In the past years within the Arab world, activists and intellectuals have been sceptical of their leaders’ willingness to take action against the Israeli occupation.
Analysts and op-ed writers often mention that the Palestinian cause is no longer of a priority for Arab countries in face of growing interests with the US, Israel’s strongest ally, and recently, Israel itself.
“Palestine is being lost and the Arabs going out of history. Israel is occupying the Arab will,” Lebanese journalist Talal Salman wrote in April, in a series of articles on the topic published in the Egyptian Al-Shorouk newspaper.
The region is bursting with conflicts, which added to Arabs division. It is overwhelmed with the Syrian civil war, amid political turmoil also in Libya and Yemen. Moreover, the Gulf countries are in dispute with Qatar. The scene is complicated with Saudi Arabia’s quest for influence against feared Iranian expansion.
The Palestinian cause, which has drawn solidarity from Arab neighbours over the past decades, almost no longer exist in that historic sense. Egypt, one of the oldest allies, has maintained diplomatic and economic ties with Israel.
Protests which used to take place in Cairo in solidarity with the Palestinian people during important events have been quite since the Great March of Return demonstrations.
On Thursday, the League of Arab Nations convened for an extra-ordinary session called for by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in light of weeks of increased Israeli aggression and internationally condemned killings of Palestinian protesters demanding their historic right to return to their land, a right recognised by the UN.
Nevertheless, both Israel and the US have been throwing away UN resolutions regarding the conflict. The US, which has repeatedly used its veto to block UN condemnations of its decisions and the practices of Israel, added fuel to the fire by moving its embassy to the disputed Jerusalem City, thus in the eyes of Arabs and the international community, taking a strong bias towards Israel.
The UN resolutions have clearly rejected any practices by Israel, seeking to alter the character and status of Jerusalem. Resolution 478 adopted in 1980 called on member states that have “established diplomatic missions at Jerusalem to withdraw such missions from the Holy City.” The resolution was voted for by 14 states, except for the US.
Yet, the league did not conclude with firm action to oppose the US embassy move, despite several statements condemning the move and stress upon East Jerusalem as the Palestinian capital.
To understand where the criticism came from one must look at the history of Arab countries’ stances and their development over the course of decades. Previously, united Arab decisions pushed in favour of the Palestinian cause.
The first Arab summit kicked off in 1945 in Egypt, expressing concern over Jewish migration and deciding to boycott their manufactured goods.
1960s: Arab summit gives PLO legitimacy
In 1964, the Arab summit held in Alexandria recognised the Palestinian Liberation Organisation (PLO) as a legal representative of the people and the cause.
The following summit in Morocco adopted the Arab Solidarity Charter, which called for unity in the Palestinian conflict.
Ten years later, the summit would accept the PLO as the only legal representative of Palestine, which would gradually acquire international recognition and in the UN.
1970s: Firm stances towards Egypt-Israel peace agreement
In 1979, after signing peace accords with Israel, Egypt was suspended from the Arab League and its headquarters moved from Cairo, expressing its rejection of the Camp David accords. Egypt would only be readmitted in 1989.
1980s: Arabs threaten to cut oil supplies over any Jerusalem embassy move
In 1980, during the Iraq-Iran war, the 11th Arab Summit was held in in Amman with the aim of joining Arab efforts. A few months earlier, Israel had announced Jerusalem as its capital, including East Jerusalem, which it occupied during the 1967 war, which the UN Security Council opposed through resolution 478.
It remained a quite a divisive summit, attended only by 15 Arab leaders.
“The absence of the Steadfastness and Confrontation Front—Syria, Algeria, Libya, South Yemen, and the PLO, joined this time by Lebanon—made any real discussion of the planned united Arab political strategy for confronting Israel all but meaningless,” The Washington Post reported at the time.
The gap between Egypt and Arab allies has been widening as former President Anwar Sadat signed Camp David Accords with Israel in 1978.
Nevertheless, the summit adopted a decision to boycott any state that would recognise Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and move its embassy there.
Moreover, Saudi Arabia and Iraq threatened to cut oil supplies and freeze all economic agreements. Thirteen countries moved their embassies to Tel Aviv instead.
Could there still be an Arab action with an impact?
In the aftermath of Trump’s announcement, Hazem Hussanein, researcher at Cairo-based El-Badil Centre for Planning and Strategic Studies, tried to answer that question by analysing the tools that Arabs possess.
Economically, Hussanein supports boycotting or threats to do so, such as withdrawing investments from the US, banning them from using navigation paths such as the Strait of Gibraltar and the Suez Canal, reducing oil production to drive up international prices and cutting financial ties with Israel. Most importantly, he calls for an economic backup of Palestine.
On the political level, Hussanein stresses on the importance of united positions among Arab countries. He points out to the reduction of diplomatic representation in the US and lobbying for an international coalition to face Trump, announcing the non-recognition of the state of Israel and banning its diplomats.
Arabs must also consider reducing the US military presence in their territories, establish a media rhetoric hostile to the US and Israel, the researcher added.
The League of Arab Nations has constantly reminded the world of the Palestinian conflict, demanded respect for the international law and UN resolutions. Despite a united position against the US President Trump’s decision to move the embassy, there has been insignificantArab impact on reversing it or on preventing Israeli abuse.
At the same time, each country is adopting a different strategy to the cause, with Egypt currently leading the reconciliation between Palestinian factions. The PA has considered the US no longer a party in the negotiations, but the question remains if whether it would receive Arab support.
In his statement before the Arab League, Egypt’s Foreign Affairs Minister Sameh Soukry said there were three urgent tasks to complete, including joining international efforts to stop Israel’s use of violence against peaceful protesters and launch investigations into previous assaults.
Secondly, to reiterate the non-recognition of the US embassy move to Jerusalem and maintain East Jerusalem as the capital of Palestine.
However, the third action according to Shoukry is to revive peace negotiations.