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Will Arab revolutions transform Palestine?

How will the emerging Arab revolutions affect the struggle of the Palestinian people? Will it help their long battle for national liberation? This question is on the minds of millions throughout the Middle East, where solidarity with the Palestinians remains a key component of popular aspirations.

There is no sign yet that the revolutions will end the present huge imbalance of power. And while the Arab revolutions of the 1950s and 1960s may have provided strategic depth and material assistance to the Palestinians’ armed struggle, all the Arab regimes used this as leverage to manipulate Palestinian internal divisions.

They even had to use force to discipline the Palestinians, whenever their struggle threatened to ignite the masses in their own countries – as in Jordan in September 1970, and Lebanon in June 1976.

So Palestine will not be free overnight. But the example of a mass movement winning democratic rights on the streets cannot fail to influence the Palestinians as well.

That is why Washington was so afraid when the movement in Egypt began. Fear that a democratic Egypt would tear up its peace treaty with Israel caused Obama to back dictator Mubarak up to the last minute.

Many must have hoped that Mahmoud Abbas, head of the Fatah-led Palestinian Authority, would face his own “Mubarak moment”. After all he has given in to Israel’s every demand, while winning nothing in return for his people. This collaborator has even continued to rule, with Israel’s support, after his term of office has expired, while Gaza’s 1.5 million people languish under a murderous siege, their punishment for voting for Hamas in 2006.

Mahmoud Abbas was amongst the first Arab leaders to declare his support for Mubarak. He knew full well that his strategy of prostration before Israel and the United States would be doomed, if they lost their militarily most powerful Arab ally. But in Gaza, Hamas also repressed marches in support of the Tunisian and Egyptian people, although it later hypocritically “celebrated” Mubarak’s resignation.

No wonder demonstrations calling for Palestinian political unity were attacked by Hamas security forces in Gaza, and “contained” by Fatah security forces in Ramallah. The protesters demanded new elections to the Palestinian National Council, the executive body of the Palestine Liberation Organisation, which is supposed to represent Palestinians worldwide.

But now, under pressure, Abbas and Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh are talking about a national unity government. Clearly something has changed. Now Palestinian activists should break free of both Fatah and Hamas, and take the road of mass revolutionary struggle.

In fact, the real threat posed by the Arab revolutions to Israel’s domination of the Palestinians is political. It was not Islamism, guerilla warfare or “terrorism” that brought down the Tunisian and Egyptian dictatorships, but mass demonstrations and strikes.

What is more, the 2011 revolutions point the way towards a solution based on equality and democratic rights. With Palestinians now close to a majority in the territory under Israel’s control, the prospect of a Palestinian state, on whatever scraps of land Israel does not want, will seem much less attractive than the demand for “one person, one vote”, in an undivided country.

And Israel will no longer be able to present itself as “the only democracy in the Middle East” when it tries to deny the Palestinians that right.

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