People waving Palestinian flags at a rally to mark the 70th anniversary of Nakba in Sweimeh, Jordan, on Friday. REUTERS PIC

TODAY Palestinians, their supporters and sympathisers the world over will commemorate the 70th Anniversary of the Nakba or Catastrophe — the day on which the state of Israel was established in 1948.

Perhaps it is not a coincidence that Israeli Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu paid an official visit to Moscow last week, a few days prior to this ambiguous anniversary, perhaps to thank newly-returned Russian President Vladimir Putin and remind the world that it was the then Soviet Union that was the first country to recognise the nascent Jewish state.

Today also marks the official relocation of the United States embassy from Tel Aviv to the Arnona district of Jerusalem, following President Donald Trump’s unilateral but impetuous declaration on December 6 2017 that Washington recognises Jerusalem, both East and West, as the capital of Israel. To add insult to injury, the president insisted that the inauguration of the embassy would coincide with the establishment of the State of Israel’s 70th anniversary.

Trump’s decision to relocate the embassy met with predictable anger in Gaza and the Occupied Palestinian Territories in the West Bank and with Arab, Islamic and international outrage. Jerusalem, of course, remains at the heart of the Palestine-Israel conflict, with Palestinians regarding East Jerusalem, occupied by Israel since 1967, as the capital of an independent Palestinian state. The Palestinian Authority may be more conducive to Jerusalem being a co-capital.

The world’s 12 million or so Palestinians are the longest suffering nation on earth — a nation that once thrived in the holy lands of Palestine, sacred to three faiths — Islam, Judaism and Christianity.

The establishment of the Jewish state was largely thanks to the promise given by the British government some three decades earlier in a letter sent on Nov 2, 1917 by then British Foreign Secretary Arthur James Balfour to Chaim Weizmann, a staunch Zionist and friend of Theodore Herzl and Lord Rothschild, the leaders of the Zionist Federation, promising “His Majesty’s Government’s best endeavours to facilitate the achievement” of a Jewish homeland in the holy lands.

The so-called Balfour Declaration is one of history’s most controversial documents, which while giving succour to the Zionist dream of a national home for the Jewish people, came at the expense of and at a terrible price paid by the Palestinian people, half of whom were forced into exile in the diaspora or as refugees in Lebanon and Jordan, where they still live in appalling conditions under UN “protection” after seven decades.

What seems to have been lost in the fog of history is that the Balfour Declaration explicitly tied the British government’s support for the establishment of the Jewish state to an important caveat: “It being clearly understood that nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine,” a commitment which Britain clearly failed to uphold.

Nevertheless, celebrations at Israeli embassies abroad to mark the occasion had already begun in the days preceding the anniversary. Israel’s ambassador to Egypt, David Ghufran, hosted a ceremony to mark the occasion at the Ritz-Carlton Hotel in Cairo, which was attended by Egyptian officials and reportedly by one or two other Arab ambassadors, to the chagrin of Arab politicians and intellectuals.

Trump’s declaration, accompanied by his usual bombastic threats, has gained traction amongst some countries. According to Israeli newspaper reports, out of 86 embassies in Israel, some 30 ambassadors indicated that they are attending the US embassy inauguration.

It is no secret that the Trump administration wants the Arab countries, especially the six Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) nations, to improve ties with Israel. The bedrock of American Middle East policy is to bring the two pillars of US allies and power — Israel and the GCC — closer through normalising economic and political relations.

This “normalisation” has been slowly gaining momentum with the GCC states over the last few decades, following the peace treaty between Israel and Egypt, and subsequent diplomatic, trade, defence and cultural exchanges between the Gulf and Israel, albeit limited and fragmented, some of it stealthily implemented and often nursed by or with American complicity.

Even on the US embassy move to Jerusalem, Turkish foreign minister, Mevlut Cavusoglu, at a recent conference in Istanbul stressed: “We need to take a common stance against this wrong decision. We are seeing some hesitance within the Arab League recently, which is a mistake.” Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov last week reiterated that the United States’ decision on Jerusalem has brought the Israeli-Palestinian peace process to a standstill.

Last week also Palestinian authorities reacted angrily when two teams from Bahrain and UAE, albeit mostly expatriates draped in national colours and with sponsors’ logos, namely Emirates Airlines and Bahrain Petroleum Company, participated in the opening Israel leg of the prestigious Giro d’Italia cycle race. The Palestinians stressed that this action broke the Arab boycott of Israel, which was first introduced in 1945 and became institutionalised as the Arab League Boycott of Israel complete with a monitoring office.

The question now is: Is the Arab boycott of Israel passé? Palestinians and their supporters, including millions of Muslims, would argue ‘No, as long as Israel occupies Palestinian territories and refuses to an independent Palestinian state.’

Others, including Arabs and Muslims, would point to the fact that the very ‘violations’ of the Boycott by Arab and Muslim countries over the decades — including the establishment of trade ties by Qatar with Israel in 1996, with then vice-premier Shimon Peres opening Israel’s trade bureau in Doha; Turkish-Israeli joint naval exercises; Egyptian relations with Israel including diplomatic exchanges; and Saudi-Israeli commonality in both the blockade of Qatar and their support for Trump’s scrapping of the Iran Nuclear Deal — have rendered the boycott ineffectual and beckon a new approach.

The writer is an independent
London-based economist and writer

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