I’ve spilled a lot of ink on the idea that the Palestinian Nationalism is in a precarious position. For quick reference, here is a quick list of why the Palestinian national cause has weakening prospects:
- The Trump administration has aligned the U.S. government explicitly with the Israeli Right Wing
- The Israeli government has been able to reduce the means and mechanisms of confrontation with Palestinians so that Palestinian Nationalists have less photogenic and newsworthy means of communicating their cause
- The Iran threat has created a de facto alliance between Saudi Arabia and Gulf States with Israel thereby eliminating Israel’s incentive to compromise and weakening the alliance between Palestinian Nationalism and these countries
- The international swing towards illiberal nationalism has created more international acceptance of Israel
- The Israeli economy continues to grow, the Israeli military continues to become more powerful and sophisticated in how it deals with Palestinian Nationalism
- For more roundabout discussion of this go here: https://mirrorandscale.com/2019/01/01/another-post-3/
Given the above, the Tlaib and Omar controversy presents an opportunity for Palestinian Nationalism to reverse this negative trend. Taking advantage of this opportunity will necessitate a sophisticated understanding of American political and cultural trends.
America’s political culture is highly polarized- a unique insight, I know. However, one issue where this culture hasn’t polarized to as much of an extent is the issue of support for Israel. Yes, Trump reflexively tweets pro-Israel things, yes the Democratic party is the only home for any politicians who support the BDS movement- but despite these things we still have bi-partisan trips to Israel (like this one- https://www.timesofisrael.com/heads-of-republican-democrat-delegation-agree-omar-tlaib-should-visit-israel/), top Democrats claiming pro-Israel credentials, etc..
But what Tlaib and Omar show is that this could all change. Since the Israeli government’s refusal to allow them entry, twitter and the left/liberal punditry has risen to their defense. Tlaib’s post about her grandmother is going viral. Tlaib and Omar’s claim of Israel’s islamophobia are going unchallenged on the left. At the same time the right wing is lining up behind Israel. Trump continues to tweet rather interesting things (https://www.bbc.com/news/world-us-canada-49417157), the National Review publishes proof of BDS’s anti-semitism, Republican congressmen are supporting Israel’s actions.
This all is displaying a fundamental new rule of American politics: no political issue is neutral anymore. There are no pro-life democrats. There are no Medicare-supporting Republicans. There is one side and its antagonist. And, once any political issue is identified strongly with a particular political wing, the other wing will line up on the other side of this issue reflexively.
How can this play out to the advantage of Palestinian Nationalism? Let’s say that the Palestinian Authority decides on a new tactic. In the same way that the Netanyahu government plays as a political support for the Republicans, the Palestinians will do the same for the progressive Democrats. The Palestinians will call out Republican policies and politicians. They will accuse their support of aid to Israel as akin to financing genocide. The PA might boycott meetings with Republicans, endorse democrats with pro-Palestinian sympathies over their Republican opponents etc..
The Republican reaction to this will be to attack the Palestinians and to paint their struggle as socialist and anti-Western. They will make the Palestinians the symbol of the enemy of their own private culture war. How will progressive Democrats respond to these attacks? They will more reflexively hug the Palestinians in turn- supporting their right to statehood, perhaps endorsing the One State solution, highlighting the squalid conditions of Gaza or refugee camps in other countries.
You can see where I’m going with this. If the Palestinians are able to stir this shit storm right they can turn support from Israel into a deeply partisan issue.
Now, this might have some immediate drawbacks for the Palestinian National cause. One can imagine that Republican administrations that have become even more harshly pro-Israel after this polarization would support Israel even further, and try to pressure the Palestinians to agree to a permanent settlement of quasi-sovereignty (which is what is rumored to be Trump’s “deal of the century”- https://www.presstv.com/Detail/2019/04/15/593470/US-deal-of-century-Kushner-Trump-Palestine-Israel).
But, if the Palestinians can stay patient, opportunity might be just around the corner. An ascendant progressive democratic base that views support for Palestinian national rights as equivalent to pro-choice orthodoxy will create a constituency in the Democratic Party that will be impossible to ignore. Eventually, a Democratic candidate for President will win and will have some sort of strength in congress- and they will need to pay-off this “pro-Palestine” constituency.
What might a, say, President Warren or President Sanders or (dare I say it) President Ocasio-Cortez do upon taking office? They could make a Palestinian State, settlement withdrawal or removal of the Occupation a key U.S. demand. To achieve this they could threaten to cut-off military aid to Israel or refuse to veto anti-Israeli resolutions in the U.N.. They could set the stage for other progressive allies of the U.S. to follow their lead- which could create the conditions for an economic campaign against the State of Israel. In its worst incarnation, this could make Israel into the South Africa of the 1980’s- isolated, marginalized, force to choose between radicals at home or capitulation abroad.
If you’re a Palestinian Nationalist then you are practically wetting yourself from happiness at the possibility of the future I just described above. If you are an Israel-supporter you will be having the same bodily reaction, but out of panic. Will the Palestinians be savvy enough (and risk-tolerant enough) to try such a strategy? Will the Israelis be able to stop them or ameliorate the type of polarization I’ve described above? Only time will tell I guess.