Yusef Harb
Bitterlemons (Interview)
February 6, 2012 - 1:00am

bitterlemons: How do you think the "Arab spring" is affecting the average Palestinian?

Harb: The Arab spring has its causes and is a natural response to the political and social regimes that have been in power in the Arab states for the last 50 years. Palestinian society, however, has a clear distinction from the regimes in the Arab world. It is led by a new, modern regime, one created in 1994 through the Oslo agreement and one that protects the capabilities of the Palestinian people.

The single conflict that exists today between the Palestinian people and its leadership, the Palestinian Authority, is that [Israel's] occupation has not ended. As such, the Arab spring is not having a great internal impact, although it will have a broad impact on the wider Palestinian issue because each change in the Arab world generates pressure for more positive results on the Palestinian issue. As these regimes become increasingly proximate and advanced in their political positions vis-a-vis Palestinians, especially in their dealings with the Israeli occupation, they will increasingly create real pressure.

Socially, there is some limited impact. In the community and economically, we sense in recent days that there is some popular Palestinian activity in [protesting] rising prices and tax hikes. But at this time, this movement is not at the level of the Arab spring.

bitterlemons: In this period, one sometimes hear Palestinians saying that everything in the Arab states is now chaos, implying that it would have been better had the Arab spring not occurred. Where do you think this sentiment comes from?

Harb: In my opinion, the Arab spring is a natural response to political, social and economic regimes that have not brought positive results. It was born in natural conditions and with time it has developed. It has not been guided by one rule; there have been influences. Any revolution or intifada or public movement would also have its negative sides. But I believe that this is a real, natural and healthy occurrence in the quest for stability and when there has been one regime and one person in control.

Why is this going on for one, two and even three years? The next 10 years will make clear if the Arab spring creates true democratic regimes with advancements in economic and social policies that give the Arab citizen a role and decision-making power. It is the right of each Arab citizen to state his or her opinion in front of every Arab leader, and every Arab leader should be able to make room for criticism and analysis. But these results will likely not be felt for years. Democracy is a state that is monitored by the culture of the society, and this will depend on the regimes that are created in this period--in Egypt, in Tunis, and soon in Yemen.

bitterlemons: Do you see changes within the Palestinian leadership, in particular Fateh, which you are a part of?

Harb: Unfortunately, the Palestinian leadership and political factions are not benefitting a great deal from the atmosphere of the Arab spring. The previous presence of the Palestine Liberation Organization and its broad field of representation seems to have blunted the sharp effects of the Arab spring. The factional regime that we have here persists and the factions have an impact on the daily life of the community and are a source of stability.

But the factions, Fateh and Hamas and others, must catch up to the changes that are happening in every Arab citizens' life and benefit from investing in the lives of the youth. These young people can benefit from exchanges with the Arab world. This next generation has more ability than previous generations, and will be more politicized and engaged in economic and social life.

bitterlemons: What do you think about the meeting that just took place between Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal? Are you optimistic about reconciliation between the factions?

Harb: It seems that the reconciliation process is serious. The meeting between them was clearly serious and not just window-dressing. In hours or days, we will see serious steps forward in reconciliation on the ground.


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