No two sane people would dispute that Saudi Arabia may have everything and anything except civil freedoms. Hence, it would be a grave mistake to think for one moment that the Saudi journalists and social media activists who are racing to insult the Palestinians and seek Israel’s friendship are doing so according to their own free will and benefiting from the alleged winds of change blowing in the Kingdom.
Saudi Arabia is a huge prison for freedoms of any kind. It would take decades to get rid of this prison if genuine, well-intentioned work began today. Those who share the role of flattering Israel and cursing Palestine and the Palestinians are doing so out of greed and a desire for immediate benefits and material gratification. There may be moral benefits from this, but this is nothing more than slightly satisfying for the reckless ruler in order to attract his attention.
Those observing the Saudi scene, even before the spread of social media, know that liberalism the Saudi way has been confined to a handful of journalists who describe themselves as rebels against the stagnation and darkness that engulf their country. These people live in European capitals and lead a Westernised lifestyle, but their liberalism, even when it is excessive, has not gone as far as to curse the Palestinians publicly and flirt with Israel in the unprecedented and shameful manner coming out of Riyadh these days.
The true Saudi position on Palestine is ambiguous. It is a fact that the declared diplomatic discourse embraces and defends the Palestinian cause as vigorously as the other Arab states from the Gulf to the Atlantic. However, all of this is for public and international consumption. In reality, there has been an invisible face of Saudi policy towards Palestine since 1948. This face is left to the court of history, but there are many unclear points and question marks surrounding it. Honesty and honour require us to say that Saudi Arabia is not alone in the matter of the hidden face turned towards Israel, as other Arab governments have their own stories which are yet to be told, some of which are shameful.
Nevertheless, no Arab country has ever had the audacity, not even those who have normalised relations with Israel, to have relaxed and friendly relations with Israel and insult the Palestinians as Saudi Arabia has done for months now. The Saudi leaders who lead the chorus of normalisation are similar to Libya’s late Muammar Gaddafi in his snobbishness and recklessness towards the Palestinians to the point that he often became confused about what he wanted from them.
Those in Riyadh who are dreaming that normalisation with Israel will absolve them from their history of sins and obscurantism, and keep the gates of friendship with Washington open whatever the circumstances, have arrived late to the market and are offering few and cheap goods. Normalisation the Saudi way is no longer in fashion and Israel no longer needs it because times have changed. Indeed, it has not really benefited much from previous experiences.
If its governmental normalisation, supported by a media and cultural push, had actually benefitted Israel, the wonders of normalisation with Egypt and Jordan would have been reaped. This is what Saudi Arabia did not understand when it let its frenzied activists loose and allowed them to throw dirt on everything that is Palestinian without shame.
Israel no longer needs the Arab governments as it did in the past. It knows that normalisation Egyptian style (after more than 40 years) and Jordan (after more than a quarter of a century) are beneficial psychologically and for the media only; appropriate for use in public events and internal political agendas. The proof is that after all these decades of normalisation, an Israeli tourist group still does not dare to roam freely in the streets of Cairo or Amman.
Israel also knows that this normalisation collides with a deeply rooted Arab rejection of the state, even if it normalises with all Arab governments without exception. It remains, therefore, for Israel to understand that this refusal, rooted in the Arab subconscious, is not broken by media and cultural elites that have no credibility and are in collusion with the rulers against their people.
In the case of Saudi Arabia, the normalisation efforts in both form and content are ridiculous. Those who ordered this intense media and cultural campaign are acting like the fool who castrates himself to spite his wife. The claim that the Palestinians are ungrateful and hate Saudi Arabia, and using this as an excuse to praise Golda Meir and flatter Israel, is pathetic.
The Palestinian cause was never the cause exclusively of Mahmoud Abbas or his government and it was never the exclusive cause of Hamas or any other social, political or religious party.
The sad part about this farce is that the organised libel and indecency is being accompanied by a campaign of arrest and abuse of Palestinians who have lived in Saudi Arabia for decades and grew up there. Some are in prison and some have been displaced, while the luckiest are still at liberty but know that it is only a matter of time before they are arrested too.
There is no debate about the right of Saudi rulers to plan for a less dark future for their people. However, the future of all peoples is not built on hatred based on imaginary enemies. The enemy of Saudi Arabia today is backwardness, not the Palestinians. The problem is economic sterility and the obstruction of prospects, not the Palestinian issue. Unless the rulers of Saudi Arabia understand this, their efforts will be in vain.
This article first appeared in Arabic in Al-Quds Al-Arabi on 11 May 2020
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.