‘Arab Spring’ heads for Palestine

It looks as if the civilian mass organizing that has been a feature of the ‘Arab Spring’ in Tunisia, Egypt, Yemen, Bahrain, Syria, and elsewhere is now heading seriously for Palestine. In the AS’s early weeks, several Western commentators made a point of writing both that the AS itself hadn’t really happened much inside the OPTs, and that the content of the way the AS was being undertaken in all those other Arab countries was tightly focused on domestic affairs and somehow “proved” that the Arab masses didn’t care about Palestine any more.
And then, there was the Carl Gershmann (NED)- financed, Astroturf-like “movement” in Gaza whose actions seemed designed above all to embarrass and undermine Hamas.
Now, it looks as if the civilian mass organizing is occurring within the Palestinian body politic, and among the Palestinians’ brothers and sisters who are citizens of other Arab states, in a new and significant way. This organizing is going on inside and outside the OPTs– including in Jordan, Egypt, and Lebanon— and the main theme in it (as articulated by the activists in Lebanon) is “The people demand the return to Palestine.” (Ash-sha3b yurid al-aw3da ila filas6een.)
This is a bit of a riff on the main– and stunningly successful!– slogan of the popular movements in Tunisia and Egypt: “The people demand the overthrow of the regime.” In both Jordan and Lebanon there are many hundreds of thousands of Palestinians whose internationally recognized (Univ. Dec. of Human Rts., etc) right to return to the land of their birth has has been prevented by Israel from 1948 until this day. Indeed, over recent decades, successive Israeli governments have refused even to allow the Palestinians to place their refugees’ “right of return” on the negotiating agenda in any meaningful way: Not only they can’t implement the return; they are not even allowed to talk about it!
For the 7-8 million Palestinians around the world who are currently prevented by Israel from returning to the land that they or their immediate forebears were exiled/”cleansed” from in 1948, the right of return has always been a central focus of longing and political activism. The PLO grew up in the Palestinian diaspora, and was organized centrally around the demand of the right of return. But with the 1993 Oslo Accord, PLO leaders Yasser Arafat, Mahmoud Abbas, and Co. traded their support of that demand for something that turned out to be no better than a mess of potage: their own personal “return”– but to Ramallah, not to Jerusalem; and that of a small number of their chosen followers. And the “right”– always heavily circumscribed, and sometimes simply quashed/rescinded, by Israel– to administer a few municipal-type things in and around Ramallah.
The demands and very burning needs of the Palestinian refugees whose support had boosted Arafat, Abbas, and Co. to political prominence were simply jettisoned. As were the demands and burning needs of the broad networks of Palestinians within the OPTs whose steadfast support for the exiled PLO leaders always successfully blocked the plans the U.S. and Israel had to groom an “alternative leadership” from within the OPTs. But once Arafat and Co. returned to Ramallah, they clamped down fast and hard on the till-then semi-autonomous networks of civilian activists that had run the First Palestinian Intifada (1987-93.)
And let us remember that that intifada– and the early weeks of the Second Intifada, in Sept.- Oct. of 2000, which like the First Initfada (uprising) were also overwhelmingly nonviolent and marked by the lengthy and widespread reliance on civilian mass organizing, though by the end of 2000, Israel’s terrible and lethal counter-violence successfully drove many of the shabab into the big tactical mistake of using their own violence, too.
Many of the young, pro-democracy activists in Egypt and Tunisia have said that the civilian mass organizing they saw the OPTs Palestinian engaging in during the First and second Intifadas was an inspiration for their own activism… And now, that kind of civilian mass organizing seems to be coming in a big way to the Palestinians of the immediate diaspora– acting in alliance with their sisters and brothers from the Arab states that have hosted them nigh these many decades. As I chronicled in great detail in the study of the PLO that I published in 1984 with Cambridge U.P., the earliest impulses of those who formed the guerrilla groups that took over (and became) the PLO in 1968-69 were all for armed action against Israel. It was the Palestinians of the OPTs who really pioneered civilian mass organizing.
Anyway, what is happening now is significant, and it may well end up being huge. Citizens of the Arab states that have seen the flowering of the Arab Spring never– as Tom Friedman and others claimed– “forgot” or turned their backs on the Palestinian issue… And now, with the promise that arose as a result of the recent Fateh-Hamas agreement, there is to be a democratization of the PLO’s internal governance, carried out among the entire Palestinian national community, worldwide. Stay tuned.

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