This commentary was published in The Gulf Times on 05/05/2011
The Arab Spring, which has hit the Arab world like a tsunami, had led many in Israel and their allies in the West, especially in the US, to mistakenly believe that it has muffled for good the Palestinian drive to regain their rights within their Israeli-usurped homeland.
But as the uprisings continued undeterred and overwhelmedsome key autocratic Arab regimes since January — Tunisia and Egypt, for example — the focus of the western media gradually shifted from the 63-year-old Palestinian-Israeli conflict.
Some Palestinians seemed disheartened by these turn of events, but an American-led poll carried out in Egypt by the respected Pew Research Centre and based on face-to-face interviews turned the tables.
The majority of Egyptians (54 per cent) wanted to annul the 1979 peace treaty with Israel. Only 36 per cent voted to keep the agreement, which has been described as "a cornerstone of Egyptian foreign policy and the region's stability" during the regime of former president Hosni Mubarak, now in jail.
The finding, reported The New York Times, "squares with the overwhelming anecdotal evidence that Egyptians feel Israel has not lived up to its commitments in its treatment of the Palestinians". Interestingly, the poll also found that 39 per cent of Egyptians believe the US response to the uprising in their country was negative, compared to only 22 per cent who said it was positive.
The second punch that followed was the unexpected announcement in Cairo of a reconciliation between the two feuding Palestinian factions — Fatah, led by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, and Hamas, the Islamist group which controls the Gaza Strip.
The significance of the much-awaited agreement, formally signed by both factions yesterday, was underlined by a statement from an Abbas aide who said last month that he was prepared to give up hundreds of millions of dollars in US aid if that was what it takes to forge a Palestinian unity deal.
Israel and, very likely, a number of western powers are not expected to praise this feud-ending agreement in the hope that it may pave the way for immediate resumption of negotiations between the Palestinians and Israelis.
As expected, Israel is already on record saying that the new accord, which was brokered in secrecy by Egypt, will not secure peace in the Middle East. Israel's relations with Hamas, which has ruled the Gaza Strip since 2007 after ousting Fatah in a civil war, has been bitter and bloody. But all this should not stop any behind-the-scenes efforts to bring the two sides together.
The Palestinian side has regrettably offered to abandon its efforts to win membership in the UN General Assembly, which had in the past endorsed Israel's admission to the world body, should Israel come forth with a genuine offer.
Another positive step has been the agreement of the Palestinian factions to name leading independent figures to the proposed interim government pending proposed elections in September.
The 22-member Arab League, which had already endorsed an Arab peace proposal several years ago, has also been chosen to oversee the implementation of the reconciliation agreement.
If the two sides and their supporters wish to disrupt all these attempts of finding a solution, one does not need more than a troublemaker to undermine these efforts.
For example, the US and Israel as well as some other European nations have refused to deal with Hamas since they consider it a ‘terrorist' organisation, and any future Palestinian government would have to renounce violence and endorse Israel's right to exist.
Obviously, the other side can come up with a convincing list; and just to cite one example, what about Israel identifying its borders or initiating withdrawal from all Occupied Territories?
Turkey's President Abdullah Gul said it most succinctly in his recent Op Ed article in The New York Times:
"History has taught us that demographics is the most decisive factor in determining the fate of nations. In the coming 50 years, Arabs will constitute the overwhelming majority of people between the Mediterranean Sea and the Dead Sea. The new generation of Arabs is much more conscious of democracy, freedom and national dignity.
"In such a context, Israel cannot afford to be perceived as an apartheid island surrounded by an Arab sea of anger and hostility."
His conclusion: "It will be almost impossible for Israel to deal with the emerging democratic and demographic currents in the absence of a peace agreement with the Palestinians and the rest of the Arab world. Turkey, conscious of its own responsibility, stands ready to help."
George S. Hishmeh is a Washington-based columnist. He can be contacted at email@example.com.