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Arab leaders use Palestine to boost their popularity

July 26, 2023 at 2:58 pm

Leaders and participants pose for a family photo during the 2022 United Nations Climate Change Conference, more commonly known as COP27, at the Sharm El Sheikh International Convention Centre, in Egypt’s Red Sea resort of Sharm El Sheikh, Egypt [Royal Court of Saudi Arabia/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images]

Early this week, Algerian President Abdelmadjid Tebboune said that his country’s independence would never be complete as long as Palestine is occupied. Echoing the words of the late South African freedom fighter and President Nelson Mandela, he also pointed out that this has been the position of his predecessors as well.

“Palestine’s strength can only be achieved through its unity,” he told CNN China. “The Palestinians know this very well.” He added that some Arab states, and China, are striving to get Palestine accepted as a full UN member state “even if it is still occupied.”

In fact, most free people around the world appear to support the Palestinians and wish to see the Israeli occupation ended as soon as possible. Only the corrupt elites who run the corrupt states or the so-called democracies, including the US and those in the West, deal with the Israeli occupation as a fully-fledged UN member state, even though it has never fulfilled one of the main conditions of its membership, namely allowing the Palestinians to exercise their legitimate right to return to their land.

The Arab people love Palestine and wish to see all Israeli aggression against the Palestinians stopped and the occupation ended. However, too many Arab leaders — brutal dictators almost to a man — are on the opposite side of the fence to their people.

This has been made very obvious in recent years with some Arab leaders normalising ties with Israel which their people reject. Due to brutal repression in the Arab countries, the people could not express their opposition to normalisation freely, but the world was given a glimpse of their real feelings when Israelis visited Qatar for the 2022 FIFA World Cup. It was made clear that they weren’t welcome.

So, if the Arab leaders are more interested in Israel than in Palestine and the Palestinians, why do they claim to support the Palestinian cause from time to time?

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Palestine has played a hugely important part in Islamic history, and holds great significance for Muslims. It is the home of Al-Aqsa Mosque, the third holiest site for all Muslims on earth, and most Arabs are Muslims; Palestine and its people are in their hearts.

Arab leaders recognise this spiritual and historic connection between their people and Al-Aqsa so cannot easily ignore it. They use this connection when they want to conduct any immoral relations or communications with the Israeli occupation authorities, or when they want to suppress the freedoms of their people.

When they want to reinforce their authoritarianism, they highlight the issue of Palestine in their agenda. They use emotional language in their speeches and might invite Palestinian leaders to show up for a photocall, or host Palestinian patients or those wounded by Israeli soldiers or settlers.

This way, the Arab leaders get the sympathy of their people, who will forget their own troubles, as happened with the late Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser. He was defeated by Israel in 1967, but would later become the figurehead of the pan-Arab project thanks in part to his alleged support for Palestine and the national Arab agenda, which included the boycott of Israel and the liberation of Palestine.

Despite Nasser’s mass arrests and execution of Egyptians who fought against the Israelis in 1948, when he died the Palestinians mourned him as a hero of Palestine and its people, and called him a national leader. This has been the situation with many other Arab leaders, who have not been interested in helping the Palestinians at all.

Algeria’s Tebboune hosted the Palestinian factions for a national dialogue in October last year. What happened afterwards? Nothing. He brought them together and they showed up for the obligatory photo opportunity, and that was it. He got the Algerians clapping for him and the Palestinian leaders ate well and slept well. The people of occupied Palestine, meanwhile, continue to live through exceptionally difficult times under Israel’s brutal military occupation.

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The Algerian regime is an extension of the regime of the late dictator Abdulaziz Bouteflika, so when Tebboune told CNN China that Algeria’s independence is not complete, he was right. That’s the reality for the Algerian people, who do not enjoy freedom and independence. But Tebboune has done nothing for Palestine except condemn Israeli aggression or express support for the Palestinians with empty words.

Next week, Cairo is hosting a meeting for the Palestinian factions to discuss the latest Israeli violations and attacks as well as the challenges facing the people of occupied Palestine. Egypt is hosting this meeting which will look for mechanisms to help the Palestinians; at the same time, it will continue to help Israel to impose a siege on the Palestinians in the Gaza Strip.

Palestinian traders in Gaza who import goods from Egypt say that the Egyptians do not sell them any of the goods banned by Israel. We can be sure, though, that next week’s faction meeting in Cairo — which comes in the middle of an escalation of Israeli aggression against the Palestinians — will be well publicised in Egypt, giving President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi the chance to show Egyptians that he is a supporter of Palestine and its people.

The reality is that Arab leaders have been suppressing legitimate Palestinian resistance against the Israeli occupation since the time of the British Mandate, which ended in 1948 with the creation of the apartheid state. Their function was to prepare for the creation of Israel and their role ever since has been to facilitate its growth and protect it from the Palestinians.

If proof is required for this, then we need look no further than the Arab League’s unanimous adoption of the Saudi Peace Initiative in 2002, which literally completes the occupation of Palestine. At the same time, look at the nationalistic remarks of the Arab leaders even as Israeli troops and settlers kill and wound Palestinians, and the Zionist state steals ever more Palestinian land while ties with the Arab world get warmer and warmer. Arab leaders use Palestine shamelessly to boost their own popularity, but do nothing to help its people.

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