Arab states too, like Trump, share blame for Palestinian plight

RASHMEE ROSHAN LALL September 9, 2018

Abandoned cause. Palestinian children carry the fake coffin of the “deal of Trump” during a demonstration in Kfar Qaddum near Nablus. (AFP)

Don’t wait for a Trump-branded peace plan for the Palestinian-Israeli issue. It has already been rolled out, bit by bit, since December 2016. It’s not a peace plan so much as a strategy for war, the complete and utter destruction of Palestinian hopes for self-determination, a two-state solution, justice and dignity.

In December 2016, Donald Trump was US president-elect but still made so bold as to castigate the Obama administration for allowing the UN Security Council to condemn Israel for constructing settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. The United States abstained rather than vetoing the resolution, which led Trump to tweet with great verve: “Stay strong Israel, January 20th is fast approaching!”

January 20 was the date Trump would become president of the richest, most militarily powerful country on Earth and the tweet was a teaser. Trump had given the world a glimpse of his promised “deal of the century” for Palestinians and Israelis. It would be weighted in favour of Israel, take it or leave it.

Now that the Trump administration has cut aid to the Palestinian Authority and stopped all contributions to UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), which supports 5 million Palestinian refugees, the war-is-peace strategy becomes even clearer. Palestinian refugeehood itself is to be erased. The Palestinian problem is to be ended by ending all recognition there is a problem.

The role of Trump’s America in the sunless hellhole occupied by the Palestinians is indisputable but what of the Arab states?

The Palestinians have been abandoned by the wider world and by those who lead their Arab brothers and sisters. The realpolitik on display as the United States has come down ever more heavily on Israel’s side in the past 20 months has been startling and sobering.

When Trump unilaterally recognised Jerusalem as the capital of Israel on December 6, 2017, presenting it as a statement of “the obvious,” Saudi Arabia called it “unjustified and irresponsible.” Swift condemnation came from Turkey, Jordan, Egypt and Lebanon. And that was it. The limits of indignation — and action — had seemingly been reached. The Palestinian plight, long held up as a pan-Arab, pan-Muslim moral issue, one deserving of a just solution, became secondary to other concerns.

After the Trump administration formally relocated the US Embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem on May 14, 2018, the 22-member Arab League urged everyone else — that is, the international community — to oppose what it considered an “unjust decision.” Kuwait called for an emergency UN Security Council meeting. The Lebanese prime minister tweeted his regret about a “provocative… decision that is igniting the anger of millions of Arabs, Muslims and Christians.” Turkey announced the recall of its ambassadors in Washington and Tel Aviv and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan denounced the Israeli “genocide.” He added with his trademark flourish, “Israel is a terrorist state.”

Again, that was it. The Saudis and Emiratis have since been strategically quiet. Egypt has been occasionally active but said and did little that changes anything. The Gulf Cooperation Council, riven by disputes, has offered no pushback. The 57-member Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) offered weasel words at an extraordinary summit in Istanbul in May.

OIC Secretary-General Yousef bin Ahmad al-Othaimeen spoke of “the need to provide international protection for the Palestinian people,” promised an “international commission of experts to investigate the Israeli crimes in the Palestinian territories” and insisted the US Embassy relocation “has nothing to do with changing the realities on the ground.”

This is nonsense. The US Embassy relocation does change reality. With every move to alter the status of the Palestinian people — from a just cause for home and hearth to an illegitimate terrorist force — they become weaker. Every time they are ignored by Arab states in the greater goal to cement a deal with Israel against Iran, the notion of principled Arab resistance to injustice is enervated. Trump’s America knows this, uses it and exults at the base considerations that allow for politics without principles.

To abandon the Palestinians in the Trump era may seem smart for now but actions have consequences. It will rebound.