Rami Khouri, Agence Global, Nov 18, 2009
CAIRO — The atmosphere in Cairo this week tells us much about the contemporary Arab world’s view of the Palestine cause in relation to domestic issues in every Arab country. Ordinary Arabs and their governments alike seem fed up with the incompetence of the Palestinian leadership, while remaining strongly committed emotionally to the justice and rights of the Palestinian cause.
Fittingly, it’s emotionally satisfying for Palestinians, but not very promising politically.
The contrast is vividly reflected this week in the national frenzy over the Egyptian football team’s World Cup qualifying playoff match against Algeria in Sudan, in contrast with little attention being paid to the condition of the Palestinians. Years ago, thousands would have marched in the streets of Cairo to express support for Palestinians against Israel’s occupation and colonization policies. Today, it is a sign of the times that the Egyptian border with southern Gaza remains firmly locked. The Palestinian threat to seek support for an independent state at the UN Security Council receives only passing attention, while the authorities are busy organizing an airbridge to send supporters to cheer on their Egyptian national football team in Khartoum.
In many ways it is hard to criticize the Egyptians, who broke away from the Arab pack three decades ago and signed their separate peace agreement with Israel — to be followed 15 years later by the Jordanian-Israeli peace agreement, after the Palestinians tried to negotiate a permanent peace settlement with Israel via the Oslo agreements. That attempt failed, for many reasons, the primary ones being the Israeli lack of seriousness about an end to colonization of Palestinian land, insistence on annexing much of Jerusalem, and refusing to deal with the Palestinian refugees seriously, while on the Palestinian side the use of suicide bombs against Israelis added a fatal blow to the negotiations.
Many attempts to negotiate comprehensive peace in the last three decades have failed, and each time the Israelis and Palestinians fall back on the same rhetorical positions: Israel says it is prepared to discuss peace arrangements without preconditions (its colonization and strangulation of Palestinian land and society being set aside, presumably, as a non-reality), while the Palestinians accuse Israel of not being serious about negotiating peace. Because Israel is militarily stronger and in control of daily life arteries for Palestinians — like entry and exit points, water, food, electricity and fuel — it tends to define conditions on the ground. The Palestinian leadership, for its part, appeals to the world’s conscience and respect for international law, but with little impact, and even less credibility.
The world has slowly tired of the Palestinians in their current political mode, and focused on other issues, because the prospects of a negotiated Arab-Israeli peace seem slim, as diplomatic attempts to reach a full peace have repeatedly confirmed in the last three decades. It is no wonder that Egypt became weary with this and went its own way. Now it cheers enthusiastically and naturally for its national football team, while keeping the gates to southern Gaza firmly shut.
The astounding thing is that the Palestinian leadership over the years has not woken up to the fact that however just and powerful is the cause of Palestine, it is not an inexhaustible well of emotional and political support from others in the Arab region or abroad. We are likely to witness this demonstrated again in the Arab and international shrug of the shoulders in response to the latest Palestinian idea of seeking Security Council recognition for the political fact and formal borders of a Palestinian state. It is hard to imagine a more unrealistic and fanciful idea than this, given that Israel controls the actual land where the borders should be drawn, and the United States — with its veto — controls the decision-making capacity of the Security Council.
It would have been much more productive for the Palestinian leadership to go to the UN and fight for adoption of the Goldstone Report on the atrocities committed mostly by Israel during the Gaza war last year. Having flip-flopped on the Goldstone Report and now threatening to make a meaningless approach to another UN body, the current Palestinian leadership persists in its legacy of living in a dream world. It is deeply detached from its own — and fellow Arab — people who should be its core support. It is also totally disrespected by the Israeli government, and largely ignored by the rest of the world.
This prevails at a time when Israeli war crimes and colonization continue unabated, but are marginalized politically because of the incompetence of the Palestinian leadership. No wonder more and more Arabs and others turn away from the Palestine issue, and give it only perfunctory rhetorical support without making more costly political moves to oppose Israeli policies or help the Palestinians. Israeli national criminality and Palestinian political incompetence are a deadly combination.
Rami G. Khouri is Editor-at-large of The Daily Star, and Director of the Issam Fares Institute for Public Policy and International Affairs at the American University of Beirut, in Beirut, Lebanon.