Bishara A. Bahbah
Bishara A. Bahbah
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My fellow Palestinians wake up! You are all alone.

Arab nations, fed up with waiting for a divided, incompetent PA to get its act together, will continue to pursue their own best interests

Thursday’s announcement that Morocco will be the latest Arab country to establish diplomatic ties with Israel should have come as no surprise. Yet, the Palestinians were startled and flabbergasted by the announcement.

Another Arab country, this time Morocco, is ditching the 2002 Arab Peace Initiative. The initiative committed all Arab countries – through a unanimous vote – not to establish ties with Israel before the resolution of the Palestine-Israel conflict. Within the past few months, four Arab countries, UAE, Bahrain, Sudan, and Morocco, opted to establish ties with Israel in contravention of the Arab Peace Initiative.

The Palestinian Authority’s reaction to the establishment of ties between Morocco and Israel was muted – no burning of Moroccan flags or pictures of the Moroccan king. The king of Morocco had the decency — or the audacity, depending on one’s perspective — to call PA President Mahmoud Abbas to inform him of the news while reaffirming “his steadfast support of the Palestinian people.”

Given the events of the last few months and, the apparent “abandonment” of the Palestinians by one Arab country after the other, what lessons can the Palestinians learn?

Lesson one: National interests of individual Arab countries trump their allegiance to the Palestinians.

Each Arab country that has recently established ties with Israel had something important to gain. They were rewarded either by Israel or the Trump administration or both. The UAE cemented its alliance against Iran by increasing its security cooperation with Israel and securing some of the most advanced weaponry in the world, worth $23 billion, from the Trump administration.

Bahrain strengthened its defense from any possible internal or external attacks by Iran or its own Shia majority population.

Sudan was removed by the Trump administration from the US terror blacklist. It was promised some badly needed aid and, as a result, Sudan can now access the global financial institutions.

Morocco obtained the highly prized US recognition of its sovereignty claims over the Western Sahara. The next day, the Trump administration submitted to Congress Morocco’s request for $1 billion in US weapons purchases and was reportedly promising US investments in Morocco of up to $3 billion.

These Arab countries did what they perceived was in their best national interest.

Lesson two: Palestinians should not be surprised if other Arab and Muslim countries establish ties with Israel in the future.

The road to normalization with Israel has been methodically paved. Six Arab countries have thus far established ties with Israel with no tangible repercussions from the Palestinians or any other country. (Egypt was the only country that has had to pay a political price by having the headquarters of the Arab League moved from Cairo to Tunis, a decision that was reversed years later.)

Gulf states and other Muslim countries that need US aid or Israeli technology or security assistance will likely see the advantage in normalizing ties with Israel.

Lesson three: When Israel and the United States, headed by a president with the kind of messianic fervor Donald Trump has, work together they can literally do whatever the hell they want. They can redraw geographic maps, frivolously spend US resources and tax-payer money, break up longstanding alliances, and buy allegiances.

Lesson four: The Palestinians cannot lay the blame for these developments on anyone but themselves. A divided house is easily conquered. 

With the longstanding inaction and internal divisions of the PA in the West Bank and Hamas in Gaza, Arab countries are no longer willing to wait indefinitely for the Palestinians to get their act together.

Lesson five: There is no perfect peace plan or peace offer.

After innumerable attempts at reconciling Israel with the Palestinians, the Palestinians have proven unable to recognize an acceptable peace offer from a disastrous one.

Israeli intransigence is also to be blamed – Netanyahu speaks out of both sides of his mouth when it comes to peace with the Palestinians. But Israel is the more powerful party to the conflict and, no other country, except possibly the United States, can force it to relinquish an inch of Israeli-occupied Palestinian lands.

Palestinians should realize that there will never, ever be a perfect agreement with Israel. Their choices are limited to bad options and worse options.   

Lesson six: World opinion and UN Security Council resolutions carry no weight unless a superpower is willing to flex its muscles to enforce such resolutions.

When Iraq invaded Kuwait, not only did the United States act, but all Security Council members were firm in their determination to liberate Kuwait, as well they should have been. In Palestine’s case, no superpower has been willing to lift a finger beyond rendering their meaningless votes to enforce existing UN Security Council Resolutions that called for Israel to withdraw from occupied Palestinian lands. And, alas, the Arab countries have been too weak and too divided to do anything meaningful for the Palestinians.

Lesson seven: Palestinians cannot and should not trust other Arab countries.

Arab countries have been dealing and colluding secretly with Israel for decades. The revelations by The New York Times on December 10, 2020, about the extent of the security and intelligence cooperation between Morocco and Israel is shameful and astounding. In 1965, when Arab leaders and military commanders were meeting in Casablanca, Morocco allowed the Mossad to bug their meeting rooms and their private suites. The eavesdropping, according to The New York Times, gave Israel “unprecedented insight into Arab thinking, capabilities and plans, which turned out to be vital to the Mossad and the IDF in preparing for the 1967 war.”

According to an interview conducted in 2016, Israeli General Shlomo Gazit, who later became Israel’s chief of military intelligence, described the recordings as “truly an extraordinary intelligence achievement,” and said they gave the Israeli army’s top brass the feeling “that we were going to win a war against Egypt.” If anything, this revelation alone warrants the outrage of Palestinians toward Morocco more than any other Arab country.

Lesson eight: Arab and international support for Palestine diminishes over time.

With the passage of time, international and Arab support for the Palestinians diminish. A study has revealed that the attention span of an American is about 8 seconds. Imagine focusing on a 72-year-old conflict! The world keeps facing more pressing events that grabs its attention. These days it is the coronavirus pandemic and its debilitating effects.

Lesson nine: Time is not on the Palestinian side.

Unlike the prehistoric thinking of the Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas, time is not on the side of the Palestinians. One has to be blind not to see the expansion of Israel’s settlements in the West Bank. There are less and less unpopulated lands in the West Bank making it harder to establish a viable, contiguous, Palestinian state in the West Bank, East Jerusalem – or parts of it – and the Gaza Strip.

The Final Act

Palestinians have to rely on themselves and no one else. International organizations and UN Security Council and General Assembly resolutions are meaningless – Wasted ink on paper!

One would hope that the Palestinian leadership would learn these lessons but, they have not and, I don’t believe that the present leaderships are capable or willing to learn much.

Given the Palestinian leadership’s recurrent failures, the Palestinian people should fire their leadership, whether they sit in Ramallah or Gaza. Both leaderships are incompetent, incapable of reading the political landscape, selfishly divided, and lacking in integrity, ingenuity and vision.

My fellow Palestinians wake up! You are all alone. Change starts with the people, not with the entrenched self-serving politicians. Either rise up against Ramallah and Gaza’s so-called leaders or accept the bleak destiny that awaits you!

About the Author
Professor Bahbah taught at Harvard University, where he was the associate director of its Middle East Institute. He was the editor-in-chief of the Jerusalem-based al-Fajr newspaper, and served as a member of the Palestinian delegation on arms control and regional security.
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