The Arab Spring catches up with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict

A relic of pre-revolutionary times, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict now demands our attention again. Abbas and Netanyahu have rehashed their plights in front of the UN General Assembly. This shows how the conflict is on its way to becoming an anachronism of Western influence in the Middle East, argues Ruben Elsinga.

Since a street vendor set himself ablaze on a Tunisian square, emotions hitherto repressed have broken loose in the Middle East. Squares in Tunisia, Egypt, Yemen and Syria have blossomed and burned. Meanwhile the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, prison in the mids of Arab uprising, has been carefully preserved by the US and Europe, the Arab political establishment and interests in Israel and the Palestinian territories.

As uprisings blaze through the Middle East, Abbas’ and Netanyahu’s “We are still here!” seems only an echo of forgotten times. What is the gathering of thousands in Ramallah compared to the gathering of hundreds of thousands at Tahrir square? What are the stones and graffiti’s of Palestinians and Israeli settlers compared to deadly clashes between army and opposition in Syria? The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is like an old man mumbling about his past.

In Israel the hopes and dreams and fighting spirit of the first generations after independence has seized to exist. The country is split between Tel Aviv’s individualist capitalism and the religious dogmatism of Jerusalem and the settlements, the majority is painfully silent. Politically, Israel has given way to the shortsighted populism of Bibi (Prime Minister Netanyahu) and the bold racism of Lieberman (Minister of Foreign Affairs).

Palestinian society is split similarly between the West Bank’s pragmatism and Gaza’s dogmatic endorsement of violent resistance. People continue with their business, some smuggle it through tunnels, others toil it through checkpoints.

The US routinely proposes a half-hearted peace-deal. Obama did win some popularity in Palestine an the Arab world through his solidarity speech for the Arab people this spring, and now loses it to win the votes of the US Jewish constituency and his domestic financial support base. Europe is trying to support Palestinian statehood, but countries like the Netherlands have obstructed a unified statement in favor or their support to the US and Israel.

While Israelis, Palestinians and their US mediators drift further apart, the world is closing in around Israel and Palestine. Turkey’s new military leadership is reconsidering its relationship with Israel: in the future battle ships will accompany humanitarian expeditions to Gaza. Egypt’s military command is undergoing a less pronounced reconsideration after the political outrage caused by Israel’s (accidental) killing of Egyptian soldiers at the Gaza border.

At another border at the Golan, early in the uprising against the Assad-regime, Syria saw a particular moment: the Golan border was overrun – and entire families marched through before the Israeli forces arrived to quell this unique penetration of their border. Suddenly the Golan problem, which had served both Israel and Syria as an excuse for stalemate, proved not to be as impenetrable after all.

The Palestinian-Israeli state of paralysis becomes increasingly paradoxical as the Middle East is shifting all around it. Whereas the Palestinian-Israeli conflict-resolution process has been planned, controlled and staled, the changes happening in the course of the Arab Spring are unpredictable and seem to be enforcing real change.

Abbas’ appeal for Palestinian statehood and even more so the responses by Netanyahu and the US seems anachronistic and out of touch with a dynamic reality pressing at its borders around. Last weekend showed us that, due to the Arab Spring, Israel and the West are now less able to control the Middle East via the Palestinian-Israeli stalemate.

Israel / Palestine will soon rejoin the Arab world while it redefines itself, and no longer be the crux by which the West defines the Middle East. This ‘redefinition’ of the Middle East does not take place in the hollow halls of the UN, but on the streets of the Middle East.

Ruben Elsinga holds an MSc. in International Relations at the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE). He has lived in Damascus, Syria for one and a half years, where he worked at the Netherlands Institute of Academic Studies. To read Ruben’s personal blog visit


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