In Middle East tumult, new hope for Palestinian cause

The New York Times reports:

In the Palestinian refugee camp of Shatila, a corner of Beirut bearing the scars of massacres and an enduring despair, the words of a young barber hinted at an emerging optimism about what the Arab revolts could mean for a central issue of the last half century in the Middle East: the fate of Palestinians.

The barber, Mohammed Assad, was not naïve; life here is too grim for that. But in a region whose politics are being recalculated, he celebrated the rising influence of popular will on governments that long ignored it.

“There is hope,” he said.

In all the tumult of the Arab revolts, one of the most striking manifestations of change is a rejuvenated embrace of the Palestinian cause. The burst in activism in Egypt, Lebanon and even Tunisia has offered a rebuttal to an old bromide of Arab politics, that authoritarian leaders cynically inflamed sentiments over Israel and Palestine to divert attention from their own shortcomings.

But the embrace of the issue also helped confirm its status as a barometer of justice and freedom for many Arabs and Muslims. And now, the demands of an empowered public raise the possibility of a significant change in the region’s foreign policies which, at least tacitly, capitulated to the dictates of the United States and Israel.

“We always said, ‘If you want to liberate Palestine, you need to liberate yourselves,’ ” said Gamal Eid, founder of the Arabic Network for Human Rights Information, in Cairo.

In Tunisia, activists have insisted on an article in the Constitution banning normalization with Israel and making support for Palestinians state policy. Through a vibrant social media network, Lebanese and Palestinian youths have organized marches and sought ways to have a greater say in decisions of the Palestinian leadership. Protesters in Egypt have urged officials to let boats sail from Egyptian ports to break the partial blockade against Gaza; one boat docked in Alexandria last month before the Israeli military boarded and seized it.

“Even if the revolutions fail to achieve full and thorough regime change, there is no Arab government that can ignore its people now,” said Rashid Khalidi, a professor of modern Arab studies at Columbia University. “All the rulers — the kings of Morocco and Jordan, all the dictators and all the autocrats — they’re scared blind of their own people.”

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