The Arab League meeting on Wednesday left Palestinians dismayed, underscored the toothlessness of the region’s main political body and illustrated a growing sense of Palestinain diplomatic drift.
The videoconference of Arab foreign ministers was not the only diplomatic setback for Palestinians in recent days. News that Serbia intends to move its embassy – still also Kosovo’s embassy – to Jerusalem may largely be an attempt to curry US favor (as was the UAE-Israel accord). But it shows how little regard the Palestinian cause is beginning to be held in around the world.
Wednesday’s meeting suggests that it is not just further afield, but even in the Arab region that the Palestinian cause is gradually being put out to pasture. As so often before, the region’s foreign ministers parlayed with little practical end result on anything.
On Palestine, Saudi Arabia repeated its support for a two-state solution as laid out in the Arab Peace Initiative of 2002, a pretty much permanent fixture of these events.
But the Palestinian leadership in the West Bank was looking for something that suggested this initiative was more than just words. Ramallah had pushed for a resolution condemning the recently signed UAE-Israel accord.
Undermining the premise
After all, the 2002 Saudi diplomatic gambit was delivered on the fundamental premise of land for peace.
And the plan was a substantial carrot for Israel. Under it, Israel would keep 78 percent of historic Palestine and share a divided Jerusalem, with no obligation to millions of Palestinian refugees. In return, all members of the Arab League would sign peace treaties and normalize relations with Israel.
The UAE-Israel accord undermines the very essence of the Saudi peace initiative. By going its own way, effectively giving Israel the goods without charging a price, accepting no land for normalization, Abu Dhabi has destroyed the proposal.
And it has done more than snub Riyadh. It has, as Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu pointed out, undermined the very premise of land for peace. This is the foundation upon which Palestinian diplomacy has been based since 1988, when the Palestine Liberation Organization formally pivoted to a two-state solution.
Instead, Netanyahu boasted, the new formula is “peace for peace.” Which is all good and well when you’re an oil-rich principality far away.
It’s a less useful formula when you are being occupied by the very country promoting this approach.
The UAE deal has done more. It has set precedent. Other countries, in the Arab region and beyond, can now follow suit citing Abu Dhabi’s example.
Some will do so of their own accord.
Others will be cajoled. US aid, for instance, can now come with an Israel-normalization string attached that countries will find it hard to argue against. Before, perhaps, countries like Sudan could argue successfully that any attempt at forcing it to normalize relations with Israel would incur too high a regional reputational cost.
Now, the UAE has broken consensus. The US can twist arms more easily.
For these reasons and more, the Palestinian leadership in the West Bank was looking for more than a reassertion of the principles of the Saudi initiative. Palestinians were looking for clear condemnation of the UAE accord.
None came. And it is a huge defeat for Palestinian diplomacy. Palestinian Authority foreign minister Riyad al-Maliki tried to find a positive, saying that at least there was no statement of “Arab backing for normalizing ties with Israel.”
But he’s grasping at straws, and he knows it. The Arab League meeting was, in the words of one Palestinian official speaking off record due to the sensitivity of inter-Arab relations, a “serious hit.”
Without the pillar of Arab consensus, Palestinian diplomacy is floundering. Decades of effort have gone to waste.