The late, great Palestinian Marxist leader George Habash used to state that the road to the liberation of Palestine passed through the capitals of every Arab state.
For decades, Habash was the leader of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), remaining influential in that group right up until his death in 2008. His thinking was a product of the PFLP’s analysis that the Palestinian masses face a triple threat, among which the Arab regimes featured prominently. The reality of persecution, censorship and imprisonment that the PFLP often faced within those states led their cadres to adopt this stance.
As expressed by PFLP spokesman Ghassan Kanafani in his seminal pamphlet on the 1936 revolt, these three enemies were, and remain: “the local reactionary leadership; the regimes in the Arab states surrounding Palestine; and the imperialist-Zionist enemy.” This array of enemies that the Palestinians face in part accounts for the difficulty of the struggle for liberation.
Although Kanafani’s essay was first published in English in 1972, very little has changed since then. The “local reactionary leadership” is now represented by the Palestinian Authority (PA), a comprador class in hoc to the Israeli occupation forces. The “imperialist-Zionist enemy” too remains in place – Israel is backed to the hilt by its European, and especially American, political, financial and military backers.
Finally, we have the Arab regimes. Some occasional (and unreliable) exceptions aside, the Arab states have never been allies of the Palestinian struggle. Today more than ever, the Arab dictatorships are in bed with Israel.
Israel has for decades been attempting – with various degrees of success – to cultivate secret ties with the monarchical Arab dictatorships in the Gulf. Even though the people of the Arab world are overwhelmingly opposed to Israel (a racist settler-colonial state is never going to be welcomed by indigenous peoples) – these regimes are in no way accountable to their populations.
In the past, there was a certain calculation by some of the Arab regimes to toss out token acts of solidarity with Palestine in order to appease the masses. In recent years, however, much of this has gone by the wayside. Since the series of popular uprisings for democracy in the Arab world that began at the end of 2010, and continued in to 2011, Saudi Arabia in particular has dropped any pretence or semblance of lip service to the Palestinian cause.
The Saudi-Israeli alliance is by now so open that the former has done everything short of open an embassy in Tel Aviv – or even in Jerusalem at the rate things are going. Other gulf dictatorships have followed suit.
Habash’s old analysis that the liberation of Palestine will need to pass through the Arab capitals seems more prescient than ever.
The Saudi-Israeli alliance has emboldened other Gulf Arab dictators to come out more openly, revealing their alliances with Israel. Recent months have seen: the Sultan of Oman host Israel’s racist Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in the country, the revelation that Israel helped the Saudis to spy on Jamal Khashoggi (almost certainly contributing to his murder) and the revelation that Israeli military chief Gadi Eizenkot made two secret visits to the United Arab Emirates (UAE) in November.
Even Qatar has been cosying up to Israel, funding some of the most hard-right American Zionist organisations to the tune of hundreds of thousands of dollars. It has also bowed to Israeli demands that an important undercover film by its investigative unit be permanently shelved (the film has thankfully since been leaked online).
The latest such outrage is the Bahraini foreign minister defending Australia’s recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of “Israel” – in a tweet in Arabic, no less. These regimes are getting bolder and more disgusting. Of course, none of them respect even basic human rights of their own populations, so it does not come as a surprise that they discard the Palestinians at the first opportunity.
The racist Israeli regime imposes a military dictatorship on millions of Palestinians throughout the besieged Gaza Strip and the occupied West Bank, and an apartheid regime on every single Palestinian in the world. Zionism is thus a fundamentally anti-democratic ideology and practice. Zionism and the dictatorships throughout the region are, in many ways, a natural fit for each other.
Despite all Israel’s bluster and lies about being “the only democracy in the Middle East”, it actually has a long history of funding, arming and supporting dictatorships all around the world – and not only in the region. In large part this was a function of its client status under US imperialism – certainly it helps explain why, during the Cold War, Israel armed right-wing Latin American death squads and drugs cartels.
Yet there’s also a more basic reason – survival of the regime. A regime with no popular legitimacy is a regime whose days are numbered, historically speaking. Genuine democracy in the region would be a threat to the Israeli regime.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.