Time for the Palestinian people to take the initiative
As Palestinians protested against the deals signed in the White House by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the foreign ministers of the UAE and Bahrain on Tuesday, and despite the various criticisms, those agreements should send a sign to the Palestinians that it is time to get their act together.
Many analysts offered different explanations for the drivers behind the deals and their expected results. Some said they are setting the stage for a comprehensive peace in the region. Others saw in this the death certificate of the Arab Peace Initiative that conditioned Arab normalization on a Palestinian state along the 1967 borders, while Israeli analysts viewed it as the start of a new era of Arab-Israeli relations, where peace is no longer conditional on land concessions but more as a materialization of a “peace for peace” concept.
The unsolvable 70-year conflict no longer defines regional dynamics and relations. Unlike in the 1970s, when the Arab League boycotted Anwar Sadat’s Egypt for normalizing ties with Israel, the Palestinian Authority’s efforts to issue a condemnation statement of the UAE-Israel deal was quickly rebuffed by the Arab League. Arab countries now have other priorities: Namely, Iran and Turkey.
Sandwiched between what is perceived as Iranian expansionism and Turkey’s hegemonic ambitions, Israel becomes a necessary ally. To add to that, there is a general fatigue with the Palestinian cause. Arab states feel the futility of standing by the squabbling Palestinian leaders. The late Saudi monarch King Abdullah tried in good faith to bring the Palestinian Liberation Organization and Hamas together under the Makkah Agreement, only for his attempt to fail due to the two leaderships’ ego clashes and conflicts of interest.
The UAE and Bahrain deals can be a good wake-up call for the Palestinian leaderships, who should move beyond lament, condemnation and self-pity to get in touch with reality. They should look back at their history: In 1948, they left their homes in Palestine, hoping they would go back at the head of conquering Arab armies, only for their dream to be shattered on the shores of time. This has resulted in third-generation refugees lingering in less than humane conditions in camps in neighboring countries.
It is time for the Palestinian people to get disillusioned about what they can get from Arab states. Each state has enough to worry about in the dangerous environment the region is currently experiencing. No state will forgo what it perceives as its national interest to champion the Palestinian cause. Dictators like Hafez Assad used the Palestinian cause as a narrative to justify their brutal rule and the imposition of emergency laws, where all personal freedoms and basic human and civil rights were stifled. The narrative is that human rights and economic growth should be put aside for the moment because the “dictator” is preparing for something grand and noble, which is the liberation of Palestine. The Islamic Republic in Iran infiltrated Arab societies by adopting the Palestinian cause, only to later reveal with its interventions in Syria, Iraq and Yemen that its real project is a sectarian one unrelated to Palestine. With the Arab uprising, the legitimacy of those dictators — which was based on them hiding behind the lie pertaining to the liberation of Palestine — fell.
Palestinians need to get a grip on reality and they should start by putting their own house in order. The people should no longer be fooled by Ismail Haniyeh, who leaves Gaza on a private jet after getting approval from Israeli officials to head to Lebanon and threaten the “Zionist enemy” from Hezbollah’s stronghold.
No state will forgo what it perceives as its national interest to champion the Palestinian cause.
Dr. Dania Koleilat Khatib
They should no longer let the corrupt leaderships in Gaza and the West Bank divide them. They should unite and prepare their own plan for the future of their nation. Whether that consists of resisting the occupation or negotiating with the occupier, it is their call to make. Whether they want political independence from Israel or they want equal rights inside Israel, that is again their call to make.
They should no longer take a back seat while others present plans to determine their fate. They should stop others from hijacking their cause for political gain. They need to have a clear vision of where they want to end up, what they want from Israel, and what they are ready to offer in return.
One thing is for sure: It is time to bypass the internal political bickering and take firm action. The Palestinians have to remember that self-determination cannot happen without self-help. It is time to reject the corrupt leaderships that do nothing but work to perpetuate their own existence. The people should start working on an alternative to the sagging leaderships. They should connect with the Palestinian citizens of Israel and with the wider diaspora to come up with a plan of action that will determine their fate.
- Dr. Dania Koleilat Khatib is a specialist in US-Arab relations with a focus on lobbying. She is the co-founder of the Research Center for Cooperation and Peace Building (RCCP), a Lebanese NGO focused on Track II. She is also an affiliated scholar with the Issam Fares Institute for Public Policy and International Affairs at the American University of Beirut.