World has changed, it’s time for new Palestinian thinking

For those of us who have championed the Palestinian cause for so many decades, and who view Palestine as the just cause to end all just causes, it is daunting to be faced with new realities. But after 73 years in which  the Palestinians have dogmatically pursued identical methods while losing more and more territory, it is long past time for a fresh approach.

Over the coming months the number of Arab states with diplomatic relationships with Israel could exceed seven. If the UAE hadn’t acted when it did, Benjamin Netanyahu would almost certainly have annexed over 30 percent of the West Bank, permanently killing off a two-state solution. UAE Minister of State Anwar Gargash, during a Q&A session I attended at the Emirates Society, strongly urged Palestinians to engage, thus ensuring that this “suspension” of annexation becomes permanent.

The Middle East has changed beyond recognition: A succession of Arab states are embroiled in conflict and unrest. Across the 10 poorest Arab states, two thirds of citizens, 250 million people, struggle in dire poverty or extreme vulnerability to it. The inability of a generation of children to attend school in Syria, Yemen and elsewhere will reap crippling consequences.

The millions of Palestinian refugees dispersed across the region are a component of these terrifying poverty statistics — victims of a frozen conflict, the bitter fruits of which were exploited to recruit impressionable young people into the death cults of Al-Qaeda, Daesh, Hezbollah, and other terrorist groups. Let’s say “enough!” to the Palestine cause being cited as an excuse for never properly confronting these scourges and the myriad glaring failures in Arab governance.

The ayatollahs of Tehran should meanwhile deeply ponder the irony that their persistent efforts to divide their foes have achieved the impossible — bringing the Arabs and Isxael closer together. Iran’s puppets in Lebanon, Iraq, Syria and Yemen brought these states to the brink of ruin. Four decades of aggressive Iranian efforts to export its revolution leave the Islamic Republic looking more vulnerable and isolated than ever.

Israeli politics took a terrifying lurch to the right in the post-Oslo era, based on the myth that there was no Arab “partner for peace.” Israel’s rationale for annexing the Jordan Valley was the strategic threat of Arab forces encroaching from the east. Thus, Arab normalization at a stroke challenges Israel’s siege mentality and neutralizes far-right justifications for stealing Palestinian lands. 

The ayatollahs of Tehran should meanwhile deeply ponder the irony that their persistent efforts to divide their foes have achieved the impossible — bringing the Arabs and Isxael closer together.

The accords reached with Egypt and Jordan are often described as a “cold peace.” Conversely, the Emiratis and Bahrainis haven’t been reluctantly dragged into a deal. They conceded nothing. Rather, they embraced peace from a position of strength.  The UAE, which relishes doing everything bigger and better than everybody else, is rapidly pushing ahead with commerce, tourism, diplomacy and cultural engagement. Bahrain is proud of its small Jewish community, with Bahraini Jews awarded ambassadorial and legislative positions. Closer ties with Israel enhance Manama’s status as a model for peaceful coexistence of faiths.

The Palestinians have primarily been failed by their leaders.  Senior officials in four-wheel drives and lavish villas grew fat on the deluge of GCC funding and a cozy relationship with Israeli officialdom, while their citizens lived in miserable poverty. Instead of risking everything in the cause of national liberation, leaders in Ramallah learned not to rock the boat — making-do with empty rhetoric, while blaming all their failures on the occupation. With fractured Palestinian leaderships unwilling to help themselves, is it any surprise that Arab states grew frustrated at being endlessly expected to put all other priorities aside to champion the Palestinian cause?

Certain Palestinian factions are moving more tightly into Iran and Turkey’s embrace. Sources inform me that President Mahmoud Abbas instructed his Foreign Minister, Riyad Al-Maliki, to seek funding and closer alignment from Tehran. Such maneuvering is the surest way of throttling the Palestinian cause, leaving it internationally stigmatized through association with pariah states. The trajectory of Hezbollah is a cautionary tale; straying from its commitment to confronting Israel, to being exploited by Iran to destabilize the region and massacre Syrian citizens.

Gargash recognized Palestinian consternation at the normalization, but expressed his hope and confidence that “the Palestinians will come back to us.” Palestine can avoid being one of history’s forgotten lost causes only by continued alignment with the Arab camp. Palestine and Jerusalem are an inseparable component of our DNA. There is no Palestinian cause without the Arab world.

Israel is still led by Benjamin Netanyahu, who for three decades dominated Israeli politics thanks to his embrace of the Zionist extreme right. When Jared Kushner praises him for temporarily holding back on annexation, it’s the equivalent of praising a bank robber for not shooting his hostages.

Palestinian children languish in jail for challenging the occupation, and non-Jews have been marginalized as second-class citizens under a succession of racist laws. Millions of us who had our lives torn apart by Israeli aggression will never forget. Israel remains the enemy until the day it, too, demonstrates readiness for a fresh approach.

The Bahrainis and Emiratis must use their diplomatic presence in Tel Aviv to actively champion Palestinian human rights and the evils of occupation, demonstrating how constructive engagement can advance the Palestinian cause.

I accompanied Yasser Arafat durig his final week in Tunisia before returning to Gaza under the Oslo accords. He was skeptical of Israeli intentions, but believed in the dogged pursuit of a peaceful two-state solution,  which he described as the “peace of the brave.” He realized that, faced with massive Israeli and American military superiority, armed struggle was unwinnable.

At the latest Arab League session, all Arab states restated their commitment to the 2002 Arab Peace Initiative. It is time for Palestinians to seize on this starting point; taking their cause in their own hands, and defining their own vision for peace. When they do this, they will find the Arab world in its entirety standing alongside them.

– Baria Alamuddin

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