Palestine and the Arab street

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Thousands protested outside the US embassy in London

Trump’s announcement that the US embassy will move to Jerusalem ignited protests across the world in solidarity with the Palestinians. On the steps of the Journalists’ Union building in Cairo demonstrators burned the American flag and brandished posters condemning Trump and his partner in crime, Egypt’s dictator Abdelfattah al-Sisi, while thousands took to the streets in Jordan, Lebanon, Algeria, Morocco, Iraq, Yemen and Syria.

Analysis of the embassy move and its reaction has tended to revolve around two themes. One viewpoint sees this as largely a reflection of Trump’s desire to fulfil election campaign promises to two domestic constituencies: hardline pro-Israel groups and right wing evangelical Christians.

An unsavoury political marriage of convenience has been in effect between the two for years — the evangelical Christian right’s belief that the recognition of Jerusalem as capital by the US will hasten the apocalypse is encouraged by right wing Zionists (both in the US and in Israel) in order to achieve open US acquiescence to the Israeli occupation of East Jerusalem.

From another perspective, however, the real story is not about dinner table conversations between Trump’s backers on the radical and religious right, but rather the regional realignment between Iran and the Arab states of the Gulf.

The aspirations of the new Saudi crown prince, Mohamed Bin Salman, to regional political leadership are based on the emergence of the Gulf as a key centre of capital accumulation, not merely embedded in the neoliberal world order, but acting as a key pillar in the architecture of US imperialism which has dominated the Middle East since the retreat of the Soviet Union in the 1980s.

Collaboration with Israel has long been the political price which the US and its global allies have demanded of entrants to their economic club. Thus the current escalation of competition between Saudi Arabia and Iran has pushed the Sunni Arab states that Mohamed Bin Salman professes to lead into closer alignment with the ascendant political forces of the right in the US and Israel itself.

Both of these narratives leave out another factor — the potential of resistance from below in Palestine and around the Arab world to change the story entirely. At one level this is not surprising. It is seven years since the explosion of revolution across the Arab world and Saudi Arabia and Iran’s current ascendancy and deadly competition is one of the consequences of the counter-revolutions launched by the ruling classes of the region.

The mass movements demanding bread, freedom and social justice have retreated, tens of thousands of activists are in jail, and the motley array of republican dictatorships and authoritarian monarchies which govern the region seem to have crushed their domestic opponents.

The problem with this perspective is that it misses the way in which solidarity with Palestine has played a key role historically in the development of movements challenging the ruling classes of the Arab states from below.

In Egypt, for example, the real beginnings of the revolutionary mobilisation of 2011 can be traced back to the networks forged after the eruption of the second Intifada in 2000, which brought a new generation onto the streets of Cairo and Alexandria.

Moreover, the alignment between Israel, the neoliberal capitalists of the Gulf and the sections of the Palestinian bourgeoisie which have profited from their cosy relationship to the occupiers shows how the battle for Palestinian liberation can’t be separated from the wider struggle for revolutionary change across the region.

It also underlines why mobilising the power of the working class beyond Palestine’s borders remains essential to the project of Palestinian liberation.

That in turn means seeing the primary allies of the Palestinian struggle not in the presidential palaces of the region, but rather in the factories, streets and fields among those who the leaders of the Arab states exploit and oppress.