The recently concluded 22nd Arab League summit hosted by Colonel Muammar Qadhafi in his hometown of Sirte, Libya, certainly met pre-summit expectations: a significant number of no-shows (more than a third of Arab heads-of-state failed to attend), a delegation that threatened to walk out, dire warnings issued on the consequences of Israel’s expansion into East Jerusalem, and bellicose rhetoric to accompany it all.
Unofficially dubbed the “Jerusalem Summit,” how Arab nations would collectively respond to Israel’s continued expropriation of Palestinian land took center-stage. Such concerns came on the heels of the public spat between the Obama administration and the government of Benjamin Netanyahu over the announcement of 1,600 new housing units to be built in East Jerusalem.
In one of the few tangible measures adopted at the summit, $500 million was pledged by conferees to help improve Palestinian living conditions in the city. Calls for armed resistance came from Syria and Libya while the Arab League predictably deferred on a vote endorsing complete withdrawal from United States-sponsored “proximity talks.”
Although the feckless Arab League routinely depends on lofty rhetoric to make itself appear relevant, one would assume the Palestinian leadership had long seen past its platitudes and hollow promises. Unfortunately, their misplaced trust was again evident in Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’ opening speech.
As Agence France-Presse reported, “Abbas echoed widespread concern that the Middle East peace process was in peril and urged his Arab peers to ‘rescue’ Jerusalem.”
With little to show for a presidential term long since expired, Abbas was in truth asking his fellow Arab leaders to not only “rescue” Jerusalem, but his failed presidency as well. Indeed, one disastrous pitfall into which nearly all Palestinian leaders have fallen is the belief that a savior among the Arabs will come to “rescue” them.
Have they failed to notice how half-heartedly Arab heads-of-state had taken up their cause? Or hijacked it to suit their domestic political agendas? Were the decades of vacuous rhetoric insufficient in demonstrating their assistance was unreliable and untrustworthy?
Within the last four years, the Middle East has witnessed two savage wars waged by Israel under flimsy pretexts—the July 2006 war in Lebanon and the December 2008 invasion of Gaza.
The civilian population and infrastructure were so devastated in both lands that it is no exaggeration to say they were deliberately targeted in heinous examples of collective punishment.
How can any Palestinian civilian or official therefore rely on Arab rulers to help “rescue” Jerusalem when they passively watched as Lebanon and Gaza were viciously attacked? While their mosques, schools, hospitals, airports, municipal buildings, bridges, roads, water treatment plants and food storage facilities were destroyed?
Some will say that countries like Egypt, Jordan and Saudi Arabia had their own agendas against Hezbollah and Hamas, and were clearly hoping for their imminent collapse. And that is the point: if “agendas” of the Arab states took precedence over the welfare of the Lebanese or Gaza’s Palestinians, what will make those residing in East Jerusalem or the West Bank any different?
Abbas naively hopes Arab League countries will come to Jerusalem’s “rescue” while Egypt abets the inhumane siege of Gaza by keeping its Rafah crossing closed—and hardly a one objects. Similarly, the underground barrier being constructed along Egypt’s border with Gaza is being lauded by the Israelis.
While the 2006 and 2008 wars illustrate how easily Arab client states can selfishly forsake their brethren, they also exemplify how a peoples’ perseverance, resilience and self-reliance can withstand the most trying of circumstances.
So let Jerusalem’s Palestinians distance themselves from the indignity Abbas brings by calling on those who long ago sold out their cause and shamelessly abandoned Lebanon and Gaza. Let them repudiate a leadership that has been complicit in the very Israeli expansionism now condemned in exchange for staying in the good graces of the United States. Let them recognize that all they have endured under Israeli occupation makes Abbas’ plea to “rescue” them nothing but humiliating.
RANNIE AMIRI is an independent Middle East commentator. He may be reached at: rbamiri [at] yahoo [dot] com.