Two days after the swearing-in of Israel’s most extreme, ultranationalist and ultrareligious government, hundreds of thousands of Palestinians celebrated the 58th anniversary of the birth of the oldest and most popular Palestinian nationalist liberation movement — Fatah. The Fatah anniversary was even celebrated by Palestinians in Hamas-controlled Gaza, in addition to the West Bank and Lebanon’s refugee camps. If anything, the celebrations underlined the fact that, after almost six decades, the grassroots movement remains popular and revered by Palestinians both in the Occupied Territories and in the diaspora.
But Palestinian resistance against colonization is much older and traces its roots to the early 1930s, when historical Palestine was under British mandate and as tens of thousands of European Jews began to arrive as colonizers. Meanwhile, Israel will celebrate its 75th anniversary as a state in May, with much pomp and ceremony expected.
Away from marking anniversaries and the symbolism attached to them, the century-old struggle for nationhood, liberation, independence and self-determination in Palestine is as fresh today as it was in the wake of the First World War. And while Israel is about to celebrate 75 years of existence, the reality is that it today faces the same fundamental challenge that it has faced throughout its turbulent history: The towering figure of a defiant Palestinian identity.
The last century has been marked by British imperial collusion with the international Zionist movement, US and Western complicity, land grabs, attempts to erase Palestinian history and identity, ethnic cleansing, the destruction of entire villages, summary killings of civilians, blatant war crimes, forced transfers, massacres and the imprisonment of thousands. But all of these have failed to deliver what Israel’s founding fathers hoped would happen — that future generations of Palestinians would eventually forget.
Decades later, Israel and the Palestinians are bound together by one unbreakable bond: Occupation, where one is the occupier and the other is the occupied. No matter what Israel has tried to do to free itself from this shackle — ironically to liberate itself too — it has found itself sinking deeper into the quagmire that is occupation.
So, now it is making a last-ditch attempt, through an ultranationalist, ultrareligious, openly racist government, to set itself free. A triumphant Benjamin Netanyahu has vowed that, in addition to derailing Iran’s nuclear program, settlement building in the West Bank and the Golan Heights will be his government’s top objective. While geopolitical constraints will not help him do much about the former, his motley coalition partners cannot wait to intensify the building of illegal settlements in a way that has never been seen before.
The rise of the far right in Israel and its expansionist agenda may serve the Palestinian cause in the long term.
In the defiant words of Netanyahu — in response to the UN General Assembly’s vote last week to ask the International Court of Justice to provide an opinion on the legal consequences of Israel’s occupation of the Palestinian territories — the Jewish people cannot be considered as occupiers of their own homeland. In doing so, he is hoping to cancel the Palestinian identity altogether and break the historical bond Palestinians have with the land of their ancestors.
Western hypocrisy in voting against the UNGA motion notwithstanding, the vote itself and the court’s reply will only embolden the Palestinian claim to self-determination and statehood.
Leaving the political schisms dividing the Palestinian national movement aside, the rise of the far right in Israel and its expansionist agenda may serve the Palestinian cause in the long term. Yes, the coming days and weeks will see unprecedented escalations against the Palestinians — more extrajudicial killings and home demolitions, the expansion of illegal settlements, the desecration of religious sites, and ethnic cleansing, let alone official annexation, at least of Area C. But the divisions within Israeli society and the body politic will deepen and will likely implode over the attempt by the far right to change the genetic makeup of Israeli society.
As it turns 75, one wonders if Israel will be seen as a young, forward-looking state or as a geriatric, introverted and paranoid one. Today, revisionist tides within Israeli society want to amend legislation regarding the Law of Return to limit Jewish immigration, while the ultra-Orthodox Haredim sect, which is set to make up to 16 percent of Israel’s population by 2030 and is in the Netanyahu coalition government, wants to change laws regarding lifestyle, the standard of living, education, women, and others.
Meanwhile, the ultranationalists want to put constraints on non-Jewish citizens of Israel, with Palestinians making up more than 20 percent, while Jews represent only 47 percent of the population between the Mediterranean and the Jordan River. Demography is the most critical threat to Israel achieving its goal of an exclusively Jewish state.
In the end, two national identities, with all their nuances and complexities, are on a collision course. This is one war Israel cannot win with guns and cannons. Meanwhile, a widespread conflagration in the Occupied Territories appears inevitable. In one unintended way, the most far-right government in Israel’s history is about to change the trajectory of the Palestinian cause in a way that could not have been imagined in the past few decades.
• Osama Al-Sharif is a journalist and political commentator based in Amman. Twitter: @plato010