Ordinary Arab civilians come to the defense of the Palestinians
In the wake of U.S. President Donald Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, Palestinians have turned to their Arab brethren for support. In this respect, many Palestinians are differentiating between the grassroots efforts of regional Arab populations and the official positions of their countries, with the latter commonly being described as “weak.”
The issue has taken on greater significance following Wednesday’s emergency meeting of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) in the Turkish capital of Istanbul, where Muslim leaders universally denounced the decision to move the American Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. They emphasized the centrality of the issue in Islam, and, as such, declared the eastern part of the city—captured by Israel in the 1967 war—as the capital of a future Palestinian state.
To this end, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas confirmed that he will ask the United Nations Security Council to officially, thus legally, recognize the nation of Palestine. “Jerusalem was and will remain the Palestinian capital,” the PA chief reiterated, adding that “there will be no peace or stability without Jerusalem.”
Palestinian Authority Vice President Mahmoud Al-Aloul (Abu Jihad) expressed to The Media Line his appreciation for the groundswell of opposition to President Trump’s move exhibited by Arabs across the Middle East. “The people took to the streets and pressured their governments to take a stand,” he stated. Aloul explained that often times the actions of Arab citizens can determine the positions of their governments, and, in the case of Jerusalem, their voices were heard.
“Palestinians are really happy and satisfied with Arab peoples’ response,” Faleh, who lives in Ramallah, told The Media Line. “Palestinians always defend Jerusalem but the city is for all the Arabs, so we need them. Palestinians are facing Israel and its allies so the Arabs must take our side, especially now that the American administration has dragged the peace process to a very dark place by touching Jerusalem’s status.”
By contrast to the widespread popular support, Aloul suggested that immediately following the White House’s announcement there was a “huge shortage” of condemnations by Arab leaders; this, despite “Jerusalem being for all Arabs and Muslims.”
Addie Awwad, a Palestinian Political Analyst, explained to The Media Line that Arab governments may have limited their outrage due to their relative weakness and dependence on Washington. “Their positions were not going to change the American policy towards Jerusalem and it is expected anyways that Arabs will condemn any step that might affect the peace process.” He also noted that there is a changing regional dynamic that may have contributed to the perceived muted reaction.
“New alliances are being created in the Middle East, which gave the U.S and Israel major leeway to initiate the step [regarding Jerusalem],” Awwad stated in reference to the growing rapprochement between Israel and Sunni Gulf countries, including Saudi Arabia, due to a shared interest in curbing Shiite Iran’s expansionism.
As a result, many Palestinians have directed their focus not on Arab statesmen, but, rather, ordinary Arab civilians. “I stand with the Palestinian people and Jerusalem,” Rana, a Syrian, told The Media Line. “But this issue needs more support at the governmental level because the city is the third holiest site for Muslims.” She is one of millions of Arab-Muslims throughout the region that have taken up the cause. “The Palestinian issue is the central one for all Arabs,” Yassini, from Sudan, asserted to The Media Line. “Jerusalem is the capital of Palestine, it has always been like that to me.”
On the flip side, there are some Palestinians that are directing anger at Abbas’ government. “It is time for Palestinians to be realistic and deal with the situation,” Ramallah resident Lama told The Media Line. “I understand Jerusalem is important but if the PA keeps going like it is we will lose all of the West Bank too. This is a great time for the PA to resign or create a miracle to cover up its failed political policies.”
For his part, Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu called the OIC summit “unimpressive” and vowed that “the Palestinian speeches and talks will not affect us, as many countries will follow the U.S with its Jerusalem decision.”
President Trump on December 6 recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, but left open the possibility that the eastern part could become the first city of a future Palestinian state. Israel, by contrast, insists that Jerusalem will remain its undivided capital.
The White House is currently devising a peace proposal to jump-start negotiations that is set to be unveiled in early 2018.