Beware of Arab anger

The Arab streets will not accept the ‘deal of the century’ and any attempts to impose it will end in disaster.

Algeria flags
Algerian demonstrators march during a protest in Algiers on March 29, 2019 [File: Toufik Doudou/AP]

As the announcement of the deal of the century approaches, the Arab world is growing increasingly tense. Widespread rumours about the contents of the proposal have fuelled public outrage across the region.

By now, it is perfectly clear that the deal of the century is not a peace plan, nor was it ever intended to be, despite what its chief architect and White House adviser Jared Kushner has been claiming. It is yet another American imperial undertaking that is driven by the misguided notion that it is in the best interest of the American people that Israel remains the regional hegemon and is enabled to swallow the rest of the occupied Palestinian territories.

It is a new Sykes-Picot that aims to divide and weaken the Arabs once more so that Israel may reign supreme a while longer. But just as British-French colonial designs were rejected, so will Kushner’s deal. In its failure, however, it will likely fuel popular anger and endanger the survival of Arab regimes.

Palestine: The Arab cause

Since the early decades of the 20th century, Palestine has served as a meeting point for all Arabs, a just cause for their collective fight and a rallying cry against western colonialism and its offshoot, the Zionist movement.

Unlike most Arab countries which gained their independence in the mid-20th century, Palestine remains captive to the very colonial forces that had subjugated Arabs for decades. The suffering of Palestinians under Zionist colonialism and occupation remains a bleeding Arab wound and a painful reminder of the collective failure to do away with western domination of the region. Freedom from western colonialism will never truly be achieved as long as the Palestinians continue to endure daily violence, a protracted siege and military occupation.

Although the majority of Arabs today have no recollection of the 1967 war and occupation, let alone the war of 1948 and the subsequent Nakba, they have remained highly conscious of and sensitive about the suffering of Palestinians for two reasons. One, “tahrir falasteen” – the liberation of Palestine – has become a core element of the modern Arab political identity and aspirations; and, two, because the ongoing Israeli injustices, the unrelenting Palestinian shatat – diaspora – and a determined Palestinian resistance have kept Palestine at the centre of collective Arab political consciousness.

Cognizant of the importance of the Palestine cause to Arab masses, Arab rulers have used and misused the Palestinian struggle to achieve a degree of political validation, as their regimes have lacked any democratic legitimacy. Thus, since Israel was established on the ruins of the Palestinian homeland in 1948, freeing Palestine became a common official Arab mantra, widely used by Arab regimes even as they conspired with the colonial powers against the Palestinians.

But while Arab rulers, one by one, started accepting the status quo of Israel’s occupation of Palestinian lands and gladly accepted western “rewards” for their “good behaviour”, the Arab streets never followed suit.

According to a 2017 study of public attitudes in 11 Arab countries, 77 percent of respondents believe the fate of Palestinians concerns all Arabs. Interestingly enough, Arab nations whose regimes have official relations or are pushing for normalisation with Israel are most adamant about the issue: 90 percent of Jordanians, 85 percent of Egyptians and 80 percent of Saudis are convinced the Palestinian cause is a pan-Arab one.

At the same time, 90 percent of all respondents indicate that they still see Israel as the greatest threat to the security of their home countries and 87 percent oppose recognition of the Zionist state.

The fact that Arab leaders have been going against the will of their people and engaging with Israel has diminished their legitimacy and fuelled popular anger. In 2011, these sentiments finally boiled over, as popular uprisings swept through the region. That the neglect of the Palestinian issue was very much part of people’s grievances was made evident by the fact that Palestinian flags were raised at protests across the region – in Tunisia, Egypt, Morocco, Yemen, Syria and elsewhere.

As the uprisings brought short-lived political liberalisation, Arab activists rushed to show solidarity with their Palestinian brothers and sisters and organised aid convoys to Gaza. Meanwhile, in Egypt, angry crowds attacked the Israeli embassy in Cairo, causing all its staff to be evacuated.

Today, Algeria has picked up where other Arab countries left off after a counter-revolution swept through the region. Not a single demonstration has been held in Algiers without the Palestinian flags waved high and proud. After all, these are the same people who in 2016 cheered for the Palestinian national team against their own in a friendly football match.

The rest of the Arab world might be silent, plagued by conflict and violent repression, but anger is simmering beneath the surface.

As Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and others are pushing for normalisation with Israel without the issue of Palestinian statehood being resolved, the Arab people outright reject any such concessions.

Arab anger

Just as Britain and France used the moment of chaos the collapse of the Ottoman Empire caused in the early 20th century to enforce their imperial designs on the Arabs, the United States and Israel are using the post-Arab Spring instability to impose a new reality on the region.

Using money, military force and political pressure, they wish to remap the Arab region to advance American-Israeli colonial interests and cement the forceful eviction of Palestinians from their land.

All of this will fuel the growing anger and sense of betrayal that Arab nations feel towards their self-serving governments, who are playing into American and Israeli hands to ensure their own survival. However, the Arab peoples should not be so easily dismissed and discounted, for humiliation can have many unintended consequences.

What the deal of the century will ultimately do is erase what little legitimacy Arab leaders have left and undermine their corrupt regimes. And just like in 2011, sooner or later, Arab anger will boil over and sweep through the region in yet another wave of uprisings which neither Israel, nor its western and regional allies will be able to control.

Just as decades of US-sponsored “peace process”, political pressure and economic bribery failed to bring a just solution to the Palestinian cause and stability to the region, so will Kushner’s “deal of the century” fail. This is because just like previous US initiatives, it is completely tone deaf about the state of affairs in the Arab world and the will of its people.

Tel Aviv and certain Arab capitals probably think that whatever upheaval the deal causes, it could be managed through mass repression, censorship and social control. But over the past decades, Palestinians and their Arab brothers and sisters have repeatedly demonstrated that they will not bow their heads down to brutal and violent masters.

What Kushner et al have to understand is that a major process of change is currently under way in the Arab world driven by Arab people’s yearning for freedom and dignity and Palestine is at the very centre of it. This massive popular current ebbs and flows but ultimately, it cannot be stopped.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial stance.