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Tracking militarists’ efforts to influence U.S. foreign policy

Palestine, the Arab Spring, and the Middle East Lobby

As the Arab Spring confronts increasing resistance from entrenched interests in the region, the Palestinian cause appears to be at best a fading concern of demonstrators—or so “pro-Israel” ideologues would have us believe. But this myth of a divide between Arab demonstrators and Palestinians does not stand up to the evidence. And just as importantly, it fails to take into account that what we are witnessing across the Arab world is a broad-based movement aimed at asserting democratic rights and undermining the grip of hegemonic forces in the region, and that nowhere is the need for this movement more acute than in Palestine.

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. [1] On the Commentary blog, John Podhoretz was particularly gratuitous, running with the headline, “Palestinians Killing Jews While Other Arabs Seek Freedom.” [2]

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.

Neoconservatives’ knee-jerk rejection of Israeli-Palestinian peace initiatives tend to focus misleadingly on the argument that resolving the conflict would lead to the resolution of virtually all that ails the United States in the Middle East. This strawman argument, which appears most prominently in the discourse of the older foreign policy establishment, is often phrased in the context of ensuring the continuance of U.S. hegemony in the Middle East. In other words, it is a call for reconciling the Israeli leadership and plutocratic rulers of the Arab states, what one writer terms the “real Middle East lobby.” [3]

Though a formal rapprochement has never taken place, Israeli and Arab ruling classes nonetheless share many of the same interests after several decades of U.S. cajoling and arm twisting. This notion has been propped up by the efforts of “pro-Israel” hardliners in and outside the United States, “whose patient cultivation of the idea of a ‘strategic consensus’ uniting Israel with the Sunni-led states against Iran,” as Jim Lobe of the Inter Press Service recently wrote, “appears to be bearing fruit over their shared anxieties about the possibly dire consequences of the region's democratization.” [4]

It is arguably this larger order that the Arab street has risen up against in Egypt, Tunisia, Yemen, Bahrain, and beyond. This is evident, generally as well as in the specific case of Palestine, with the increasingly loud demands for democratic and civil rights. Among those who have been most emphatic on this score is Ali Abunimah of the Chicago-based Electronic Intifada, who made it the major theme of his very-well received speech at the Jewish Voice for Peace conference in March. [5]

In contrast to much of the rhetoric about the region, demonstrators in these countries do not view the Palestinian struggle as some sort of mystical panacea, nor are they motivated necessarily by pan-Arab nationalism. Rather, the revolutionaries appear to be in solidarity with the Palestinians because they see them as engaged in the same struggle, namely casting off the yoke of U.S. hegemony.

The history of U.S. Middle East policy is instructive. The earliest expression of the ideal American arrangement was articulated in 1953 in an address to the Arab world by Secretary of State John Foster Dulles, in which he urged Israel to become “a party of the Middle East community and cease looking upon itself as alien to that community.” Israel, blinded by its Zionist ideology and determined to occupy the entirety of Mandate Palestine, was unwilling to take the deal that the United States was then willing to broker with its Arab clients, most notably Saudi Arabia. Whether Israel and the Arab states would have still eventually been confronted by popular revolution under such an arrangement we can never know. But the counterfactual is worth considering when we examine the efforts of progressive Zionists to save the two-state solution—such as that presented by Daniel Levy—who basically propose the same thing Dulles did nearly 60 years ago. [6]

Still, progressive Zionists like Levy and Peter Beinart nonetheless recognize that what we are witnessing across the Arab world is a movement aimed at asserting democratic rights, and thereby ridding itself of U.S. dominance, and that nowhere is this imperative more acute than in Palestine. [7] They also recognize that whatever the ambivalence of American Jews toward recent developments in Israel and Palestine, they most assuredly do not want to fall on the wrong side of a democratic revolution.

The increasing association of the Hamas regime in Gaza with the failures of the Palestinian Authority may even suggest that Hamas is destined to suffer a fate analogous to that of the French Communist Party when it refused to get behind the Paris uprising of May 1968, having become accustomed to the privileges afforded its compromised position. A similar phenomenon threatens the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt.

The revolutionary wave remains highly unpredictable. When Mubarak fell, the Qaddafi regime appeared to be among the more stable given how much of the population was bought off with Libya’s oil wealth, and we all know how that has turned out. And now, after it was credibly predicted that the Syrian regime was relatively secure because it had positioned itself as anti-American, Syria is now the latest and most volatile flashpoint. In Foreign Policymagazine, Patrick Seale has argued that the intervention in Libya is if anything a distraction from the real fount of chaos that would emerge from a collapse of the Assad regime in Syria, not least for the Israelis and Palestinians. [8]

A regime’s relative friendliness toward the United States and Israel has made very little difference with respect to its vulnerability to democratic revolution. But contrary to what the neoconservatives and others would have us believe, this is precisely why there is such potency behind a similar uprising among the Palestinians and why the movements in other Arab countries are in such deep solidarity with the Palestinians. Trite though it may sound, the simple fact about the Arab protesters is that they are mad as hell and not going to take it anymore.

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.

Citations

[1] James Kirchik, “Rumor Debunked,” New Republic, February 28, 2011, http://www.tnr.com/article/84249/israel-neoconservatives-egypt-defense. For more on the various neocon responses to the events in the Middle East, see Ross, “Whither the Party Line on Egypt,” Right Web, February 1, 2011, /articles/display/whither_the_party_line_on_egypt.

[2] John Podhoretz, “Palestinians Killing Jews While Other Arabs Seek Freedom,” Commentary, Contentions, March 24, 2011, http://www.commentarymagazine.com/2011/03/24/palestinians-killing-jews-while-other-arabs-seek-freedom/.

[3] Samer Araabi, “The Real Middle East Lobby,” Right Web, November 24, 2010, http://www.rightweb.irc-online.org/articles/display/the_real_middle_east_lobby.

[4] Jim Lobe, "Arab Spring Stalls as U.S. Defers to Saudi ‘Counter-revolution’,” Inter Press Service, April 23, 2011, http://ipsnews.net/news.asp?idnews=55365.

[5] Jack Ross, “Jewish Voice for Peace: A New Beginning,” Antiwar.com, March 17, 2011, http://original.antiwar.com/jack-ross/2011/03/16/jewish-voice-for-peace-a-new-beginning/.

[6] Daniel Levy, “Egypt unrest could improve Israel ties,” Haaretz, February 11, 2011, http://www.haaretz.com/print-edition/opinion/egypt-unrest-could-improve-israel-ties-1.342648.

[7] Peter Beinart, “What Israel Is Afraid of After the Egyptian Uprising,” The Daily Beat, February 11, 2011, http://www.thedailybeast.com/blogs-and-stories/2011-02-07/israels-fears-about-the-egyptian-uprising/#.

[8] Patrick Seale, “The Syrian Time Bomb,” Foreign Policy, March 28, 2011, http://www.foreignpolicy.com/articles/2011/03/28/the_syrian_timebomb?page=full.

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