Al-Zaytouna Centre for Studies and Consultations organized a panel discussion under the title "The Implications of the Arab World's Uprisings on the Palestinian Issue". The discussion was held at the Centre on Thursday 10/3/2011, and brought together a select of intellectuals and academics in the field of Palestinian and Arab Studies.
Significant among the discussants were:- Dr. Mohsen Saleh, expert in the Palestinian issue and the general manager of Al-Zaytouna Center- Lebanese MP Brig. Gen. Walid Sukkar Dr. ‘Abdullah ‘Abdullah, the Palestinian Ambassador to Lebanon- Mr. Osama Hamdan, Head of Hamas' International Relations Department- Brig. Gen. Dr. Amin Hoteit, Specialist in the Military Affairs and University Lecturer- Mr. Anis Nakkach, Political Analyst, Coordinator of Aman Network for Strategic Studies and Research- Dr. Hussein Abu al-Namel, Researcher and Specialist in Economics- Mr. Helmi Musa, Journalist and Expert in the Israeli Affairs-Mr. Suhail al-Natour, Palestinian Writer and Expert in Palestinian Refugees' Affairs- Mr. Saqr Abu Fakhr, Researcher at the Institute of Palestine Studies, and Editorial Secretary of the referred Journal of Palestine Studies (JPS)- Mr.Ali Baraka, Hamas Representative in Lebanon- Dr. Mohamed Noureddine, Expert in Turkish Affair- Mr. Marwan ‘Abdel ‘Al, Representative of the Popular Front for Liberating Palestine (PFLP) in Lebanon, - Mr. Walid Muhammad Ali, General Manager of Baheth Center for Strategic and Palestinian Studies.
The discussion was divided into two sessions, the first focused on laying the relevant and important informative foundations, and on analyzing the current situation and standings; while the second session considered the possible future scenarios regarding the implications of the developments in the Arab world on the Palestinian and Israeli realms.
The General Manager of Al-Zaytouna Center, Dr. Mohsen Saleh, opened the session by welcoming the guests and looking forward to a rich discussion. Saleh said that the changes taking place now in the Middle East are unprecedented throughout the past decades in their scale and domino effect. He added that these developments re-instantiated hope and confidence in millions of Arabs around the world, breaking the border of fear, and re-empowering the public. Inevitably, this will have its implications on the political level, on the governance, and on the individual as well; thus it will become a major contributing factor to the future developments, if not to say a shaping factor by itself.
Saleh stressed that "at such untraditional times, it is expected that such a discussion should break out from the traditional thought routines, going beyond the regular outlines and exploring new horizons; although we acknowledge we are still amid the haze, and the domino movement is yet unsettled in a way or another."
First Session: Analytical Presentation of the Facts
Discussions in this session revolved about the revolutionary nature of the current developments in the Arab World.
Brig. Gen. Walid Sukkarieh said that we are witnessing today a new generation of Arab revolutions, following the generation of independence revolutions and freedom movements. This "new revolutions generation" is the uprisings of the masses, generally characterized by being peaceful uprisings rather than military coups. These are not organized by political parties but rather by the people who were followed by parties. However, Sukkarieh pointed out the absence of a long-term political vision for these revolutions which face a major challenge: What achievements it could bring to the masses? In this regards, he argued that these movements and revolts would not be able to achieve its goals unless it abolishes rivalries and polarities, and adopts openness on both Arab and regional levels, but away from Israel.
Sukkarieh added that it was too early to tell whether these revolutions would lead to military cooperation to face Israel, and stressed that Egypt would not be able to disengage itself from Camp David since the Egyptian army is not yet ready for a war with Israel, and because the abrogation of the treaty means that Israel would reoccupy Sinai. He noted that the steadfastness of the forces of confrontation would help Egypt fight Israel in the future, and that there would be no Palestinian solution in the light of the Israeli intransigence and the changes in the Arab countries. Sukkarieh also argued that the two-state solution has collapsed, and that the new Egyptian regime would not follow the steps of Mubarak’s regime in fighting resistance movements in the Arab world.
Dr. Abdullah Abdullah called upon the Palestinians to take advantage of the occurring developments and put an end to the recurring controversy of internal strife," because according to Abdullah "it is not an issue of different political agendas as much as an issue of fanaticism." He added that the Palestinians are in dire need for uniting their internal front, re-arranging their national agenda, realigning their communiqué and demands in front of the international community, without excuses or equivocation.
Osama Hamdan said that the American regional influence is in deterioration because the public is discontent with the alliance between the US and the corrupt or dictatorship Arab regimes. He considered that the current developments have thwarted the two-state solution after the fragmentation of the moderation front. Hamdan called for restoring the original Palestinian ceiling of demands, that is a Palestinian state from the [Mediterranean] Sea to the [Jordan] River (i.e. on the whole of Historical Palestine lands); solving the internal Palestinian division as a starting point; and reforming the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) on the basis of national Palestinian values of resistance, freedom and return. He added that Israel will no more remain in its status-quo because of the changing strategic surroundings, and that the determinacy and will of the Arab public will end up in causing Israel a crisis, because of the right to resist and the right to self-determination. Finally Hamdan stressed the importance of time factor in the Palestinians' reaction to the events, whereas a faster re-arrangement of the internal Palestinian house will mean a nearer ending of the Occupation.
Following was a comment by Marwan Abd Al-'al, who argued that the implications of the current Arab revolutions will be mainly on the moral level of values. He emphasized the priority of the Palestinian reform, that is even more important than reconciliation according to Abd Al-'al, who added that "the discourse of endurance and resistance in Gaza and the discourse about the halt of negotiations in the West Bank, are both not enough because the Palestinians today feel that they have been subjects of humiliation and oppression". He closed: "We must not limit our reaction to being surprised of the developments" in a sign for the urgent need of Palestinian action.
In turn, Hilmi Moussa saw that Israel today is experiencing a critical period, where it is envisioning that the surrounding Arab region is moving towards democracy, while on the other hand it has always presented itself to the west as the only democracy in the Middle East. With the collapse of the regime in Egypt, Israel has lost two things: first, financial support, as 1.7 billion dollars were being pumped to the Israeli treasury because of the peace treaty with Egypt; and second, the saving in military budgets that had taken place in the past when Egypt was dis-aligned in its role in the Arab-Israeli conflict for 25 years. Moussa summed, “We do not expect Egypt to revoke Camp David but we do hope that at least it will restore its honoring role in this context."
Brig. Dr. Amin Hoteit saw that there are two motives behind the uprisings we are witnessing today: the self-motivation of the people and the regional "peer-effect" motivation –if so to describe it. People today can no more stay silent in front of corruption, suppression and emergency laws. He noted that the Palestinian issue stems from the national feeling of injustice which remains deeply rooted in the sub-conscious.
On another hand, Hoteit pointed out that we have heard the slogan “the people wants to overthrow” but never “the people wants to build,” warning from possible attempts by external (mainly Western) interested parties in suppressing the latter slogan in favour of their own interests. He clarified that shying out the Islamic character/factor in these revolutions might be damaging, because although not exclusive but it is major.
More specifically on the Palestinian level, Hoteit remarked: "if we develop these revolutions, Palestine would be the crown." He stressed that the Palestinians today are urged to unity, the only possible way out; along with resistance because no other alternatives exist. "If this does not happen, Palestine is effectively lost." According to him. He added: "The opportunity today for resistance and liberating the whole of Historical Palestine has been unmatched since more than forty years, especially that the Palestinian Authority lost its major supporting Arab partner and entered a transition stage of imbalance. This stage is in parallel to a big question mark on the future of the Camp David treaty;" but Egypt "will not be able to cancel the treaty, and at the same time it will not be able to continue with its implementation in the same way it was carried out during the regime of Mubarak."
Then, Saqer Abu Fakher expressed his concern that the Palestinian issue might again become "an Egyptian affair" as it was during Mubarak's rule; because this is predominantly what Israel desires to secure its southern front and ensure the continued flow of Egyptian gas. Hence, he expected that Israel would seek to limit the "damages" resulting from the Egyptian revolution. On the other hand, "the Egyptian reconciliation document" has expired, and the Palestinians need today to find their own way to reconciliation according to Abu Fakher. He anticipated that the coming Egyptian regime would be better that its precedent, and it would bring the peace process to an end by converting Camp David into dead peace in addition to stopping pumping natural gas to Israel and rendering the siege card meaningless.
For his part, Suhail al-Natour considered that the Palestinian youth is currently the segment most capable of change; consequently, the political calls for changing the Palestinian situation have increased. Al-Natour expressed his fear that the Palestinian authorities in Gaza and the West Bank would decentralize the mobility of youth, and keep them away from creating a real and powerful public sphere
Dr. Mohammad Noureddine saw in the developments in Egypt a future positive implication on Palestine, from the perspective of the anticipated strengthening of the Turkish Egyptian relations. A specialist in the Turkish affairs, Dr. Noureddine said that the stance taken by Erdogan since the beginning of the revolution reflected a Turkish foreign interest in changing the regime of Mubarak. This is mainly because Turkey's efforts in playing a positive political role in the Palestinian issue, were always hindered by Mubarak's regime.
Noureddine explained that now we expect a new stage in the Turkish Egyptian relations, where it will move from an era of sensitivities to an era of mutual cooperation. This cooperation will reflect positively on the Palestinian scene, at least in lifting the siege off Gaza Strip, and possibly in more important and strategic areas like pushing for Palestinian reconciliation, intervening for accepting Hamas in the international community, and pressing Washington for a less biased approach to the Middle East and the peace process. In more detail, it is possible for such cooperation to push on both Israel and Hamas for concessions at some points, and move forward in a settlement process whose incentive is international legitimacy rather than supporting grass-root resistance and armed struggle.
Ali Baraka said that we are faced with a historic opportunity which we should not waste for fear of the change. He added that the whole Arab region is at the threshold of a new stage where Egypt is again a part of the struggle with Israel even if we have to wait till the Egyptians organize their internal affairs. Baraka stressed that we should be prepared for this change through workshops and comprehensive revision of the developments because what is happening has an impact on the Arab-Israeli conflict and consequently on the reconciliation file besides the PLO, the Gaza siege, the resistance, the PA, the prisoners exchange and the refugees in general. He noted that the revolution in Egypt has not reconciled with Mubarak’s regime, hence there is no need for reconciliation between resistance and corruption tracks.
Walid Muhammad Ali said that what we are witnessing today is a serious threat to American interests in the region, where nations are restoring their right to determining their leadership and decisions. He wondered whether the will of the people will also accept the peace treaty and disregard the human moral call of justice towards the rights of the Palestinian people.
Last but not least in this session, was the remark by Dr. Hussein Abu al-Namel who said that as a Palestinian and after 50 years of political activism he comes to the conclusion that: "Earlier, we read everything and every news line from a Palestinian perspective, and we believed that when Palestine is fine, the whole world will be fine. Today, we should believe in a new approach and read from a more Sykes-Picot like perspective, that 'if the Arab and Muslim worlds are fine, then Palestine should be fine'."
Second Session: Future Scenarios
Discussions in the second session focused on the future scenarios.
In this regards, Dr. Mohsen Saleh said that the regional changes, should they maintain the same level, threaten the Zionist project. He explained that the Zionist project that is based on the idea that Israel could not be strong except by maintaining a weak and underdeveloped neighboring environment. For the future, Saleh added, are facing one of two scenarios: the first is positive and complements the process of change in the region while the other is negative and entails the absorption of the current revolutions in a way that re-produces corrupt regimes. The west is not unaware of the latter direction, and has certain tools and agents that could support it in achieving such ends and keep the region in unrest.
As for Israel, Saleh sketched four future scenarios: the first that Israel will move towards decisive wrapping up of controversial issues in the settlement process, by force and de-facto logic; the second is for it to attempt the same goal but more cowardly in lowering its ceiling of demands and giving up more concessions; or alternatively it will isolate itself temporarily and pursue unilateral withdrawals; or fourth, Israel might resort to a preemptive attack on Gaza or Lebanon or even one of the countries that have witnessed change, with the preset goal of distracting the people by the aftermath of such an attack, and tempering the consciousness of the active public, towards believing that they are effectively helpless towards the resistance movements. Finally, Israel might choose a combination of all these scenarios.
Participant Anis Nakkach stated that he was strongly opposed to the idea which demands that the Palestinians wait till the situation becomes clear in Egypt or the other countries where the change is taking place. He called upon the Palestinians and more generally all strugglers to "take the stage for their just goals and values, in order to contribute to the coining of the future Arab world."
Brig. Gen. Hoteit hypothesized that recent uprisings would lead to serious changes in the internal affairs of concerned countries, as it will also even out its stance in foreign affairs; but it will not instantiate a fundamental change.
Dr. Mohammad Noureddine suggested three possible future scenarios. The first scenario entails pushing forward the peace process within a wider framework of a comprehensive peace settlement that achieves the Israeli goals while giving the Palestinian authority some vestiges. Hence, the peace settlement would be a kind of a preemptive step to limit any change that could be brought about by the Arab uprisings towards the Arab-Israeli conflict. The second scenario is to divert attention away from the Palestinian scene towards the wider Arab world, by fueling up unrests and internal strife within the Arab countries, and consequently devoid the uprisings from its noble goals, and occupy the Arab societies with internal conflicts. The third scenario is launching a war as an embedded warning message that "Israel is still strong", thus implying that it is not possible for Arabs to restore their resistance discourse and fight against it.
Hilmi Moussa proposed that the crystallization of scenarios regarding the Israeli-Palestinian realms depends basically on the interrelation and interaction of international, Israeli and local Palestinian conditions. Most important here is the effective interaction between the Israeli and international factors and the way of shaping their policies towards the changes in the region; as the Arab factor would be busy over a decade in its own reformation. Moussa ruled out any possibility for a fast or dramatic change in the region.
To Osama Hamdan, the future scenarios are governed by four dominant factors: the first is the extent of the uprisings' success and achievements in terms of reconstructing the social contract between the individual, society and state in favor of a more national and Arab alignment. The second factor is the Israeli reaction, where Hamdan expected that Israel would attempt to corner Egypt through two major concerns: water and wheat. The third factor is the international setting that is still dealing with the region from an imperialist colonialist perspective, and thus trying all possible ways to curb the uprisings. As for the Palestinian factors, Hamdan emphasized the urgency of healing the internal Palestinian situation, which could only be achieved through a new national Palestinian project. He concluded by calling for patience in deducing the upcoming scenarios, stressing that this does not mean patience in action because action by itself will contribute towards shaping the future scenarios. He also called upon the Palestinians to leave their observation seats and take the initiative of developing a Palestinian project entitled liberation and return.
From Al-Zaytouna Centre for Studies and Consultations, Beirut, 15/3/2010
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