The Arab League has a reputation for being full of men overburdened by their own sense of importance. This, though, could be about to change because of one small gesture by the tiny but influential state of Qatar.
In terms of decisive action, Qatar’s gesture will barely register on the Richter scale of Middle East politics, but it is the first time in years that an Arab state has taken a meaningful stand and shown solidarity with Palestine through action and not just words.
Based on beleaguered Egypt, the Arab League is often seen as a meaningless talking shop rendered ineffective by petty regional squabbles. Saudi Arabia and Egypt have previously been described as its most influential members, but the outrageous behaviour of the Saudi Crown Prince and the divisive leadership of President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi are threatening to destabilise the organisation.
Now Qatar’s refusal to take the revolving presidency of the League could have major repercussions if this solidarity with Palestine and the Palestinians garners support from other member states. Palestine has also refused to take its turn in the chair of the Arab League Council in the current session in protest at the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain normalising relations with Israel.
While the Gulf States have previously been generous with financial aid for Palestine’s increasingly desperate humanitarian crisis and charitable causes, this has rarely turned into meaningful political solidarity. Over the past few years, however, the Saudi government has banned its citizens from sending their charity to Palestine, and so has the UAE. Such wealthy Arab states like to be seen as overflowing with the milk of human kindness when needy people come knocking at the door. Not only is that no longer the case but they are also nowhere to be seen when asked to take a principled political stand or seek the moral high ground, especially on issues like the Palestinian cause.
The only reason that Palestine is still making headlines is because of the strength and determination of its own people. They’re a stubborn lot and will not lie down and surrender, or just go away simply because it would be more convenient for the rest of the Arab world for them to do so.
Countries around the world recognise the legitimate rights and freedoms that the Palestinians seek, including the right of return, the right to self-determination, and the right to justice. If only the Arab League had shown the world a united front on this issue, then Palestine would probably now be a fully functioning state instead of the shambolic Palestinian Authority run by a bunch of corrupt old men whose only “authority” lies in the few crumbs thrown down from the Israeli table.
It took the normalisation deals between Bahrain, the UAE, and Israel to push PA Foreign Minister Riyad Al-Maliki to announce that Palestine can no longer chair the Arab League. He confirmed this after the League’s general secretariat more or less backed the so-called “Abraham Accords” despite them being “in clear contravention of the Arab Peace Initiative”.
Qatar quickly followed up with an announcement of its own in which it refused to take the seat vacated by the Palestinians. Qatar was chosen to step in by a simple alphabetic selection process in accordance with Article VI of the rules of procedure of the Arab League Council.
I won’t hold my breath for a sudden rush of solidarity from Saudi Arabia where Riyadh is embroiled in more petty vengeance against those who dare to criticise its disregard for basic human rights and contempt for international law at home and abroad. The latest from the Kingdom is that Saudi businessmen have had to sign pledges to the Trade Ministry in Riyadh not to import goods from Turkey. This latest edict means those Saudis who have invested in Turkey — a shrewd business move — have to sell their assets quickly; anyone who refuses faces a spell in a Saudi jail.
The Turkish newspaper Cumhuriyet says that the Saudi government intends to cut all economic ties with Turkey. Tensions are already high between Ankara and Riyadh over the murder of exiled Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi in October 2018 at the Saudi Arabian Consulate in Istanbul, and Turkey’s support for the opposition in Syria and the UN-backed government in Libya has ratcheted up those tensions because the Saudis are aligned with the brutal Assad regime and support the rogue Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar in Libya.
The extreme pettiness of some members of the ruling elite in Saudi Arabia include reports of people refusing to drink Turkish coffee until Ankara toes Riyadh’s line as a dutiful ally. It’s all a bit pathetic really.
Palestinians are involved in a bitter existential struggle; they must wonder what the point of such rulers is, and for whose benefit the Arab League exists. Qatar’s show of solidarity could be the sign for which they have been waiting all these years that not all Arab leaders are worthless, corrupt and self-centred. We can but hope.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.