The Palestinian conflict is going through one of its strangest stages these days. So much is going against Palestine, yet so much is going for it.
Israel was never as arrogant in its treatment of Palestinians and its expansionist policy, and the US government as well as the international community seem inept.
Yet, despite Israel’s arrogance, support for Palestinians at so many levels has never been as high.
On the ground in Palestine, Israel is ignoring the basic demands of thousands of hunger striking Palestinians. Prisoners are demanding basic rights as simple as family visits, obtaining books and an end to administrative detentions. Two Palestinians held without trial or charge are in their second month of hunger strike, putting their lives in real danger.
Last week, Israel authorised retroactively three Jewish settlements that were built not only in violation of international law (like all settlements) but in violation of Israel’s own policies. The Israeli government legalised what it considers illegal outposts at the same time that it is trying to dodge orders from its high court demanding that it evacuate housing units built on private Palestinian lands near the Jewish settlement of Beit El.
Israeli hasbara (propaganda) machine has, of course, been busy painting Palestinians as anti-peace because of their refusal to negotiate if settlement activities are not suspended. And even though Palestinian negotiators quietly dropped the demand that talks restart without Israel committing itself to the 1967 borders (with adjustments) as US President Barack Obama had called for, Israel depicts peaceful Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas as the enemy of peace.
For the most part, many in the world, and especially in the US, have accepted this Israeli position due, in part, to the success of the Israeli PR and lobby machine.
And just when it seemed that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman would get away with their claims that they are the peaceful doves and that Abbas is the hawk, credible Israel officials deflated the balloon. Israel’s president and the godfather of the Israeli nuclear bomb called on the Israeli government to negotiate with Abbas (not the other way around). The seemingly open and shut case in favour of Netanyahu and against Abbas has also been exposed by some most unexpected sources.
Israel always seemed to have the power to spin major US broadcasters in its direction. But this was not the case with a feisty American journalist (who also happens to be Jewish), CBS’ Bob Simon, who exposed the heavy-handed Israeli attempts to direct US media. He revealed on the US’ top TV show how Israel’s ambassador to the US was trying to stop 60 minutes (by calling the CBS president) from broadcasting a report on the plight of Palestinian Christians in the Holy Land.
A former head of the Israeli intelligence service Shin Bet called Netanyahu and Ehud Barak messianic lunatics and said that they were not really interested in peace. Similar statements were made by former Israeli prime minister Ehud Olmert who is touring the US. Olmert also said that Iran has not crossed any red lines regarding nuclear weaponry, a line embraced by a former head of the Israeli army who embarrassed Netanyahu and company for their constant lies about Iran, by arguing that the constant warmongering was hurting Israel’s defensive capabilities.
While Israel’s arrogance is being put to the test externally and internally, Abbas finds himself suddenly in a much stronger internal position than he has been in years. The pro-Fateh student council slates have swept every single West Bank university. The university student poll, which is often seen as a barometer or political direction, recorded a major setback for pro-Hamas factions.
Public opinion polls also showed Abbas’ Fateh movement much more popular than its Islamic counterpart.
On reconciliation, more Palestinians believe that Hamas is the obstacle, rather than Abbas who is trying to find a way to return Gaza to the Ramallah-controlled Palestinian Authority and to hold elections so that Palestinians can determine who should be managing their cause.
Abbas felt so confident this week that he has finally agreed to Prime Minister Salam Fayyad’s request to reshuffle the Cabinet.
While Palestinian aspirations seem to be evaporating with the summer heat, Israel’s political weaknesses are being exposed from within, as well as by strong international public opinion.
Political forecasters will tell everyone that one has to wait until after the US elections for any progress regarding the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. But if one remembers the timings of previous popular explosions, one would realise that when things seem darkest the unexpected happens.