As Israelis and Palestinians continue to battle to the death in their contested land, it is important to note a historic shift in how the minds, hearts, and public politics of the world perceive the Palestine issue and a just Palestinian-Israeli-Arab peace accord that assures the equal rights of all parties. In many arenas and dimensions, far from dropping off the global political map, Palestinian rights are popping up in more venues around the world, with a regular public focus on countering and even sanctioning Zionist excesses and criminal actions, such as expropriating and colonizing occupied Arab lands.
We see this most clearly in Europe and the United States, where open societies based on the rule of law provide credible opportunities for activists to challenge and stop their societies’ complicity in Israeli colonial policies. This works in both directions, as public debates advocate Israeli as well as Palestinian positions. But by making the Israel-Palestine issue a matter for public discussion in local political or professional arenas—such as state legislatures, mainstream churches, universities, commercial activities, the media, and academic societies—the net effect is clearly to the advantage of the Palestinians.
This is because the debates focus on issues that Zionism and the state of Israel have always sought to downplay in the global discussion of this conflict, and that the Palestinians in contrast have sought to highlight: the international rule of law, the nature of Israeli political and military practices, and how to prod both sides to comply with existing international laws, conventions, and UN resolutions that uphold the rights or protection of all concerned.
Israel has continued its heretofore largely successful propaganda tactics and associated political leverage that depict the Palestinians globally as violent anti-Semites who refuse to accept Jews in their midst and seek to destroy the state of Israel and kill Jews. Yet the pendulum of global public perceptions has swung back to a more balanced position that continues to criticize Palestinian armed resistance, political violence, and occasional acts of terrorism against civilians, but more and more routinely these days also analyses Israel through the prism of South African apartheid practices. Israel is worried, as it should be if apartheid is the political term most often associated with it.
So Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his posse of professional propagandists, illusionists, and liars now desperately try to link the Palestinians with terrorists such as the “Islamic State.” They have also tried to associate Palestinians with Iran, assuming that Iran is widely negatively viewed in the West, but that policy also failed on two counts: The West and the world have rejected Israel’s exaggerated fears and bluster, have successfully negotiated with Iran, and mainstream Western political circles have harshly criticized Netanyahu’s attempts to influence their domestic policy-making systems—for example, his rallying pro-Israeli groups in the United States against President Barack Obama.
The question of Israel-Palestine now has expanded into a wider contest over free speech on American college campuses, where Israel’s intemperance freely accuses people of anti-Semitism in a desperate attempt to restrict public discussion or criticism of Israeli practices, such as colonial settlements, mass incarceration of Palestinians by the thousands, the continuing semi-siege of Gaza, or cold-blood killings of Palestinians who are not a clear security threat. Such tactics have only generated more public, focused, and intense debates on Israeli and Palestinian practices, and explored more seriously the available responses—including boycotts and sanctions—of institutions and countries around the world that base their actions on law, justice, and morality.
The important trend taking place is two-fold: the Palestinians’ shift from mostly ineffective military and government actions to a non-violent political challenge to Israel’s occupation and colonization of Arab lands, and, greater public political debates about the Israeli and Palestinian people’s mutual actions and rights, and how the world should act to achieve those rights.
The first line of global political action on Palestine-Israel is no longer Israel’s ability to make its security the main focus of discussion and to nudge big powers’ policies in its favor; instead, it has shifted to how collective global action can get both sides to comply with existing global norms while ensuring their mutual security and well-being. Some novel developments: The UN secretary-general speaks out forcefully on these issues, the French government wants to launch an international peace conference on Israel-Palestine, Sweden and other states recognize the state of Palestine, the European Union highlights its opposition to official contacts with Israeli institutions in occupied Arab lands, and one American senator has asked his government to investigate the actions of both Israeli and Arab governments. The times they are a changing, and mostly for the better as far as the Palestine issue in the world’s eyes is concerned.Rami G. Khouri is published twice weekly in the Daily Star. He was founding director and now senior policy fellow of the Issam Fares Institute for Public Policy and International Affairs at the American University of Beirut. On Twitter: @RamiKhouri.
Copyright ©2016 Rami G. Khouri — distributed by Agence Global