August 09, 2022
It seemed all but a done deal: Palestine has become a marginal issue that no longer defines Israel’s relations with Arab countries. Indeed, normalization with Israel is afoot and the Arabs, so it seems, have finally been tamed.
Not so fast. Many events continue to demonstrate the opposite. Take, for example, the Arab League’s two-day meeting in Cairo last week. The meeting was largely dominated by discussions on Palestine and concluded with statements that called on Arab countries to reactivate their boycott of Israel until the latter abides by international law. The strongest language came from Arab League Assistant Secretary-General Saeed Abu Ali, who called for solidarity with the Palestinian people by boycotting companies that support the Israeli occupation.
The Conference of the Liaison Officers of the Arab Regional Offices on the Boycott of Israel praised the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement, which has been under intense Western pressure for its unrelenting advocacy of international action against Israel. One of the recommendations by Arab officials was to support Arab boycott initiatives in accordance with the Tunis Arab League summit of 2019, which resolved that “boycott of the Israeli occupation and its colonial regime is one of the effective and legitimate means to resist.”
Though one may rightly cast doubt on the significance of such statements in terms of dissuading Israel from continuing its colonization schemes in Palestine, they at least demonstrate that, in terms of political discourse, the collective Arab position remains unchanged. This was also expressed clearly to US President Joe Biden during his recent visit to the Middle East. Biden may have expected to leave the region with a major Arab concession to Israel — which would have been considered a significant political victory for the pro-Israel members of his Democratic Party prior to the defining November midterm elections — but he received none.
What American officials do not understand is that Palestine is a deeply rooted, emotional, cultural and spiritual issue for Arabs and Muslims. Biden, just like Donald Trump and Jared Kushner before him, could not easily — or possibly — alter that.
Anyone who is familiar with the history of the centrality of Palestine in the Arab discourse understands that it is not a mere political question that is governed by opportunism and immediate political or geopolitical interests. Modern Arab history is a testament to the fact that, no matter how great the US-Western-Israeli pressures and however weak or divided the Arabs are, Palestine will continue to reign supreme as the cause of all Arabs. Political platitudes aside, the Palestinian struggle for freedom remains a recurring theme in Arab poetry, art, sports, religion and culture in all its manifestations.
This is not an opinion, but a demonstrable fact. A late 2020 Arab Center Washington DC public opinion poll examined the views of more than 28,000 Arabs in 13 countries. It showed that a majority continue to hold the same view as previous generations: Palestine is an Arab cause and Israel is the main threat.
This Arab Opinion Index was not the first of its kind. In fact, it was the seventh such study to be conducted since 2011. The trend remains stable. All the US-Israeli plots — and bribes — to sideline Palestine and the Palestinians have failed and, despite purported diplomatic “successes,” they will continue to fail.
According to the poll, a vast majority of Arabs (81 percent) oppose US policy toward Palestine, while 89 percent and 81 percent, respectively, believe that Israel and the US are “the largest threat” to their individual countries’ national security. Particularly importantly, a majority of Arab respondents insist that the “Palestinian cause concerns all Arabs and not simply the Palestinians.”
Arabs may disagree on many issues, and they do. They might stand on opposite sides of regional and international conflicts, and they do. They might even go to war against one another and, sadly, they often do. But Palestine remains the exception.
Historically, it has been the Arabs’ most compelling case for unity. When governments forget that, and they often do, the Arab street constantly reminds them of why Palestine is not for sale and is not a subject for self-serving compromises.
For Arabs, Palestine is also a personal and intimate subject. Numerous Arab households have framed photos of martyrs who were killed by Israel during previous wars or while fighting for Palestine. This means that no amount of normalization or even outright recognition of Israel by an Arab country can wash away its sordid past or menacing image in the eyes of ordinary Arabs.
A most telling example of this is how Egyptians and Jordanians answered the question “Would you support or oppose diplomatic recognition of Israel by your country?” The interesting thing about this question is that both Cairo and Amman already recognize Israel and have had diplomatic ties with Tel Aviv since 1979 and 1994, respectively. Still, 93 percent of Jordanians and 85 percent of Egyptians opposed that recognition as if it never took place.
American officials do not understand that Palestine is a deeply rooted, emotional, cultural and spiritual issue for Arabs and Muslims.
The argument that Arab public opinion carries no weight in nondemocratic societies neglects the fact that every form of government is predicated on some form of legitimacy; if not through a direct vote, then it is through other means. Considering the degree of involvement the cause of Palestine carries in every aspect of Arab societies — on the street, in mosques and churches, in universities, sports, civil society organizations and much more — disowning it would be a major delegitimizing factor and a risky political move.
American politicians, who are constantly angling for quick political victories on behalf of Israel in the Middle East, do not understand or simply do not care that marginalizing Palestine and incorporating Israel into the Arab body politic is not simply unethical, but also a major destabilizing factor in an already unstable region. Historically, such attempts have failed, often miserably so, as apartheid Israel remains as hated in those countries that have normalized relations as it is in those nations that have not. Nothing will ever change that as long as Palestine remains an occupied country.
- Ramzy Baroud has been writing about the Middle East for more than 20 years. He is an internationally syndicated columnist, a media consultant, an author of several books, and the founder of PalestineChronicle.com. Twitter: @RamzyBaroud
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