The Palestinian issue is no longer ‘the leading cause’ in the Arab world

Israel is a basic interface through which Washington’s strategic position on this or that country is decided.
Sunday 09/02/2020
Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas holds a placard showing maps of (L to R) historical Palestine. (AFP)
Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas holds a placard showing maps of (L to R) historical Palestine. (AFP)

I think we can all agree that the Palestinian issue is no longer “the leading cause in the Arab world.” There is a history to that.

The “Palestinian cause” used to be promoted as carrying the Arab version of the winds of the leftist revolution sweeping the world after World War II but, after the fall of the Berlin Wall and with the rise of competing humanitarian tragedies in Bosnia and Herzegovina and, more recently, in Syria, Iraq, Yemen and Libya, the Palestinian cause took a second seat.

There was certainly a change in positions with respect to the “centrality of the cause” in the Arab agenda, a change that was reflected in developments such as the Camp David, Wadi Araba and Oslo agreements.

paThe truth is that the issue of Palestine has become in the Arab consciousness a mere memory that should be kept alive, a far cry from the notion of having it at the core of each Arab’s individual duty that was spread by the Ba’athist and Nasserist literature and others by the pretentious left.

The Palestinian cause was instrumentalised in one way or the other. Some regimes showed a great deal of enthusiasm but they were, in fact, using it to terrorise their own people by classifying them as either true patriots aligned with their president and regime or traitors to the “cause” and by extension enemies of the glorious national regime.

With the outbreak of the 2011 uprisings of the “Arab spring,” the Palestinian cause had almost no place in the recurrent protests in the Arab countries in turmoil. It is even doubtful if the cause has a place in the ongoing protests in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Rather, the screams and orations heard there flow more in the direction of the narrow interests of the various factions and take their source from Iranian or Turkish positions.

A recent development in the region rekindled a collective interest in the endless saga. The Chairman of Sudan’s Sovereignty Council Abdel Fattah al-Burhan met with Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and immediately fears of normalisation of relations between the two countries surfaced, reawakening the region to a reality that, frankly, it seemed more willing than before to accept its fatality rather than resist it.

Israel has become a part of this region; its existence is recognised; its officials are being received here and there and its mouthpieces have been hosted on our satellite channels.

Times have changed but the decades following the Camp David Accords with Egypt and Wadi Araba Treaty with Jordan could not produce true normalisation among the signatory countries.

Visits to Israel, as a country of peace and not war, by Jordanians and Egyptians (and other Arab citizens) were so badly received by the public opinion in their countries that it was clear that normalisation was still impossible even after such a long time.

Still, the appearance of the “new Sudan” in the normalisation arena is neither a precedent nor a rare incident. Former Qatari Prime Minister Hamad bin Jassim declared a few years ago that Qatar’s open relationship with Israel was, and still is, the only way to woo the United States.

So, we should not feign surprise then about the reality of having Sudan removed from terrorism blacklists, a sinful legacy of Omar al-Bashir’s “revolutionary” regime, requires having a good relationship with Israel?

This is the norm in the United States, especially during the era of Donald Trump and his son-in-law Jared Kushner. Israel is a basic interface through which Washington’s strategic position on this or that country is decided. This is not new if we believe bin Jassim’s fatwa in Doha but this time it has become less stigmatising and more acceptable in a region exhausted from all the political and security hurricanes that blew across it and across every other region of the world.

However, the Sudanese development, which came shortly after the announcement of the Trump peace plan in the Middle East, appears to confirm that it is still a mistake to believe that the Palestinian cause is no longer central to the Arab masses.

If this issue has lost its intimidating glow in the collective consciousness of the Arabs, then why all of this embarrassment and confusion when meeting with an Israeli official and why do Arab officials still stutter to justify hosting Israeli delegations?

If the cause has truly become unimportant and marginal in the Arab world, then what justifies these ferocious cyberattacks by the social media armies against Palestine and the Palestinians and everything related to their cause?

What the Arabs need to do is to get over and get out of the stage of using the Palestinian cause as their trade stock and move towards solving it for good by making it an Arab cause again, not a Palestinian one.

Not all Arab countries need to normalise relations with Israel as much as Israel needs to normalise with the Arabs and, if normalisation has become a fate imposed by the balance of power, then the Arab countries should not give it for free and should impose, by reason, on the world and even on the Palestinians themselves a “just solution” after which normalisation may be committed without fear or embarrassment.

What Trump’s deal did was give Iran and Turkey licences to seize the “primary cause of the Arab world.” Ankara and Tehran have become the prime reference and the last word in defining the path to Palestine among the Arab public opinion.

These two self-centred powers rejected the deal but they will not hesitate to push it if it becomes in the interest of the Turkish sultan and the Iranian supreme leader to do so tomorrow.