Falling Arab dictatorships and Israeli government panic

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The walls are crumbling. The walls behind which dictators indulge in decadent opulence while "their" people are mired in wretched circumstance. The walls behind which "leaders" secretly sell -- for personal gain -- the rights of the people they claim to represent.

Across North Africa and the Middle East, across the Arab world, for decades dictatorship and deepening corruption, firmly supported by imperial powers, seemed beyond challenge. Today, once "stable" regimes are now facing a popular reckoning.

From the vantage point of Palestine, there are three new dynamics.

Within one month, the rebellion of the Tunisian people had sent Zine El Abidine Ben Ali scrambling for safety, neither the army nor police any longer ensuring his security. He hoped to land in France, one of his imperial patrons. After all, one French cabinet minister earlier had offered to send military support; but by the time of his flight from Tunisia, the Sarkozy government determined that Ben Ali had passed his "best-before date". So his plane landed, where Ugandan dictator Idi Amin's plane had landed, in Saudi Arabia.

The Tunisian people, in a tiny country nestled between Libya and Algeria, have rocked the throne of more than one dictator. Across North Africa, from Egypt to Mauritania, hope is supplanting popular cynicism about the possibility of creating a new order. And behind the walls where the dictators make their plans, a deepening anxiety has displaced confidence.

Israel's fate, too, is closely tied to the continuity of imperial-supported Arab reaction. Right after Ben Ali's flight from Tunisia, Netanyahu, on exiting a Cabinet meeting, revealed his anxieties when he called for "peace and security" to replace the "instability."

With the mass uprising in Egypt, voices from Israel reveal even higher anxiety. A former Israeli ambassador to Egypt wrote in the Yediot Aharonot newspaper, "The only people in Egypt who are committed to peace are the people in Mubarak's inner circle, and if the next president is not one of them, we are going to be in trouble."

Everyone in the Middle East knows what Israel means by "peace and security" (translation: "war and misery" for the Arab people) -- which brings us to the second new dynamic, "The Palestine Papers."

This is the heading Al Jazeera has given to "nearly 1,700 files, thousands of pages of diplomatic correspondence detailing the inner workings of the Israeli-Palestinian peace process... memos, e-mails, maps, minutes from private meetings, accounts of high level exchanges, strategy papers and even power point presentations - dat[ing] from 1999 to 2010." Al Jazeera says it has had "unhindered access" to the largest-ever leak of confidential documents related to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Confirmed in vivid detail, beyond supposition and speculation, are this: (a) In this game called the "peace process" it is Israel which rejects reaching any agreement, despite the most extensive concessions by the "Palestine Authority" negotiators, obviously preferring to complete unhindered its independent plans for the further colonization of the territories conquered in June 1967; (b) The "Palestine Authority" concessions are so extensive that they amount to betrayal of the internationally recognized rights of the Palestinian people, ranging from abandoning the right of return of Palestinian refugees to abandoning the right to administer Muslim religious sites in Jerusalem. And beyond this abandonment, collaboration with Israel in killing Palestinians. More than concessions, even more than betrayal, many Palestinians are calling them treason; (c) The U.S. acts as Israel's lawyer, applying pressure -- both bribes and threats -- only on the Palestinians.

The impact of the public, documented confirmation of the foregoing propositions is profound, and the ramifications rapidly unfolding. This weekend we saw the desperate head of the "Palestine Authority", Mahmoud Abbas, send a message of support to Mubarak -- at the very moment Mubarak too has passed his "best before date." One sinking stone clinging to another. For more insight into the response of Palestinians in Palestine to Mahmoud Abbas, see the excellent article by Jonathan Cook: "Can the Palestinian Authority Survive?"

Then the third dynamic, this within the Palestinian rights support movement. For a long time the mantra among most activists was to accept the partition of a single historic Palestine into two-states, the same mantra that has dominated the Orwellian-named "peace process." But as Israeli colonization of territories conquered in 1967 continued unhindered, the realization that a "Palestinian state" could be no more than a set of tiny fragmented "Bantustans" became increasingly clear to activists. And the realization that the 1967 conquest was indeed a continuation of the 1948 ethnic cleansing emerged from the shadows into daylight.

The growing recognition of these realities, along with the more and more extensive and open affirmations of racist bigotry against Palestinians, within and outside the 1967 occupied territories, the more profound the moral indignation and disgust with Israel's policies and practices.

Solidarity activists are shifting away from following the parallel track of a non-existent peace process, moving toward the basics: denunciation of classic colonization, ethnic cleansing, and racist apartheid. Increasingly the tactic of boycott, divestment and sanctions is being pursued as appropriate, with the goal of a single state structure in all of historic Palestine, founded on legal equality for all its citizens regardless of ethnicity and religion, as the only way to realize justice and peace.

This third dynamic is the one solidarity activists in Canada can and should directly contribute to building. And as we do this, the other two dynamics will continue to shape the wider possibilities for success. 

For 40 years the dominant narrative of Israel was flattering. A country of refuge for persecuted Jews, a land without a people for a people without a land, a model new society ever on the alert to defend itself from enemies driven by hate and jealousy.

Here in Canada there were hardly any voices to challenge this narrative. No need for campaigns to silence the critics.

Beginning with the first intifada in December 1987 and with gathering momentum, in irregular bursts, reports brought to light the existence of a Palestinian people, inhabitants of the land on which Israel was founded in 1948. Increasingly Israel's treatment of the Palestinian people raised questions and criticism.

The dominant narrative began to lose its capacity to gain reflexive approval. As discussions ensued, the voice of critics became increasingly present and credible.

The advocates of Israeli policies and practices make efforts to "re-brand" Israel, as they put it, to regain the old reflexive approval. But with diminished success they now put their emphasis on silencing, punishing, stigmatizing and criminalizing the voices of the critics -- fundamentally attacking freedom of speech.

Active defence of this right therefore is and needs to remain an integral part of the efforts for justice and peace in historic Palestine.

Mordecai Briemberg is a founding member of Canada Palestine Support Network, and is a regular contributor to rabble.ca.

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