Egypt’s gifts to Palestine
Lifting the siege, pride and joy, and an Election platform that could kill off the Palestine Authority
In Gaza, Palestinians joined the party on the night of Fri 11 with almost as much wild joy as Egyptians themselves. (* See Notes below) It might have been the first moment of collective happiness after all the violence, hardship and sorrow they have gone through.
And it wasn’t just about getting the siege lifted — which, as long as the Egyptians don’t get double-crossed, should be beyond question. The Treaty with Israel, even if it’s renewed, says nothing about starving Gaza. See Ali Abunimah in Notes, below**. And to speed it up, on Saturday 26 Feb an international march from Egypt will go there to open it.
As important as all that, they have demonstrated how
* no people who are determined are powerless, and that victory is possible;
* for the first time in decades Palestinians are not alone: just a few miles away there is big, powerful Egypt that is now their friend and not their enemy’s friend;
* after all the insults, humiliations and indignities, it felt good and proud to be part of a bigger Arab nation.
After two years’ delay and the events in Tunisia and Egypt, it was finally impossible for the PA to postpone elections any longer.
* However suspect, meaningless and rigged they may be, they are a chance to organise for demands and policies, to raise new issues and hear new voices, to have a framework for campaigning which if not transparent will at least be highly visible.
* It might be argued that the elections should be boycotted, to deny Abbas legitimacy: but he has lacked legitimacy for years and is still in power, and all the more entrenched for not being wanted. And there seems little point in calling for elections and then not voting.
* It’s said that Palestinians have a big enough struggle against Zionism without having to take on their own leaders. But as Abbas has been doing Zionism’s dirty work (whether it’s in policing and security or “state building” projects), it’s all the one struggle, and what has made it quite so tough is being constantly undermined by its leaders.
* It would be great to see the end of the twin stranglehold of Fatah and Hamas. Both tried to stop support for the Egyptian uprising. Fatah in particular collaborated wickedly with the Israeli occupation and fell right into Israel’s plan of setting Fatah and Hamas against each other.
* An election campaign modelled on the example of Egypt of a non-party, non-sectarian human rights coalition aiming to clear out the old guard, wind up the PA, mark a complete break with the past, commit to open democracy and to lead the resistance rather than administer the occupation; and on that basis to promise as a first act to wind up the PA.
Erekat’s resignation (followed by Abbas’s cabinet) in the wake of the Palestine Papers, and Abbas’s attempts to get back into talks, opens up definitively the Big Question: a separate mini-state under Israel’s control, or a fight for rights in one country. The elections give the possibility of bringing that question into the open.
A broad coalition could demand that the whole of the Palestinian people should make this decision NOW, and that a new leadership should campaign and struggle for the aims that had been democratically adopted. The registering of an international Palestinian electorate that could make that choice would be a huge step to uniting and empowering Palestinians.
Meanwhile, no more secret talks — or better still, as demonstrators in Ramallah demanded, no more talks with Israel, period.
Moral and ethical challenges to the two-state mindset
The Egyptian revolution and its ecstatic climax has shone an unquenchable light across the world, maybe strong enough to penetrate the barriers of hatred, lies, contempt and smugness Israel has constructed around itself.
The major obstacle to One State is the entrenched attitudes of the Hebrew Israelis. Egypt’s Winter Revolution is a chance to unravel some of the narrative that fuels these attitudes. With the world turned upside down, Israel may before long find itself looking up to its neighbours instead of looking down on them. Netanyahu can credibly say Israel “lives in a rough neighbourhood” (though it is Israel that has largely made it so). What if it became an inspiring, attractive and hopeful neighbourhood?
There has of course been no shortage of brave and noble struggles in Palestine’s past. But this time we heard the individual voices, saw the small gestures of love and generosity, how people had come out as families, friends and workmates and not as ideological clones, appreciated the maturity of a movement that had formed almost overnight. And not before now have millions of us been so overwhelmed by empathy.
“We are all Egyptians now” is a statement of universalism: what they have struggled for, we want for ourselves. We are all human. The desire for freedom is universal, and what we mean by freedom is not any different in Arab or Muslim countries than anywhere else.
The decency and fellow-feeling, the conscious embracing of difference, of free speech, of honesty and clarity that we saw and admired in Cairo and Alexandria and Port Said and Suez are just the sort of behaviour you’d associate with sharing a single, undivided country in Palestine, and a single, undivided Jerusalem.
The hurricane blowing through the Arab countries isn’t going to leave Israel unruffled. If just a tiny fraction of the meaning of Tahrir Square were to rub off on Israelis, it could trigger a shift in the direction of the most simple and effective and moral solution for Palestine.
Maybe, instead of opinion polls asking if they’d let an Arab live next door, all Hebrew Israelis should have to sit and watch the closing scenes in Tahrir Square and then be examined to see if they blinked back tears.
And if in time some of them came to feel that the countries around them were made up of people just like themselves instead of enemies to be kept at bay, that would be the biggest long term gift from Egypt to the Palestinian people, creating a paradigm shift in the chemistry that has poisoned the air and made peace and justice impossible.
* There were also demonstrations in Bethlehem, Jerico and Ramallah in the face of thuggish non-uniformed intimidation; a trade union demonstration in Tel Aviv; rallies and messages by Israeli parties Balad, Hadash and Ta’al celebrated the struggle for “social justice, equality and freedom”, and hoped that “these values will conquer regimes in our region which oppress their citizens”. The Nazareth demonstration was bravely led by MKs Haneen Zoabi, Jamal Zahalka and Wasil Taha, who have all suffered from a hate-campaign to brand them “traitors” to Israel.
** Ali Abunimah, Electronic Intifada:
But the treaty is not really the issue. Even if democratic Egypt maintains the treaty, the treaty never required Egypt to join Israeli and American conspiracies against other Arabs. It never required Egypt to become the keystone in an American-led alliance with Israel and Saudi Arabia against an allegedly expansionist Iran. It never required Egypt to adopt and disseminate the vile “Sunni vs. Shia” sectarian rhetoric that was deliberately used to try to shore up this narrative of confrontation. It never required Egypt to participate in Israel’s cruel siege of Gaza or collaborate closely with its intelligence services against Palestinians. It never required Egypt to become a world center of torture for the United States in its so-called “War on Terror.” The treaty did not require Egypt to shoot dead migrants crossing Sinai from other parts of Africa just to spare Israelis from seeing black people in Tel Aviv. No treaty required or requires Egypt to carry on with these and so many more shameful policies that earned Hosni Mubarak and his regime the hatred of millions of Arabs and others far beyond Egypt’s borders.
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