By: Prof. Dr. Mohsen Mohammad Saleh.
A Substantial Difference
Fifty years separates the Egyptian army’s participation in the October 1973 war against Israel, which became one of the proudest achievements in modern Egyptian history, and Egypt’s inability to even provide humanitarian aid to the Gaza Strip (GS) in 2023, in which the Israelis are carrying out daily horrific massacres against women, children and the elderly, unless approved by the Israelis themselves. Besides, there is a substantial difference between the declaration of war in 1973 to restore Arab dignity and the failure to withdraw the Egyptian ambassador from Tel Aviv after forty days of heinous massacres.
Resistance: From a Duty to a Burden:
Over the past fifty years, significant transformations have undoubtedly occurred in the Arab landscape that made it less attached to the Palestine issue. The October 1973 war was the last Arab-Israeli war, followed by Egypt’s entry into the peace process (Camp David Agreement 1978). In 1982, the Palestinian resistance faced almost alone the Israeli invasion of Lebanon. The Arab adoption of the peace process had negative implications for the behavior of Arab states towards Palestinian resistance. Since their approval of the Prince (King) Fahd Initiative in 1982, these states have set their courses, which were reinforced by their adoption of the Saudi Initiative in 2002. However, they linked their position to Israel’s commitment to the two-state solution in all its aspects. However, several Arab countries ignored Israel’s commitment condition and established contacts and relationships with Israel, whether covertly or even openly. This trend deepened after the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) joined the peace process, signing the Oslo Accords in 1993, in which it committed exclusively to peaceful means.
Thus, the peace process transformed the role of resistance from a “duty” with deserving support into a “burden.” The support of regimes for the Palestinian Authority (PA) in suppressing resistance and coordinating with the occupation became normal, considering the PLO as the official representative of the Palestinians.
Resistance: From a Burden to an Opponent:
Since the rise of anti-Arab Spring wave in 2013, the Arab stance on the Palestine issue has been declining and worsening. During the first decade of the 21st century, some Arab regimes still allowed a margin of popular interaction and financial donation campaigns, providing a reasonable space for the resistance line to convey its political and media message. Media outlets were bolder and more open in condemning Israel, its practices and supporters. However, after the anti-Arab Spring wave, Arab regimes became more inclined to restrict freedoms, suppress popular will and combat popular and civil institutions, as well as opposition figures and political activists.
Media outlets shifted their focus to local state issues, caring only about internal affairs and distracting people with their daily concerns, sidelining Palestine, its resistance and the steadfastness of Palestinians to the margins of media coverage. Some individuals were allowed to market normalization with the Israelis, attacking the resistance, while systematically suppressing and detaining the free national, nationalist and Islamic voices. This negatively impacted the ability of the masses to engage with the Palestine issue and the issues of the Ummah (Muslim nation). Many peoples, having experienced the oppression of regimes and exhausted by internal conflicts, became incapable of expressing themselves and engaging to the same extent with the Palestine issue, despite their overwhelming rejection of normalization. Jerusalem and al-Aqsa Mosque, however, remained at the heart of their concerns.
The victory of the resistance line (Hamas) in the 2006 PA legislative council elections did not prevent regimes from siding with the PA President ‘Abbas and Fatah against Hamas, especially after the Palestinian schism and Hamas’s control of GS, aligning with the “Palestinian legitimacy.”
In the second decade of the 21st century, three factors emerged that pressured the Arab retreat from supporting the resistance. Firstly, internal conflicts and disturbances amid the anti-Arab Spring waves and the preoccupation with internal concerns and files. Secondly, the Arab regimes, while keeping in control, but without real management of their populations’ affairs, became weaker to pressure and more in need of regional and international support, especially US and Western support. This facilitated for the US, especially under Trump’s administration, to exert pressure towards the normalization of relations with Israel. The UAE, Bahrain, Morocco and Sudan joined the peace process, while the groundwork continued for Saudi Arabia to join the track.
Thirdly, the armed Palestinian resistance, mainly embodied by Islamic movements such as Hamas and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ), faced opposition from regimes opposed to the resistance line. These regimes also opposed Islamic movements that led the Arab Spring in their countries. This made it challenging for the resistance to operate, lacking a strategic supportive environment in Arab countries. Consequently, the resistance turned to building a strong relationship with Iran, which financially and militarily supported it, further straining relations with several Arab regimes. The resistance began to be viewed through its relationship with Iran, rather than through the regimes’ national and Islamic responsibilities towards Jerusalem, holy sites and Palestine.
With the widening normalization process in 2020, where four Arab countries established relations with Israel, and the development of a network of political, economic, tourist, security, military and media relations and the signing of dozens of cooperation agreements, the Palestine issue became marginalized. Many Israeli practices against the Palestinian people, their land and holy sites were overlooked. Additionally, the transformation of the Israeli leadership towards more religious and nationalist extremism was disregarded.
Therefore, if the Palestine issue itself had turned from a duty, honor and responsibility into a burden, armed resistance against the occupation became provocative to the regimes and adversarial. It appeared as an element obstructing and hindering the normalization process, and as an element inciting and mobilizing citizens in these countries.
Shock of Operation al-Aqsa Flood:
The impact of the surprise was significant on the countries that rushed to normalize their relations with Israel. Operation al-Aqsa Flood, on October 7th, bumped into the fast normalization train and derailed it, leaving those enthusiastic about the relations in a state of astonishment, confusion, anger and frustration with the resistance.
Therefore, the UAE did not hide its anger towards Hamas. The Minister of State for International Cooperation, Reem Al Hashimy, declared in the Security Council on 24/11/2023, in an unprecedented language, that “the attacks launched by Hamas on October 7 are barbaric and heinous” and demanded “that Hamas release hostages immediately and unconditionally.” She described what Hamas did as “crimes.” However, when it came to the Israeli side, the UAE merely called for avoiding the application of collective punishment policies and did not condemn the crimes and massacres of the occupation, which were broadcast and witnessed globally. At that time, the number of killed in Gaza was 5,100, including about 2,100 children and 1,120 women. The UAE overlooked these numbers while adopting the Israeli narrative, proven to be filled with lies and exaggerations.
As for the Crown Prince of Bahrain, he condemned Operation al-Aqsa Flood at the “Manama Dialogue,” on 17/11/2023, describing the attacks as “barbaric” and “horrific” and condemned Hamas and its behavior. However, he did not condemn Israeli crimes and massacres with the same attributes, despite the world witnessing their brutality and barbarity through ample evidence.
Dennis Ross, a US official and diplomat, who played a key role in the peace process, revealed that after October 7, he talked to Arab officials throughout the region whom he has long known, and “every single one told me that Hamas must be destroyed in Gaza. They made clear that if Hamas is perceived as winning, it will validate the group’s ideology of rejection.” Musa Abu Marzuq, a prominent leader in Hamas, stated in an interview with Aljazeera Mubasher that many foreigners informed him that PA members and some Arab countries secretly urge the West to eliminate Hamas.
Cold Arab-Islamic Summit:
An emergency joint Arab-Islamic summit regarding the aggression on Gaza was held on the thirty-sixth day of the war (11/11/2023), after considerable hesitation and “yawning,” following the killing of around ten thousand, mostly civilians.
The final statement of the conference departed from the usual classical behavior, affirming a cessation of aggression on Gaza, allowing aid to enter Gaza, lifting the blockade, rejecting the displacement of Palestinians, condemning the Western double standards, refusing to consider Israel a state above the law, and emphasizing commitment to “peace” as a strategic choice and the Arab Peace Initiative of 2002. The statement called for providing financial support to the Palestinian government (Ramallah Authority) and the necessity of rallying international partners for the reconstruction of Gaza. However, it did not specify any financial contributions from any of the participating countries in the conference.
In summary, the conference was part of lifting grievances and absorbing what anger could be absorbed from the Arab and Islamic public. There were no practical measures such as cutting or suspending relations with Israel, no actual pressure or serious threats to stop the aggression or open the Rafah crossing. There was no support for the resistance, no praise for its performance and no acknowledgment of the steadfastness of the Gazans. There was an insistence on the philosophy of helplessness and on the failed peace process, which Israel has rejected and discarded. The decisions did not reflect any serious stances towards the Judaization of Jerusalem and the dangerous phase of al-Aqsa Mosque Judaization.
As a result, a new low has emerged in the way several Arab regimes dealt with the Israeli war on GS, treating it as if they were reluctantly waiting for the Israeli army to “complete its mission” in eliminating Hamas’s rule of the Strip. Based on their perception, they saw it as an opportunity to end the “aberrant and bothersome” situation. There was a sense that the battle was decided in favor of Israel, and therefore there was no need for practical steps to support the resistance’s steadfastness. There was no need to exert strong and effective pressure using their clout and real capabilities to stop the aggression or to deliver aid to the Strip.
On the other hand, there were a number of Arab countries that maintained their usual support for Palestine, adhering to their usual behavior towards the resistance, supporting it or understanding its behavior, such as Qatar, Kuwait, Iraq, Algeria, Yemen, Libya, Syria, Tunisia and Oman.
Al-Zaytouna Centre for Studies and Consultations, 25/11/2023