Palestinians can only depend on themselves

Palestinians can only depend on themselves
5 min read
09 May, 2022
As tensions continue in Jerusalem, and Palestinians face ongoing attempts by Israel to ‘cleanse’ them from the land, it is clear that neither their own representatives nor surrounding Arab nations can be relied on for support, writes Emad Moussa.
Israel continues in its targeting of all Palestinians, Christian and Muslim, in Jerusalem. [GETTY]

The tensions in Jerusalem have continued to grow. Starting with Israel’s restrictions on Palestinian accessing Al-Aqsa mosque during Ramadan, the issues have only worsened with increased police-protected incursions by fundamentalist Jewish settlers into the Muslim holy site.

Even following the end of Ramadan, Jewish settlers resumed their incursions into the Muslim holy site to celebrate Israel’s “independence.” This in turn pushed Palestinians to defend themselves in the face of such attacks.

Whether this is taking place because PM Bennett is trying to court the far-right in his coalition, or fulfil his maximalist vision to “eternalise” Jerusalem as Israel’s “unified capital,” many fear that giving the settlers free rein to invade Al-Aqsa will escalate the situation further, possibly leading to a religious war in the region.  

For Palestinians, Jerusalem is an existential battle. It is the heart of their struggle; the capital of their future state, and the spot where their history, national consciousness, and religious identity coalesce.

''Palestinians in Jerusalem and elsewhere feel that their existential battle has gotten a lot more complex, and that now they cannot turn their backs unguarded to Arab regimes.''

Israel occupied West Jerusalem in 1948, then East Jerusalem in 1967, and unilaterally annexed it in 1980. Palestinian Jerusalemites have since been granted “residency permits” and, as such, made foreigners on their land.

Today, they represent at least 38% of East Jerusalem’s population, exceeding the 30% threshold set by the occupation authorities in the 1970s to stunt the Palestinian existence in the city. Discriminatory and oppressive policies targeting Muslim/Christian Palestinians have also been measures to Judaise the city.  

Settler incursions into Al-Aqsa have served as blunter measures to gradually change Jerusalem’s historical status quo. Despite claims to the opposite, these settler activities are facilitated and overseen by the Israeli state. It is almost identical to their use of settlers for land usurpation in the West Bank, which allows the Israeli government a certain distance by not being directly in violation of International law.

Palestinians fear that unless they intensify their resistance, a time/place division of Al-Aqsa Mosque will be imposed, allowing Jews to slowly take over the ancient site, much like they have done with Hebron’s Ibrahimi Mosque.

What started as “casual” small Jewish groups roaming the compound in the early 2000s has slowly turned into mass incursions and, since last year, Talmudic prayers inside the Muslim site. The talk about building “the Third Temple” on the ruins of Islam’s third holiest site has gradually seeped into certain sections of the now right-leaning Israeli mainstream.

Yet, the alarming Israeli shift to the far-right has not been the only factor that raised the stakes for Palestinians in Jerusalem, and to a lesser degree, elsewhere.

Palestinians see that Israel’s normalisation with four Arab states has encouraged the Israeli government(s) to take previously unthinkable steps to cleanse Jerusalem of Palestinians and accelerate settlement building in the West Bank.

Even Donald Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and, later, his notorious Deal of the Century to allegedly end the “conflict,” would not have acquired that much resonance had it been for the later normalisation deals. 

Arab states’ normalisation with Israel was unconditional. It was built upon an abnormal status quo and has, therefore, officiated acceptance of Israel’s settler-colonial project and legitimised its ongoing assault on Palestinians.

The normalising regimes justified the unpopular deal in Machiavellian terms, framing Israel as beneficial economically and in security terms for their countries. Parallel campaigns were launched to demonise the Palestinians and, by extension, their struggle, mainly for being the “guilt obstacle” to normalisation.

The UAE and Saudi governments have deployed their cyber army on social media to defame Palestinians as anti-Gulf, ungrateful, and being the first normalisers with Israel.

The campaigns, typically populist and intellectually unsophisticated, meant to present the Palestinian struggle as no longer central to Arabs and that normalisation is now a “popular demand”, despite statistical evidence that Arab people remain overwhelmingly supportive of Palestinians and antagonistic toward Israel.

In Saudi Arabia, the hub of the anti-Palestinian cyber campaigns, only 6% of Saudis supported diplomatic recognition of Israel. 89% said that Palestine is a cause for all Arabs, a percentage slightly higher than in Qatar and Kuwait, the countries  whose official and public pro-Palestine posture is very visible.


With that in mind, Palestinians in Jerusalem and elsewhere feel that their existential battle has gotten a lot more complex, and that now they cannot turn their backs unguarded to Arab regimes.

They nevertheless have taken comfort in the fact that what was once under the table agreements between Arab states and Israel is now out in the open, thus providing some strategic clarity on who the real friends of Palestinians are.

However, the external menace is not all there is. The Palestinian struggle continues to be politically hindered by internal deficiencies resulting from decades of poor strategies and factional disunity.

The Jerusalem events have once again confirmed that it is perhaps impossible for the Palestinian Authority to develop an effective resistance, let alone liberation strategy while shackled by asymmetrical agreements and highly unpopular security arrangements with the occupying Israeli regime.

The PA’s diplomatic track, although scored several achievements, dictates often spontaneous “peaceful resistance” that has proven time and again insufficient to counteract Israel’s growingly aggressive colonial policies.

Hamas in Gaza, on the other hand, has successfully developed a military-deterrence strategy against Israel and seems to have survived the blockade. But that, too, is insufficient and does not present an alternative to a nationally coordinated strategy.

If there is any good news, however, it is that Palestinians on the ground seem to have learnt to act independently of their leadership, unencumbered by factional political calculations or some Arab regime’s abandonment. 

This is as close as it gets to a nationally coordinated resistance strategy, with unaffiliated popular mobilisation and self-reliance being the main title. 

Dr Emad Moussa is a researcher and writer who specialises in the politics and political psychology of Palestine/Israel.

Follow him on Twitter: @emadmoussa

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Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The New Arab, its editorial board or staff.