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The Arab world has failed Palestine, leaving it in limbo

Israeli forces intervene in Palestinians reacting Israeli army's military exercise on residential areas of Palestinian villagers at Masafer Yatta district in Hebron, West Bank on June 22, 2022 [Mamoun Wazwaz/Anadolu Agency]
Israeli forces intervene in Palestinians reacting Israeli army's military exercise on residential areas of Palestinian villagers at Masafer Yatta district in Hebron, West Bank on June 22, 2022 [Mamoun Wazwaz/Anadolu Agency]

Against the backdrop of a global climate catastrophe and a war raging in Ukraine, Israel has continued its systemic encroachment of Palestinian land. It is shocking that recent developments have not received wider coverage. Like the grave humanitarian and economic crisis in Afghanistan, the issue has lost the world's attention.

In May this year, the Israeli Supreme Court ordered the eviction of 1,200 Palestinians from Masafer Yatta, a region of eight scattered villages in the occupied West Bank. The eviction order was first made in 1999 after Israel declared the area to be a closed military zone. Following a legal challenge, the Palestinians were allowed to stay until the court reached a final verdict. Their fate has thus been in limbo for over two decades, but this delay didn't lessen the impact of the outcome; it was dreadful nonetheless. It is a microcosm of the story of Palestine.

The inhabitants of Masafer Yatta have lived there for generations. Their livelihood comes from rearing cattle, and they live in caves in the hillsides. In its ruling, though, the court said that the Palestinians have no claim to the land as they possess no legal documentation. In other parts of the world, such logic is used to justify voter suppression laws. It is inherently discriminatory.

READ: Israel Supreme Court rejects appeal against demolition of Palestinian homes

All this was happening while Saudi Arabian Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman was wheeling and dealing with Israel for diplomatic and economic gains. Publicly, he has maintained the stance that no deal with Israel will ever be made until a two-state solution is found. But privately, he has been pushing Arab allies to normalise their diplomatic and military relations with the occupation state. The Abraham Accords were signed by the UAE, Bahrain, Morocco and Sudan after a covert 2020 meeting between the then Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the prince.

Donald Trump hailed the step as a harbinger of peace in the Middle East, but the truth is that the accords were never about Palestine. They are an alliance formed with the primary aim of countering the influence of Iran, and each partner has its own ulterior motive. The UAE, for example, wanted to appease the US to get a lucrative arms deal and F-35 fighter jets. Saudi Arabia wanted to appear like a modern state and move on from the Jamal Khashoggi murder. And Israel wanted to open the skies for civilian flights over Arab states. The discussions did not even produce a settlement freeze in the occupied West Bank and Jerusalem.

And that sums up why the Palestinian cause has been left in limbo for years. As long as the Arab world is dealing with Israel, the Palestinian issue will never be a cause worthy of pursuit. This includes historic meetings between the US and Arab leaders. During the build up to the 1978 Camp David Accords, Egypt's President Anwar Sadat started negotiations by demanding that Israeli settlements on occupied land should return to 1967 levels, but he abandoned this position under pressure from the Jimmy Carter administration.

1967 Occupation, Naksa - Cartoon [Sarwar Ahmed/MiddleEastMonitor]

1967 Occupation, Naksa – Cartoon [Sarwar Ahmed/MiddleEastMonitor]

The year 1967 has huge significance in the history of the Palestinian struggle, not least because that's when Israel occupied the West Bank, Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem to add to the Palestinian land it took by force in 1948. With the 1967 war, Israel increased its occupation of historic Palestine to 85 per cent of the Palestinian territories. This was a direct consequence of UN Resolution 181 in 1947 which rubber stamped settler colonialism by handing over control of 55 per cent of historic Palestine to Israel for a "Jewish state", even though Jews owned just six per cent of the land at the time. It set in motion the 1948 Nakba which ethnically cleansed a majority of the Palestinian Arabs from their land.

It has to be remembered also that the systematic eradication of Palestinians from their homeland was endorsed by the British during the First World War. The 1917 Balfour Declaration promised British support for the establishment of a "national home for the Jewish people" in Palestine. The terms of the declaration were included in the 1923 League of Nations mandate for Palestine handed to Britain.

The institutions and countries responsible for creating the present-day mess in Palestine are also those which hold the key to access to the global economy. Politics and economics are closely intertwined. Improved diplomatic relations with the West creates better trade and economic opportunities for the Arab world. With that in mind, the Palestinian cause has always been treated as an inconvenient obstacle.

Ideological stands often come at a heavy cost, evidenced by the economic hits taken by the Western alliance after imposing strict sanctions against Russia since February's invasion of Ukraine. Even Iran was forced to sign a nuclear deal in 2015 under threat of Western sanctions. Isolation in today's globalised world can be threatening to the structural integrity of monarchical regimes. Indeed, being cut off from the global market poses a problem for any country.

READ: Israeli authorities issue demolition notifications in occupied West Bank region of Masafer Yatta

However, just because a country chooses to trade does not mean they surrender their domestic priorities. Quid pro quo is the foundation of all trade agreements. The importance of OPEC countries in the global oil market could be used as leverage to apply pressure on Western governments to address the Palestinian issue properly and meaningfully. For the past fifty years however, the Arab world has approached the Palestinian cause with an air of fatigue.

The 1994 Israel-Jordan peace treaty arguably highlighted this feeling most prominently. Having supported Iraq during the Gulf War, Jordan's King Hussein wanted to improve relations with the US, which in turn wanted him to make peace with Israel. Hussein hesitated, fearing a domestic backlash. He took the ill-fated Oslo process as a green light, though, and made peace with Israel. This unlocked military aid and F-16 fighter jets from the US, as well as $700 million in debt relief.

For decades, Arab states have undermined their own public show of support for Palestine by signing deals behind closed doors that have the effect of legitimising the Israeli occupation. A two-state solution and peace in Palestine will always remain a pipe dream unless the Arab world backs its stance with concrete action. Unfortunately, it has failed Palestine, for which the future looks bleak.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.

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