Changing dynamics of the Palestine-Arab relationship

By Asad Mirza

Many Arab countries, and Saudi Arab in particular are having a rethink on their relationship with the Palestinians.

Many recent developments in the Arab world and the change of guard in the USA, has led to many new permutations and combinations on the relationship front amongst western and the Arab world. One such changed consequence has been the relationship of the Palestinians with the rest of the Arab world, and in particular with Saudi Arabia.

Recently, Saudi Prince Bandar bin Sultan bin Abdulaziz’s scathing and unprecedented attack on the Palestinian leadership, during an interview aired by Saudi Al-Arabiya television stated that Saudi Arabia and its citizens regard the Palestinians as “ungrateful.”

During the interview, the prince, a former Saudi ambassador to the US, said, “the Palestinian cause is a just cause, but its advocates are failures, and the Israeli cause is unjust, but its advocates have proven to be successful.”

He accused the Palestinians of cosying up to Saudi Arabia’s foes, Iran and Turkey, and criticised them for accusing the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain of betrayal for agreeing to establish relations with Israel. He also accused the Palestinians of “ingratitude or lack of loyalty” toward Saudi Arabia and other Arab countries that supported them for decades.

The interview set the tone for many other Arab watchers, analysts and columnists to pour scorn over the Palestinians and their leadership, particularly the ones controlling the Palestinian Authority (PA). Many expressed support for Prince Bandar bin Abdulaziz’s criticism of the Palestinians, with some saying the time has come for a new Palestinian leadership that prioritises its people’s interests and does not pocket the financial aid sent to them by the Arab countries and the West.

Saudi political analyst Abdel Rahman Al-Mulhem in an article in Al Yaum newspaper wrote that, “Palestinian leaders stole the aid sent to the Palestinian people and built mansions in Washington, Paris and London, while ignoring the suffering of their people.”

Saudi researcher and columnist Fahd Al-Shoqiran, in one of his columns stressed that Palestinians “must be reminded that the hundreds of billions of money their leaders received to support their cause from Saudi Arabia throughout its history were capable of building the Palestinians huge cities.” Instead, Al-Shoqiran said, Palestinian leaders used the money to buy private planes and luxurious buildings in Europe and the US.

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The overwhelming reactions against the Palestinians leads one to surmise that the equations are changing fast, and in fact where Saudi Arabia is concerned, the Palestinians are on a very slippery ground. In fact, they may wake up to discover that it is getting slippery all over the Arab world.

Al-Otaibi is one of the several Arab commentators who have recently talked about the need for the Arab countries to take matters into their own hands and try to solve the Israeli-Arab conflict without involving the failed and corrupt Palestinian leadership. This is a demand that no Arab has dared to make in the past few decades. It demonstrates that a growing number of Arabs believe that there can be no solution to the Israeli-Arab conflict as long as the current Palestinian leadership remains in power.

Saudi political analyst Fahim Al-Hamid has commented that over the past several decades, the Palestinians have missed many opportunities to find a solution to their conflict with Israel. Referring to the on-going power struggle between the Palestinian ruling Fatah faction in the West Bank and Hamas in the Gaza Strip, Al-Hamid accused the two parties of ‘trafficking” in the Palestinian issue.

According to Khaled Abu Toameh, an award-winning journalist based in Jerusalem, Palestinian leaders, meanwhile, appear to be afraid of responding to the serious charges made by Prince Bandar.

Unlike past, these leaders have not sent their people to the streets to burn Saudi flags in protest of the criticism made by the prince and other Saudis. Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and his officials are well aware that, unlike the UAE or Bahrain, Saudi Arabia is a large and extremely powerful country. They also know that losing the support of Saudi Arabia would mean forfeiting the backing of several other Arab countries closely associated with the kingdom.

Meanwhile, the Geneva-based Euro-Mediterranean Human Rights Monitor (Euro-Med), a youth-led independent organisation that advocates for human rights across Europe and the Middle East, has said that it has collected names of about 60 Palestinians detained by the Saudi authorities in recent months. But the PA has not raised the issue with Saudi authorities in its recent parleys.

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Many people in the Arab countries are now saying that it is high time for the Palestinians to start looking after their own interests and think for a better future for their children. The message being delivered is: “We want to march forward; you can continue to march backward for as long as you wish.”

Arab writers and journalists have also expressed outrage over the Palestinians’ opposition to peace plans, particularly the US administration’s yet-to-be-announced “Deal of the Century.” They accuse the Palestinians of losing countless opportunities and said that the “Deal of the Century” could be the Palestinians’ “last, best chance to achieve a state.”

The Arab attacks on the Palestinians reflect an intense and increasing disillusionment in the Arab world with the Palestinians and anything related to them.

At the core of this deep sense of disillusionment is the Arabs’ belief that despite all they did to help their Palestinian brothers for the past seven decades, the Palestinians have proven to be constantly ungrateful toward the Arab and Muslim people and states. Absence of a charismatic leader like Yasser Arafat could also be one of the reasons for this growing disillusionment.

Until a few years ago, it was the Egyptians who were spearheading the anti-Palestinian campaign in the Arab world. Now it seems that it is the Saudis’ turn to question the Palestinians. Additionally, these denunciations are coming not only from Saudis, but from a growing number of Arabs in other Arab and Gulf countries.

It is also being said that the latest Saudi media onslaught against the Palestinians could be a prelude for Saudi Arabia following suit with the UAE and Bahrain by establishing relations with Israel.

In the given circumstances, it would seem prudent for the Palestinian leadership to be seen as fully committed to the Palestinian cause and find ways to improve the plight of the common Palestinians. To achieve this they may have to tone down some of their demands, in order to achieve something substantial and concrete and treat that as a foundation on which to build a new Palestinian state, otherwise the movement will die a withering death and not achieve what it set out to achieve.

(Asad Mirza is a political commentator. The views expressed are personal. He can be reached at asad.mirza.nd@gmail.com)

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