The Third Intifada has already begun

‘The Arab Spring … is the commencement of the Third Intifada on a transnational, pan-Arab and pan-Muslim scale.’

aipac obama
‘Palestinians are, of course, not waiting for Israel to deign “to give them” their state – something that is not theirs to give’ [GALLO/GETTY]

No amount of global revulsion at US President Barack Obama’s mendacious speech at the UN General Assembly in September 2011, unabashedly seeking to preempt the possibility of the Palestinian statehood bid, can ever match the unsurpassed hypocrisy with which Mr Audacity of Hope has opted to put his signature to his presidency. 

After this speech it will no longer matter if he wins the next US presidential election or loses it to Attila the Hun on the Republican side. He will be remembered in history for the fireworks of his having stirred a nation to seek their better angels in 2008 and then let the crude cowardice with which he betrayed that dream throw a bucket of iced water on those who trusted his words.

Reverend Jeremiah Wright was right about him: “He is a politician” – a polite way of saying: “He lies”.

It no longer matters if you are a Democrat, a Republican, or any other colorless shade of bought-and-paid-for politician in between – Israel has finally dragged the United States – not just its elected officials, but the nation that actually elects this corrupt calamity to power – down to its level, while the rest of the world is mapping a different chart for itself. 

The only hope for the United States is now a band of visionary heroes camping out for nights and days, occupying the site of that Ponzi scheme that calls itself “Wall Street”, all the while being brutalised by the militarised New York police with evident impunity. 

Not just one but three retrograde speeches (Obama’s, Ahmadinejad’s, and Netanyahu’s) marked this season of discontent – matched by one rousing pronouncement (Mahmoud Abbas’), the aura of its noble cause having overcome its not-so-eloquent speaker. The noble cause of Palestine shined on that graceless building in lower Manhattan, as Obama, Netanyahu and Ahmadinejad took turns depositing themselves ignobly in the dustbin of history. 

The condemnation of all three of these hypocritical speeches (in one way or another) has been global. But one particular point raised by Robert Fisk deserves closer attention. Responding to Obama’s speech, Robert Fisk has observed: “And as the days go by, and we discover whether the Palestinians respond to Obama’s groveling performance with a third intifada or with a shrug of weary recognition that this is how things always were, the facts will continue to prove that the US administration remains a tool of Israel when it comes to Israel’s refusal to give the Palestinians a state.”

Third Intifada has already begun

Palestinians are, of course, not waiting for Israel to deign “to give them” their state – something that is not theirs to give. But on the more crucial question of “the third Intifada”, we need no longer wait to see how Palestinians will respond, or whether the Third Intifada is on the offing or not. The Third Intifada has already happened. It is called the Arab Spring. 

The Arab Spring … is the commencement of the Third Intifada on a transnational, pan-Arab, and pan-Muslim scale.

The Arab Spring, now having endured its Summer and entering the maturity of its Fall and Winter, is the commencement of the Third Intifada on a transnational, pan-Arab, and pan-Muslim scale. 

The thick colonial walls that have hitherto separated Palestinians from their masses of millions of supporters around the globe have crumbled down under the mighty weight of the Arab Spring. 

It is impossible to exaggerate the significance of the Palestinian struggle for Arabs and Muslims around the globe. Netanyahu is a fool to think that he can divide the Arab and Muslim world by propping up Israel-friendly regimes, isolate the Palestinians, and thus be able to continue to steal their homeland with impunity. The Third Intifada of which he and his Zionist cabal were afraid has just erupted and spread far beyond the Palestinian borders, far beyond the ability of the Israeli army to repress. 

In his unabashedly racist and condescending comments on the Arab Spring, precisely at the moment when he admonished the UN for having rightly denounced Zionism as racism, Netanyahu (just like Ahmadinejad) tried to divide the revolutionary uprisings into various parts to appropriate or dismiss them to his liking. 

“Can you imagine that man who ranted here yesterday,” he said, referring to Ahmadinejad, “can you imagine him armed with nuclear weapons? The international community must stop Iran before it’s too late. If Iran is not stopped, we will all face the specter of nuclear terrorism, and the Arab Spring could soon become an Iranian winter. That would be a tragedy. Millions of Arabs have taken to the streets to replace tyranny with liberty, and no one would benefit more than Israel if those committed to freedom and peace would prevail.” 

This from the man who sits atop a deadly stockpile of undeclared nuclear weapons, who refuses to sign the NPD – and no one dares to stop him from his madness and the madness of stealing an entire country from its people.

For decades Israel has perpetrated “nuclear terrorism” on Arabs and Muslims in and out of Palestine with full US support. Among those “millions of Arabs” taking to the streets were Egyptians and Jordanians who brought down the Israeli flag, raised the Palestinian flag, and forced the Israeli envoys to run back to Tel Aviv. Is the man self-delusional – or just a plain hypocrite? 

Stupidity and spite

Ahmadinejad has cherry-picked what he likes from the Arab Spring [GALLO/GETTY]

Netanyahu’s Iranian counterpart competed in hypocrisy with his Israeli nemesis. He once again denied the Holocaust, and joined the conspiracy theorists about the events of 9/11. But these were just warm-ups to give the world body a lecture on the proper manner of running the world and addressing its miseries. 

This from a man who represents a regime that has just brutally repressed a massive civil rights movement, whose two principal presidential rivals have been under house arrest and incommunicado for months, whose dungeons are filled with political dissidents, journalists, lawyers, filmmakers, and academics. Millions of citizens in his country are denied their basic civil liberties, among them a young woman blogger (Somayeh Tohidlu) who has just been lashed 50 times for having criticised him in her blog, and whose administration is currently under investigation by a parliamentary commission for the largest case of bank fraud in Iranian history. 

Stupidity and spite have a strange rendezvous in Netanyahu and Ahmadinejad – each cherry-picking what part of the Arab Spring to endorse and what part to dismiss, both blinded to the fact that the Arab Spring is the Third Palestinian Intifada writ large, no longer at the mercy of the Israeli army, or the propaganda machinery of the Islamic Republic.

The Third Intifada has now broken out, with a scale and magnitude that neither Netanyahu, nor his errant US president, nor the Saudi potentates, nor the Egyptian generals, nor the ruling clerics in Iran can appropriate.  This is much bigger than their limited imagination can fathom. 

What depth of cowardice or blindness could have befallen a man to have seen the revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt, to have seen those masses of millions at Tahrir, to have seen those heroic Syrians marching towards their freedom, to have had an inkling of the Arab Spring, and before it the Green Movement, and to have delivered that utterly inane speech that Obama delivered at the UN about Palestine? 

After that speech, the mayoral election in Izmir is far more exciting and consequential than the presidential election in the United States. Who could care any longer if Obama wins in the next election, or if Jack or Jane the Ripper of the Tea Party win instead?

Domestically, Obama saves corporate ballrooms and banking executives, while the indignity of jobless Americans intensifies. This is now spiralling into a national uprising centered around the Occupy Wall Street Movement. Globally, all Obama can say to Netanyahu’s “Jump!” is “How high?”

Obama entered the White House banking on the legitimate sentiments of millions of Americans wishing to see the centuries of injustice against African-Americans come to a symbolic end. That was, and that remains, a noble moment in the history of this nation. But what of that history of slavery when Obama in effect told Palestinians to go and sit in the back of the bus, to drink from a different fountain, and to designate them as the wretched of this earth?  

WEB DuBois, Martin Luther King, Malcolm X, and generations of other African-American revolutionaries and civil rights activists are turning in their graves watching Obama.

WEB Dubois, Martin Luther King, Malcolm X … are turning in their graves watching the white mask of this black president.

Obama will go down in history for a systemic mendacity in American politics, taken hostage to a sheer inanity called AIPAC, called Israel, called Zionism. 

The first Jewish president: No way – no way the dignity of an entire people, the sanctity of a world religion, to be wasted on this ignominy. He’s Zionist, not Jewish – but he is not the first or the last Zionist president that the United States will see. It has had all sorts of Zionist presidents, and a whole slew of Zionist presidents are waiting to succeed Obama. But the world – now from one end to another, revolting against the indignities of this politics of despair – no longer cares. The world, shoulder to shoulder with Palestinians, is charting a different future for itself – and this calamity, code-named “the West”, cannot stop it. 

False friends, fake enemies

The Arab Spring cum the Third Intifada has changed the moral map of what colonial officers had termed “the Middle East”, and brought the United States and Islamic Republic much closer to each other in their identical fears than they might think. Saudi Arabia and Israel are the sidekicks of the self-assigned “superpower”. 

That “superpower” cannot bring anything to the world except death and destruction – and precisely because the Arab Spring/Third Intifada is constitutionally non-violent, the vulgar violence embedded in the US-Israeli alliance is rendered instantly useless and repulsive. 

But the US and Israel are not the only losers in the configuration of this new Realpolitik. Saudi Arabia and Iran are, too. Consider the two consecutive, typically gaudy, conferences in Tehran – one on “Islamic Awakening” and the other on the “Palestinian Intifada”, marking the Islamic Republic’s futile attempt to appropriate the Palestinian cause and the Arab Spring to its own increasingly jeopardised regional position. 

One must look at these two consecutive conferences in the context of the increasingly evident fact that the Islamic Republic looks singularly inept and irrelevant to the region, particularly with the principled rise of Turkey as a major regional force.

Only the United States and Israel look as ridiculous and confused as the Islamic Republic and Saudi Arabia when it comes to how the Arab Spring has caught them all off guard and exposed their outdated and outmanoeuvered hypocrisies. 

Referring to Palestine as an “Islamic country” (in Persian) that has been taken away from its people and given to foreigners, Ali Khamenei, “the Supreme Leader”, tries to strike two birds with one stone: Not just defend the cause of Palestine for his own internal and regional reasons, but categorically Islamise it, too. 

The Palestine of Ayatollah Khamenei’s imagination has no room for Edward Said, Joseph Massad, Elia Suleiman, or millions of other non-Muslim Palestinians.

Palestinians, of course, are not all Muslims, and from the combined traces of Palestinian Muslims, Christians, Druze, Samaritans, Jews, Baha’is, and agnostics a bona fide civil religion has emerged that incorporates symbols and rituals of all Palestinian people. In other words, the Palestine of Ayatollah Khamenei’s imagination has no room for Edward Said, Joseph Massad, Elia Suleiman, or millions of other non-Muslim Palestinians. 

But even if Palestinians were all Muslims, it does not mean that they want to create an “Islamic Republic of Palestine” after 60 years of dealing with the Jewish State of Israel. 

The calamity of one Islamic Republic, next to a Jewish state, presided over by a Christian empire, in the vicinity of Hindu fundamentalism, is calamitous enough for the whole world.

The question for those among “the Arab Left” (or what ever is left of it) who think of the Islamic Republic as an ally is whether or not they are really struggling for an “Islamic Republic of Palestine”, with a “Supreme Leader” as their sultan. The answer is, “Of course not”. As a leading Palestinian public intellectual told me recently: “Every time Ahmadinejad opens his mouth he pushes the cause of Palestine back by a decade.” 

Falsely Islamising the Palestinian cause

Khaled Meshaal must disassociate himself from Syria and the Islamic Republic of Iran [GALLO/GETTY]

So Palestinians should not wish upon Iranians what they don’t hope to happen to Palestine. The same question is reversed for those former and current Iranian employees of WINEP (The Washington Institute for Near Eastern Policy – the intelligence arm of the pro-Israel lobby in the United States). Disguising themselves as supporters of the Green Movement, they planted the nativist slogan of “Neither Gaza nor Lebanon” in the midst of some demonstrations in Iran from Voice of America. The problem for both these sides – segments of the Arab Left and platoons of the Iranian Right – is that they are both out to lunch when it comes to the emerging geopolitics of the region. 

Not only the ruling clerics of the Islamic Republic are falsely Islamising the Palestinian national liberation movement. So is the Iranian opposition. Seyyed Mohammad Sadr, a deputy foreign minister from the cabinet of former president Mohammad Khatami, called the Syrian uprising “the most Islamic uprising in the region”. But by what authority? 

The reformist opposition wishes to expose the hypocrisy of the ruling faction in disregarding the Syrian uprising when branding the Arab Spring as “an Islamic Wakening”, but in the process both factions come together to extend the calamity of the Islamic Republic into the region at large. 

There is no doubt that Syrians, as Muslims, have every right to define their political future in terms definitive to who and what they are. But so do generations of Syrian political thinkers, artists, journalists, intellectuals, and scholars, who are not on record as having wished for an “Islamic Republic of Syria” on the model of “the Islamic Republic of Iran” – a calamity built on mass graves, repeated university purges, calamitous cultural revolutions, the forced exile of entire generations of dissenters, and the maiming and murder of their ideological opponents. 

Binyamin Netanyahu, of course, loves nothing more than a provocative statement from Khamenei or Ahmadinejad to detract attention from his government’s continued armed robbery of Palestine. 

According to Al Jazeera, “Binyamin Netanyahu … reacted angrily to Khamenei’s speech. ‘The declarations of hatred from the ayatollah regime on the intention to destroy the state of Israel reinforces the government’s steadfast position for the security needs of Israel’s citizens and the demand for recognition of Israel as the Jewish state’, Netanyahu said.” 

“Israel and the Islamic Republic are two sides of the same outdated coin.

Logic and consistency be damned: Two times two equals we need a Jewish Republic of Israel. Contrary to all their protestations, Israel and the Islamic Republic are two sides of the same outdated coin. 

The Arab Spring as a transnational Intifada spreading the Palestinian cause region-wide puts both sides of this hypocrisy out of business – and that is precisely the reason why both want to push back the current uprisings to the status quo ante, to assume a ludicrous warring posture and rub Arabs and Muslims of their world-historic uprisings against remnants of European colonialism (Israel), domestic tyranny (Islamic Republic, Saudi Arabia, Syria, ad nauseum), and globalised imperialism (US, EU, and their NATO) at one and the same time.

Israel and the Islamic Republic (joined by Syria and Hezbollah) are integral to the combined calamity of domestic tyranny and Euro-American imperialism – not a cure for it. 

What both the subservient Iranian press and Binyamin Netanyahu and his government fail to note or report is that in the very same conference in Tehran, Khaled Meshaal, the Hamas leader, in fact defended Mahmoud Abbas’s UN move and praised it as courageous and a symbolic triumph for Palestinians. 

This position is indeed a triumph for both Hamas and the Palestinian national liberation movement, to increasingly dissociate themselves from the discredited ruling regimes in the Islamic Republic and Syria. When in 1997, under direct instructions from Binyamin Netanyahu, Khaled Meshaal was the target of an unsuccessful assassination attempt by Israeli assassins, the Israeli colonial settlement would have never imagined this drastic change of events.

Third Intifada writ large

If Khaled Meshaal, or any other Palestinian leader, does not dissociate himself fast enough from both Syria and the Islamic Republic, he will have forfeited his claim on the Arab Spring cum the Third Intifada.

The Arab Spring is the Third Intifada – writ large.

There is no cause of liberty so constitutionally definitive to the Arab and Muslim world, as poignant in moral and imaginative terms, as the Palestinian cause. It is the gushing wound of the last remnant of European colonialism having hooked itself to American imperialism. 

Irreducible to Islamism, socialism, or nationalism, the Palestinian cause is a microcosm of the Arab and Muslim worlds’ struggles for dignity, justice, and democratic governance. Neither a Jewish state nor an Islamic Republic can be the blueprint for that future.

Liberation of Palestine is the first and final liberation of that world held hostage by the combined calamity of European colonialism, American imperialism, and the mini-tyrants who either collaborate or else feign to oppose them – having caused and conditioned domestic tyrannies from one end of Africa to another end of Asia. 

We as a people deserve, and will do, better.

Israel, the United States, the Islamic Republic, Saudi Arabia, and all other Arab and Muslim tyrants strangling their nations under the false pretense of resisting imperialism are equal losers in this transnational eruption of the Palestinian Intifada as the Arab Spring – and it is precisely this uprising that each tries, in its own hypocritical way, to thwart and distort – in vain. 

Hamid Dabashi is Hagop Kevorkian Professor of Iranian Studies and Comparative Literature at Columbia University in New York. His forthcoming book, The Arab Spring:  The End of Postcolonialism is scheduled for publication from Zed in April 2012.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial policy.