It remains to be seen what actually changes on the ground in the months ahead following the Palestinian initiative to ask the United Nations to recognize a Palestinian state in the 1967 Israeli-occupied territories as a U.N. member or observer state. The move could be a substantive gain for the Palestinian people, merely a symbolic victory, or a measurable setback if the United States and Israel translate their vindictive rhetoric into hard policies. While we wait for the impact of the U.N. move to become clearer, we should acknowledge nevertheless that this has been a historic week in several ways.
The most important new development that future historians will record is that this last week in September represented the moment when the Arab-Israeli conflict structurally transformed into the Arab conflict with Israel and the United States, because of the profound and explicit manner in which the Obama administration and others in Washington have come down on the side of Israel.
The U.S. historically has tried, without much success but with visible endeavor nevertheless, to express its support for Israel’s survival and security while also trying to mediate a resolution of the conflict that sees the birth of a Palestinian state in much of the lands occupied in 1967. That balancing act, unconvincing as it was, is formally dead for now – repeatedly shot in the heart by a firing squad of American politicians who have unleashed volleys of shotguns at the weak and doomed phenomenon that was once called “American mediation.”
The U.S. has chosen to stand by Israel in two important ways: President Barack Obama has made it clear that the White House values Israeli rights more than it values Palestinian rights; and the Republican-dominated U.S. Congress has taken on the mantle of being the representative of Zionism as well as of the American people. Israel has moved from the phase of seeing its national wellbeing and restoration in ancient times as the “city on a hill” to the situation today where it relies for its national wellbeing on simply controlling The Hill, or the American Congress.
The new conflict that sees the Arab world confronting the Israeli-American combine will not be fought with military means, as has been the case since 1947 during the old Arab-Israeli conflict. This new conflict will see Arabs and their supporters and friends exploring political and other peaceful means of standing up to, resisting and challenging Israel and America in the same manner that the world did with Apartheid South Africa decades ago.
The reason for it is that the U.S. has now unambiguously shown that it accepts the Israeli position on the existential issues of statehood, sovereignty and national rights that form the heart of the Palestinian-Israeli and wider Arab-Israeli conflict. Israel-America, a collective single political actor, has squarely positioned itself beyond the confines of the immense and universal legal and ethical sentiments that see the need to recognize a Palestinian state as the best means to end the failed American-mediated bilateral negotiations and seek justice and security for all sides in this conflict. Israel-America is isolated and criminalized in the eyes of most of the world.
From being the “new Jerusalem” that Israel-America often portrayed itself as, it is now the “new South Africa.”
A second historical development this month is that the Palestinians, Arabs and most of the rest of the world no longer hesitate to confront Israel-America. The immense power that Israel-America wields is no longer a deterrent to those who disagree with it or wish to resist its excesses and its criminality against Palestinians and other Arabs. That even a weak leader like Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas could resist the intense pressures, threats and bribes that Israel-America subjected him to during the last several weeks indicates that we have now entered the third intifada – directed against Israel-America’s political position and not just against Israeli occupation.
The implications of Palestinians and others fearlessly challenging Israel-America will be immense, and will take months to clarify. If political moves like the U.N. initiative are combined with popular civic disobedience and mass resistance against Israel in every arena where it comes into contact with Arabs – on its frontiers, in the West Bank, Gaza, East Jerusalem, inside Israel and at Israeli embassies around the world – we are likely to see significant pressures to design an entirely new mechanism to attempt to resolve the Arab-Israeli conflict peacefully, which remains the preferred option for all.
These are historic days in the Middle East, on every front: within the Arab countries, in Turkish relations in the region, in the Arab-Israeli conflict, in Arab interactions with the U.S., and perhaps also soon in new roles for Europe or Russia in some form. The synthesis of these five domains will take some years to become clear. When that happens, we will probably look back on this month of September 2011 as the critical turning point in the behavior of the key actors.
Rami G. Khouri is published twice weekly by THE DAILY STAR.