The Arabs' Indifference to Palestinians

Why the supposed commitment to the Palestinian cause is a mirage.

Jordanian Palestinian refugee

There is a long standing conviction that much of the West’s approach to Israel, in particular vis-à-vis the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, is directed by a purported need to kowtow to Arab demands, mainly due to the West’s dependence on Arab oil. Yet a closer look reveals that the Arab nations’ supposed commitment to the Palestinian cause is a mirage, a political concoction used as a “soft” weapon against the Jewish state.

It has been widely reported that the primary reason for the Palestinian Authority’s intensifying financial crisis is due to a shortfall in the aid pledged to it by Arab countries. Last month, Palestinian Authority president Salaam Fayyad confirmed that only $331 million of the $970 million promised to the PA had been received, alleging that “the drop off has been in contributions from the region” (ironically, Israel is not among said regional delinquents). PLO Secretary-General Yasser Abed Rabbo went one step further, attributing the “unprecedented” financial crisis to “the failure of the Arab countries to fulfill their financial promises.” Since the Palestinian economy, and thus the quality of life and overall well-being of the Palestinians, relies almost entirely on foreign aid, the Arab countries’ backtracking on their obligations is telling.

Then there is the muted Arab response to the recent slaughter of Palestinians in Syria (not to mention the obvious fact that the massacre was itself perpetrated by an Arab country). An ensuing Wall Street Journal editorial, entitled “Assad and the Palestinians,” posed an appropriate question: “In the Department of Bottomless Cynicism, does anything match the treatment of Palestinians by their ostensible champions in the Arab world?” The article goes on to describe the scene: “In the latest example, Bashar Assad’s regime [recently] launched an assault on a Palestinian neighborhood in the Syrian port city of Latakia, and some 10,000 residents have fled, died, or gone missing.… Though Syria’s nearly 500,000 Palestinians are not citizens—they have been frozen into refugee status for 63 years to be used as pawns against Israel—they have suffered their share of the regime’s indignities.… Now they’re in [Assad’s] gun sights.”

Syria’s repression of its Palestinians is no anomaly. In Lebanon, nearly 400,000 Palestinians not only cannot become Lebanese citizens, but also have been barred from more than 70 professions, including medicine, law and engineering. Palestinians in Lebanon are not allowed to own property, and even need a special permit to leave their “refugee” camps. Amnesty International has reported that the treatment of Palestinian refugees in Lebanon is in violation of: a) The International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights; b) The International Covenant on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination; c) The Convention on the Rights of the Child; d) The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights; e) The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, and; f) The Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment.

In Jordan, in what is reminiscent of pre-World-War-II Nazi policy towards Jews, Palestinians who move from the West Bank to the kingdom are issued yellow ID cards to distinguish them. Since 1988, thousands of yellow-ID-card-carrying Palestinians have been prevented from becoming permanent Jordanian residents. In 2009, Jordan’s Interior Minister, Nayef al-Kadi, explained that the policy’s “goal is to prevent Israel from emptying the Palestinian territories of their original inhabitants.… We are fulfilling our national duty[.]”

In Saudi Arabia, an estimated 500,000 Palestinians are not allowed to hold or even apply for citizenship. Adding insult to injury, a law passed by Saudi Arabia’s Council of Ministers in October 2004, entitling expatriates of all nationalities residing in the kingdom for ten years to apply for citizenship, explicitly excluded Palestinians. Why? Because of Arab League instructions “to avoid dissolution of their identity and protect their right to return to their homeland.”

In 1991, at the end of the Gulf War, Kuwait expelled some 450,000 Palestinians, a response to the alliance forged between Yasser Arafat’s PLO and Saddam Hussein, who had earlier invaded Kuwait.

The list goes on and on; and with each example, life under Israeli “occupation” becomes all the more attractive. In the words of Alan Dershowitz:

[T]he residents of Gaza are far better off than the residents of many Arab areas in the Middle East. Medical care is better, infant mortality is lower, longevity is higher, employment is increasing, cars are plentiful, food is more available and the quality of water and air is higher.… [And] the only Arabs in the region whose lives, in every respect, are better than those who live in Gaza, are the citizens of the West Bank.

The general indifference towards, if not purposeful repression of, Palestinians in Arab countries has been compounded by the upheavals currently taking place throughout the Middle East (i.e. the “Arab Spring”). This, coupled with the fact that Palestinian society is largely maintained by Western aid, suggests that the time is ripe for the West to impose its own terms on the Palestinians, specifically that the Palestinian leadership recognize Israel’s legitimacy as a prerequisite to statehood, rather than continue to acquiesce to Arab countries, whose commitment to the Palestinian cause is questionable at best.

In other words, it is time to call the Arabs’ bluff.