Have Arab leaders forgotten about Palestine?

Palestinian senior officials feel that not only are Arab countries preoccupied by the Islamic State threat, but that the countries are also tired of the Palestinian issue and are sidelining the urgency of establishing a Palestinian state.

al-monitor Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas prays for Maysara Abu Hamdeya, a Palestinian inmate who died from cancer in an Israeli hospital April 2, during a Fatah Central Committee meeting in the West Bank city of Ramallah, April 2, 2013. Photo by REUTERS/Mohamed Torokman.
Uri Savir

Uri Savir


Topics covered

united nations, two-state solution, settlements, peace negotiations, palestinian authority, mahmoud abbas, gulf states, european union

Jul 10, 2016

In the Palestinian leadership, there is a deep sense of frustration with the Arab states' current attitude toward their cause and the current diplomatic stalemate. The leadership senses that the occupation by the Israel army is only deepening, as is the daily humiliation of their people. The expansion of settlements is constant and systematic, in order to prevent Palestinian statehood. Palestinians are killed on a daily basis by soldiers and settlers. And yet the leaders of the Arab governments are only paying lip service to the Palestinian statehood aspirations.

A senior Palestine Liberation Organization official close to President Mahmoud Abbas told Al-Monitor on condition of anonymity that the Palestinian leadership has complained bitterly to Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi about the lack of urgency in the Arab diplomatic activity. In his view, although Egypt shows full solidarity with the Ramallah leadership, it is not proactive enough vis-a-vis the US administration and the European Union leaders in order to advance a binding UN Security Council resolution on Palestinian statehood. Most Arab countries are preoccupied with the Islamic State (IS) threat and the fundamentalist danger to their regime. Saudi Arabia is stalling the transfer of financial assistance to the Palestinian Authority (PA) and the Maghreb countries are distancing themselves diplomatically.

The official said in this regard, “We understand that we need to be self-reliant in our diplomatic and military efforts. And even if we don’t have the Arab leaders on board, we have the Arab people on the side of Palestine and its people.”

He claimed that the PA will attempt to convince the Arab League, Egypt and Jordan to advance a Security Council resolution on Palestinian statehood along the 1967 lines with East Jerusalem as its capital and with a binding timeline for negotiations and implementation. Ramallah is also in contact with France and the EU headquarters in regard to the French initiative. They were disappointed with the analytical nature of the Quartet report published July 1, which lacks operative clauses on Palestinian statehood.

The Israeli government also is finding that Arab governments are distancing themselves from seeing the Palestinian issue as an urgent one. From Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's point of view and political dogma, terror in the Middle East is the core issue, not the Palestinian problem.

A senior official of the Israeli Foreign Ministry’s Center for Political Research (Mamad) told Al-Monitor on condition of anonymity that the Palestinian issue, while indeed central to Israel and the Palestinians, is of lesser importance to Arab regimes today. He listed several reasons for that change, starting with the fact that the ability of the Gulf states to pressure the US administration has actually been reduced, due to greater US energy reliance. He said that the fundamentalist threat to regimes emanating from IS, al-Qaeda and other extremist organizations is the priority preoccupation for most Arab governments. Also, these governments feel less committed to the United States, given President Barack Obama’s collective diplomacy doctrine, and are therefore improving relations with Russia, China and the EU. The source added a last reason for the change: Arab fatigue with the Palestinian issue. The Arab constituency, while passionate about the plight of its Palestinian brethren, senses a certain fatigue about this long conflict and is more preoccupied with its economic surrender and well-being.

The source said that in his view, this all could change should violence break out in a significant way between the Palestinians and Israelis.

It is indeed true that the Arab world is less preoccupied today with the Palestinian predicament. While the occupation and the situation in East Jerusalem take up a major place in the Arab media and enhance hostility toward Israel, leaders of Arab states are preoccupied with their own political survival in the wake of fundamentalist challenges. In this context, countries such as Egypt, Jordan and Saudi Arabia value the security and intelligence cooperation with Israel more than the diplomatic process of a two-state solution.

To a large degree, this was true in the past as well. And yet to conclude from this that there is not the utmost urgency for a two-state solution for Israel and Palestine, as well as for the region as a whole, is a grave mistake. The alternative to a viable peace process is a violent conflict — be it terror, intifada or an all-out war. Then the region and the international community will rush toward a two-state solution process. Above all, a two-state separation on the basis of the 1967 lines is both an Israeli and a Palestinian ultimate interest.

Regarding Israel, without a two-state solution it will lose both its democratic and Jewish identity. The Arab states could not care less if Israel decides to commit identity suicide.

Israel’s challenge is not a public relations one — proving to the world that the Palestinian issue is not central. For Israel’s own interest, conflict resolution with a Palestinian state is of existential importance. The Arab states may betray the Palestinians, but Israel is not allowed to betray itself.

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