Rami Khouri
The Daily Star
November 18, 2009 - 1:00am

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. This is emotionally satisfying for Palestinians, but not very promising politically.

The contrast is vividly reflected this week in the national frenzy over the Egyptian soccer team’s World Cup qualifying playoff match against Algeria in Sudan, in contrast with the 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 the 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 United Nations Security Council has received only passing attention, while the authorities are busy organizing an air bridge to send supporters to cheer on their Egyptian national soccer 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. This was 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 accords. That attempt failed for many reasons, the primary ones being the Israeli lack of seriousness about ending the colonization of Palestinian land and Israel’s insistence on annexing much of Jerusalem and refusing to deal with the Palestinian refugees seriously. As for the Palestinians, their use of suicide bombings against Israelis represented a fatal blow to the negotiations.

Many attempts to negotiate comprehensive peace in the last three decades have failed, and each time Israelis and Palestinians have fallen 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 has focused on other issues, because the prospects of a negotiated Arab-Israeli peace appear 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, went its own way, and now cheers enthusiastically, and naturally, for its national soccer 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 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 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, 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 escaping attention politically because of the incompetence of the Palestinian leadership. No wonder more Arabs and others are turning away from the Palestine issue, giving 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.


American Task Force on Palestine - 1634 Eye St. NW, Suite 725, Washington DC 20006 - Telephone: 202-262-0017