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By: Prof. Dr. Walid ‘Abd al-Hay ⃰.


No theory of international relations still acknowledges the nation-state (Westphalian sovereignty) as the only way to understand the interactions of international life. “Above-state” entities (international or regional governmental or non-governmental organizations) and “sub-state” entities (religious, national or sectarian minorities) have taken the conventional role of the state in the formation of international community trends. Consequently, globalization indices (AT Kearney, KOF, etc.) now observe the degree of state involvement in the activities of ‘above and sub-state’ entities in the political, economic and social fields. Identifying the trends of international public opinion has become an indication of the nature and implications of these interactions.

This means that forecasting the future of the Palestinian issue in light of these changes necessitates identifying the major trends in international relations. The role of the central powers in employing these trends in their policies, which, directly or indirectly, have an impact on the Palestinian issue, must also be determined.

Major Trends in International Relations

According to most studies, these trends are as follows:

1. Shift towards a multi-polar international system, allowing middle and small powers more room to maneuver;

2. Growing pragmatism in international politics at the expense of the ideological trend;

3. Growing regional and international economic blocs at the expense of security and military blocs;

4. “Relative” increase in the role of non-governmental organizations in the adaptation of state policies;

5. Non-linear, gradual decline in the role of religious powers in the world;

6. Increasing interest in international public opinion on various international issues;

7. Continued social and political fragmentation vis-à-vis economic, financial and technical interdependence across the world.

These trends are reflected on the Palestinian issue in a contradictory manner, and this makes monitoring be more likely to determine the significance of these transformations or international features based on the extent of their impact on the Palestinian issue, as follows:

1. Polarization: As the Arab countries and Palestinian organizations adopt contradictory policies, benefiting from polarization becomes restrained, while the Israeli side, because of its unity of decision-making, can better exploit this matter in its favor. It is enough to trace the development of Israeli relations with China and India, and even the extent to which they take advantage of Russia’s presence in the Arab region in “some aspects.”

2. Increased pragmatism in international politics: Perhaps the comparison between the positions of “Mao Zedong’s China” and “Four Modernizations’ China”; between the Indian National Congress and Bharatiya Janata Party; between Macron and “the socialists and Gaullists”; or even between Trump vs neo-conservatives or Obama, all reveal the growing level of pragmatism at the expense of ideological thinking when looking at their international relations. This does not mean that pragmatism has been absent, or that ideological thinking does not currently exist; rather, it is the extent to which each directs international behavior, whether in the past or the present.

It is clear that the Arab sides are not employing the pragmatic dimension in their international management of the Palestinian issue, as they do not link their economic, strategic, financial, and military interests with the Palestinian issue as much as they do with Arab regional rivalries (such as the conflict with Iran, between the Gulf states, and between the Maghreb countries, etc.), while the Israeli side takes more advantage of this matter. This is evidenced by the Israeli-Chinese agreement on technological cooperation in various aspects, especially the military, although there are some doubts amongst some Israeli thinkers that the decline in the role of ideological thinking might lead to a decline in the role of Zionism, which forms the intellectual base of Israeli society. This has been confirmed by most Israeli public opinion poll results, on the one hand, and Israeli academic studies, on the other. [1]

3. Increased regional economic blocs at the expense of security blocs; since the 1990s, there have been 194 regional integration agreements. When regional integration levels are classified into three levels (strong, moderate, weak) Arab regional blocs (the Gulf Cooperation Council, Arab Maghreb Union, Arab League, etc.) fall within the weak classification, which means that the Arab capacity for employing regional integration in order to achieve greater autonomy in political and economic decision-making remains substandard. It seems that the future Israeli project is an attempt to find a sort of regional bloc to which Israel can be a party, along the lines of the New Middle East project (Peres’ project); or the Greater Middle East (neo-conservatives’ project); or the Chinese One Belt and One Road Initiative (OBOR) which seeks to connect Asia to Europe via two routes, land and sea, passing through the Arab region, including occupied Palestine, together with the Japanese Corridor for Peace and Prosperity project in the Jordan Valley, etc.

4. “Relative” increase in the role of international organizations, especially the non-governmental ones, which amount to 40 thousand. Statistics by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) indicate that there are 67 sectors within which non-governmental organizations operate. These sectors cover a range of fields, namely environmental, legal, economic, military, medical, educational, technical, and social, as well as the fields of languages, sports, tourism, etc. Amongst these organizations 827 are concerned with the subjects of international relations. [2]

Israel shows a great deal of “dissatisfaction” with most of the decisions and activities made by most of these organizations, especially those related to human rights, or those which have a legal nature.[3] This strengthens the Palestinian position.

5. Non-linear decline in the role of religious powers: Despite the growing role of religions in the past three decades (rise of Islamic parties, religious Jewish parties in Israel, Liberation Theology in Latin America, and the neo-conservatives in the United States, in addition to the rise of Bharatiya Janata Party to power in India, etc.), the international position against this growth is intensifying. Given the complexity of the situation and the need to distinguish between the study of the future of historical phenomena and transient phenomena in terms of sub- and mega-trends, there is no room to elaborate upon this topic.[4] This means that religiously-oriented Palestinian movements will face more pressure in two respects:

a. Coercion into engaging in political settlements otherwise inclusion on terrorist organizations lists;
b. Coercion to make fundamental changes to their political rhetoric;

6. Growing anti-Israel international public opinion, as indicated by most global public opinion polls.[5] This relatively improves the international environment in the Palestinians’ favor, especially in terms of the legal recognition of the Palestinian rights contained in UN resolutions (i.e., with regard to the establishment of a Palestinian State and anti-settlement).

7. Social and political disintegration (manifested in the emergence of new states branching off existing states such as South Sudan), which is seen by globalization proponents as an outcome of the similarity between societies (in administrative and technical structure, besides arts, sports, education curricula, etc.). This prompts subcultures to defend themselves in the face of this similarity and to have a position against showing the same substance.

It has made some Israeli thinkers appear to be somewhat concerned about the possibility of the emergence of this trend in Israel in case external danger becomes low, which would lead to division in the Israeli society based on skin color and ethnic, secular, or religious origins, etc.[6]

Consensus of the International Community on the Palestinian Issue

The following phenomena represent “theoretical” points of consensus to most of the official and popular international community trends, whether in major, middle, or small countries, or in international governmental or non-governmental organizations:

1. Establishment of a Palestinian state on the 1967 borders, including Jerusalem;

2. Rejection of the Israeli settlements in the 1967 territories occupied;

3. Israel’s right to exist in safety within recognized borders;

4. Normalization of Arab-Israeli relations is an essential condition for “peace.”

In theory, this means that the world, including its major powers:

1. Rejects the demands of Palestinian movements calling for the liberation of Palestine;

2. Rejects the use of armed force in place of negotiations between the two parties.

Perhaps this perception lacks an essential element, i.e., Israelis are effectively expanding their control over Palestinian territories and escalating their Judaization of Jerusalem. This has urged the international community to acknowledge that Palestinians have the right to establish a state; nevertheless, the reality on the ground makes its establishment an impossibility, as evidenced by studies conducted by the European Union,[7] as well as the clear statement by former US Secretary of State John Kerry in his latest speech in 2016. [8]

It follows from the foregoing that reaching a final solution would mean a confrontation between an international position calling for the establishment of a Palestinian state, on the one hand, and a reality on the ground that makes it impossible to implement it. This would result in a new confrontation that carries all the features of the conflict since its beginning.

Based on this, the extent to which power variables (physical and moral) are employed and managed will settle this matter. However, in the coming period (five years), indicators point to the fact that the Arab and Palestinian sides are not qualified for that, which would encourage the Israeli side to gradually pressure toward a solution to the Palestinian issue at the expense of “neighboring countries in the first place,” as one of the aspects of negotiation. Then it would neutralize any other proposals, taking advantage of the “Arab exhaustion” after a debilitating period of political turmoil and, secondly, making use of international community support, which will, during this period, work on:

1. Applying pressure on armed resistance forces to “cease implementation and instigation of military operations”;

2. Linking between international aid and the commitment of Palestinian organizations to all the international agreements which the PLO made with Israel (including the recognition of Israel);

3. Exploiting disparities amongst Arabs to broaden the base of real and legal recognition of Israel.

This scenario is the most likely in the short term, and its success or failure will depend on how resistance and liberation forces manage their project. On the one hand, they need to be aware of the features of international reality, which we indicated at the beginning of this article, and, on the other, be knowledgeable about how to build international and regional alliances on a strategic basis that can encounter the above-mentioned scenario. Perhaps role distribution amongst Palestinian organizations is the most appropriate strategy in the next phase.

⃰ Professor of Political Sciences at Yarmouk University, Jordan, and a member of the board of trustees of al-Zaytoonah University of Jordan. He taught at several universities, and is former head of the Department of Political Sciences at Yarmouk University.

[1] Survey claims weakening “Zionism” among Israeli youth, 25/3/2014,; The Decline of American Zionism, 17/3/2010,; The decline of Christian Zionism, 15/1/2015,; and Baruch Kimmerling, The Invention and Decline of Israeliness: State, Society, and the Military (University of California Press, 2001).

[2] Site of Union of International Associations,

[3] Galia Golan and Walid Salem (eds), Non-State Actors in the Middle East: Factors for Peace and Democracy (London: Routledge, 2014), passim.

[4] Walid ‘Abd al-Hay, The Future of Political Islam in the Arab Region, Al-Quds Open University, 2015 (in Arabic); and Walid ‘Abd al-Hay, The Future of the Religious Phenomena in International Relations, Al-Mustaqbal Al-Arabi Journal, no. 312, February 2005. (in Arabic)

[5] See more details in the latest volumes of The Palestinian Strategic Report series issued by al-Zaytouna Centre for Studies and Consultations.

[6] André Krouwel and Daniel Rajmil, The increasingly polarised and fragmented party system in Israel will make it difficult for a stable government to emerge from this month’s elections, European politics and policy, 2013.

[7] Hugh Lovatt, EU differentiation and the push for peace in Israel-Palestine, 31/10/2016,
[8] Remarks on Middle East Peace, December 28, 2016, U.S. Department of State, Diplomacy in Action,


Al-Zaytouna Centre for Studies and Consultations, 16/11/2017