The Arab world has failed the Palestinian cause

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By Webdesk

When the Zionist forces began the ethnic cleansing of Palestine in 1948 to establish the state of Israel, the plight of the Palestinian people shocked the Arab world. It angered the Arab nations, who were in the midst of their own anti-colonial struggle, and elevated the liberation of Palestine to the status of a pan-Arab cause.

But as Arab regimes, both republican and monarchical, became more established, the appeal and usefulness of the Palestinian cause to Arab leaders slowly began to fade.

The abandonment of the Palestinians is directly related to the undemocratic nature of Arab regimes and their continued political dependence on the United States, the mainstay of Israel and its settler project.

Indeed, Palestine today appears to be an afterthought in the Arab political order, with many states making peace and normalizing relations with Israel, the only remaining colonial state in the Arab world, while blaming Palestinian political divisions for this sad state of affairs .

The autocratic censorship of Palestine

The Palestinian cause has always been a central issue in the imagination of the Arab public and is a symbol of the exercise of free speech. Regimes used to find it difficult to restrain their people’s desire to express solidarity with Palestinians living as second-class citizens in Israel, under occupation in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, and in squalid conditions in refugee camps across the region.

But with Arab governments increasingly authoritarian and entrenched, the advocacy space for the Palestinian cause has shrunk. Increasing control over public discourse, increasing censorship and escalating political violence have silenced dissent in the Arab world.

Not only are calls for democratic change in Arab countries thwarted, but expressions of solidarity with the Palestinians are also met with brutal repression as regimes seek to contain the narrative of the Palestinian cause.

The purpose of this monopolization of how the Palestinian struggle is publicly addressed is to obscure the fact that Arab regimes are increasingly refraining from making any significant political effort to help the Palestinians. Instead, official support has been limited to fallacious rhetoric and symbolic gestures to avoid a confrontation with Israel and its financier, the United States.

While this has been detrimental to the Palestinian struggle and Arab popular solidarity with it, it has allowed Arab governments to devote their energies to their own survival amid the myriad political, economic and social problems they face.

Surrender Palestine to the US

In 1977, a few months before his ill-fated trip to Israel that paved the way for a US-brokered peace deal between Egypt and Israel, Egyptian President Anwar Sadat joked that Washington held “99 percent of the cards” in the Middle East in had hands. The collapse of the Soviet Union 14 years later confirmed that reality and Arab dependence on the US has only increased since then.

To maintain good relations with the superpower, the Arab regimes allowed Washington – Israel’s main supplier of arms and military support – to take control of the region’s peace efforts. This left no room for Arab leaders to positively influence decision-making about the Palestinians.

Slowly but surely, the rights of the Palestinian people fell from the priority list of Arab governments that saw the US as the main guarantor of their political survival and narrow economic interests.

The normalization process between some Arab states and Israel, led by the Trump administration, is just another repetition of the gradual Arab abandonment of the Palestinian cause. It culminated in the so-called Abraham Accords, which, despite all the promises of “benefits” to the Palestinians, held nothing of value to them or their national aspirations.

In fact, Arab normalization with Israel has only emboldened the Zionist state in its oppression of the Palestinians and set the stage for the de facto annexation of the occupied West Bank.

The escalating settler violence against the Palestinian people, including the recent pogrom against the Palestinian village of Huwara, and Israeli officials’ open calls for ethnic cleansing are a reflection of how strong and confident Israel feels it can commit war crimes and crimes against humanity with complete impunity.

The most that Arab governments have done in response to Israeli aggression has been to utter futile condemnations and protests.

The excuse of Palestinian division

Since 2007, when Hamas took over the government in the Gaza Strip from the Fatah-controlled Palestinian Authority (PA), Palestine has not had a united political leadership. Even worse, the PA, the internationally recognized body that governs the occupied Palestinian territories, has lost almost all its legitimacy in the eyes of the Palestinian people.

Palestinian political divisions have not only worked to Israel’s advantage, but have also become a convenient excuse for Arab regimes not to advance the Palestinian cause. They cynically reason that if Palestinians—who over the years have demanded to be independent in deciding their own affairs—have no united stance, then why and how could the Arab world work for them?

At the same time, most Arab regimes have supported the PA, which has become an extension of the authoritarian Arab political order. It refuses to be accountable to the Palestinian people and at the same time does almost nothing to stand up for the national and human rights of the Palestinians.

By blaming Palestinian divisions and pretending to support Palestinians through the PA, Arab regimes have effectively abdicated their responsibility to them.

Abandoned by Arab leaders, the Palestinians have no clear allies in their struggle against an increasingly brutal occupation and apartheid. The US-brokered “peace process” is clearly a farce and international institutions, such as the United Nations, remain too weak – or rather deliberately weakened by the US – to take any meaningful action on their behalf.

And yet the status quo of Palestinian dispossession, life under brutal occupation and Israeli apartheid is unsustainable. The Palestinian issue remains the open wound of the Arab world.

Today, it seems that only the Palestinians can lead their own struggle for liberation – one that is based on a national project that encompasses all sectors of Palestinian society in Palestine and in the diaspora, and is grounded in the ideas of inclusion, pluralism and democracy.

The fossilized Palestinian national institutions must be renewed through open democratic processes, including the election of new leadership that could take over the old and failed elites. Palestinian civil society, educational and social institutions, the youth movement and other organizations should also be involved in the development of this national project.

As for the Arab political order, it has shown itself to be untrustworthy as long as it is authoritarian and reliant on the very power that sustains Israel and supports its policies. Indeed, the Arab world may one day be able to play a positive role in helping Palestinians; but that can only happen after it has gone through its own process of democratization and renewal.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial view of Al Jazeera.

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