Virtual debate

The Dome of the Rock mosque has been the center of Jerusalem's skyline for centuries. (Reuters)

Arab officials and politicians are fond of spending an inordinate amount of time talking about the Palestine issue. They engage in the most Byzantine discussions of the need to support the Palestinian people in their struggle, how to offer this support, and who deserves “traitor” status for taking a given position.

All of this has been taking place as the most extremist government coalition in Israel’s history has been hard at work, taking action instead of spending time writing speeches and issuing rhetoric. Moreover, Israeli leaders have a political system that is not hampered with the kind of serious dysfunction from which Arab countries suffer.

Thus Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has been busy preparing for elections early next year, cementing his alliance with the Beituna party of his foreign minister, Avigdor Lieberman.

At the same time, Netanyahu’s government has been adept at taking advantage of the turmoil roiling the Arab world, the presidential campaign season in the United States, and the economic fears throughout the countries of the European Union.

Netanyahu backed off, for a period of time, on new settlement moves, but has now reversed this course because it is the ideal time for his government to press ahead with such actions. He has targeted Palestinian “militants,” both with deadly attacks and arrest campaigns, because he can comfortably define anyone he wants as a threat to the Jewish state, and get away with it. Netanyahu is in a position to tour world capitals and ratchet up the pressure in the direction of a military strike against Iran, while threatening the Palestinian Authority if it dares to ask for the status of an observer state at the United Nations.

All of this is taking place as Israel maintains its blockade of the Gaza Strip, and avoids making any official comment on whether it was behind the recent strike on a factory in Sudan.

It can sit by comfortably and watch both U.S. presidential candidates engage in outbidding each other as the most fervent supporter of Tel Aviv.

Meanwhile, the PA has perhaps chosen the worst time to press ahead with its efforts to secure observers status at the U.N.

Palestinian officials are performing a full-court press as they try to ensure a favorable vote next month. The irony is that while the Palestinians are expected to win the vote in the General Assembly, they are already warning that the U.S. and Israel will punish them for their “victory.”

Amid all of this, the Arab political order is capable of doing little other than engaging in rhetoric, and offering sums of financial assistance to keep the Palestinians who remain in Palestine alive, but little else.

If Palestinian and Arab officials fail to change their approach to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, they will soon be talking about a virtual people, as well as a virtual state.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on October 31, 2012, on page 7.




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