Today, 15 September, kicks off an 8-day period in which socialists, radical leftists, Islamists, and Palestinian activists will rail at a world that is disappearing. The schedule includes the following:
15 September: Rallies for Palestine in New York and other cities in the US and Europe
16 September: Rally in Los Angeles to protest the US plan to veto the Palestinian statehood bid
22 September: Durban III conference to promote hysterical anti-Semitism at UN headquarters in New York (the US will not attend the conference, but it’s being held on our soil)
22 September: Mahmoud Ahmadinejad address to the UN
Most readers are aware of the issues surrounding the Palestinian statehood vote. Besides there being, at present, no valid basis for the creation of a state – the leadership is divided, the elected leaders in Gaza and the West Bank have both stayed on after their terms ended with no new elections, the prospective state has no border and no agreements with its neighbors – there are the matters of persistent terrorism from Gaza, and the breach of the Oslo Accords represented by a unilateral statehood bid. The US has excellent reasons for opposing the untimely call for a vote.
The Palestinian Authority vows it will request the vote anyway, in spite of intense US pressure to refrain. If it happens, the call for a vote will, of course, be an embarrassment to US diplomacy. But the statehood bid is untimely for a more important reason. It is behind the times, out of step with the disintegration of the old 20th-century paradigm: the narrative of political transformation that set “new statehood” in the context of the Western order.
According to that narrative, new statehood was two things at once: it was a process of giving deserving peoples a place in the international order, but it was also seen by many on the left as a blow against the order – much like the community organizer’s practice of ensuring that plenty of irresponsible people are awarded the responsibility of the vote, and that they use it.
The quantity assumed to be constant in this narrative was the order itself. The order was to be both railed at and battened on. In some hazy future it might be “triumphed over,” but for the time being, there was no concrete plan – no Lenin-like competing idea for organization and governance – to supersede it. Lenin’s idea collapsed from both the sword and its own cancerous inhumanity; it was discredited early on, and the world’s organized malcontents realized that, however emotionally satisfying Leninism was, their own aspirations needed the Western order to give them shape and meaning. For careers of resentment and negativism to be sustainable, there has to be a large population of the productive and positive.
Under that paradigm, it made sense for malcontents to raid, harangue, and guilt-trip the productive, without ever producing an organized, sustainable result of their own. In an analogy to the Western left’s posture, the hit-and-run guerrilla model of Al Qaeda, Hezbollah, and Hamas was the face of Islamism in the context of the 20th-century narrative. Radicals were antagonists, not protagonists. When radicals got in charge of a nation, as in North Korea or Cuba, Iran or Afghanistan, they were weird outliers; nobody wanted to be them. There was no viable, compelling model of either socialist utopia or Islamist statehood.
The new paradigm
The old paradigm is crumbling, however. The principal factor in that is the squishy geopolitical profile of the United States. It’s not just that the West is flailing and in debt over its head; it’s that there is today a rapidly declining expectation of order-keeping pushback from it. That changes geopolitical and security assumptions for everyone. It paves the way for a competing model of organization to arise. And, inconveniently for the aspirants to Palestinian statehood, the competing model that is emerging is that of state Islamism.
Iran has given state Islamism a bad reputation, but Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s Turkey is – inch by inch – giving it a better one. For the Arab Spring nations, it is increasingly likely that state Islamism in some form will be the organizing principle of their futures. Islamism – political Islam – is making the shift right now between its old focus on a guerrilla and community-organizing profile against the West, and a new focus on gaining the tools and stature of state power. Al Qaeda – the perpetual antagonist – is out; state Islamism – the seat of the protagonist – is in.
This changes the whole context of Palestinian statehood, and not just for Palestinians or Muslims but for everyone in the Eastern hemisphere. According to the 20th-century narrative, Palestinian statehood was a blow against the Western order, a means of transforming it, and a way of giving “Palestine” a place in it. Under the new narrative – still tentative, still emerging – there is a strong probability that Palestinian statehood will be an emblem of victory for state Islamism. Regardless of whether it is intended so or not, circumstances have outrun the politics of the old paradigm.
Iran and the Muslim Brotherhood are competitors with Erdogan for leadership in the state-Islamism sweepstakes. There is no semblance of unity among Muslims, or even among Middle Easterners, in this regard, and hence no one appointed to be the main patron of Palestinian statehood and carry it as a victory banner. Unless someone is appointed to that role, a state of Palestine is likely to make the state of flux in the Middle East more intense and urgent.
Russians, Greeks, and the other peoples of Southeastern Europe see this much more clearly than Americans or West Europeans do. Their security is directly affected by every new assumption of power, leadership, or influence in the Middle East. They have national memories of life with the Ottoman Empire as a neighbor. Whatever their sentiments were back in 1989, when many of them, secure within the US-dominated order, officially endorsed Palestinian statehood, they are not anxious today to see political victories for state Islamism (or, in a number of their cases, for nationalist insurgencies, of which these third-party nations have their share).
Reluctance for the transition?
What all this means is that quite a few of the nations in the UN – even Arab nations like Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and Jordan; even nations that will vote for the unilateral Palestinian statehood initiative – are content to have the US to use our Security Council veto. They’re not necessarily ready for everything to change. With the Palestinian statehood question carrying new freight, and no clarity on who will benefit from it and whose ox it will most effectively gore, they may well prefer that the old paradigm linger just a bit longer. The muted and distracted diplomatic posture of these nations on the Palestinian statehood initiative is a quiet testament to their ambivalence about it in a changing world.
Happily for them, it is the US that will take the heat. Meanwhile, a small vignette in this over-stimulated drama is uniquely telling. It hinges on the theme of activists that there is a one-sided slaughter of Palestinian children by the tanks and warplanes of a cruel, occupying state of Israel.
New meets old
In the US this month, activists are seeking to present the theme at the Museum of Children’s Art (MOCHA) in Oakland, as a rebuke to the complacent citizens of a monolithic West. An anti-Israel group is sponsoring an exhibit of art supposedly executed by Palestinian children between the ages of 9 and 11 (see here as well). MOCHA recently decided not to host the exhibit because of its political content, but the exhibit’s sponsors have expressed determination to get it on display “either inside or outside of MOCHA” (their emphasis) by their target date of 24 September.
Contrast this old-paradigm use of the tanks-and-planes theme with the new-paradigm use of it in Gaza earlier this week. While Turkey’s Erdogan was making a high-profile visit to Egypt, Gazan children were arranged around a monument to the 2010 flotilla to invite Erdogan to visit Gaza. Their young spokesman emitted this statement:
Speaking on behalf of the children, a Palestinian child Ahmed Fahri said that Israeli soldiers kept killing children of Gaza by their tanks and planes, adding that only one person [i.e., Erdogan] stood against it.
Fahri said that Erdogan was defending the children of Gaza, and they loved Erdogan very much, thus, schools, shops and children were named after Erdogan.
Erdogan has competitors; he will not find a path to regional or Islamist leadership without obstacles. He may not be the one who achieves it. His brand of state Islamism is focused less on sharia radicalism and more on traditional geopolitics and a neo-Ottoman idea. But for now, he is riding the crest of the new paradigm – and we may be about to see that the old paradigm is not the one that “makes things happen” anymore.