The final nail in Palestinian-Arab relations?

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What is also not surprising is that the Palestinian leadership does not appear to have an idea how to stop the rapid deterioration

PALESTINIAN PRESIDENT Mahmoud Abbas speaks virtually during the 75th annual UN General Assembly, last month. (photo credit: UNITED NATIONS/REUTERS)

PALESTINIAN PRESIDENT Mahmoud Abbas speaks virtually during the 75th annual UN General Assembly, last month.

(photo credit: UNITED NATIONS/REUTERS)

Saudi Prince Bandar bin Sultan bin Abdulaziz’s criticism of Palestinian leaders this week did not surprise those who have been following the deterioration of relations between the Palestinians and some Arab countries in the past few months.

What is also not surprising is that the Palestinian leadership does not appear to have an idea how to stop the rapid deterioration. Palestinian officials admitted this week that they have never been forced to deal with such a barrage of criticism from Arabs.

In an interview with Saudi-owned Al-Arabiya television aired this week, the prince labeled the Palestinian leadership’s criticism of the peace agreements between Israel, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain as a “transgression” and “reprehensible discourse.”

He added: “The Palestinian cause is a just cause but its advocates are failures, and the Israeli cause is unjust but its advocates have proven to be successful. There is something that successive Palestinian leadership historically share in common: they always bet on the losing side, and that comes at a price.”

Such criticism has become commonplace in some Arab countries, particularly the Gulf states, where journalists, political analysts, academics and social media users have been waging an unprecedented campaign against not only Palestinian leaders but the Palestinian people, too.

The anti-Palestinian campaign escalated after the announcement of the peace agreements between Israel, the UAE and Bahrain.

Outraged by Palestinian charges that the UAE and Bahraini have “betrayed” the Palestinian issue, al-Aqsa Mosque and Jerusalem by agreeing to establish relations with Israel before the establishment of an independent Palestinian state, several Gulf Arabs have responded by launching an unprecedented, scathing attack on the Palestinian leadership in particular and the Palestinian people in general.

Palestinian leaders are being accused of “trafficking” in the Palestinian cause; depriving their people of international aid; financial corruption; and acting against the interests of their own people. The Palestinian people are being accused of being “ungrateful” toward Arab countries that made many sacrifices on their behalf, gave them hundreds of millions of dollars and jobs.

Popular hashtags trending on social media denounce Palestinian leaders as “merchants of the Palestinian cause” and “mercenaries” and declare that “the Palestinian cause is not my cause.”

Thousands of social media users, especially from the Gulf countries, have been using these hashtags to hurl abuse at the Palestinians. To add insult to injury, the Gulf Arabs have also been voicing support for Israel by posting pictures of Israeli flags and video clips of Arabs praising the peace agreements with Israel and greeting Israelis on Jewish holidays.

For now, it seems that the Palestinian leadership does not have a clear strategy to deal with the growing crisis with some Arab countries. Surprised by the intensity of the criticism, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and senior Palestinian officials have gone into a damage-control mode, preferring to keep a low profile and refrain from returning fire.

As a result of this policy, Palestinians are no longer burning UAE and Bahrain flags and pictures of the rulers of two countries, as was the case immediately after the normalization agreements were announced.

“The Arabs and Muslims are not our enemy,” said Mahmoud Habbash, religious affairs adviser to Abbas. “The No. 1 enemy of the Palestinians and the Arabs and Muslims is the Israeli occupation.”

Alarmed by the strong criticism in response to the burning of Emirati and Bahraini flags and pictures of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed and King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa, several Palestinian officials appealed to Palestinians to “respect the national symbols” of the Arab countries.

The appeal, however, has failed to stop the daily attacks on the Palestinians by the Arabs.

“Many of those who offended the Palestinian cause are the Palestinians themselves, especially their leaders, some of them out of ignorance and stupidity,” wrote Kuwaiti political analyst Abdul Mohsen Hamadeh. “Some of the Palestinian leaders have exploited the Palestinian cause to become wealthy. They caused great damage to the Palestinian people.”

Hamadeh took the Palestinians to task for rejecting the 1947 United Nations Partition Plan, which recommended the creation of independent Arab and Jewish states in Mandatory Palestine and for rejecting several peace initiatives since then.
He also pointed out that Hamas, an offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood, seized control of the Gaza Strip in 2007 and chose to align itself with Iran and Turkey.

“Under these circumstances, the UAE and Bahrain saw that normalizing relations with Israel and concluding a peace treaty with it could reduce tensions in the region resulting from Iranian and Turkish ambitions, and may change Israel’s behavior, when it feels that it has become one of the countries in the region cooperating with its states and peoples to solve problems,” Hamadeh noted. “It is regrettable for the Palestinians to take a negative stance towards the endeavor of the UAE and the Gulf states. The Palestinians should have waited, studied the issue in all its aspects and seen how they could benefit from it.”

Hamadeh’s criticism of the Palestinian leadership, echoed by a large number of Gulf Arabs, sounds as though it had been taken directly from the website of the Israeli Foreign Ministry. This is the main reason some Palestinian officials, including PLO secretary-general Saeb Erekat, have begun labeling their critics as “Zionist Arabs.”

A Palestinian official in Ramallah, who spoke to The Jerusalem Post on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the subject, said that many Arabs who are currently bad-mouthing the Palestinians “appear to have been brainwashed by Israeli and Zionist propaganda.

“Some of the Arabs who are saying that they love Israel are doing so just to tease the Palestinians,” the official told the Post. “They are angry because we rejected the normalization agreements between the Arab states and Israel. Others seem to have endorsed the Israeli and Zionist narrative. For us, this is a dangerous trend.”

Another Palestinian official, who spent many years in the Gulf before moving to the West Bank after the signing of the Oslo I Accord in 1993 between Israel and the PLO, said he is very concerned about the current crisis between the Palestinians and some Arab countries.

“We are undoubtedly witnessing the most serious crisis in our relations with the Arab world,” the official told the Post. “Once, it was a taboo for Arabs to criticize the Palestinians or the Palestinian cause. Now the Arab media is filled with articles denouncing Palestinian leaders as traitors and liars and calling on Arabs to stop supporting the Palestinians. I’m afraid the damage is irreparable.”

He and other Palestinian officials are particularly worried that Saudi Arabia may become the next Arab country to “stab the Palestinians in the back” by following suit with the UAE and Bahrain and establishing relations with Israel. The Palestinian leaders know that it’s one thing to condemn tiny states such as the UAE and Bahrain and another thing to come out against a large, powerful and influential country such as Saudi Arabia.

As of Wednesday night, the PA had not dared to utter a word in response to Bandar’s fierce criticism of the Palestinian leadership.

“Speech is silver, but silence is golden,” remarked Palestinian political analyst Nabil Salhi. “When it comes to Saudi Arabia, the Palestinian leadership needs to be very cautious. If you lose Saudi Arabia, you’ve lost many Arab countries.”

According to Salhi, Abbas and other Palestinian officials would like to believe that there is no change in Saudi Arabia’s position toward the Palestinian issue, notwithstanding the sharp criticism by the Saudi prince and some writers in Saudi media outlets.

But Hussam Arafat, a senior PLO official, said that the “appearance of Bandar bin Sultan bin Abdulaziz on a semiofficial Saudi channel that represents the Saudi official position largely reflects a negative development and change in the Saudi official position on the Palestinian issue and an explicit Saudi dissatisfaction with the Palestinian response to the normalization agreements that the UAE and Bahrain concluded with Israel.”

Arafat said that he believes that the prince’s statements are a “firm message to the Palestinian leadership, a strong indication of the Saudi leadership’s willingness and preparation for immediate and rapid steps towards normalization with Israel. This interview constitutes a dramatic and dangerous development in the traditional Saudi position toward the Palestinian issue, and it is a strong indication of significant upcoming Saudi political steps towards normalization with Israel.

“In addition, it is a clear and strong warning from Saudi Arabia to the Palestinian leadership not to utter a single word when the Saudis announce a normalization agreement with Israel.”

FOR NOW, Abbas’s only strategy for coping with the Palestinians’ increased isolation in the Arab world has been based on seeking “partnership” and “unity” with his rivals in Hamas. In recent weeks, Abbas also seems to be moving closer to Turkey and Qatar – the two countries despised and feared by many Arabs in the Gulf.

Ironically, Abbas’s apparent rapprochement with Hamas, Turkey and Qatar has evidently backfired and drawn even stronger condemnations not only from Gulf states but from Egypt, too. It’s no secret that many in Egypt and the Gulf countries loathe Turkey, Qatar and the Iran-backed Hamas, as well as the mullahs in Tehran. As far as these Arabs are concerned, the friend of my enemy is my enemy, and that’s how they are now looking at Abbas and the “inept” and “corrupt” Palestinian leadership.

Palestinians said this week that the turning point in their relationship with the Arab world would occur if and when Saudi Arabia decides to “join the train of normalization” with Israel. Such a move would put the final nail in the coffin of Palestinian-Arab relations.

“The Arab countries are like a spouse standing in line outside a lawyer’s office to sign the divorce papers with the Palestinians,” quipped a veteran Fatah activist. “We feel like a betrayed wife who is now being asked to relinquish all her rights. Our relations with the Arab world will never be the same.

“The question is where do we go from here? I don’t think anyone has an answer, because our leaders in Ramallah and Gaza appear to be living on a different planet.”

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