Palestine transcends; it is inescapable. If the recent invasion of Gaza has taught us anything it is that the Palestinian call for self-determination and justice has reverberated globally. I start off with this statement, which is already known to any well-informed person with an analytically sober disposition, in order to emphasize that the conflict in Palestine affects both the domestic politics of Arab and Muslim states and world politics more generally. It is not a "local" conflict, as the Israeli state would have us believe. It is not detachable from the sentiments, culture and emotions permeating the Arab and Islamic worlds or the humanity of any peace-loving individual.
Palestine transcends because in an increasingly networked and multi-media world, the tragedy of the Palestinians does not pass without comment and strident opposition. In the past couple of weeks many academic colleagues have joined in signing several petitions that have been published in mainstream daily newspapers. I have witnessed the peaceful occupation of university buildings by students and the protest of Muslim activists, socialists, feminists, secularists, Jewish leftists, etc., in denouncing the Israeli invasion of Gaza. There is no silence about the injustice in Palestine. The well-oiled Israeli propaganda machine cannot effectively monopolize the international media discourse anymore.
Nor can al-Qaeda type movements hijack the emotions of the rational majority for their destructive agenda. Two political logics emerge from this modified context: One–which affects the domestic politics of regional governments and which I must return to in a moment–is that Arab and Muslim states that are perceived to be oblivious to the Palestinian plight gamble away a considerable amount of their ideological power, even legitimacy. The other is that every Israeli war in the name of "deterrence" exacerbates the country’s "otherness" in a region that has existed without the Israeli entity for several millennia. For how long does Israel want to live in a state of ideological detachment from the rest of the region? Hysterical wars, anti-Arab and anti-Islamic identity politics merely strengthen the opinion shared by many peoples of the region, that the establishment of Israel has been singularly disruptive.
So Israel stands for discontinuity in the Arab and Islamic worlds. Any transnational call for unity in the name of Arabism or Islam that inevitably puts the Palestinian cause on the agenda is considered a threat to Israel’s strategic plan to re-structure the past, present and future of the region according to its preferences. Indeed, the war against Hizballah and Lebanon in 2006, the recent invasion of Gaza and angry agitations against Iran are a part of the strategic plan, partially condoned by successive US administrations, to crush "indigenous" movements that mix sympathy for the Palestinian cause with Islamic populism. Israel has identified such Islamic movements as the country’s primary enemy because they have proven to be resistant to intimidation (hence the wars on Hizballah/Hamas), bribery (the Iran-Contra affair) and gunboat diplomacy (e.g., the Oslo peace process).
But allow me to return to the link between legitimacy (or "smart power", in Hillary Clinton’s new foreign policy discourse) and the Palestinian cause. The reason why the leader of Lebanese Hizballah Hassan Nasrallah is so popular is not due to his democratic credentials. It is because he is perceived to stand up to Israel and the United States. Indeed, as I have mentioned repeatedly, the existence of Israel provides the very raison d’etre of movements such as Hizballah and Hamas. Without Israel there would be no resistance in the first place. Conversely, the regime of President Hosni Mubarak must be viewed as one of the main losers of the recent conflict. His government’s real and perceived collusion with Israel and successive pro-Israeli US administrations has compromised his power vis-a-vis Egyptian society, which harbors considerable sympathy for the plight of the Palestinians.
It so happens that Mubarak finds himself on the wrong side of history. His subservience is ultimately self-defeating. Supporting the Palestinian quest for self-determination continues to be a central norm in the (international) politics of the Arab and Muslim worlds. Hence, states that are perceived to collude with Israel’s destructive policies weaken themselves considerably. The leaders of the Arab and Islamic worlds have a very fundamental choice to make: represent their societies who demand an equitable solution to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict or oppose, control and subdue them.