When the Arab uprisings began to gather steam a few months ago, a number of conservatives were quick to issue proclamations that the change sweeping the Middle East would finally relegate the Palestinian issue to the margins (where they clearly had long wished it to be). The Hoover Institution’s Josef Joffe claimed that the tumult had revealed Palestine as simply a "distraction" employed by corrupt dictators. Likewise, Israel’s Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon declared that Arabs’ anger at their own leaders had shown the significance of the Palestinian question to be a mirage.

As I noted in responses at the time, this was not only wishful thinking, but poor analysis that misunderstood, or simply disregarded, the evidence in regard to the quality and depth of Arab public opinion on the Palestinian question.

A piece in today’s New York Times backs this up:

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. [...]

Many surveys routinely find that the Israeli occupation is considered the biggest obstacle to peace and stability in the region. American interference is often listed as a close second.

In a tent in Tahrir Square with a Palestinian banner and a sign that read “Jerusalem will soon be back,” Mustafa Hesham, a 22-year-old with a narrow patch of beard on his chin, said he was “arrested and humiliated just because I support the Palestinian cause.” “After the revolution that won’t happen again,” he said.

In the Christian Science Monitor, Ibrahim Sharqieh of the Brookings Doha Center argues that the Arab uprisings have already changed the dynamic between the rulers and the people of the region, and that the U.S. relationship with both would be seriously undermined by U.S. efforts to penalize the Palestinians for trying to have their national rights recognized at the United Nations:

To use financial aid as a bargaining tool over a basic human need not only complicates US relations with the region, particularly in the aftermath of the Arab Spring, but also raises serious ethical concerns. The Arab Spring has emphasized values of freedom, justice, and dignity, and US foreign policy in the region should be consistent with supporting these ideals, regardless of the political cost associated with such action. The Palestinians should not be punished for demanding freedom and the recognition of their state.

The United States should view the proposal for a Palestinian state at the UN in September, then, as an opportunity to demonstrate its commitment to universal human values of justice and freedom, rather than acquiescing to political pressure and lobbying. And it should also recognize Palestinian statehood as a foundational element not just in ongoing negotiations, but also in forging real peace in the region. The US vote over the Palestinian independence in the UN will therefore be critical not only for the Palestinians but also for the spirit of the Arab Spring.

Unfortunately, as of now it looks like political pressure and lobbying will win out, and the U.S. will end up voting (again) against its own stated interests at the UN in September.

Subscribe to Middle East Progress Alerts

Support Middle East Progress

In-Depth Coverage

Original Commentaries

Setting the Record Straight

Determined to Reach a Common Objective

“We knew at the outset that the task would be difficult. We acknowledged that publicly and privately. We knew this would be a road with many bumps— and there have been many bumps—and that continues to this day. But we are not deterred. We are, to the contrary, determined more than ever to proceed to realize the common objective, which we all share, of a Middle East that is at peace with security and prosperity for the people of Israel, for Palestinians, and for all the people in the region. We will continue our efforts in that regard, undeterred and undaunted by the difficulties, the complexities or the bumps in the road.”—George Mitchell, special envoy for Middle East peace, remarks with Prime Minister Netanyahu, September 29, 2010

Middle East Analysis

Upcoming Events

The U.S. Agency for International Development and Conflict: Hard Lessons from the Field

May 17, 2011, 12:00pm – 1:15pm

From Afghanistan and Iraq to Pakistan, Somalia, and South Sudan, the U.S. Agency for International Development, or USAID, is engaged daily in trying to help some of the most troubled nations on the planet make a lasting transition to stability, open markets, and democracy. Few areas of the agency’s work are more challenging or more controversial.

Join us for remarks by, and a roundtable with, the deputy administrator of USAID, Ambassador