Why do Palestinians not pin their hopes on the Arab League?

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The State of Palestine has recently abandoned its right to chair the Council of the Arab League for the current session, in response to the wave of normalisation with the Israeli state. As a result, it resigned from the presidency of the 154th regular session of the Arab League at the ministerial level, and apologised for not leading the session.

Other countries such as Qatar, Kuwait, Lebanon and Libya have followed suit and have refused to chair the session, conveying the widespread support for Palestine and the rejection of the Israel-United Arab Emirates (UAE)-Bahrain normalisation deal.

For the first time since its inception 75 years ago, the Palestinian leadership, headed by Mahmoud Abbas’s Fatah party, voiced its frustrations with harsh criticism of the body for its position. In the wake of the deal, Secretary-General of the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO)’s Executive Committee Saeb Erekat called on Ahmed Aboul Gheit, the Arab League’s secretary-general, to immediately resign. According to Erekat, Aboul Gheit: “Has lost all credibility and trust due to his praise for the UAE and Bahrain’s normalisation deals with Israel.”

Palestinians argue that the Arab League has become, in recent years, a malfunctioning body when it comes to defending their rights from the illegal practices of the Israeli military occupation. Some even describe its stance as a betrayal of their struggle against the decades-long Israeli occupation of their lands. Palestinians often mock its status and careless approach towards the Palestinian question, as well as other Arab issues.

The August 2020 trio-normalisation deal came as a surprise and broke this Arab consensus when the two rich Gulf countries announced a bilateral accord with Israel. The development totally shifted and altered the long-standing position and commitment with regards to the Arab Peace Initiative, proposed by Saudi Arabia and endorsed by Beirut in 2002. The Arab Peace Initiative offered full normalisation with Tel Aviv, in return for a Palestinian statehood deal and complete Israeli withdrawal from the Palestinian territories occupied in 1967 – the West Bank, Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip.

The Arab League was formally known as the League of Arab States. It is a regional organisation in the Arab world, which was officially inaugurated in Cairo on 22 March, 1945, initially comprising six members: Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia and Syria. It now represents 22 Arab counties.

The aim of the league was to strengthen and coordinate the political, cultural, economic and social programs of its members and to mediate disputes amongst them, or between them and third parties.

“The Arab League represents Arab countries, so if these countries are united, their position will be strong, and if they were fragile, then their role will be weak. What happened in recent years in Arab countries has weakened the consensus of those countries. What we have now is a group of weak bodies. Therefore, Palestinians or any other Arab nation going through hardships, do not pin their hopes on Arab capitals,” Palestinian writer Akram Attalla told MEMO.

During my childhood in the 1990s, I, like many of my generation at the time, used to hear about the meetings of the Arab League and held it in high regard. It represented a beacon of hope and a driver for our aspirations as a nation under a prolonged military occupation. At school we learnt the meaning of unity and the notion that: “Arab countries are our big homeland.”

But setback after setback, the Palestinians’ trust in the Arab League faded; its meetings were merely lip service as its condemnation of Israel was considered meek. It lacked unity, strength, actions and true intentions.

The population of the Arab world in the Middle East and North Africa is around 422 million inhabitants; 98 million account for the population of Egypt alone. The region has immense wealth and natural resources, such as natural gas and oil. However, this region is disunited, with some countries suffering turmoil, anarchy, corruption and internal and external conflicts.

I used to question why our region does not become like the European Union – a region with no physical borders, with one currency, and so on. The answer is clear: weakness and a lack of real Arab sovereign decision-making resulting from foreign influence, dictation and extortion – mainly by the US administration. I remember that during all Israeli wars on Gaza in late 2008, late 2012 and mid-2014, calls were made by ordinary Palestinians for Arabs states, presidents and politics to intervene, take action and do something to defend their fellow Arabs who were being massacred by Israel’s military arsenals. But as it has so often become the norm, those calls fell on deaf ears.

Palestinian political analyst Sharhabeel Al-Ghareeb conveyed to MEMO that the Arab League has no real role to play and is instead under US dictation: “The Arab League has lost its legitimacy due to the withdrawal of some Arab countries. And instead, it is being controlled by some Arab Gulf countries and it does not support Arab aspirations and issues, especially the Palestinians and their cause.”

Now, as it is not clear which country is willing to chair the 154th session, controversial Israeli researcher Edy Cohen even suggested that Israel should lead the league – an offer that serves only to mock the division of Arab states.

The Arab League has become a name without a meaning. It is a burden and caries an empty slogan. It’s time to form a new strong body to take the lead and reactivate the aspirations of oppressed nations in the region. But the question remains, will it circumvent and avoid external pressures when defending Palestinian rights?

Source: This article is written by Yousef Alhelou and it first appeared on the Middle East Monitor, along with the cover photo, captioned as: Arab Foreign Ministers take part in their 153rd annual session at the Arab League headquarters in the Egyptian capital Cairo, on 4 March 2020 [MOHAMED EL-SHAHED/AFP via Getty Images]

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