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Islamists and Palestine after the Arab Spring

January 25, 2014 at 4:26 am

There is no doubt about Islamists’ commitment to the Palestinian cause, regardless of their ideological classifications, or whether they are in government or opposition. Nevertheless, a number of statements attributed to them in recent months – some accurately – cast doubt on that commitment, even given that some were distorted and exaggerated. A number of nationalists and leftists have sought to divert the Arab Spring, especially after it sparked the revolution in Syria and following the election results in Tunisia, Egypt, Morocco and Kuwait. The successes of the Islamist parties confirmed that the majority of the nationalist and leftist groups will be on the margins in the new democracies.

To criticise something even when you have no share in it is normal, but some went to the extreme in talking about Zionists being behind the revolutions or attributing them to Western-led conspiracies to break-up the Arab world (the theory of creative chaos). Such discussions have included suggestions of a coalition between Islamists and the United States, but this does not lessen the importance of the position Islamists must take towards the Palestinian issue. Thus they must display necessary caution in any statements which could be used to challenge their positions and, indeed, the Arab Spring in general.

We understand that the Islamic parties do not want to provoke the international community, which is already biased towards Israel, while they are still trying to find their feet in power. It is our conviction that the West’s hostile position will not change; that’s one thing, but to fall into the trap of making problematic statements is another.

It is understandable, for example, for the Muslim Brotherhood and Salafis in Egypt not to talk about cancelling the Camp David peace agreement with Israel, not only because something like that would demand internal consensus, but also because of international sensitivity on such a matter. Of course, although the Mubarak regime did not adhere in practice to the terms of Camp David, it offered security and political services to Israel which, according to Benjamin Ben-Eliezer, the former Minister of Industry in Tel Aviv, made it a “strategic treasure” to the state.

However, such sensitivities do not justify the exaggerated stand of some Islamists on the issue of peace with Israel, nor the hesitation about saying that Egypt has the right to reconsider any agreement that does not meet its national interests or support for the Palestinian people in their struggle for freedom.

Egypt’s Islamists have inherited a treaty with Israel; what about the other Arab Spring countries with no such treaty, and no justification for signing one or normalising relations with Tel Aviv?

I am saying this in the belief that Palestine is a central issue for the Arab world which should not be taken lightly. It is a matter of defending the Islamic case; we should not fall into the trap of opening up a contradiction between Islamist rhetoric while in opposition and position statements in government or places of authority. Perhaps most importantly, the Islamic parties should not stand in contradiction with the masses which voted for them.

It would be wise for us to remember that the electorate does not give politicians a blank cheque. The people trust the rhetoric and the practice as long as they are compatible; votes are lost if they are not. Wise people also know that there is no other case that occupies Arabs’ and Muslims’ minds like the Palestinian issue, and anyone seeking to gain the trust of the masses must clearly and explicitly be supportive of the Palestinians.

What is noteworthy is that the people towards the West of the Arab world appear to be more sympathetic towards Palestine, Jerusalem, Al-Aqsa Mosque and the resistance than the masses of the Eastern Arab countries. Those who watched the reception given to Ismail Haniyeh in Tunisia, and the profusion of Palestinian flags in the streets of the capital, understand this.

This also applies to the rebels in Libya who have been heard chanting for Palestine, despite the assistance provided to them by NATO, the members of which are complicit with Israel in its crimes. And let’s not forget Morocco and Mauritania where Palestine is present in all political activities, but primarily those organised by the Islamists, reflecting the conviction of its place among the masses. As such, Islamists should not hesitate to show their bias and support towards the Palestinian issue.

Inside occupied Palestine, meanwhile, Hamas should stop talking about a Palestinian state within the 1967 borders, given that concessions much greater than this have not been accepted by the Israelis and their allies, so there is no need to adopt the Fatah approach which has yielded nothing.

The world is changing: the United States is not as strong as it used to be; the Europeans are mired in the Euro crisis and debt; and the world is living through a multi-polar stage. There is simply no need for spontaneous answers to much thought about questions from diplomats and pro-Israel journalists.

It is sufficient to respond to such questions by saying that the West should be more concerned about Israel’s non-implementation of international resolutions before asking the Islamic groups about their intentions. Inter-state relations are optional, and any country can accept or reject a relationship with another for its own reasons, along with the priority of supporting the Palestinians by all means available. Sheikh Rashid Ghannouchi’s stand in Tunisia worthy of praise: he has confirmed the refusal to recognise the state of the state of Israel.

For the sake of Islam and for Palestine, as well as for the credibility of the Islamists, it is hoped that the latter will exercise more care with their speeches and statements. At the same time, we would like to see the Palestinian leadership invest in the new Arab and international atmosphere to return to its original rhetoric, moving away from the possibility of a state within the 1967 borders. It is worth mentioning though that Hamas has refused repeatedly to recognise the state of Israel, a stand which has cost it a great deal in suffering and sanctions.

When asked about its position, Hamas should remind the questioner that it is Israel which is occupying Palestinian land, and that as it stands a future Palestinian state will consist of a series of non-contiguous cantons on the occupied West Bank and the Gaza Strip. That would be around 10% of historic Palestine. Nor should we forget that the Western-backed Palestinian Authority offered ex-Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert a waiver of the refugee issue and important concessions in occupied East Jerusalem, leaving the large, illegal, settlement blocs in Israeli hands.

Palestine is the Arab nation’s central issue, and the Islamists will not gain the trust of the people unless they renew their commitment towards it clearly and explicitly. As for any policies which follow, they will remain subject to the limits of what is politically acceptable, and that could improve with time, internationally or in the Arab context. It will not take long for everyone to be sure that the issue of Palestine will be the big winner of the Arab Spring even if it is marginalised in the short term by the PA and PLO insistence on negotiations and the rejection of a full uprising against the Israeli occupation. The Palestinian people know exactly how to ignite a new uprising inspired by the Arab Spring and take the Arab and Muslim world along a new path, that will be able, God willing, to end the Zionist Israeli project in its present form.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.