Analysis: Palestinians want more than rhetoric

Their general attitude has always been that the majority of Arab leaders don't care about them.

Palestinians Rafah 298.8 (photo credit: AP)
Palestinians Rafah 298.8
(photo credit: AP)
The Palestinians have never pinned high hopes on Arab summits, however they are now hoping that the Arab leaders attending the 19th Arab summit in Riyadh will finally place the Palestinian issue at the top of their list of priorities. The Palestinians' general attitude has always been that the majority of the Arab leaders don't care about them, and are only interested in preserving their own regimes and fortune. Over the past four decades, Arab monarchs, presidents and heads of state have been strongly condemned by the Palestinians for merely paying lip service to the Palestinian issue. Almost all the previous statements and resolutions issued by the previous summits have been strikingly identical in their content, leading to mockery on the streets of Ramallah and Gaza City, as Palestinians have often accused Arab leaders of incompetence and of betraying the interests of the Arabs and Muslims. Some Palestinian political analysts have long maintained that the extraordinary Arab summit that was held in Jordan in November 1987 was one of the reasons behind the eruption of the first intifada, or uprising, a month later. These analysts explain that summit's failure to offer hope to the Palestinians led most of them to reach the final, inevitable conclusion that they could no longer rely on their Arab brethren and that the time had come to take matters into their own hands. On the basis of their negative experiences with Arab summits, the Palestinians have, over the years, developed a much more realistic approach regarding their expectations from the Arab world. They are no longer demanding that the Arab countries form a united army and attack Israel, nor are they asking Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states to repeat the 1973 oil embargo. The majority of the Palestinians are not even demanding that Egypt and Jordan cut off their diplomatic ties with Israel. The Palestinians' biggest fear, however, remains the possibility that most of the Arab countries would leave them behind by normalizing relations with Israel. On the eve of the Riyadh summit, the Palestinians announced that their main goal is to persuade the Arab leaders to help achieve the following: international recognition of the new Palestinian "unity" government; an end to financial sanctions imposed on the Palestinians by the EU and US; and a resumption of Arab financial aid to the Palestinians. Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas was quoted on Wednesday as saying that he will ask the summit to form a high-ranking committee whose members would be charged with convincing the Americans and Europeans to deal with the new government. Some EU governments have already begun dealing with non-Hamas members of the government. However, both Hamas and Fatah are saying that this is not enough and that they would like to see the Americans and Europeans also talking to the Hamas ministers. Hamas's Prime Minister, Ismail Haniyeh, who is also attending the summit, carried a letter from his movement urging the Arab leaders to exert pressure on the US to accept the new coalition. Haniyeh's participation in the summit is of major significance because it places him on equal footing with Arab monarchs and presidents and earns Hamas more respect throughout the Arab and Islamic world. "The Arab world must embrace the Palestinian national unity government," the letter said. "The Arabs are required to market the national unity government in the international arena. You must help us establish relations with the entire international community, particularly the EU. We also need your assistance in convincing the US to accept the new government." Palestinian leaders say the Saudis, who orchestrated the "national unity" Mecca agreement between Hamas and Fatah last month, have promised to launch a "massive" diplomatic onslaught to persuade Washington and its allies to recognize the new government. "We believe the Saudis can get things moving," said a top PA official in Ramallah. "The Saudis are very serious this time and reports about secret meetings with Israelis are an indication of how far they are prepared to go." On the financial front, the Palestinians are expecting the Arab leaders to minimally fulfill their previous promise of $55m. in monthly aid. According to the Palestinians, most of the Arab countries have failed to carry out their financial commitment, leaving the Palestinians with less than 10% of what they were supposed to receive. "Altogether, the Arabs owe us $1.4 billion," says PA Finance Minister Salam Fayad. "We need the money badly because our budget for 2007 is estimated at $2.7b. The new government has to carry out its duties, and without this support, we can't do much." On the political front, both Abbas and Haniyeh are hoping to dissuade the Arab leaders from succumbing to US pressure to change the Arab "peace plan" of 2002 so that it would no longer include the "right of return" for the Palestinian refugees. Several Hamas and Fatah bodies and leaders in the West Bank and Gaza Strip have even sent urgent letters to the Riyadh summit warning that the Palestinians would reject and resist any attempt to make concessions on the problem of the refugees. "Recent Israeli statements claiming readiness to engage with the Arab [peace] initiative, if Arab states dropped the clause on the right of Palestinian refugees to return to their homes in accordance with UN Resolution 194, is nothing but yet another attempt to deceive Arabs and Palestinians and obtain free concessions," said a memorandum sent to the summit by 76 Palestinian civil society organizations. "Any compromise on the rights of the refugees stands for the continuation of the Nakba (catastrophe) inflicted upon the Palestinian people since 1948 and perpetuates the conflict with Israel," it added. "The right of return of Palestinian refugees to their homes and properties is an inalienable individual and collective right which is enshrined in international law and not limited in time. Therefore, this right is not up for negotiations. Political initiatives and negotiations can address only the modalities of its implementation under UN Resolution 194," it said. Echoing the long-standing Palestinian position vis-a-vis Arab summits, Palestinian political analyst Ziad Saidam remarked that the Palestinians in particular and the Arabs in general were simply fed up with empty promises. Addressing the Arab leaders in Riyadh, he said, "We want you to come up with something new. We want you to abandon your old ways and practices. Stop issuing concluding statements even before you end your summit. You are ridiculing all the Arabs and making fun of yourselves. We don't want more rhetoric; we want a working plan that will address the grievances of all Arabs and turn the Arab world into an active and influential player on the international arena. Please don't let us down again."