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The awakening
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Sunday’s deadly commemoration of the “Nakba” in Lebanon, Syria and the Palestinian territories came as added confirmation that the Palestinian-Israeli conflict is entering a new and irreversible phase.

It is not that it was the first time that Israel used deplorable brutality against mostly teenage demonstrators armed with only rocks and flags. Nor was it the first time that the Jewish state chose to respond to planned demonstrations with lethal force, despite having had ample advanced notice to mobilize crowd-control tools and measures that would have been more appropriate for confronting protests than military hardware.

What was different about Sunday’s rallies was that all parties involved seemed to recognize that something in the air has changed. From Tunis to Cairo to Gaza and Ramallah, the calls for the world to honor the Palestinians’ most basic and long-denied rights are beginning to reach a volume and fervor not seen since the eruption of the second intifada. Many officials on both sides of the Palestinian-Israeli divide have begun to ask aloud whether the Arab awakening is rousing the Palestinians from a lengthy slumber.

One sign that a Palestinian awakening is indeed taking place is the recently achieved reconciliation between Fatah and Hamas. That agreement is the first indication from Palestinian leaders that petty differences and partisanpolitics can be set aside for the sake of pursuing shared national goals. The reconciliation, coupled with the seismic shift that is occurring across the region, lays the foundation for a united effort aimed at achieving Palestinian statehood.

For far too long, the Palestinian cause has been hijacked by the narrow interests of factionalism and personal politics, both in the Palestinian territories and in nations where Palestinians reside. In Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, Iraq, the Occupied Territories and beyond, Palestinians have been used as pawns for the sake of advancing politicians’ self-serving objectives.

Whether it was Saddam Hussein citing Israel’s occupation to justify his invasion of Kuwait, Moammar Gadhafi bolstering his own image by portraying himself as a defender of the oppressed, or the leaders of Hamas and Fatah trading accusations of treason, the end result of these and other forms of exploitation of the Palestinian cause has been the same: The case for statehood has been badly undermined.

For the first time in decades, there is reason to believe that the priority of statehood can gain the precedence that it has long deserved. The leaders of Fatah and Hamas are united and focused on a September resolution at the United Nations to recognize a Palestinian state. Arabs across the region are showing their support for this united effort, and the idea of welcoming Palestine to the community of nations is gaining traction in Western capitals.

Maintaining this momentum and unity of purpose will ensure that those who lost their lives for the sake of Palestine will have not have died in vain.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on May 16, 2011, on page 7.
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