Palestine on the Precipice?

For Arabs on the other side of the fence, Palestine has always had that unique quality of being very near and unbearably far away. It sits so well at the heart of our identity, perhaps the only distinct object of passion and longing in an otherwise very fluid self.

It’s not only the painful history and daunting physical separations that make Palestine so, but also the sense that we can never know it, really know it, as if it has vanished into an unreachable world.  When we seek connections with it, we find them easier with the Palestinians of the Occupied Territories–the West Bank, East Jerusalem, and Gaza. The intimacies of the page, the screen, the podcasts, and documentaries help as well. That’s what I do regularly lest Palestine, in the havoc of the Arab world, fade into yet another unfathomable mess.

The Territories have been back on the front page for the better part of a year.  At a glance,  eruptions in places like Jenin and Nablus in the north of the West Bank seem of a piece with the chronic tumult that has long plagued the Palestinian landscape. The inclination is therefore to ignore or quickly skim the events, much like we do now with Syria and Iraq, Algeria and Sudan…

But all the signs point to changing tides of the seismic kind. In an interview last week with Peter Beinart, on the Peter Beinart Notebook, Khalil Shikaki, Director of the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research (PCPSR) and the pollster that has long had his fingers on the Palestinians’ pulse, wove a compelling context to the developments. He disentangled the  trends and imbued them with the meaning they deserve.  

We have a young generation of Palestinians, between the age of 15 and 25, that has lost all hope in the two-state solution as a path to independence and is turning to armed resistance. They are organized and collaborate across ideologies and camps. The familial connections and the closeness of the neighborhoods and their density have been key in helping them forge a network of alliances and ties. And over the past few years, they have established a presence strong enough to prevent the Palestinian Authority (PA) from entering their area, further exposing its weakening reach and  sway. Which explains Israel’s military incursions of late.

The PA is thus not only failing in its role as Israel’s security subcontractor, but also losing control of parts of the Territories. In the shadow of this glaring diminishment, the trends in the north of the West Bank are spreading slowly to the south.

What makes these developments even more suggestive of a looming sea change is the profile of this young generation. They are post-ideological and their value system is distinctly secular and progressive, highlighting a generational pivot in societal attitudes and beliefs. But notwithstanding their liberal orientation, they are ready to work with Hamas and Islamic Jihad, which are lending their support because they have been all but suppressed by Israel and the PA in the West Bank.

Although Gaza’s youth do not share these values, they are the least religious section of their society. 

At the moment, the PA has little to fear from its own civilian and security cadre. Still, Shikaki’s research shows empathy and understanding among them for the young and their frustrations. In a geography where a full two-thirds of the people think the PA are Israeli collaborators, these intersections begin to look ominous for the Authority, especially since the two-state solution, its raison d’être, seems so utterly farfetched.

And while it is true that there is no Palestinian majority yet among any age group for the one-state solution–either Hamas’s version or the nationalist secularists’– the younger the Palestinian, the stronger the appeal of it.

This creeping trend is unfolding against the single most important development of all: by the end of 2022, there will be a Palestinian majority in the area from the sea to the river under the control of Israel.

It would appear, then, that the Palestinians are at a crossroads.  The Territories boast today a rising generation that is embracing armed struggle against the Israeli occupation, with a value system that is unencumbered by ideology, patriarchal traditions, and religion, and with serious organizational capabilities.

For a haggard PA, the implications are clear. President Mahmoud Abbas’ departure is within sight. If his patrons opt for a copy of him, the Authority is sure to wobble even further. The resulting violence between Israel and an armed resistance will lead to its collapse. There will be blood, and there will be much suffering for the Palestinians.

Israeli police attack Palestinian protesters in Jerusalem

This is just one plausible scenario. There are others. If the armed struggle manages to induce a shift within the PA, one can imagine, without being called unhinged, a self-dissolved PA that would become the organizing force against the occupation.  

The broader context inside Israel and out reinforces speculation that we are upon something big. The generational pivot is also glimpsed among Palestinian Israelis, who have overcome barriers and demonstrated actionable affinities with the Territories. This, at a time when the Palestinians have become a majority, when the two-state solution is having to increasingly compete with the one-state option, when the Palestinian-Israeli participation in the Bennet-Lapid coalition yielded almost nothing for the community, and when the PA itself is having to fight for its survival.

When the first wave of Arab uprisings lit up the map in 2011, we wondered: “Where are the Palestinians?”  When the second wave overtook Algeria, Sudan, Lebanon, and Iraq in 2019, we asked: Where are the Palestinians? Will they lead the third wave? If so, then we will be witness  to something at once very familiar and starkly different.


On Another Note

Jean-Luc Godard is gone. And there isn’t an homage to the French director better than Martin Scorcese’s:

In His forward to Truffaut’s letters, Godard wrote: ‘Francois is perhaps dead. I am perhaps alive. But then, is there a difference?’ Now Godard, like Truffaut, is perhaps dead: You could say the same of Robert Johnson, Herman Melville or Sophocles or Homer. But the work is absolutely and indisputably alive. Work that, whether we viewers  are ready for it or not, makes us free.

Patrick Blanchfield’s review Andrew Nagorski’s book, Saving Freud: The Rescuers Who Brought Him to Freedom, is fascinating. Freud, the father of psychoanalysis, misread Nazi-occupied Austria and its danger to him. Why? Here’s a peek:

Yet the war’s indifferent power politics, industrial-scale killing, and fierce nationalist passions also seemed, as many analysts and others at the time observed, dramatic confirmation of Freud’s views. The slaughter of 20 million people grotesquely buttressed his insistence that conscious rationality co-exists with aggressive unreason and his skepticism toward naïve narratives of inevitable social and technological progress. For Freud, the war presented a case study of how civilization, like sanity, was a tenuous achievement—a fragile, complex system that required ongoing maintenance, compromise, and care.


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