Aswat Asharq Al-Awsat :
Hazem Saghieh

Aswat Asharq Al-Awsat : The Shifting Equations of the Conflict with Israel

After 1948, the Arab conflict with Israel was waged with an Arab nationalist outlook and sensibility. Satii al-Husari gave a famous response to those who said Israel had defeated seven Arab armies that year. The late nationalist intellectual believed that the reason for the defeat was precisely the existence of seven Arab armies instead of just one. For years, Arab nationalists have been debating whether Arab unity is a path to liberating Palestine or vice versa, while the debates of the Nasserists and Baathists in the sixties largely revolved around the Palestinian cause and its "betrayal."

Because of the military nationalist regimes’ alliance with the Soviet Union, and their advocacy of a sort of socialism, social horizons, with their ideas and sensibilities, were granted a contained position on the margins of the nationalist pursuit. After the defeat of 1967 in particular, greater emphasis was placed on the narrative of the battle with Israel being a battle against "American imperialism" and the "Arab reactionaries" said to be subservient to it.

Palestinian militant factions also began competing to "represent the working class," with factions splitting over supposed doubts regarding the extent to which the other succeeds to do so.

Today, on the other hand, two completely different horizons loom over the conflict with Israel. There is the emphasis on Islamism reflected by the leading role played by Hamas aided by Islamic Jihad, as well as their allies and supporters, from Khomeinist Iran and the Lebanese Hezbollah to the Houthis ("Ansar Allah") in Yemen and the Shiite factions in Iraq.

There are many other indications of the dominance of Islamism, from the centrality of the Al-Aqsa Mosque in rhetoric intended to galvanize supporters, to the prevalence of religious terminology, drawing inspiration from battles of Islamic history. There are also allusions to the "Brotherhoodism" that some see evidence of in the history of Hamas itself, as well as the various positions expressed by Türkiye and others. We also have the strong Muslim presence in the movement of solidarity in the West and the mobilization of the media pioneered by Al Jazeera...

However, just as the social question had occupied a position on the margins of the Arab nationalist mainstream, we see a horizon that is at once universal, moral, ethical, and legal, taking form on the margin of the Islamist mainstream. Those who sit at this margin are infuriated by the brutality of Israel’s genocidal behavior and the scale of impunity the Jewish state has enjoyed, as well as the military and financial support it receives from Western countries, particularly the United States.

Here, we find the uprooting of the previous stage. The Brotherhood's Islamist movement, as we well know, despised nothing more than they despised Gamal Abdel Nasser and the Baath Party, and no one repressed the Brotherhood like they repressed it. In fact, the term "Arab" is now almost completely absent, whether in narratives of the conflict, commentary about it, or the developments it has precipitated. Just as Islamism overwhelms Arab nationalism, universalist moralism overwhelms the social.

Students from elite universities in the United States are the last people who can be considered to resemble the poor and toiling masses, whether in Gaza or elsewhere. Figures like Bella Hadid and Cate Blanchett replacing the proletariat, Mao, and Guevara, or "human rights" and "values of justice" replacing "the protracted people’s war," all warrant reflection on what could be the eroding clarity of the social dimension of global conflicts.

Further reinforcing these doubts that the great tragedies of our world which are difficult to fit into the so-called "tribal wars" of the United States, do not capture the attention of the conscientious consciousness or its advocates.

Two other concerning matters call for reflecting on these shifts that rarely garner our attention: First, the Islamic-universalist duality is less cohesive than the nationalist-socialist duality that preceded it. Moreover, while the pressure from the Soviet Union maintained the latter, there is no comparable force that can safeguard the unity between the movements that express the most radical and avant-gardist views of sex and gender and an Islamism guided by fatwas and the righteous predecessors. Al Jazeera English, which addresses "Western sympathizers" and conveys a narrative that the Arabic Al Jazeera does not share, does not have the capacity to do so.

Secondly, the Palestinian cause is susceptible to being used, sometimes with good intentions and often malevolently. Nationalists, socialists, Islamists, the moral, and the immoral can all converge around it, mimicking the cloud of Abbasid Khalif Harun al-Rashid. However, that does not guarantee control over the cloud heavy with rain, as this rain could pour down in unpredictable locations.

Despite its immense mistakes, the Palestinian Liberation Organization recognized the importance of prioritizing the Palestinian national horizon over others early on, amid criticism of its pragmatism and ideological weakness, then and now, by the dogmatic. While it strove to benefit from these currents, the PLO was not an Arab nationalist, socialist, Islamist, or "social movement." More importantly, it tried very hard, although not always successfully, to avoid becoming Syrian, Iraqi, or Iranian... Thus, the countries recognizing the State of Palestine today are recognizing only this particular nationalism and its right to statehood.