugees and Jerusalem at a later date.

This strategy, much like the entire peace process itself, will allow Israelis to continue to effectively annex more and more of the West Bank by continuing with the illegal settlement enterprise, furthering the “Bantustanization” of the West Bank. In February, the Obama administration vetoed a UN resolution, comprised of language directly appropriated from US policy, declaring settlement activity to be illegal. The other 14 members of the Security Council voted in favor of the resolution. Is there anything else to call this but a “cowardly failure,” to borrow from Chas Freeman, on the part of the Obama administration?

It seems that the Palestinian Authority (PA) has finally come to grips with the servitude of America to the status quo as directed by Israel. Indeed, PA President Mahmoud Abbas, a long compliant client of the US, has eschewed the peace process and refused to negotiate, and in the interim, Abbas and Fatah have reconciled with Hamas, with a unified front planning to bring a resolution to the UN in September to receive endorsement of Palestinian statehood. Regardless of what one thinks about this maneuver, it no doubt signals a radical departure of previous strategy. Whereas Abbas, Prime Minister Salam Fayyad and the PA were long content to serve as collaborators with the occupation, spending more time worrying about limiting Hamas influence in the West Bank than resisting the occupation, Abbas is now moving forward with an active strategy to force the hand of the US and Israel.

The resolution that Palestinians will present will no doubt pass in the General Assembly. Indeed, there are already over 100 countries that recognize Palestine as a state. What of the United States? As President Obama expresses support for democratic aspirations of protesters from Libya to Iran, how can the US legitimately justify vetoing Palestinian statehood? To be sure, the administration will call on the Palestinians to come to the negotiating table to forge a just and lasting peace. They will insist that the insane approach, which has allowed the settlement population to nearly double in the last twenty years, is the only way for Palestinians to acquire self-determination. In other words, the process that allows for Palestinians to receive their self-determination most come with American imprimatur. For the US and the Israelis, Palestinians should be incapable of determining their own self-determination.

Unfortunately, for the Obama and Netanyahu administrations, the developments in the region are unlikely to be conducive to the piecemeal peace process. Across the Arab world, people are standing up and refusing to countenance the untenable dictatorships, human rights abuses and suppression of their political and economic freedom. If there was any question that Palestinians would rise up as their other Arab brethren have done, on Nakba day (May 15), in an unprecedented move, thousands of Palestinians in the West Bank, Gaza, Syria and Lebanon peacefully marched to protest the continued occupation.

Many decry Palestinians for not using nonviolent tactics to resist the occupation. This is, of course, a tendentiously crafted narrative. To start, many leaders and advocates of nonviolent resistance are locked away in Israeli jails. Where is the Palestinian Gandhi? He is probably languishing in an Israeli jail. For the past six years, in the Palestinian city of Bil’in, Palestinians have nonviolently resisted Israeli attempts to continue construction of the wall that would illegally confiscate half of their land. Indeed, three years ago pressure exerted by these protesters led the Israeli high court to order that the path of the wall be diverted so as to not annex parts of Bil’in. The emergence and growing power of the international boycott, divestment, sanctions movement (BDS), further belies the fraudulent accusations that Palestinians and their supporters refuse to resist nonviolently.

As the world’s attention remains focused on the uprisings in the Middle East, continued nonviolent pressure, protests and agitation for Palestinian independence remains the Palestinian’s most efficacious and important opportunity for ending the enervating occupation and acquiring Palestinian self-determination. The “Arab Spring” has ushered in a new reality in the Middle East. Whereas for decades “change” or “reform,” if there ever was any, was imposed by autocrats or foreign powers, the people of the region are now driving history. This will certainly be the case in Palestine.

Although UN General Assembly endorsement of Palestinian statehood is ineluctable, it will likely result in little change on the ground. Israel has violated international law and UN resolutions for decades with impunity. Moreover, any suggestion that the peace process will result in anything like sovereignty for the Palestinians is either delusional or mendacious. If Palestinians are to not control their borders, airspace, electromagnetic spectrum or water table and they are to not even have a military to protect themselves, what does statehood mean? The quasi-state that would emerge from the peace process would barely resemble a state. President Obama can adduce a peace plan, which will undoubtedly be similar to the Clinton Parameters, the Geneva Initiative, or the plan previous Israeli Prime Minister Olmert presented to Mahmoud Abbas, and the peace process charade can begin anew.

Meanwhile, influenced and encouraged by the uprising across the Arab world, Palestinians can continue to resist. If they stand up and demand political rights in all of Israel, the West Bank and Gaza, that is an inclusive state for the inhabitants of the land of Palestine/Israel, what will the Israelis do? With the world’s attention focused on the drive for freedom in the region, a violent crackdown by Israel will not only bolster accusations of apartheid, but it will also put Netanyahu, Avigdor Lieberman and the Israeli leadership in the same historical trajectory as deposed Presidents Mubarak and Ben Ali. What would the United States response be?

As President Obama expresses support for the protesters across the region, any support for an Israeli crackdown on Palestinians’ demands for the same political freedoms will ring as deeply hypocritical. Time is not on the side of the advocates of the insane peace process. People in the region are standing up to determine their own future and those who continue to assert diplomatic and political maneuvering as the solution are simply continuing to buy into moribund paradigms that are no longer viable, particularly in light of the Arab Spring.

Adam Gallagher is a PhD student in Political Science at George Mason University and a contributor to the academic blog Tropics of Meta.


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  1. Michael says:

    Adam, this article is cute, but there’s one key difference that you overlook.
    The overthrown Arab dictators have all been puppets of greater powers. Now I know that you know who is the grandest puppetmaster of em all.


  2. John Radcliff says:

    Small world. Great article. I concur with your argument citing the process that allows for Palestinians to acquire tangible independence will indeed proceed directly with American imprimatur. I think the reconciliation recently brokered between Fatah and Hamas, assuming internal cohesion is reached, marks a more aggressive strategy, hopeful one that will ride upon the sentiment of this spring prompting the Obama administration not only to pay lip service to the ambitions of the Tunisians, Egyptians, Libyans, etc., but act on behalf Palestinians.

    Nice to see an OCS alum is doing well in the world. Am in Cairo now, it has been great to see what is taking place here. Would love to get in touch, feel free to shoot me an email,

    Nice to see the work of OCS alum. Writing from Cairo and also studying international relations. Would love to touch base. My email is

  3. Anonymous says:

    There is no occupation whatsoever. Learn history.

  4. […] 2) the United States will support nothing but a Israeli controlled and dictated Palestinian state. As I have written previously, Palestinian self-determination, following in the footsteps of their Arab brethren, will only truly […]

  5. […] 2) the United States will support nothing but a Israeli controlled and dictated Palestinian state. As I have written previously, Palestinian self-determination, following in the footsteps of their Arab brethren, will only truly […]

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