It has become fashionable to assert that the so-called Arab Spring will give a boost to the Palestinian claims against the State of Israel, based on the view, presumably, that the Arab-Muslim dictatorships being contested today had forsaken the Palestinian movement to reach an accommodation with Israel (as Egypt and Jordan did); whereas the Arab Spring, the argument runs, is giving birth to a political environment more responsive to the expectations of the Palestinian movement.[1]

This assertion is not supported by the facts: it is not true that the dictatorships of the Middle East and North Africa have been congenial to Israel; nor is it true that the Arab Spring is showing a clear empathy, at least yet, with the Palestinian people.

With a few exceptions, the region's dictatorships have served as megaphones for the Palestinian narrative. For these dictatorships, to inveigh against Israel on behalf of the "Palestinian cause" has always been a handy means of both playing a geopolitical role diplomatically, and of diverting public attention away from their own failures and crimes.

It was a dictatorship, that of Iran, that called for wiping Israel off the map; two other dictators, Libya's Muammar Qaddafi and Syria's Bashar al-Assad, never missed an opportunity to anathematize the Jewish State. Still another dictator, the President of Yemen, in power for 33 years, disingenuously qualified the Arab Spring as "a storm orchestrated from Tel-Aviv."

The dictatorships of North Africa and the Middle East have, in fact, been at the origin of all the resolutions condemning Israel at the UN Council on Human Rights and other UN and international forums.

It was autocrats and dictators who declared war on the incipient State of Israel in 1948; who were ready to try to destroy it again in 1967, and who launched a surprise attack on Israel in 1973. It was one of the secular tyrants of the region, Iraq's Saddam Hussein, who, after sending 39 scud missiles into Israeli territory during the first Iraq War, offered rewards amounting to thousands of dollars for any suicide attack on Israeli soil.

The Palestinian movement has thus been backed -- politically, militarily and financially - by most of the autocratic regimes that have today fallen - better late than never -- into disrepute.

This effective connivance between the region's dictatorships and the Palestinian movement might help to explain why the Arab Spring's protesters have kept their distance from the Palestinian question. With the exception of the assault on the Israeli embassy at Cairo, and the attack on the television journalist Lara Logan ,during which her rapists kept repeating "Jew! Jew! Jew!" (even though she is not one), anti-Israel slogans and the burning of Israeli flags have been absent since the beginning of the Arab Spring.

Although the recent application for Palestinian Statehood, addressed by Mahmoud Abbas to the UN General Assembly, was, as expected, greeted cheerfully in the streets of the West Bank, primarily for his having rebuffed the request of the United States and the West in general not to proceed with the proposal, it aroused no manifestation of support among the population of neighbouring countries -- an indifference all the more remarkable as, at nearly the same time, slogans of solidarity were being chanted in the streets of Yemen's capital, Sana'a, in favour of the Syrian people[2].

This does not mean that there are no risks ahead. The protest movement may be hijacked by Islamist organizations, not least the Muslim Brotherhood, whose entire reason for being is the destruction of the State of Israel. Moreover, the region's governments may continue to resort to their customary reflex of railing against Israel as a means of diverting attention away from their lack of interest in meeting their people's wishes to have a better life.

At the same time, however, the Arab Spring may have an impact of a radically different nature on the Palestinian question and induce Palestinians to settle scores with their own leadership -- a leadership that has proven to have, as its main priority, staying in command no matter what.

Conditions for such score-settling certainly exist. Elections in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip should have taken place a long time ago, but they are systematically put off. Palestinians are thereby prevented from choosing how they want to be ruled, and by whom. The mandate of Mahmoud Abbas, as president of the Palestinian Authority, expired two years ago. He therefore continues to exercise his

functions without the legitimacy that only the popular vote may confer -- or take away.

Not surprisingly, no one talks any longer about the elections that both Fatah and Hamas - in a short-lived show of unity mounted last April - promised to hold at the beginning of next year. Moreover, because of the internecine war between Fatah and Hamas, the Palestinian Parliament (Legislative Council), based in Ramallah, has been unable to vote one single law through during the past three years[3].

As for the Palestinians of the Diaspora, in particular the hundreds of thousands who live in Lebanon, they are deprived of the right to acquire the nationality of the host country because the Palestinian leadership is keen on keeping them in the disgraceful condition of refugees so they can continue to request a "right of return," designed to making Jews a minority in their own country and thereby converting Israel into yet another Arab state.[4]

For all these reasons, Palestinians might soon be tempted to reproduce the Arab Spring by massively contesting those who pretend to represent their interests and speak on their behalf.

Mahmoud Abbas's petition for Palestinian Statehood was clearly an attempt to foreclose that possibility. But for how long?

Fabio Rafael Fiallo is an economist, writer and retired UN official. He writes on issues related to international relations and the world economy. His latest publication, "Ternes Eclats", or "Dimmed Lights" (Paris, L'Harmattan), presents a critique of international organizations, including of the anti-Israel bias that prevails in a number of international forums.


[1] See, for instance, "Israel's new problem with the Arab street", by David Ignatius, The Washington Post, 09/14/ 2011.
[2] Le Figaro (Paris), 10/1/2011.
[3] BBC News, "Will Arab revolt spread to Palestinian territories?", 02/23/2011.
[4] See "Abbas rules out naturalization of Palestinian refugees in Lebanon", The Daily Star, 02/28/2008.

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