Does the Palestinian cause still matter to Arabs and Muslims?

While Palestinians have not lost the solidarity and sympathy of their Arab brethren, the regional climate has changed.
Sunday 19/01/2020
Out of focus. A Palestinian man stands by a fence as he waits for a travel permit to leave Gaza through the Rafah border crossing with Egypt. (Reuters)
Out of focus. A Palestinian man stands by a fence as he waits for a travel permit to leave Gaza through the Rafah border crossing with Egypt. (Reuters)

Seventy-two years into the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, the Arab world no longer seems as fiercely engaged in the struggle for Palestinian rights that it once championed.

While Palestinians have not lost the solidarity and sympathy of their Arab brethren, the regional climate has changed, shifting alliances and making the Palestinian plight less of a regional priority.

Divisions and political disagreements between Palestinians hindered efforts for a settlement to the conflict and sometimes alienated traditional allies, while instability and conflict in Arab countries led to a decline in support for the Palestinian cause.

Armed conflicts in Syria, Libya, Iraq, Yemen and Sudan have left tens of thousands killed, injured, arrested and displaced, with no end in sight. Everyone is busy trying to gather the shattered pieces of his or her own life.

As a result, Palestinians are left alone, surviving on conditional financial support from Western and Arab states. Israel’s policy of buying time is working and Palestinians are fed up and frustrated, feeling abandoned by their fellow Arabs.

“In recent years, the Palestinian cause has received little attention and priority for many reasons,” political analyst Sharhabeel al-Ghareeb said. “First, the internal Palestinian political split, which has reflected negatively. Second, Israeli propaganda creates despair and frustration among Palestinians and Arabs and weakens their resilience. Third, it’s because of turmoil and conflicts in Arab countries that have caused people in troubled countries to worry only about their fate and future.”

Husam al-Dajani, professor of political science at Gaza’s Al-Ummah University, said Israel is driving conflict between Arabs and Palestinians to undermine their cause and strengthen its own position.

“Israel is somehow fuelling the conflicts and unrests in the Middle East to weaken the Arab and Muslim world by keeping them busy fighting each other, causing economic hardships, in addition to weakening the morale and conscience of Arabs with the help of its allies,” Dajani said. “It deepens the division between Palestinians and makes reaching unity among them a mirage.”

Feuding between the Palestinians’ two main rival political factions — Fatah and Hamas — has not made its weak position any better.

Dependent on sometimes conditional foreign aid, the Palestinian Authority (PA) has taken a hit since US President Donald Trump took office. During Trump’s presidency, Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu has received more financial, military, moral and diplomatic support than ever before.

This has included the United States recognising Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and moving its embassy there, cutting off aid to the PA and the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees, the agency that caters to millions of Palestinian refugees in Gaza, the West Bank, Jordan, Syria and Lebanon — and closing the Palestine Liberation Organisation office in Washington. All these gifts to Israel significantly weakened the Palestinian Authority.

The Palestinian-Israeli conflict is more than 72 years old and, during the past seven decades, Tel Aviv has been buying time, violating agreements it signed with the PA, including expansion of illegal settlements to push Palestinians into submission, pressuring them to accept what is being offered on the table.

Some Arab countries’ moves to develop ties with Israel to counteract Iran have also changed the dynamics. Israel is no longer always viewed as the number one enemy — for some countries, it has been replaced by Iran.

More generally, the Muslim world is divided. Each country and ruler is looking after their own interests. Alliances and agendas determine the nature of relations between countries. Today’s foe could be tomorrow’s friend and vice-versa.

This is also true for Palestinians, whose political alignments have complicated the scene. Some Palestinian political factions’ decisions to strengthen relations with Iran, for example, or oppose peace talks with Israel put them in conflict with other Arab countries.

Israeli think-tanks and research centres work around the clock to draw new long-term policies to finish off what remains of the Palestinian cause or to at least force the Palestinian leadership to make more concessions.

This is bad news, not only for Palestinians but for the broader region. Abandoning the Palestinian cause without a just solution will not lead to stability in the region and, now more than ever, they need as much support from their Arab and Muslim allies as they can get.

While the effects of the Palestinian struggle on the conscience and sentiment of Arabs worldwide remain significant, for Palestinians to regain support and trust, they must put up a unified front.