Adam Shatz writes:
No one in the Arab world was watching the news more closely than the Palestinians during the revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt. The first emotion they experienced was disbelief; the second – particularly when they saw Palestinian flags being raised in Tahrir Square – was relief that they were no longer alone. Arab lethargy has been a virtual article of faith among Palestinians, who felt that their neighbours had betrayed them in 1948 and had done nothing to help them since. The Palestinian national movement, which rose to prominence under Yasir Arafat’s leadership in the late 1960s, was defined in large part by its belief that Palestinians had to rely on themselves. Mahmoud Darwish was not the only one to note that during the siege of Beirut in 1982, when Israel invaded Lebanon in an attempt to crush the PLO, tens of thousands of Israelis protested in Tel Aviv but the Arabs were too busy watching the World Cup Final to take to the streets.
The old Arab order was buried in Tahrir Square. Young revolutionaries rose up against a regime which for three decades had stood in the way of Palestinian aspirations. It seemed too good to be true and some pundits in Palestine wondered whether it wasn’t an American conspiracy. But it wasn’t, and Palestinians began to re-examine what had been one of their most disabling convictions: the belief that the US controls the Middle Eastern chessboard, and that the Arab world is powerless against America and Israel. ‘There has been a kind of epistemic break,’ a young Palestinian said to me. The excitement among Palestinians sometimes seems to be mixed with unease, even envy: the spotlight has been stolen from them. As a Hamas councilwoman in Nablus put it, ‘For 60 years they were watching us. Now we are watching them.’ But Palestinians have prided themselves on being the vanguard of protest in the Arab world and they will not be content to remain spectators for long.
In the absence of a state and an army, Darwish wrote in one of his best-known poems, Palestinians live in a ‘country of words’. The conversation that they are having is only beginning to translate into action. What was clear to me during the three weeks I spent recently in the West Bank is that the Arab revolutions have emboldened them to ask for more, both from Israel and from themselves, even if that means preparing for a much longer struggle.