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On Exploiting the Palestinian Cause

Exploiting the Palestinian Cause
A photo taken at the opening session of the emergency meeting of Arab Foreign Ministers at Arab League Headquarters in Cairo, 16 February 2003. KHALED DESOUKI/ MENA / AFP

Majed Kayali

Since the outset, prevalent Arab regimes have exploited the Palestinian cause and the struggle against Israel. This policy which has been based on manipulation, deception, and deployment did nothing but damage the cause.

As happened in the Negev summit a few days ago, some Arab regimes find no problem in open cooperation with Israel. The same Israel that insists on depriving the Palestinians of their rights through occupation and settlement, preserving its nature as a colonial state and as an apartheid regime.

No wonder those regimes only cared to preserve their authority, as defending their peoples’ rights and establishing a state based on law and democratic institutions was never a priority.

Thus, the Palestinian cause was nothing but material for political utilisation. These regimes tended to distinguish between the cause and its people in most cases by elevating that cause nominally and overlooking the suffering of its people.

Hence, dealing with the Palestinians remained either a political tool or a security problem against which the most severe precautions should be taken.

Still, that doesn’t mean that the Palestinian cause did not matter to Arab societies, for it was indeed so, to varying degrees, a cause of truth and justice that calls for freedom and dignity.

Perhaps this explains why the Palestinian cause attracted generations of Arab youth who found in the Palestinian liberation movement their desire to bring about the hoped-for change in the reality of Arab societies, especially during the movement’s ascension in the 1960s and 1970s.

At the time, the struggle for Palestine meant the struggle for Arab liberation and progress, regardless of our assessment at the time of this theoretical argument in political practice.

However, the status of the Palestinian cause declined a long time ago. It no longer appears as the central issue for several reasons. The first of which is that it has been consumed and manipulated by the prevalent political regimes.

The second is that Arab societies have become exhausted with their complex ongoing problems.

The third is that this issue is no longer the same for those in charge of it, be it the Palestinian leaders or factions, and this is a fundamental matter.

The fourth is that the essence of the cause has become distorted among large segments of the Palestinians, who themselves have become divided over their priorities, policies, needs and vision of their cause according to their locations and living circumstances.

In general, it appears from that summit that the Palestinian cause has been exhausted by the old Arab official regimes after the demise of the authoritarian “national” regimes, mainly because its essence changed, as I mentioned. The liberation movement turned into an authority under the occupation. When Palestine was reduced to the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, it was no longer a liberation movement for its people. Doing so meant abandoning the Palestinian refugees in Arab countries, removing their cause from the political equations, and marginalising the PLO in favour of the authority.

Also, the Palestinian cause has lost its status as a central issue to Arab societies because the Palestinian liberation project was separated from the liberation project in Arab countries. This became obvious when most Palestinian factions, including the PLO, distanced themselves from the Arab Spring revolutions after decades of claiming that the Palestinian revolution was the vanguard of the Arab revolution. This claim had high costs in Jordan and Lebanon, and was paid by non-other than the Palestinian refugees in these two countries.

It is noteworthy that the prevailing Palestinian leaders still ignored all these transformations or were surprised by that summit, whether because of their transformation into an authority or their identification with the official system and its authoritarian regimes. Or even because of their indifference toward the Arab revolutions, which they did not understand.

Also, they did not realise the opportunity to develop their circumstances, enhance the status of their people, and restore some consideration to their cause.

All of this made it easier for those regimes to deviate from the traditional Arab consensus, albeit only in form, under the pretext of confronting the Iranian threat or claiming that the United States did not consider their interests and priorities.

Other reasons can be attributed to the US administration adopting the demands of reform, human rights, and democratic transition, which these regimes consider as foreign interference in their affairs, regardless of whether this represents an actual policy or an exploiting one by the US.

The important thing is that the Aqaba summit opened a new page in Arab-Israeli relations. Still, it is doubtful that such a step will succeed, with Israel remaining a colonial and racist state. It is a state that confiscates the rights of the Palestinians, including their right to self-determination in their historical land. Moreover, this doubt stems from the fact that most Arab regimes are alienated from their societies. Nothing is certain in this region that is oozing with turmoil.

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