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Changing issues and priorities in the Middle East

Dr Ghada Karmi, a Palestinian by birth, is the author of Married to Another Man: Israel's Dilemma in Palestine.   She is also a University lecturer in the United Kingdom.

She writes in "The Palestinians' last option: A struggle for equal rights" on Al Jazeera on the changes underway in the issues and priorities for the people of the Middle East.

"Once upon a time, Palestine was the Arab world's unifying cause. Justice for the Palestinians was considered a basic pre-requisite for regional stability and peace, and it was an idea that had global resonance. Today, the picture is different and the Palestinian cause has been falling off the political agenda ever since the onset of the Arab Spring, the Syrian conflict, and Israel's success in placing Iran's nuclear programme at the centre stage.

This month, a study by the Arab Centre for Research and Policy Studies confirms this slide. A survey of over 20,000 respondents in 14 Arab countries revealed a widespread engagement, not with Palestine, but with the Arab revolutions and their future, with Syria and the need for democratic systems of government. Only a third cited Israel as the greatest regional threat, about the same percentage as Iran amongst those living in Iraq and the Gulf.

This change comes on top of a gradual loss of Palestinian unity due to the fragmentation of Palestinian society into those under occupation, divided between the West Bank, Gaza and Jerusalem, those in Israel, those in refugee camps and the rest in exile. The result has been increasingly to replace the national cause with local causes. For example, in November 2012 and again last week demonstrations against economic hardship erupted in the West Bank. The Palestinian Authority has a $4.2 billion debt and a World Bank report in March found an economic slowdown, with low exports and long term unemployment; Gaza is isolated and besieged and survives largely on a tunnel smuggling economy. In such circumstances it is hardly surprising that people's top priority should be how to feed their families, and Palestinian communities elsewhere will have likewise developed their own local priorities.

Palestinians will need to act urgently if their cause is not to be finally buried. The fact that the West is still engaged in trying to solve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is not a cause for optimism. It does not signify a revival of the Palestine cause's centrality, but a push for an end to the conflict on terms most favourable to Israel. The US and Europe, with the recent addition of China, have been urging a renewal of peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians. The US Secretary of State, John Kerry, has visited the region half a dozen times in this endeavour, and has pledged $4 billion in aid to encourage the PA. In April, an Arab delegation was in Washington to present a revised Arab Peace Plan which offered Israel a land swap with the Palestinians, hoping to draw it into peace talks. More recently Sweden, with the same aim, decided to punish the Palestinians for failing to negotiate with Israel by possibly reducing their aid by 200 million kronor ($30 million).

What these parties are pushing for is the two-state solution which has dominated the political discourse for decades and has never, even partially, been realised. Nevertheless, the international consensus still holds that this solution is the only way forward. Yet a glance at the map will show that no such solution is possible."

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