The years 2012 and 2013 brought about many changes in the Arab countries, which formed a strategic environment supportive of the Palestinian issue, especially with regard to Egypt and Syria. These changes had their implications on the Palestinian issue on the popular and official levels. However, an assessment of the outcome of these implications, whether positive or negative, is not possible given that the final results of the waves of Arab changes are not yet clear, and might need some time before they crystallize.
But generally speaking, the 2012 developments showed that the Palestinian issue remains a strongly presence in the collective Arab consciousness, and it is still able to steer popular opinion to embrace broad Arab concerns and major issues despite the immediacy of local concerns. The 2012 events also showed that the Arab regimes, should they rely on their inherent sources of power and true popular will, are able to affect the track of the Palestinian issue and the conflict with Israel, although their influence is limited and needs further support.
Additionally, the political crises of 2013 and the stumbling track of the Arab uprisings have weakened the ability of the Arab peoples to express their genuine will through representative institutions. The 2013 events also raised doubts about the possibility of achieving real change towards establishing an Arab environment that would support the resilience of the Palestinian people. An environment that would support Palestinian resistance, and their ability to face increasing Israeli infringements, especially regarding settlement construction and the Judaization of Jerusalem and al-Aqsa Mosque. Every Arab country became preoccupied with its internal issues and concerns at the expense of major issues and regional priorities.
It seems that changes and crises in the Arab countries will continue to influence the trends of the Palestinian issue in 2014. Accordingly, it is unlikely to witness any major breakthroughs in the peace process, resistance or reconciliation tracks as long as internal concerns and control of change movements occupy the political agendas of current regimes.
First: Stances of the League of Arab States
1. Impact of Changes and Uprisings on the Palestinian Issue
The repercussions of the uprisings and changes in the Arab world since early 2011 have crossed local borders to affect the regional role of the countries experiencing flux. This is true whether regarding their international relations or the size and direction of their impact in international and regional organizations, namely the League of Arab States.
The turmoil that struck the political regimes in Egypt and Syria in particular led to a change in the relative weights of the influential forces within the Arab League, especially regarding the Palestinian issue. This is because these two countries used to represent the main pillars of the “moderation” and “refusal” fronts across which Arab countries were aligned, and this categorization practically vanished in 2011.
At the same time, and beside the fact that many Arab countries were occupied with own their internal concerns has weakened the Arab League and its influence in general, the escalation of the Syrian crisis in 2012 and 2013 took on an advanced position on the Arab League agenda at the expense of other issues, namely the Palestinian issue. This was manifested in the two Arab summits held in Baghdad and Doha on 29/3/2012 and 26/3/2013 respectively where the Syrian file and internal issues in some Arab countries prevailed over the meetings. The Palestinian issue was not completely absent but the summits passed without providing anything new in this respect. Apparently, the most important outcome provided in the Doha Summit was the call by the Emir of Qatar, Sheikh Hamad Bin Khalifa Al Thani, to establish a fund for the support of Jerusalem, and vowing Qatari participation with $250 million for its establishment.
The performance of the Arab League has showed some positive signs regarding the Palestinian issue during 2012 and 2013, particularly in the periods when elected parties assumed power, notably in Egypt. These signs were noticed in the Arab League’s position towards Hamas, when its Secretary General Nabil al-‘Arabi met Khalid Mish‘al, head of Hamas’s political bureau, on 6/1/2012. They were also noticeable in the solidarity visit by a delegate of Arab prime ministers headed by al-‘Arabi to GS, on 20/11/2012, during the Israeli offensive on the Strip. The delegates included ‘Adnan Mansur, Muhammad Kamel ‘Amr, Hoshyar Zebari, Rafiq ‘Abdul Salam, ‘Ali Karti, and Nasser Judeh, Foreign Ministers of Lebanon, Egypt, Iraq, Tunisia, and Jordan respectively. It also included Saudi State Minister for Foreign Affairs Nizar bin ‘Obaid Madani and his Qatari counterpart Khalid Bin Muhammad al-‘Atiyyah as well as Riyad al-Maliki, Minister of Foreign Affairs in the Ramallah-based government.
But in general, the role played by the Arab League during 2012 and 2013 did not deviate from the 2011 track which was limited in presence and influence, and lacked any genuine action on the ground. This was true regarding continuous Israeli violations, such as settlement building, the Judaization of al-Aqsa Mosque and Jerusalem, and the GS siege. It was also true concerning the violations against Palestinian prisoners in Israeli prisons, the inter-Palestinian division and the reconciliation file, and in the settlement file which is discussed below in detail.
2. The Stance on the Peace Settlement
The years 2012 and 2013 brought no new developments in the position of the Arab League regarding the peace process or the League’s ability to influence negotiations. Neither could the new elected regimes add any major changes concerning the peace process. Thus, the general trend was to continue the commitment to the Arab Peace Initiative, while providing political cover for the PA through authorizing President Mahmud ‘Abbas to pursue any steps he would deem suitable in this context.
In January 2012, the Arab League supported “exploratory talks” with Israel. Then it declared its support for the Palestinian action plan presented by President ‘Abbas to the Arab League Council at the foreign ministerial level on 12/2/2012 regarding the commitments to resume direct talks. The Council approved of the provision of a financial security network at $100 million per month for the PA to face financial pressures and Israel’s abstinence from transferring the tax money it collects on behalf of the PA, then it announced through the Follow-up Committee its support for President ‘Abbas’s plan to seek UN membership for Palestine.
The following year, the stances of the Arab League remained identical with the position of the PA, where it announced its support for the peace talks that were resumed in July 2013 pursuant to the efforts of US Secretary of State John Kerry. It even explicitly agreed to the principle of a land swap within the frame of a final solution. The Arab League also agreed with President ‘Abbas on common principles including the refusal of recognizing Israel as a “Jewish state” as well as the Israeli presence in the Jordan Rift Valley on the eastern border of the Palestinian state, while accepting the presence of international troops in the region.
In light of the current data, there are no signs of an imminent change in the position of the Arab League regarding the peace process or its support of the PA. In other words, the Arab League is not able to evade US demands or conditions while the Palestinian side itself is compliant with these conditions, especially while the Palestinian political schism continues.
Second: Stances and Roles of Some Key Countries
a. The Impact of Internal Changes on the Palestinian Issue
The changes witnessed in the Egyptian arena during 2012 and 2013 had the greatest impact on the Palestinian issue compared to changes that took place in other Arab countries. Egypt has a significant strategic status at the level of Arab and regional politics, and in the conflict with Israel; it is the largest Arab country, and a neighboring state to occupied Palestine, bordering GS. The Palestinian issue was always present during these two years in the internal Egyptian scene through two main files: the relationship with the GS and the relationship with Israel.
Since early 2012, and during the preparations for presidential elections, there was almost total consensus in the Egyptian positions regarding these above two files. This accordance persisted after the Freedom and Justice Party candidate, Muhammad Morsi, won the elections in June 2012 but it soon faced two major crises. In August 2012, an attack in the Egyptian Rafah claimed the lives of 16 Egyptian soldiers in what was known as the “Rafah massacre,” and suspicions were pointed at gunmen from the GS. On 3/7/2013, a military coup overthrew the elected president and was accompanied by an unprecedented campaign against the GS tunnels, the closure with the Rafah crossing, and a high-pitched media and political campaign against Hamas in GS, and against the positions previously adopted by President Morsi towards the Palestinians.
The impact of the Egyptian changes was evident during the Israeli offensive on GS in November 2012 when Egyptian diplomacy played an important role in ending the assault as per the conditions of the Palestinian resistance; a landmark compared to the positions of the former regime.
However, generally speaking, it is possible to say that the positive signs shown in Egypt towards the Palestinian issue since the January 25 Uprising and which implied that Egypt could provide strong, positive leverage, have faced a setback with the military coup, which was accompanied by a political and media defamation campaign against the Palestinian resistance.
The main factor in enhancing Egypt’s positive role towards the Palestinian issue during the recent period was the fact that the public mood was supportive of the Palestinian issue and able to express itself. Accordingly, the danger of the changes witnessed on the Egyptian scene lies in the attempts to target this public mood through defamation campaigns rather than by changing the ruling power itself.
As for future trends, it is unlikely that Egypt will play an influential role in supporting the Palestinian issue in the foreseeable future, whether on the level of the peace process or the resistance track. This is so especially if the implications of the military coup and its consolidation persist through the political transitional process. Thus, while relations between the Egyptian authorities and the resistance factions is witnessing a deepening crisis, Egypt’s occupation with its internal crises and its international isolation limit its ability to influence the track of the Palestinian issue at the political level.
 This study is the approved English translation of chapter three of the book entitled: The Palestinian Strategic Report 2012–2013, edited by Dr. Mohsen Moh’d Saleh. Al-Zaytouna Centre for Studies and Consultations in Beirut released the Arabic version in 2014. The first draft of this chapter was written by Hasan Ibhais.
Al-Zaytouna Centre for Studies and Consultations, 15/6/2015