There’s More to Israeli-Palestinian Fault Lines than Meets the Eye

March 2024

The events of 7 October 2023 have impacted the entire MENA region. The conflict is more than a divide between the West and the rest of the world.

By Aboubakr Jamaï

Israel Gaza Konflikt Aboubakr Jamai
IMAGO / Xinhua

The October 7, 2023, attacks in Israel and their aftermath have produced profound chasms. One of these is the purported divide between the West and the rest of the world. The logic behind this contention, though, is intellectually lazy, factually wrong, and politically dangerous.

It is intellectually lazy because it reflects the debunked “clash of civilizations” framework. This a not a West-versus-the-rest-of-the-world issue, and it is certainly not a Jews-versus-Muslims issue. Contrary to this theory, human societies are heterogeneous and evolving. The fracture lines produced by the Israeli-Palestinian conflict are increasingly transversal to most nations and regions of the world.

Deep fractures

It is wrong because major fractures appeared within Western audiences, too. One example is the strong constituency of young and educated US Americans who reject the unconditional support of Israel by most of the US-American political elite. Some student groups have even been banned. And it did not stop with students: directly or indirectly it led to the removal of the presidents of Harvard University and University of Pennsylvania.

As a matter of fact, these lines cut through ideological and political camps. The Democratic Party in the US and the Labour Party in the UK are involved in heated internal debates – with potentially ominous electoral implications. These same fractures exist in European political camps. The blank check extended to the Israeli government by, among others, European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen, German chancellor Olaf Scholz, and the British prime minister Rishi Sunak was countered by the political leaders of Spain, Belgium, Norway, and Ireland.   

The impact on the media is no less divisive. Journalists, individually and collectively, have criticized what they saw as their editorial leaderships’ biases. The unfolding story about the New York Times report on the rapes by Palestinian attackers on October 7[1] is probably the most extreme illustration of these inflamed disagreements.

The Intercept published a hard-hitting article poking holes in the Times’ rape story.[2] The New York Time’s main union, NewsGuild of New York, claimed that the newspaper of record’s editorial leadership initiated an investigation to identify the internal sources of The Intercept piece, and in doing so singled out a journalist of Middle Eastern origins. The union accused the paper’s leadership of racial profiling.[3]  The Times’s leadership denied the accusations of flaunting journalistic standards and of ethnically profiling its own journalists. One likely outcome is a chilling effect on the healthy and necessary debates that animates newsrooms.

The MENA region is divided, too

Relatively scant attention has been paid to the divide that exists between public opinion and governments in major countries in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region.  Middle Eastern governments’ policies don’t always reflect public opinion. In some countries, especially when it comes to the Palestinian issue, the chasm between the government and its constituency is gargantuan.

Take my country of origin, Morocco. In December 2020, Morocco became part of the Abraham accords that established official relations with Israel. Western allies and mainstream media celebrated the normalization of relations after they hailed similar normalizations between Israel and the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, and Sudan. Little attention was paid to the successive polls that show the Moroccan public massive rejection of normalizing relations with Israel. In October 2020, a poll found that 88 percent of Moroccans were opposed to normalizing relations with Israel.[4]

The nature of the “deal” that led the Moroccan authorities to accept normalizing relations with Israel makes public opinion’s rejection even more telling.  Knowing the strong feelings that Moroccans have about the Palestinian cause, the Moroccan regime had to justify normalizing relations with Israel with an extraordinary quid pro quo. This was US recognition of Morocco’s sovereignty over the Western Sahara – a territory claimed by Morocco and a separatist Sahraoui group called Polisario. As far as international law is concerned, it is a disputed territory. The Western Sahara issue, or the “southern provinces” as Morocco calls these territories, is a celebrated national cause.

Yet, despite the US recognition of Morocco’s sovereignty over the Western Sahara, enhanced Israel’s military cooperation, 31 percent of Moroccans still rejected their country’s normalization with Israel.

However, Morocco’s Western allies rarely miss an opportunity to extol participation in the Abraham accords. The fact that the vast majority of Moroccans were against these accords barely registered with them. And there is worse.

The Moroccan government has been accused by human rights organizations for using the Israeli spyware, Pegasus, to clamp down on human rights activists and journalists.[5] Pegasus is a weapon-grade spyware, the sale of which has to be authorized by the Israeli government. In other words, not only normalization with Israel was strongly opposed by the vast majority of Moroccans, but the Moroccan regime’s repressive methods were aided and abetted by Israel.

Israel not of one mind

Moreover, and to take Morocco as an example again, the biggest demonstrations in support of the Palestinian cause were peaceful and did not employ antisemitic slogans or calls for Israel’s destruction. Polls show the people support a two-state solution.

In Israel too, and despite the rally-around-the-flag effect, Israeli public opinion opposes the government on a crucial aspect of the conflict: creation of a Palestinian state.  Whereas the Israeli government opposes the creation of such state, a majority of Israelis support it, a recent poll shows.[6]

  There is a major lesson and a serious cautionary note here. The lesson is that the intense debate about the Israel-Hamas war cut through most regions and nations especially in the West. The cautionary note is the worrying trend of limiting basic liberties. In some Western countries, particularly in the US, the conflict has led to the stifling of debate in places where freedom of speech had been paramount. To prevent these debates from descending into unbridgeable polarization – and ultimately violence – the basic freedoms that form the mainstay of democracy should prevail.  

 

[1] https://press.un.org/en/2024/sc15621.doc.htm#:~:text=There%20are%20reasonable%20grounds%20to,as%20she%20presented%20findings%20from

[2] https://theintercept.com/2024/02/28/new-york-times-anat-schwartz-october-7/

[3] https://www.washingtonpost.com/style/media/2024/03/01/nytimes-leak-investigation-guild-intercept-hamas/

[4] https://www.moroccoworldnews.com/2020/10/322016/survey-88-of-moroccans-reject-diplomatic-recognition-of-israel

[5] https://www.amnesty.org/en/latest/research/2019/10/morocco-human-rights-defenders-targeted-with-nso-groups-spyware/

[6] https://www.timesofisrael.com/liveblog_entry/poll-most-israelis-would-back-us-plan-tying-palestinian-state-to-freeing-hostages-saudi-normalization/

Aboubakr Jamai rund grau


Aboubakr Jamaï is a journalist and professor at the American College of the Mediterranean. He is an expert on media and politics with a focus on the Middle East and North Africa. He is also Richard von Weizsäcker Fellow of the Robert Bosch Academy.

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