Protests Bil'in - Moti Milrod
Protests in Bil’in, which the PA and Fatah have tried to restrain. Photo by Moti Milrod
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If the South Sudanese and East Timorese gained independence before the Palestinians, something went seriously wrong. How can one compare these places to the religious and international standing of Palestine? This must be the thinking of any Palestinians who have calculated their private profit and loss columns since the Oslo Accords.

The uprisings against autocratic kings, sultans and presidents in North Africa and the Arab world, too, are causing the Palestinians some discomfort: How is it that in all these places the people are racking up such gains against oppressive regimes, and here we are stuck with the Israeli occupation, that dictates to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas what to do and what not to do.

What conclusions can the Palestinians draw from the unrest in the Arab world? Salvation will not come from the United States, which does not support Abbas despite the multiple concessions he has made. The documents released by Al Jazeera recently disclosed just how far he was willing to go in the negotiations with Israel, but he received no assistance from Washington.

As if that were not enough, the United States decisively vetoed the UN Security Council resolution condemning the settlements. And all this despite the fact that in the past - after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu caused headaches in Washington and expanded settlements in Jerusalem and the West Bank (thus putting a stop to the peace process ) - the United States itself slammed the settlement enterprise.

The events of recent weeks demonstrate that nonviolent civil uprising, not diplomatic concessions, bring American support. Abbas in the past firmly rejected proposals from various circles to organize a nonviolent mass uprising.

Top Palestinian Authority and Fatah officials took steps to contain the weekly protests in Bil'in and other West Bank villages. They were wary not only of the rise of political rivals, but also of a slide into violence that could only hurt the Palestinians, as indeed occurred in the second intifada. The balance of power in the event of violent confrontation is in the hands of Israel, which has an interest in encouraging such a slide in order to overpower the Palestinians.

The situation is different now. The positive model of the nonviolent rebels throughout the Arab world and their self-restraint could teach the Palestinians that this is the way to historic gains. If Israel uses violence to suppress the Palestinian demonstrations it will be seen as another Muammar Gadhafi or Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

There is a great unease on the Palestinian street. Disappointment over the peace process and over Israel and the United States is rampant. Palestinian society has the kind of technological infrastructure that in other places was the engine behind mass demonstrations - Internet, cell phones and satellite dishes. The "generational accelerant" that was a factor in Egypt is already in place: Palestinian society is a society of young people whose futures are blocked by the occupation. The second intifada and Israel's iron fist shaped the teen years of today's 20-somethings, and constituted their first contact with politics.

Soldiers, settlements, checkpoints and restrictions have long been part of their daily life. All that is needed is a single spark. The writing is already on the wall.

 

The writer teaches political science at Bar-Ilan University.