Money and Support, The Trademark of Arab Summits

Perhaps Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi’s slight of President Mahmoud Abbas even before the 22nd Arab Summit even started was a mere reflection of the overall Arab attitude towards the Palestinians and their cause. Apparently, Qaddafi –” known for his bizarre antics –” failed to receive Abbas at the airport in the same fashion he welcomed other Arab heads of state. The remaining part of the three-day summit was relatively "smooth sailing" with Abbas and Qaddafi meeting one-on-one and then enjoying a dinner together at the invitation of the Libyan president.

However, as much as many pundits would like to chalk up the airport snub to Qaddafi’s trademark peculiarities, one cannot ignore the Arabs’ general handling of the Palestinians and their cause. This year’s summit –” dedicated to Jerusalem – was business as usual, which in layman’s terms pretty much means that no one should hold their breath for any major changes in the Arab world, namely where the Palestinians are concerned.

All the right words were spoken, no doubt. Arab leaders and the head of the Arab League, Amr Moussa pledged Arab support for the Palestinians and Arab foreign ministers a few days earlier even promised $500 million to Al Aqsa. The Arabs also agreed that if Israel did not stunt their escalating settlement policies in the West Bank and Jerusalem, they would resort to the UN Security Council for help. As for another attempt to restart proximity talks between the Palestinians and Israel, Arab leaders said in their closing statement that their support was contingent upon Israel halting its settlement activities. Most importantly, the Arabs leaned on US President Barack Obama, urging him not to soften on his demand on Israel to halt illegal settlements.

The Palestinians, for their part, are between a rock and a hard place. The Arabs are their "brothers", nations that share a common history, religion(s) and culture. In times of need, who else should a person, or a nation in this case, lean on other than those closest to them. However, history has proven that the Arabs are great when it comes to lip service to the Palestinian cause and are not too bad when it comes to doling out the dollars, but the Palestinians have long learned that their "brothers" are not the ones to turn to for any real political change.

For example, everyone knows that actions speak much louder than words. Everyone also knows that a lack of action can speak volumes as well. Take the continuous condemnation from Arab leaders of Israel’s actions in Jerusalem. The closing statement could not have been more vociferous. It spoke of an "absolute rejection" of the ongoing Israeli settlement policies, calling on the US and the EU not to "accept Israel’s excuses" for this policy or for its repeated assaults on the holy city.

However, support like this does not hold much water if it is not backed by concrete decisions and penalties against, in this case, Israel. Two Arab countries –” Egypt and Jordan –” have peace deals with Israel –” while a number of others have indirect contacts or trade relations with it. Whether the Palestinians support or oppose Arab relations with Israel is beside the point. That is the business of sovereign countries who behave as they see befitting to their own interests. However, in politics, small and large, change is only ever made when the crunch is on, so to say. And Arabs have clout vis-à-vis Israel, especially in terms of its ostracism. However, this clout, for reasons known and unknown has never really been exercised, save for the few Arab-Israeli wars that mostly ended in their defeat.

Today, there seems to be an uneasy status quo where relations between the Palestinians and its Arab "brothers" are involved. This is especially true where Egypt and Jordan are concerned, give these countries’ peace deals with Israel on the one hand and the West Bank and Gaza borders on the other. Jordan and Egypt are both strong proponents of a peaceful settlement to the conflict but both do not want Palestinian interests to impinge too strongly on their own. Other neighboring countries such as Syria talk the talk when it comes to the Palestinians’ right to resistance but in reality are keeping on the down-low when concrete action is called for.

Even the Arab Peace Initiative, announced in the Beirut summit of 2002 is not being used as leverage. While there were rumors floating that the summit may withdraw Arab support for the initiative, which generously offers Israel full normalized relations with Arab countries in exchange for a full withdrawal from territories occupied in 1967, the summit re-endorsed the initiative as usual.

Meanwhile, the Palestinians are playing it cool. "It was a good summit," offered President Abbas. "The decision over supporting Jerusalem politically and financially is good," adding that he hopes the decisions would be implemented.

Abbas and the Palestinian people at large understand all too well that a few million dollars and some loyal lip service to Jerusalem and the Palestinian cause is all they’re going to get from their "brothers" the Arabs. Of course, this does not mean Arab leaders oppose the realization of national Palestinian rights or the establishment of a sovereign Palestinian state. On the contrary, such a state would serve their interests almost as much as the Palestinians. The point is, the Arabs are either too weak or too complying to outside pressures to put their own safeguarded interests on the line for the Palestinians.

Nobody understands this more than the Palestinians themselves. "We don’t want more than political and financial Arab support, and we don’t expect that the summit would come up with better results," PLO Executive Committee member Yasser Abed Rabbo resigned. "We just seek to get the minimum demands."