Syed Qamar Afzal Rizvi
SAUDI Arabia’s King Shah Salman has taken a clear stand on the Palestinian freedom issue as he tells the US President Donald Trump via a recently made phone call that Riyadh was eager to achieve a fair and permanent solution to the Palestinian issue, which he said was the main starting point of the kingdom’s proposed Arab Peace Initiative, the state news agency reported. One may hope that the King’s Salman pronouncement about the Palestinians’ is not vapid. Officially, 15 September, the UAE-Bahrain-Israel signed a divisive-cum-utilitarian deal in the White House. Without making a meaningful word for the future of the Palestinian peace and freedom, this so-called peace discourse between the Gulf States and Israel loses its credibility. Certainly, the Palestinian right of self-determination has to be protected via the establishment of an independent Palestinian state with its capital in East Jerusalem.
“Peace must be achieved with the Palestinians” on the basis of international agreements as a pre-condition for any normalisation of relations, Prince Faisal told reporters during a visit to Berlin. “Once that is achieved all things are possible,” he added, in a comment that was consistent with Saudi Arabia’s previous stance on the issue. Saudi Arabia has long maintained this public stance even as it has cultivated clandestine relations with Israel in recent years, in a shift spearheaded by de facto leader Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. The Arab Peace Initiative of 2002 moved at the Council of the League of Arab States at the Summit Level, at its 14th Ordinary Session reads: “Reaffirms the resolution taken in June 1996 at the Cairo extraordinary Arab Summit that a just and comprehensive peace in the Middle East is the strategic option of the Arab countries, to be achieved in accordance with international legality, and which would require a comparable commitment on the part of the Israeli government.
Having listened to the statement made by his royal highness Prince Abdullah Bin Abdul-Aziz, the Crown Prince of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia in which His Highness presented his initiative, calling for full Israeli withdrawal from all the Arab territories occupied since June 1967, in implementation of Security Council Resolutions 242 and 338, reaffirmed by the Madrid Conference of 1991, and the land for peace principle, and Israel’s acceptance of an independent Palestinian State, with East Jerusalem as its capital, in return for the establishment of normal relations in the context of a comprehensive peace with Israel’’. The Trump Administration’s move of shifting the US Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem ended or significantly curtailed aid to Palestinians, and produced a peace plan that Palestinians regard as grossly unfair to their national aspirations and rights. Against this backdrop, King Shah Salman’s stance has somewhat pacified the feelings of resentment in Muslims. Iran has dismissed the agreement, which also served to firm up opposition to Tehran, a regional power seen by the UAE, Israel and the United States as the main threat in the Middle East. The deal falls short of any grand Middle East peace plan to resolve decades of conflict between Israel and the Palestinians despite Trump’s pledge to do so. The White House hope is that more such deals between Israel and the Gulf States will emerge, prompting the Palestinians to join negotiations.
Despite Bahrain declaring last month that it was committed to the creation of a Palestinian State, the island state was always likely to follow the UAE suit “once the taboo had been broken”, Ian Black, visiting senior fellow at the Middle East Centre at the London School of Economics, told Al Jazeera. “There is no doubt that this represents a grave blow to the Palestinians – and a bleak sense that their cause is no longer a priority for Arab regimes,” Black said. The Palestinians are justified in their thinking that normalization with Israelis not merely a political overture, it is rather a repudiation of all national and humanitarian urges towards the fairest issue in modern history: the Palestinian cause. Normalization with Israel means opening the door wide to tamper with the security and capabilities of our countries and peoples to serve its settlement colonial project, “the Greater Israel,” especially since it has had the ability to do so with its own capabilities or open American support.
Needless to say, the experience of the Arabs in general, and Palestinians in particular, with Israel tells us what is yet to come and what will befall us. “What is required is to support the legitimate struggle of our people against the occupation and not to establish agreements with this occupier, and any annexation we will face by a Palestinian confrontation that is supported by the Arabs and internationally, and not by signing normalisation agreements with them [Israel]’’, Hamas spokesman Hazem Qassem said in a statement. Pragmatically put, the advantages of the Arab Peace Initiative, overshadow its disadvantages in the given geopolitical situation wherein the failure of direct negotiations, and in the face of opportunities born of regional shifts, the Arab Peace Initiative does provide a basis and could function as the epitome of the decades-old Palestinian-Israel conflict. Yet sadly, the API has been ignored by the successive Israeli Administrations. For the interest of regional peace and its own security, Israel must accept the API and enter a regional, multilateral process leading to a resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian, and consequently, the Arab-Israeli, conflict.
The US diplomacy, as usual, has tried to divide the Muslim community as the post-deal era shows signs of schism in the Muslim Ummah on the question of normalistion of relations with Israel creates a new grouping between the Arabic-speaking Gulf states and the non-Arabic speaking states. Nonetheless, the states like Turkey, Iran, Malaysia and Pakistan are ardently determined to the question of the Palestinian right to self-determination— fostering a future State of Palestine with its capital in East Jerusalem. Hopefully, His Majesty King Salman will adhere to his official stance on the Palestinian issue as he has to realise that if Saudi Arabia wants to become the regional leader and a beacon of hope for the Muslim unity via the OIC platform, Riyadh will have to protect the Palestinian concerns.
—The writer, an independent ‘IR’ researcher-cum-international law analyst based in Pakistan, is member of European Consortium for Political Research Standing Group on IR, Critical Peace & Conflict Studies, also a member of Washington Foreign Law Society and European Society of International Law.