Saudi Arabia and Israel represent a twin threat to the Arab world. Both states have long received the military and political backing of the world’s sole remaining superpower, the United States of America; the regimes of both states abuse human rights, have committed war crimes and discriminate against their own citizens. Both, however, are considered by American elites to be useful for the project of retaining US hegemony in the Middle East, albeit in different ways.
Support for Israel is also considered to be a religious duty by the powerful sector of US politicians and voters hailing from the fundamentalist evangelical right. This tendency considers Christian Zionism to be a top priority – if not the number one priority – in US foreign policy.
US support for the Saudi dictatorship is less religious in nature; it’s more about ensuring access for US companies to the region’s vast oil wealth. Any kind of democratic government in the Arabian Peninsula, after all, is extremely unlikely to want to continue under US vassal status, and would also be a threat to Israeli military and political dominance.
Despite support for Israel coming from many of the region’s dictatorships, the ordinary people across the Arab world overwhelmingly reject the apartheid regime’s treatment of the Palestinians. It is this factor that – even in a total despotism like Saudi Arabia – makes it hard for the dictators to recognise Israel formally. Recent moves between Saudi Arabia and Israel to enter an alliance – seemingly everything short of diplomatic recognition – thus consolidate two US imperial interests.
Another regional vassal of the US is the so-called Palestinian Authority. More accurately, it is a kind of sub-vassal. The PA has no independent authority to speak of; it is a vassal’s vassal, designed from the beginning in the mid-1990s to impede legitimate Palestinian resistance to Israel’s military occupation.
The authority is thus a Palestinian puppet regime; a sub-contractor for the occupation. Its dictatorial leader is “President” Mahmoud Abbas, whose four-year term as president expired years ago. He believes that his deeply unpopular “security coordination” with the Israeli army is a “sacred duty”.
The repression of Palestinian resistance efforts is by no means restricted to arresting fighters engaged in armed struggle, such as those in the armed wing of Hamas. Abbas’s security forces also lock up journalists critical of his policies, as well as grassroots activists who advocate non-violent resistance; people like Issa Amro, for example. As with other dictators, Abbas sees telling the truth as a “security threat”.
However, even Abbas can only go so far. As my colleague at The Electronic Intifada Omar Karmi put it in a recent analysis, if Abbas were to step down voluntarily, it would be widely welcomed among Palestinians. His unpopularity means that he has to be careful that Palestinian protests do not overthrow him. Despite the popular desire not to cause more rifts in the Palestinian political scene, the PA’s insistence on placing itself quite literally in front of Israel’s occupation to protect it from popular protest and armed resistance alike, leads inevitably to confrontations with Palestinians across the occupied West Bank.
No matter how many concessions Abbas makes to the occupier and its US sponsor, though, they are never enough. The PA is in a sort of violent agreement with Israel, but there are boundaries beyond which it cannot go lest it risk an overflow of popular wrath.
Trump’s stance in favour of handing Jerusalem over to Israel seems to be just one such boundary. In an “exclusive” article, Haaretz headlined apparently shocking comments from a “top Palestinian diplomat” that the “two-state solution is over” after Trump’s Jerusalem speech, and that the PA would now “strive for ‘historic Palestine, from the river to the sea’.”
The liberal Zionist newspaper made it sound like an absolute game-changer. However, when you look at the actual quote from Saeb Erekat, the sad fact is that it seems as if the PA will continue to flog the long-dead horse that is the “peace process” with its “two-state solution”, despite Trump’s belligerence. It will also continue to indulge the fiction that the US is an “honest broker” even though its president and political establishment side openly with Israel and its crimes.
The Haaretz headline missed some of the context and nuance of what Erekat actually said: “Trump has delivered a message to the Palestinian people: the two-state solution is over.” (Emphasis added.) He didn’t declare definitively that the PA would no longer negotiate on that basis.
Erekat and other PA officials have been warning us for years about the end of the two-state solution, and that the Palestinians may instead seek one state between the River Jordan and the Mediterranean Sea. For example, in February, the veteran negotiator said, “We want to tell those who want to bury and destroy the two-state solution that the real alternative to a Palestinian state living alongside an Israeli one on the 1967 lines is a democratic, secular state where Jews, Christians and Muslims can live together.” Unfortunately, the record of the PA in this regard is one of using the issue of a unified democratic state as the spectre at the feast in a feeble attempt to beg for more crumbs that might fall from the “peace process” table.
It is already probable that Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammad Bin Salman has ordered Abbas to surrender to Israel, so what happens next? If, as seems highly likely, the Saudis and the US continue to push for that to happen, the result is more likely to be the collapse of the PA altogether, rather than a Palestinian state of any shape, size or description. That is the sort of warning that Erekat and his colleagues in the PA should be concerned about.