Several key events in the Middle East in recent months are pushing the region to confront new strategic realities. Iran and Saudi announced a rapprochement and serious efforts have been underway to wind down their proxy war in Yemen. The genocidal tyrant in Syria, President Bashar Assad, seems to have outlasted his domestic and international opponents, some of whom now are visiting Damascus and reopening diplomatic relations.
Iran’s decades-long efforts to exert its malign influence far beyond its borders has accelerated as its deep supply of drones has changed the calculus on the ground from Ukraine to Syria and Lebanon. Hamas and Hezbollah have increased their cooperation, leading to rocket launches into Israel not just from Gaza, but all along the Jewish state’s northern frontier.
In Israel, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu cobbled together a new government after last November’s election only through deal-making with pro-settler extremists promoting an agenda now shaking the country to its core. Weeks of unprecedented protests in the streets, affecting nearly every facet of daily life, have forced Netanyahu to halt a legislative process that, according to President Isaac Herzog, threatened to devolve into civil war.
Palestinian leadership in Ramallah is learning nothing
Lessons are being learned in every major regional capital, not to mention in Washington and Moscow. Regrettably, it’s a safe bet that Palestinian leadership in Ramallah is learning nothing.
Of all the headline-grabbing events in recent months, few are as inspiring to observe as the power of the massive peaceful protests that rocked Israel’s political establishment. Almost every segment across the political spectrum has participated in the ongoing demonstrations.
The message is clear: the actions of Netanyahu and his political allies do not represent the will of the people. Polls show a dramatic plunge in support for Netanyahu, for Likud and for the government, while opposition leaders like Benny Gantz and Yair Lapid have made striking gains.
NO ONE has had a closer seat to the action than Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, whose office in Ramallah is closer to the Knesset in Jerusalem than the length of Manhattan Island. His support among Palestinians has been stuck just above single digits for years, but his autocratic rule survives in the 18th year of the four-year term to which he was elected, in 2005.
Corruption and fear of repercussions once out of power closely links Abbas and Netanyahu and motivate each of them to put personal considerations ahead of the good of their people.
If Palestinian leaders were serious about achieving statehood, logic suggests they would try the one thing that evidently has never crossed their minds in 75 years of futility. If Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr. are distant history, they have only to look at their Israeli neighbors to appreciate what non-violent protest can accomplish. When hundreds of thousands of Israeli men, women and children took to streets and highways armed with nothing more than flags, the government was forced to take note and reconsider its unpopular actions.
What would happen if similar, coordinated demonstrations took place weekly throughout the Palestinian territories? Why isn’t it happening now and why hasn’t it occurred for the last several decades instead of the barrage of rockets and intifadas that tell Israelis that their Palestinian neighbors are not interested in peaceful coexistence?
Every United S president this century has worked to shift the focus of American foreign policy to Asia. They were willing to invest only limited capital on behalf of Israeli-Palestinian negotiations. Today, with war in Europe raging as Vladimir Putin and Xi Jinping proclaim undying friendship and concerns about China driving US military, economic and diplomatic considerations, the US footprint in the Middle East shrinks every day. Every leader throughout the region understands this truth and has been acting accordingly for years.
But it would not take an enormous effort for the US and the international community to press Palestinians to try a new approach. After 75 years of rejectionism, prove that you are serious about wanting a state alongside Israel and demonstrate your commitment to non-violence. Israelis have shown it can work.
The writer is a Washington-based political consultant who served as then-senator Joe Biden’s spokesman and communications director from 2000-2006.