It is difficult to convince Arab nations of the usefulness of the League of Arab States, with all its infrastructure and institutions. It is weak and inert in the face of storms, tremors and crises in the region, incapable of making an effective decision, creating alternative facts on the ground or launching initiatives that could limit crises or bring the views of conflicting parties closer together.
Since the establishment of the Arab League, it has operated with a traditional institutional logic and a mentality that lacks realism and political pragmatism. Instead of developing its way of working and thinking about adapting its functions and roles to the transformations and changes that have taken place in the region and the world, it continues to cling to approaches that suit the preferences of ruling regimes. It is subject to power balances, which should be the references and tools used to ensure the minimum level of harmony and consensus, at the expense of the major strategic interests of Arab societies and the vital priorities that these societies consider to be essential and crucial.
When institutions age and become rigid, and turn into mere constructions without any spirit or clear and concrete functions, this leads to their death and eventual demise. No one can believe that they are able to play a role in such conditions and respond to needs or interact positively with an issue.
What has been happening in Jerusalem, specifically at the site of the Al-Aqsa Mosque, is a strong and provocative challenge to the Arab League. In the various Israeli crises, attacks and plans to change the historical status and undermine the symbolism of the mosque and its sanctity, the Arab League should have intervened using all possible means and set a clear strategy for diplomatic efforts, both at the regional and international levels according to an agenda and specific goals. However, the Arab League, as usual, excels at rhetoric and specializes in drafting statements of denunciation and condemnation loaded with language that appears, on the surface, to be promising and full of threats, but is in reality subdued and subservient. Israel is well aware of the true weight of the League of Arab States and the gravity of its speeches. It is more than aware of the limits of Arab action, which does not go beyond skillfully choosing words designed to alleviate the anger of the Arab street. Can a statement written in tense and defeated language, with references to history, geography and sacred symbols, and UN resolutions and responsibilities, as well as morally, politically and historically unacceptable practices, do anything to prevent the Israeli occupation authorities from continuing their provocative policies?
It is all quite clear. Israel would not have decided to set up electronic gates to search the worshipers entering the Al-Aqsa Mosque if it did not sense that the Arab world is in a state of complete fragmentation and crisis that serves its interests. It would not have taken this step if Palestinian unity had not been shattered and Arab-Arab relations not severely strained. The exchanges between Arab countries are filled with hatred, bitterness and accusations of treachery, especially in the absence of elected democratic, executive and legislative institutions based on popular legitimacy and operating according to legal and constitutional systems that ensure a separation of powers, define the roles of individual institutions, and guarantee freedom and respect for human rights.
Al-Quds Al-Sharif (as the Temple Mount is called in Arabic) has a special place in the imagination of Arabs and Muslims. They know that it is the first of the two directions of prayer, the third holiest mosque from which the Prophet began the Israa wa Miraaj (the ascent to God), the city of prophets and of tolerance, full of historical and religious symbols, and which Israel strives to control by claiming that the city is part of its history, which it bends to suit its own interests and its interpretation of the conflict with the Palestinians. Nevertheless, belief in the value of Jerusalem and the Al-Aqsa Mosque and their symbolism is not enough to check the ambitions of the Occupation authorities nor to prevent their dreams of annexing East Jerusalem and obliterating its Arab identity.
Each time Israel has undertaken a risky and uncalculated venture, such as the establishment of electronic checkpoints to ascertain the intentions of Jerusalemites and other worshipers from neighboring areas, Arab and Islamic countries are faced with a great challenge that requires them to take a decisive and frank position. The right-wing Israeli Government, headed by Benjamin Netanyahu, is striving to thwart any attempt or initiative to resolve the Palestinian issue. Whenever there are signs that the peace process between the Palestinians and the Israelis may be revived, this Government deliberately provokes tensions and creates strained conditions to prevent any progress towards a just and equitable settlement, demolishing even the efforts of its strategic ally, the United States.
There is a historic opportunity for Palestinian factions, especially Fatah and Hamas, to overcome psychological and mental barriers and end an absurd conflict that has no historical, political or strategic value. The right-wing coalition Government, whose direction is set by Netanyahu, is in a state of confusion and uncertainty. According to the reputable French newspaper Le Monde, the establishment of the electronic gates was a personal decision taken by Netanyahu, which domestic intelligence services and the military establishment were against. On the other hand, the security establishment supported the decision, which sought to appease the hardline wing of Netanyahu’s coalition, which tends to pursue a hardline policy toward the Palestinians.
The Israeli Government has a tendency to underestimate the level of Palestinian anger, under the delusion that the deteriorating situation in the Arab world will enable it to implement its plans. However, it has misjudged the situation, failing to accurately predict the anger of Palestinians and Jerusalemites in particular in response to any desecration of the Al-Aqsa Mosque. The issue is not only a religious matter but also relates to identity since Jerusalem symbolizes the place where Palestinians can feel that they enjoy sovereignty. Thus, in this case, the element of political symbolism is more important than religious sentiment.
In addition to this is the crisis caused by the Israeli authorities with Jordan when a security officer at the Israeli Embassy in Amman killed a number of Jordanian citizens in complete disregard of signed agreements and the sentiments of the Jordanian people, on whose soil the murder was carried out. Had this happened in Tel Aviv, it would have caused an earthquake in Israel. Netanyahu thus found himself in a dilemma, hastening to reassure King Abdullah and calm the situation in Jerusalem.
As a result of these combined blunders, the Israeli Government finds itself facing an angry Palestinian public, in the absence of an interlocutor or intermediary authority capable of calming tensions. According to an opinion poll conducted by Israel’s Channel 2 on 25 July 2017, 77 per cent of Israelis consider the decision to cancel the placing of electronic gates at Al-Aqsa Mosque as a loss to their Government and a victory for Palestinian demonstrators.
What is required is for Palestinian, Arab and Islamic countries to exploit these mistakes and turn them into a source of strength and pressure to make the Israeli authorities see that what they view as an opportunity to violate the historical rights of the Palestinian people after the fall of a number of Arab regimes and the collapse of entire countries is a misjudgment by all standards. The will and steadfastness of the Palestinian people, and their belief in the justice of their demands and cause are the key factors that will shape the course of events and will be capable of changing the balance of power and challenging all conspiracies.
Translated from Al Araby Al Jadid, on 1st August, 2017
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.