Here is a fundamental misapprehension: Arab countries can help achieve peace in the Middle East by persuading, or rather pressuring, the Palestinians to make concessions to Israel.
This misapprehension is both misleading and baseless.
Recently, officials in Israel and Washington started talking about a “regional approach” to solving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. In this view, as many Arab countries as possible would be directly involved in the effort to achieve a lasting and comprehensive peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians. Advocates of the “regional approach” believe that Arab countries such as Jordan, Egypt, Lebanon, Qatar and Saudi Arabia have enough leverage with the Palestinians to compel them accept a peace agreement with Israel.
The Palestinians, however, were quick to dismiss the idea as yet another American-Israeli-Arab “conspiracy to “liquidate” their cause and force them to make unacceptable concessions. Chief among these “unacceptable concessions” are recognizing Israel as a Jewish state and giving up the demand for a “right of return” for millions of Palestinian refugees into Israel.
What the recent Washington-Israeli notion misses is that Palestinians simply do not trust their Arab brothers. The Palestinians consider most of the Arab leaders and regimes as “puppets” in the hands of the US and its “Zionist” allies. Worse, Many Palestinians sometimes refer to Arab leaders and regimes as the “real enemies” of the Palestinians. They would rather have France, Sweden, Norway and Belgium oversee a peace process with Israel than any of the Arab countries.
In general, Palestinians have more confidence in Western countries than they do in their Arab brothers. That is why the Palestinian Authority (PA) headed by Mahmoud Abbas continues to insist on an international conference as its preferred method for achieving peace in the region and not a “regional approach” that would give Arab countries a major role in solving the conflict. Arab involvement in a peace process with Israel is, in fact, the last thing Abbas and other Palestinians want.
Pictured: French President François Hollande (L) hugs Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas during a press conference in Ramallah, on November 18, 2013. (Image source: Oren Ziv/Getty Images): Palestinian leaders would rather have France, Sweden, Norway and Belgium oversee a peace process with Israel than any of the Arab countries.
Hani al-Masri, a prominent Palestinian political analyst, echoed this skepticism concerning a potential role for Arab countries in the Middle East peace process. He, in fact, believes the Arabs want to help Israel “liquidate” the Palestinian cause.
He also predicted that the recent rapprochement between Israel and some Arab countries would embolden “all opposition and jihadist groups” that are fighting against the Arab regimes. According to al-Masri, it is not even clear that any Arab states, especially Israel’s neighbors, are keen on a “regional solution.” The Jordanians, for example, are worried that a “regional solution” would promote the idea of replacing the Hashemite kingdom with a Palestinian state.
Echoing this fear, former Jordanian Minister of Information Saleh al-Qallab denounced the talk of a “regional conference” as a “poisonous gift and conspiracy” against Jordan and the Palestinians.
The Egyptians, for their part, are worried that a “regional approach” would mean giving up land from Sinai to the Palestinians of the Gaza Strip — a highly unpopular idea in Egypt. The Egyptians have good reason to be worried: some Arab leaders and countries have expressed interest in this idea.
Likewise, the Lebanese are worried that a “regional solution” would force their country to grant full citizenship and equal rights to hundreds of thousands of Palestinian refugees living in that country. The Lebanese have for decades dreamed of the day they could rid themselves of the Palestinian refugee camps and their inhabitants, who have long been subjected to apartheid and discriminatory laws.
Another adjacent state, Syria, is far too preoccupied with own implosion to think about peace between the Palestinians and Israel. Besides, when have the Syrians ever expressed concern for the Palestinians? Since the beginning of the civil war five years ago, more than 3,400 Palestinians have been killed and thousands injured. In addition, more than 150,000 Palestinians have been forced to flee Syria to neighboring Arab countries or to Europe. The Syrian regime does not care about its own people, who are being massacred in large numbers on a daily basis. Why, then, might it be expected to care about Palestinians? It would be a Syrian nightmare to resettle Palestinians and grant them full rights and citizenship. Like most Arab countries, Syria just wants its Palestinians to disappear.
Jordan, Egypt, Lebanon and Syria are rather wary, then, about a “regional solution.” And no wonder: it poses a massive threat to their national security. So, which Arab countries would help to end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict? Saudi Arabia? Qatar? Kuwait? Oman? Tunisia? Morocco? Really?
Israel as a Jewish state is anathema to Palestinian aspirations. No Arab leader in the world can persuade the Palestinians to give up the “right of return” for Palestinian refugees or accept a solution that allows Israel to retain control over certain parts of the West Bank and East Jerusalem. Any Arab or Palestinian leader who promotes such compromise is taking his life in his hands. And Palestinian history will record him as a “traitor” who sold out to the Jews and surrendered to American and Israeli pressure.
Moreover, Abbas and the Palestinian Authority are far from interested in any Arab-Israeli rapprochement. Abbas and his Ramallah cohorts are already up at night worrying about the talking between Israel and some Arab countries, particularly Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states. This is “normalization” — plain and simple. Such “normalization”, in the view of the PA, is to be reserved for after Israel submits to its demands.
Abbas’s foreign minister, Riad al-Malki, made it clear this week that the Palestinians reject the idea of a “regional solution” that would give Arabs a role in the peace process. Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, he said, was mistaken to think that rapprochement between Israel and some Arab countries would produce anything good. Al-Malki denounced Netanyahu’s “regional approach” as a “twisted policy,” adding: “Netanyahu thinks that by establishing ties with Arab governments he could force the Palestinians to enter negotiations with Israel.” According to him, the Palestinians wish to see the Europeans, and not the Arabs, at their side when they “negotiate” with Israel.
The Palestinian foreign minister is saying that the Palestinians would rather have the Europeans in their court than their Arab brothers when it comes to trying to squeeze the life out of Israel. The Palestinians think that this is a better bet.
In any event, any “regional solution” involving Arab countries would be doomed to fail because the Palestinians and their Arab brethren hate each other. Moreover, even if Abbas were to accept terms dictated to him by such an alliance, his own people would reject them. Any solution offered by the Arab governments will always be regarded as an “American-Zionist dictate.”
Here is what Palestinians really want: to use the Europeans to impose a “solution” on Israel. That is why Abbas sticks to the idea of an international conference like a dog that holds for dear life onto his bone.
Khaled Abu Toameh, an award-winning journalist, is based in Jerusalem.