Arab politics; Palestinians suffering

What does the peace process imply for Palestinians in Arab countries?

Lebanese Parliament 311 (photo credit: AP)
Lebanese Parliament 311
(photo credit: AP)
Several Arab countries have expressed passionate support for direct peace talks between Israel and the Palestinian Authority. Still, this verbal support is compromised by apparently questionable practices on the ground executed by many Arab countries with a Palestinian population. Those countries have been emphasizing their refusal to integrate them.
This stance has posed a major obstacle to peace talks for years, as many of the Arab countries with Palestinian populations still officially insist that they must exercise “the right of return to Palestine.”
This notion has been promoted by many Arab countries, including those theoretically most sincere about peace as well as those that have granted their Palestinians full citizenship. This raises a question about what the peace process would imply for Palestinians in Arab countries?
RECENTLY, SOME of the Arab countries media machines have been calling for “forcing” Palestinians living there to move to Israel in the name of “the right of return.” This is not just a media stunt, as some Arab governments went as far as promoting the “right of return” as a sacred and untouchable right, thus cornering the Palestinian Authority into a very embarrassing public position and limiting its options in finding a permanent peace solution. With such attitude on the rise, even in Arab countries deemed most involved in peace, hopes for the peace process look dim.
Had Arab countries given the Palestinians their rights, Palestinians living there would not pose a problem to peace prospects by seeking to “return to Palestine.” Even Arab countries that were civilized enough to allow Palestinians to obtain citizenship still discriminate against them and exclude them to the fullest, squeezing them into yearning for any change possible, even if it means looking back to Israel as their homeland.
There is more to mistreating the Palestinians than Arab dictatorships just being themselves; they actually subject Palestinians to unjust policies as a tactic of turning them into a political and humanitarian problem, and thus a card that can be used at any time to either gain advantages or simply blackmail the world and Israel.
Several Arab governments have gained billions of dollars in international aid for their alleged role in “hosting” the Palestinians, although their Palestinians are taxpaying subjects who receive almost zero support from the Arab governments. Those countries seem to keep demanding more so-called compensation for “patronage” of their Palestinians, while Egypt, which usually treats Palestinians living there very well, ironically rarely demands or receives any compensation for that purpose.
RECENTLY, THE trend to play politics by mistreating and isolating Palestinians has become very popular in many Arab countries, all resulting in more miserable living conditions and deprivation for them, thus deepening their misery and suffering at the hands of many “host” Arab governments.
Arab countries’ alleged support for peace talks must be expanded into willingness to respect the human rights of Palestinians living on their soil.
Peace mentors, particularly the United States, must be aware that Arab countries’ support for the peace process will involve more than words, as peace, after all, is not just about opening up embassies, but rather about partnerships and alliances. And these can be sustained only between countries that treat their citizens and residents with justice.
Furthermore, Israel, as much as this fact has been ignored, is the only democracy in the Middle East. A democracy handles its politics and priorities much differently than dictatorships.
How would peace be achieved or sustained without addressing the inhumane conditions of the Palestinians in most Arab countries? This question is difficult to tackle, as Arab dictatorships view the miserable living conditions of Palestinians on their soil as a cash cow to secure foreign aid in addition to political weight. Such an attitude can be easily changed if those dictatorships realize it would result in less foreign aid and lower political significance.
It is not likely for peace talks to actualize any accomplishments unless the human rights of Palestinians living in Arab countries are secured. The world should not push a peace process over fragile ground by ignoring the Palestinians living in those countries. Indicators show peace mentors are not focused enough on this matter, and both the Israelis and the Palestinians will eventually pick up the tab for this, especially since the international community’s overconfidence in some of its Arab allies has proven disastrous on several earlier occasions.
So far, pressure for peace exerted by the international community seems to fall only on Israel. Achieving peace will require putting more pressure on many Arab governments to make them willing to share the burden for regional stability in the form of support for their fellow Arabs – the Palestinians – as most of them do actually live in Arab countries and not in Israel.
There is much to be done on that front.
The writer, a Jordanian of Palestinian heritage, is a researcher at the University of Bedfordshire.