Poking Holes in Walls: Europe’s shift in perceptions of Palestine

by Mustafa Abid

Sunday, November 9th marked the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, a physical manifestation of the end of the Soviet Union, the Cold War, the separation between East and West Berlin and Germany. During this anniversary, Palestinian activists took sledgehammers to another wall, with fervor similar to their German predecessors.

The Palestinian activists stated during an interview afterwards, “No matter how high walls are built, they will fall. Just as the Berlin Wall fell, the wall in Palestine will fall, along with the occupation.” While these stirring words do not reflect the political realities of the moment, they do reflect recent gains in the politics made by Palestinians. How these gains progress will arguably depend on the potential third intifada in the coming weeks unfolds and the efficacy with which Hamas and the Palestinian Authority reconcile. Both Palestinian and Israeli goals may be hampered by the outcome.

The recent events predicating this statement certainly point to shifting political realities for the Palestinian-Israeli conflict in Europe. With Sweden’s recognition of the Palestinian state last month, Covered by Davidson International’s own Sarah Taylor which was followed by the British House of Commons voting for the British government to recognize the Palestinian state and similar moves by Ireland’s Upper House, European nations no longer seem interested in playing second party to U.S. negotiations in the intractable conflict. According to Wall Street Journal, one senior European official warned, “We are not going to wait forever. Other countries are poised to follow Sweden.” These recognitions may prove extremely detrimental to existing Israeli policies, especially as they penalize Israel for its internationally outlawed settlements. Further, they create a pathway by which international, government-sanctioned boycotts of Israeli settlement goods and services could be expanded, an especially risky scenario for Israel if secondary settlement parties are affected, reaching into the deeper Israeli economy.

The Palestinians, on the other hand, must face the looming threat to the consensus support they are building in the EU: a violent intifada. Speculation abounds of a third intifada beginning in response to increasing pressure by Israeli settlements and carry-over resentment from the bombardment of Gaza this past summer. If isolated attacks and acts of civil disobedience escalate into mass uprisings, the Palestinians and the Israelis will be in the spotlight, vying for the coveted victimhood narrative that sways international support. It would be difficult to maintain that narrative should the violence of the intifada escalate, especially in relation to violence against civilians. If Palestinian civil society leaders are interested in sustaining and furthering the wave of international support, they will remain active in guiding the next few weeks of civil disobedience to avoid extreme violence.

Even as a potential third intifada begins in Jerusalem, in the West Bank, and Gaza, efforts to reconcile the Hamas and Fatah government parties has so far failed to produce tangible reconciliation. The recent bombings against Fatah members in Gaza, and the subsequent cancellation of a reconciliation event and memorial for Yasser Arafat on November 11, provide troubling indicators about the success of reconciliation. Prior to the war in Gaza this past summer, it seemed that reconciliation between the two parties might be on the horizon, but these bombings make it clear that antagonistic, zero-sum power politics remain prevalent. Fatah and Hamas blame each other for the bombings, and until the issue is resolved, it seems that efforts to work through outstanding issues in the reconciliation will be put on hold.

Without reconciliation between the two most powerful factions in Palestine, there can be little hope for a successful, diplomatic, realization of Palestinian goals, as neither party will be dependable to act in concert with the other, should a treaty be signed. Further, non-reconciliation degrades the legitimacy of Palestinian diplomatic efforts internationally as they seek to build support in Europe for a two state solution. Concerns over how international funding and support will be distributed in regards to Hamas, the Palestinian militant organization, factor heavily into aid and political support calculations. Europeans, and eventually the American Congress, will be much more willing to aid a unity government in which Hamas is mostly de-militarized and incorporated into an internationally recognized government via the power-sharing government.

When the Palestinian activists punched a hole through the separation wall, they were attempting to make a statement, to declare that their cause had not been forgotten, and that they believed they were close to reaching whatever their specific goals for Palestine and Israel my be. How close they actually are to these goals will depend on how the next several months unfold. Until then, this intractable conflict will continue.

Image Source: The Independent

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