Normalization, Palestine, and what remains unspoken

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas (L) sits next to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in the East Room of the White House in Washington. (File photo: Reuters)

In the reactions denouncing the recent normalization by several Arab countries of ties with Israel, there is something missing in the written text, yet present in the narrative: it regards the vital needs of these countries that are normalizing. Few parties consider the fact that these countries and their people have issues and interests of their own.

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The danger of Iran and its expansionist ambition, Morocco’s restoration of what it considers its territorial integrity, and the removal of Sudan from the terrorist list - as well as resulting economic consequences - are not mere headlines.

Even Lebanon, which has not normalized ties, but has engaged in direct negotiations with the Israelis over border demarcation, justifies this by its need to extract oil from its territories.

A UN peacekeeper sits atop a tank near the office where Israel and Lebanon meet for indirect talks, in south Lebanon’s Naqoura, Oct. 14, 2020. (AP)

A UN peacekeeper sits atop a tank near the office where Israel and Lebanon meet for indirect talks, in south Lebanon’s Naqoura, Oct. 14, 2020. (AP)

As long as the “Arabs” are states, societies and interests, it will be difficult to ignore these issues and concerns, or to reduce them to the desire of this or that ruling class, or to ask these states to sacrifice them in the name of an “Arab solidarity” that no longer means much to anyone.

Some opponents of normalization say that it facilitates regimes’ oppression of their peoples. But what do they have to say when the regimes that are most oppressive of their people and the most antagonistic to the Palestinians themselves, are the ones most deeply vested in fighting Israel and opposing normalization? So this argument is two-sided, and the issue can work both ways, with or without normalization.

The bitterness of Palestinians towards normalization is completely understandable, especially since illegal Israeli settlements, land annexation and burying of the two-state solution continue to plague their uncontestable right to existence. Add to this a long history of empty Arab slogans calling Palestine “The primary cause of the Arabs,” “The central issue of the Arabs,” “The compass,” “Our position towards the countries of the world is based on their position towards the Palestinian issue.”

People hold a Palestinian flag during a protest against the United Arab Emirates, in Jerusalem's Old City, August 14, 2020. (Reuters)

People hold a Palestinian flag during a protest against the United Arab Emirates, in Jerusalem's Old City, August 14, 2020. (Reuters)

While some truly believed in these slogans and the sentiment behind them, others merely put on a pretense of belief.

However, as long as we are talking about countries and policies, and sometimes conflicting policies, the Palestinian issue no longer intersects with the national concerns of the rest of the Arab countries. It no longer holds the promise of liberation for anyone. It no longer holds the economic promise of a better life. The calls for endless resistance and confrontation have lost all appeal in the Arab world, and most likely among the Palestinians themselves.

This disconnect between the Palestinian cause and the interests and concerns of various states has become an inevitable conclusion for all, in which Palestinian policies are not without blame.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas attends a virtual meeting with Palestinian factions over Israel and the United Arab Emirates' deal to normalise ties, in Ramallah in the Israeli-occupied West Bank September 3, 2020. (Reuters)

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas attends a virtual meeting with Palestinian factions over Israel and the United Arab Emirates' deal to normalise ties, in Ramallah in the Israeli-occupied West Bank September 3, 2020. (Reuters)

The Palestinian cause no longer addresses the interests or concerns of states and peoples, rather it feeds those fears sometimes. Let us imagine for a moment that movements like Hamas or Islamic Jihad were to ally with Iran, which is feared by the majority of the Arab world. This would be an even worse iteration of the Palestine Liberation Organization’s stand with Saddam Hussein when he invaded Kuwait in 1990.

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This separation has a long historical precedent: since 1969 in Lebanon and 1970 in Jordan, it has become evident that interests and desires may conflict in a way that national slogans cannot mend. And from the Camp David Accord which was not met with opposition by the Egypt people, to the war to liberate Kuwait, the gap of incongruence continued to widen, until the Arab revolutions highlighted a score of national issues that dethroned the Palestinian cause as the central Arab matter of concern.

As an even more serious illustrations, take for example the Iraqis and Syrians imprisoned by Saddam and Assad, who were expected, in the name of the Palestinian cause, to direct their hatred towards America because of its support for Israel, rather than towards the dictatorial regimes directly oppressing them! In these cases, the cost of the Palestinian cause went well beyond the human capacity.

In the meantime, the number of Arab warring countries decreased remarkably: seven in 1948, three in 1967, two in 1973, one in 1982, and then localized wars in Lebanon and Gaza.

This direction was met with an opposing and persistent tendency to overcomplicate the Palestinian cause, making it impossible to solve: Islamists linked it to the Crusades, leftists linked it to imperialism and its global expansion, and nationalists linked it to the fragmentation of the Arab world. Therefore, the solution could only manifest through defeating the West as the “modern day crusader,” or in the context of the victory of the global socialist revolution, or within the process of unifying all Arabs.

One by one, these ideologies lost their steam, like boats that cannot make their way to port. Nevertheless, they provided fodder for the Zionists who also wanted to overcomplicate the cause, making it impossible to solve. And because Israel is the strongest militarily, it was the only one to benefit from this complication by expanding its occupation and annexation of land.

This is all rather sad and haunts us with a sense of nostalgia, however, nostalgia is not a place where one can dwell forever.

This article was originally published in, and translated from, the pan-Arab daily Asharq al-Awsat.

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Last Update: Sunday, 13 December 2020 KSA 17:20 - GMT 14:20
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