What do Tunisia, Lebanon and Egypt have to do with the Palestine Papers?

I am deeply moved by the events in Tunisia. The uprising is proof, once again, that liberty and justice are indeed for all:  for Americans under Jim Crow, for the Chinese in Tiananmen Square, and for Tunisians too, these truths are self-evident and universal.  Tunisia is a great riposte to racist arguments that the Arab/Middle East mentality is not built for democracy and is hard-wired only for force. I wonder if people realize how often that argument is raised here.

The dramatic sight of young people harnessing technology to rise up in Lebanon and Egypt seems to be a ripple effect beginning perhaps in Tunisia, or maybe even Iran.

Part of the power of these moments comes in the willingness of citizens to fight against all odds. As an anonymous Lebanese journalist wrote for today’s Yediot Aharonot (the print version – unfortunately, I couldn’t find it online),

“The whole time, the television stations were showing pictures of Lebanon burning, and I said to myself: “we’re not Tunisia. We won’t manage to drive out the government. We’re the minority. They have power and weapons.”

Hillary Clinton, too, gave a strikingly uninspired statement that apparently the 30-year reign of Mubarak’s leadership was stable, which translates as ‘the protestors don’t stand a chance.’ Not surprisingly, locals were disheartened, including Mohammed El-Baradei, the Nobel Prize winning former head of the IAEA and possible Presidential hopeful.

People are not rising up because they have conducted a rational calculation of the odds and expect to win. They are rising up to demand what is theirs, even if they don’t get it.

The protests might be the start of a domino-collapse of authoritarian Middle East leaders. But it feels deeper – like the end of a paradigm. Could this be a tectonic shift away from the culture and mentality of accepting corrupt military or oil dictatorships? Are the people of the Middle East tired of being distracted by a holy war against the Zionist enemy, and ready for a crusade against their leech-leaders? Is this the collapse of Ajami’s Dream Palace of the Arabs?

It sounds like people are saying kefaya (“enough”, the name of the Egyptian seed movement and now the rallying cry in Cairo): Our freedom and progress and modernization and democratization are more important than any of your bullshit ideologies. There’s a new paradigm in town.

And against this flaming background came the Palestine Papers.

Much commentary has focused on whether the papers will or won’t bring down Fatah, whether Al Jazeera plotted to help Hamas, whether the papers prove that a two-state solution is truly dead.

After reading things like this from FT:

The Islamists of Hamas, who trounced Fatah in an election five years ago because of its corruption and failure, will be among the winners.

I finally realized what bothers me: most seem to assume that the Palestinians are still anchored in the old paradigm.

Actually, Palestinian people already have realized that better domestic governance cannot be sacrificed on the altar of Israel issues alone. They exacted their revenge on Fatah in 2006 at the ballot box, not in the streets. Tragically, that healthy instinct of throwing out the old corrupt regime, opened up one of the worst chapters yet for Israel and Palestinians.

Ironically, Palestinians actually have reason to fester in anti-Israel sentiment. If Palestinian people have been convinced to sacrifice political development and accept deeply corrupt or ineffective leadership for the sake of the struggle against Israel, it’s not just that they’ve been manipulated: they are suffering under occupation.

So why do I argue that Palestinians should not channel all their anger into what their leaders did or didn’t do about Israel, as revealed in the Palestine Papers?

Because Palestine should stop waiting for Israel. It’s time to acknowledge that Israeli foreign policy is paralyzed.  If Palestinians make electoral (or revolutionary) decisions based on how each party deals with Israel, they’re missing a new opportunity.

The Palestinian people do not have to overthrow their leadership because of what the Palestine Papers say (which isn’t actually very much). They should overthrow leaders who trick them into complacency by selling them radicalism and violent fundamentalism in return for their souls that crave freedom from within as much as without. Or they should overthrow them for bad governance and insufficiently democratic standards.

Palestinian democracy and statehood are the third Intifada. Political consolidation, stability, state-building, institution-strengthening, transparency, anti-corruption measures and judicial process against offenders – those are the best, and maybe the only effective measures against the occupation. The domestic needs of the Palestinian people now coincide with the best asset they can bring to their international quest for independence.

Here’s the proof: the Palestinian state-building and non-violent anti-occupation movements are finally being rewarded by the international community. To all those who said just a month ago that a few South American recognitions won’t matter, I say ‘I told you so.’ Last week Russia, this week Ireland. My prediction: more EU countries to follow.

When tempers cool about the Palestine Papers, I hope Palestinian people will ask: which party is doing more to implement serious state-building efforts? I hope Fatah will ask itself: have we recognized the new paradigm in which our people demand and deserve true democratic governance? The heavy-handed opposition-stifling and ongoing corruption that characterizes Fatah’s governance smacks of the old paradigm, which must ultimately become unsustainable. And I hope Hamas is recognized for what it is: empty rhetoric and twisted religion in the service of rejectionist leadership that steals freedom and progress from its people.

If the papers cause the Palestinian people to sink further into the old paradigm, they’ll lose. Let history record the papers as a passing stumble on the road to Palestinian statehood; or as a footnote showing why Israel was ultimately left behind in the process.