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The Daily Beast: Israel's Palestinian Arab Spring

May 17, 2011


The Daily Beast's Peter Beinart writes that if the United States and Israel cannot agree on the borders of a Palestinian state similar to those drawn in 1967, other regional actors may seize the opportunity to re-shape the Middle East.

The converging of thousands of Palestinians on Israel's borders is a sign that they have lost faith in American promises—and that if Israel and the U.S. don't work toward a Palestinian state near 1967 lines, others will seize the initiative in shaping the Middle East, writes Peter Beinart. Plus, Dan Ephron on the violent preview to peace talks.

Why did thousands of Palestinians yesterday converge upon Israel's borders? Partly because Syria's war-criminal leader, Bashar al-Assad, and his ally, Hezbollah, wanted them to. But there's more to it than that. Palestinians also marched from Jordan and Egypt, whose governments did their best to stop the protests. In fact, they marched from every corner of the Palestinian world, in a tech-savvy, coordinated campaign. What hit Israel yesterday was the Palestinian version of the Arab spring.

Something fundamental has changed. I grew up believing that we—Americans and Jews—were the shapers of history in the Middle East. We created reality; others watched, baffled, paralyzed, afraid. In 1989, Americans gloated as the Soviet Union, our former rival for Middle Eastern supremacy, retreated ignominiously from the region. When Saddam Hussein tried to challenge us from within, we thrashed him in the Gulf War. Throughout the 1990s, we sent our economists, law professors and investment bankers to try to teach the Arabs globalization, which back then meant copying us. In a thousand ways, sometimes gently, sometimes brutally, we sent the message: We make the rules; you play by them.

For Jews, this sense of being history's masters was even more intoxicating. For millennia, we had been acted upon. Mere decades earlier, American Jews had watched, trembling and inarticulate, as European Jews were destroyed. But it was that very impotence that made possible the triumph of Zionism, a movement aimed at snatching history's reins from gentiles, and perhaps even God. Beginning in the early 20th century, Zionists created facts on the ground. Sometimes the great powers applauded; sometimes they condemned, but acre by acre, Jews seized control of their fate. As David Ben-Gurion liked to say, “Our future does not depend on what gentiles say but on what Jews do.” The Arabs reacted with fury, occasional violence, and in Palestine, a national movement of their own. But they could rarely compete, either politically or militarily. We went from strength to strength; they never missed an opportunity to miss an opportunity.

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