Between two hells

7 Min Read

By Issa Samandar

One can’t help but be astonished by the behavior of the United States and European governments over the vast changes occurring in Arab countries, especially their reactions towards the killing spree in Syria. They have been swift — their politicians rarely vague — in their condemnations of the Syrian regime and calls for actions by the international community.

For Palestinians recalling Israel’s war on Gaza, and the subsequent Goldstone report and other reports by reputable organizations that described Israel’s atrocities as crimes against humanity and war crimes, it is clear that the people of Syria — despite the horrific way they are being treated — are somehow privileged. Even Arab states have been caught up in this fast-paced current after they dragged like aimless turtles in defending Palestinians.

Under these conditions, what chance does any Palestinian president have, whether he is hard-line or “diplomatic”?

President Mahmoud Abbas is clearly adapting to the Palestinian wisdom accumulated from decades of experience under Israel’s brutal occupation. He is trying to “minimize losses “, while also simultaneously leaving the door open to negotiations under the rules of the Quartet (which symbolize the lowest common denominator of agreement among effective world powers — but not necessarily the conditions required for success). All the while, Abbas is also trying to guide events towards the inevitable and necessary establishment of a Palestinian state in the territories occupied in June 1967 by Israel.

The greater his efforts, the tougher Israel’s response as it puts sticks in the wheels of the peace process. The other players in Europe and the US resort to a fixed menu of words: “the expansion of settlements hinders the peace process” or “we acknowledge Israel’s security needs, and we are committed to defend its right to exist.” These statements serve to stop in their tracks any hint of progress by the international community in seriously addressing Israel’s grave breaches of international law and reverse growing awareness of Israel’s incongruous policies.

In Israel, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu understands the realpolitik, where negotiations with Palestinians must reach some end — any end — that will certainly not be 100 percent in Israel’s favor. This outcome is currently not an option for Netanyahu.

As a result, we have this snapshot: Abbas is trying hard to pull strings at the United Nations, among the US administration, and in the European Union, so that they in turn will draw Israel into the negotiations arena—all as Abbas attempts to hold high the flimsy Arab stick. Netanyahu’s reply to all of them is that this arena should have no ropes. This is a street fight where winner takes all, he says and smiles.

Netanyahu’s options are dwindling, however. Soon he will have to offer something to Palestinians (rather than placating the US or EU), or find an enemy that can keep pace with his government’s cadence of violence and lack of vision.

He has some advantages in his corner, however. First among them is internal Palestinian strife, and the absurdity of factions trying to divide the spoils between them. Too, there is the reality of Israel’s iron grip on Palestinian territory and Palestinian daily life.

But Netanyahu and the Israel he leads have lost other assets: the compliance of Arab rulers, and some academics, unions, and other political forces in Europe and beyond. At least in the West Bank, he has lost the ability to feed on the anarchy and deficiencies of the Palestinian Authority, as it seems that Prime Minister Salam Fayyad has outmaneuvered him in this sense. Moreover, some Israeli citizens are courageous enough to defy his policies, among them influential US and European Jews.

If President Abbas sets the quest for the Palestinian state as the only option, in order to curb various unattractive international options, other states will be required to fulfill their obligations and responsibilities. (Let’s face it, this track has failed repeatedly.) He could also continue in the spirit of Palestinian liberation, emphasizing Palestine’s ongoing occupation. But this entails shaking up the fragile internal political system (that ongoing Palestinian division of the cake) and adopting a new approach to shake off the occupation and attain freedom and statehood.

Decision-makers are carefully weighing the balance of power and consulting the ruler of political advantage. Options are being selected and steps taken using minute calculations. But these calculations are becoming irrelevant, I would argue. The public is no longer willing to accept the choice between the visible occupation (essentially a dictatorship) and “invisible” occupation (a “democratic” dictatorship). Both are hell, only with Satan wearing two different disguises.

It only takes a spark to ignite a forest, even one damp with rain. Popular uprisings have proven themselves in so many countries. They have proven themselves more than once in Palestine. Activists have the fuel and are gradually gaining momentum (thanks to America and Israel). They have experience that is visible in the growing number of popular, but organized, activities. The main loser, once they gain speed, will be the US administration.

Issa Samandar is coordinator of the Land Defense Committees in the West Bank. This commentary is published by Daily News Egypt in collaboration with


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