By Richard Walker
For Palestinians, betrayal by Israel and America is not unexpected. But the greatest hurt of all has been betrayal by Arab nations, something that has been on show with the latest diplomatic alliances the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Bahrain made with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Perhaps the unkindest cut of all was Palestinian leaders being unable to persuade the Arab League to condemn the alliances. As a result, Palestine quit its upcoming chairmanship of league meetings. Palestinian leaders had not envisaged Arab nations unilaterally signing diplomatic deals with Israel, especially members of the league. It was formed in 1945 by a small number of Arab states, including Egypt and Saudi Arabia and now has 22 members.
The unity of the Arab League was one of the most important planks in the Palestinian drive for statehood. Unity cemented a commitment to see the Palestinian dream of statehood reached by way of Israel agreeing to relinquish its occupation of Gaza, the West Bank, and East Jerusalem—lands Israelis seized illegally in 1967, a fact established by the UN and other international bodies. Arab unity also meant that there could be no diplomatic accords recognizing Israel until Palestinian statehood was achieved.
Some see the hand of the Saudis behind the UAE-Bahrain alliances. Bahrain is another Arab state run by a royal clan that relies for its existence on Saudi military guarantees of support. It also happens to be the location of one of the biggest U.S. bases in the region. By all accounts, the Saudis nowadays pull the strings within the Arab League, encouraging it to declare that its members are free to unilaterally make decisions about their foreign policy. This is what has effectively killed off Arab unity over the Palestinian issue.
While the Saudis believe that being close to Israel guarantees their security, the Emiratis wanted only one thing from their deal with Israel and that was the guarantee from the Trump White House, through the president’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, that they would be able to buy F-35 stealth fighter jets. Their claim that the deal halted Netanyahu’s plans to annex the West Bank was proven to be bogus. Hours after signing on to the alliance with the UAE, Netanyahu stated that he remained committed to annexation. He had signed the UAE accord at a time when he was being charged with corruption and had been warned that annexation was risky. The UAE deal gave him a reason to stall it. When his extreme followers—those who demand the annexation of all Palestinian lands—were outraged, he assured them annexation was temporarily delayed.
Palestinians watching this could only shake their heads. They knew Netanyahu was a cunning liar, but to hear the Emiratis say that they signed a deal with him to help the Palestinian cause was really painful. After all, the Emiratis had watched Netanyahu order more Palestinian homes bulldozed in 2020 than he did in 2019, and he had continued to permit the building of Israeli settler homes on lands that had been earmarked for a Palestinian state. Some of the building work had been financed by pro-Trump Zionist donor groups in the United States.
Meanwhile, the Saudis have been arresting Hamas members within its borders on silly charges, while telling the Palestinian Authority that it is still committed to Palestinian statehood. One Hamas member was charged with having olive oil bottles. The move looked like an effort to placate Israel.
While this story has dominated talk in the Arab street, with only condemnation of the UAE and Bahrain coming from Turkey, Iraq, and Iran, politics of a different kind have been playing out, exposing how Israel’s occupation has made the threat of Covid-19 more deadly for Palestinians. Recently, they were angry and horrified when Israel demolished a center in Hebron used to quarantine Covid patients.
Physicians for Human Rights-Israel (PHRI) has asked Israel to lift its closure of Gaza to enable the transfer of medical and other supplies, and the movement of patients, when necessary. PHRI says that Israel should provide the funds to buy the equipment necessary for the Palestinians to manage the pandemic. In a legal move, the organization appealed to Israel’s Supreme Court to act, but Israeli authorities responded that they had already provided aid. The PHRI’s reaction was that the aid provided was inadequate and “largely symbolic.” This view from a respected medical body was tantamount to a stinging indictment of Israel’s refusal to help the Palestinians contain the virus.
As The Lancet points out, the Palestinian territories have only 87 intensive care unit beds for a population of 12 million people. “The restrictions that Israel imposes on the freedom of movement of patients, medical equipment, and healthcare personnel, structurally impedes the proper functioning of the Palestinian healthcare system. The blockade of 13 years means that many treatments in Gaza are unavailable and local healthcare staff do not have up-to-date medical knowledge,” warned The Lancet.
Richard Walker is the nom de plume of a former New York mainstream news producer who grew tired of seeing his articles censored by his bosses.