The Palestinian cause has been the lifeblood of Arab leaders, inspired countless poems and songs, been the subject of entire school textbooks, and was a factor in three regional wars.
It once united peoples from Morocco to the Arabian Peninsula more than even the Arabic language itself.
Yet as the Trump administration is set to unveil a one-sided peace deal potentially legitimizing the Israeli annexation of lands Arabs across the region once vowed to die for, something has happened to Arab support for Palestinian nationalism.
A change in calculations and priorities by Arab leaders, coupled with the wariness with which young Arabs view their own governments, has muddled the message on Palestinian statehood.
Just as startling as the suddenness of announcing President Donald Trump’s long-promised peace plan, the details of which he is expected to release Tuesday, is the collective shoulder shrug in the Arab world.
Gulf Arab nations, particularly Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, which have emerged over the past decade as the leading political and economic forces in the region, have been silent. So too Egypt, whose battles for Palestinian statehood in the 1960s and ’70s defined its post-independence identity.
Perhaps tellingly, as Palestinians braced over the weekend, the two largest regional satellite networks, Qatar’s Al Jazeera and the Saudi Al Arabiya, focused their coverage on the Jeff Bezos phone hacking scandal – with Qatar pushing the story implicating Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, and Al Arabiya exonerating him.
Shift in the Gulf
It is part of a trend as Gulf states, which once offered their own peace initiative in 2002, are now more consumed with maintaining their autocratic rule at home and countering any potential democratic Arab movements abroad. In so doing, Gulf leaders are putting aside a Palestinian cause they have deemed energy-intensive and low-reward.
Another factor is their rivalry with Iran, strategically aligning them with Israel and making them ever more dependent on the Trump administration and even Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu himself.
Gulf insiders say leaders have stayed silent to keep a “neutral stance” – not throwing their full weight to pressure Palestinians to accept an unpopular deal, while not vocally denouncing unilateral announcements by Messrs. Trump and Netanyahu.
Yet Gulf leaders insist they are not abandoning the Palestinians, just humoring the Trump administration.
“Gulf countries just want to smile and nod for Mr. Trump and walk away, hoping that the administration forgets about the whole peace deal in a couple of days,” says one Gulf insider close to decision-makers.
Observers point to the failure of the Trump administration’s peace efforts to produce tangible results, including the much-ballyhooed, first-phase Bahrain economic peace conference last June, which fizzled without a single project pledged.
“What has happened since Bahrain? Absolutely nothing; it was a bunch of nice Power Point presentations,” says Daoud Kuttab, an Amman-based Palestinian analyst and writer.
“One reason we are not seeing a larger Arab response is that people don’t think the Americans are serious about anything. They think all of this is a show and election-year politics because Trump wants Bibi in office,” says Mr. Kuttab, using Mr. Netanyahu’s nickname. “But you have to be careful, because today’s politics can become policy.”
The reaction has also been muted in the Palestinian territories themselves, where Mr. Trump has boasted that doomsayers’ warnings of violence or instability did not materialize after he moved the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.
“Palestinians are not shocked by the ‘Deal of the Century’ or the slow creep of annexation because they are living with it and have seen these types of policies in action for decades,” says Yara Hawari, senior fellow at the Al Shabaka Palestinian Policy Network in the West Bank.
Popular Palestinian action has also been limited by the violence previous protests have been met with, most recently in the Gaza Strip.
“We have very clear examples of what happens when Palestinians do mobilize – with Gaza being the most recent manifestation of this – which is violent suppression. It is a very high cost,” Ms. Hawari says.
Politically, the largest political actors, Fatah and Hamas, have been divided, while support for each movement has dwindled.
Activists and residents say there has been encroaching autocratic rule by each group in the West Bank and Gaza that has been intolerant to criticism, muzzled the press, and cracked down on any political opposition.
Human Rights Watch has reported Palestinian Authority security services arresting dozens of journalists, protesters, and even private citizens for “writing a critical article or Facebook post” or “belonging to the wrong student group.”
“Palestinians must focus on political reconciliation among themselves and demand a legitimate leadership that goes back to the discourse of liberation,” says Ms. Hawari.
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