Thursday, February 03, 2011

The Coming Storm

As events continue to unfold in Egypt, the million dollar question remains, "What's next?" The future shape of Egypt, and indeed the entire region is receiving a proper going over by the information machine. One topic in particular - the role of the Muslim Brotherhood - highlights the vast range of opinion and analysis and the inability to forecast when so much remains uncertain.

One thing is clear: there exists a momentum for change that does not appear to be abating anytime soon. Given Egypt's proximity to Gaza and its historical relationship to Israel, there is a strong sense that the outcome of the events in Tahrir Square will have cascading effects beyond the Rafah Crossing.

A confluence of forces, a perfect storm of sorts, may be bringing the plight of the Palestinian people to another significant historical moment. I had written on this very blog about the futility of the Obama administration's desire to jump start the peace process when it did. There were simply too many obstacles, and the momentum was towards a deepening divide between the sides, rather than rapprochement. As was to be expected, the peace talks fell flat. In December of the past year, Mahmoud Abbas threatened to dissolve the Palestinian Authority, placing the responsibility for administering the territories in Israel's hands. While this was seen by many as a bluff or an act of desperation, it did indeed signal the continued futility with which the PA attempted to steward the Palestinian cause.

At that time, many observers believed that dissolving the PA represented the best outcome for the Palestinians, as it may allow the resistance to enter a new phase, and press the UN directly for state recognition, or else move towards the One-State solution as both a practical and ideological matter. The recent release and dissemination of the "Palestinian Papers" put the final nail in the coffin of the PA. As Abdul Hadi, Palestinian rights advocate in Israel recently said, the papers revealed what the Palestinians had long feared: that the occupation was nothing more than imprisonment, and that the "PA Leaders are there only to negotiate the terms of imprisonment."

The idea of a rudderless resistance, without the PA, and with Fatah and Hamas still locked in seemingly intractable conflict would have potentially deadly consequences for the Palestinian cause. However, with the "Arab Spring" apparently upon us, it is possible that progressive and leftists elements in Palestine seize the moment to usher forth a third Intifada. Indeed, it may happen spontaneously and in populist fashion, as did the first Intifada. The PA leadership in general and Fatah in particular are suffering a deep crisis of perception, and it is likely that Hamas will align with the Muslim Brotherhood, from whence it was originally spawned. The MB may not be the winning horse in this race towards a free Egypt, and it is clear that groups like the PFLP, which had up till now operated largely in the shadow of Fatah, are siding with the "people of Egypt" and their democratic aspirations above all else.

A momentous shift in Palestinian affairs is likely for a lot of obvious reasons, and the protests in Egypt and Tunisia (Yemen, Jordan, Libya?) simply add to the probability of the Palestinians seizing the moment. It may not pretty. The Palestinians are among the most repressed and harassed people on Earth, and Israel may well use the opportunity of a shifting balance to pre-emptively punish the Palestinians to prevent the mobilization of their aspirations. Indeed, the schism between Hamas and Fatah may flair into a conflagration of dire proportion if a spontaneous rebellion emerges with no clear leadership.

Its clear change is upon us, and this change will undoubtedly change the face of the region for some time to come.

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