Why I do not see anything wrong with Anwar Eshki’s visit to Israel

Sunday 07/08/2016

Social media were on fire with criticism of Saudi ex-general Anwar Eshki’s visit to Israel. Before the visit, those who were outspoken against Eshki’s visit were applauding Turkey’s reconcilia­tion with Tel Aviv, claiming it would help the people of Gaza. These people obviously do not understand the meaning of the term “double standard”.
Responding to the controversy, Eshki stressed he was visiting the Palestinian territories, not Israel. He said his visit came at the invitation of the Palestinian Authority (PA) and that his aim was to view, first hand, the suffering of the Palestinian people and to attend the wedding of the son of well-known Palestinian activist and detainee Marwan Barghouti in Ramal­lah.
Eshki confirmed that his meetings with Israeli officials — including diplomat Dore Gold and Major-General Yoav (Poli) Mordecai of the Israeli Defence Forces in West Jerusalem — were in coordination with the PA. In fact, he thanked Mordecai for helping to facilitate Palestinians in Jerusalem being able to pray in the city’s al-Aqsa mosque during Ramadan.
Just to inform all those who objected to this trip, this was not Eshki’s first visit to the Palestin­ian territories, but his second. Other well-known Saudi and Arab figures, including Secretary-Gen­eral of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation Iyad Madani, have made the same visit without any objection.
Based on Eshki’s comments, I do not find anything wrong with this visit and I believe that Saudis should follow the Turkey model in dealing with the Palestinian cause. Opening dialogue with Israel does not meaning working against the Palestinians but could contribute to peace and lead to the establishment of a Palestinian state or, at the very least, contrib­ute to improving the conditions of the Palestinian people in the occupied territories.
The Arab-Israeli conflict has gone through many different stages. In the 1950s and 1960s Arabs equated Zionism with Judaism and refused to acknowl­edge the horrors of the Holocaust due to hatred of Israel and some kind of perverse solidarity with the Palestinians. We later saw a general failure to even recognise or acknowledge the state of Israel, including Arabs boycotting travelling there, which ultimately cut off Palestine and the Palestin­ian people.
This is a dangerous policy, which some are trying to enforce even today, that has resulted in the eradication of Palestinian culture and art and isolated the Palestinian people from their Arab surroundings and inexorably linked all aspects of Palestine with the Palestinian cause.
Isn’t it sad that Arabs are more aware of the details of Western capitals but know nothing about Islam’s third holy city and the rest of Palestinian territory?
This boycott of Jerusalem and the Palestinian territories allowed Israel to callously expand its settlements and gain greater control of Palestinian territory and particularly Jerusalem. If this continues, there will be no territory on which to create a Palestinian state.
There is no religious justifica­tion to boycott Jerusalem, regardless of whose authority al-Aqsa mosque technically falls under. Muslims previously visited the mosque without problem when it was under the control of Christians following the Cru­sades.
There is no political justifica­tion for this either. Whether Arabs or Muslims pass through Israeli checkpoints or not, or have Israeli stamps on their passports or not, bears no consideration to Israel’s standing in the international community.
This useless boycott is not helping the Palestinians or the Arabs and is particularly not helping the Arab Israelis. This is a problem that will not be solved first by peace treaties and politi­cal negotiations — the change must first and foremost take place in minds and hearts.
Normalising the idea of Arabs visiting Jerusalem and Palestine helps all sides and increases tolerance and mutual respect. Visiting Jerusalem and the Palestinian territories is a legiti­mate right for any Arab or Muslim and it is wrong to criminalise this in the court of public opinion. The Arab response to Israel over the past 60 years has led from one disaster to the next and only served to weaken Palestinian prospects for freedom and independence. This must stop.