North Africa, West Asia

Are we Palestinians waiting for Godot?

The recent peace treaty between the UAE and Israel is the latest act of a long history of Arab regimes failing Palestinians.

Israa Khater
19 August 2020
Gaza strip, Palestine. 30 March 2018
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Hosny_Salah / Pixabay (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

In the famous play by Samuel Beckett, Vladimir and Estragon, the two main characters sit in a field waiting for Godot to show up. They keep each other's company as they spend days on end waiting for the arrival of this mysterious character to resolve their problems. They converse, not to find solutions to their problems, but to mute the agony inhabiting the silence that would otherwise befall them. The play comes to an end with Vladimir and Estragon waiting for Godot, not moving, not giving up, and not one step closer to finding a solution to their problems. By waiting for him, they succeed only in wasting precious time that could have been better utilized for finding a solution to their problems. He never shows up. They essentially waited for hope, and hope never came.

For as long as I can remember, I have turned on my TV to death accompanied by pleas of the Palestinians asking, "where are the Arabs?" An appeal that has been far too common for the last 70 years. So, where are the Arabs?

To sum it up, they were hardly there. Yes, at some point, the Arabs rejected the 1948 UN partition plan, and fought alongside the Palestinians. Yet, a closer look at the events and actions of the Arab regimes since, showcase a history filled with betrayal, lack of unity, and preoccupation with their self-interests. The Palestinian cause has been mostly instrumentalized to harness public support for Arab regimes. Evidently, Arab armies would sooner fight against one another than threaten war against Israel.

Matters only got worse when even the symbolic support the Palestinians had from the Arab regimes started fading. With revolutions and wars sweeping the Middle East, Palestine is no longer the only predicament facing the Arab nations. With stories emerging of catastrophes in Iraq, Syria, and Yemen, the Palestinian plight fades into the background. The Arab populace that once demanded their governments' support to the Palestinian cause is drowning in the chaos that engulfed their capital cities. So I wonder, how can you ask that of others which they cannot seem to be capable of giving themselves?

With ranks divided, armies defeated, and cities flattened, can we keep waiting for the Arabs? Syria and Iraq, two countries that are of strategic importance in the MENA region, are in the midst of war and sectarian violence. Egypt, traditionally one of the most influential countries in the Middle East, hasn't been viewed as a supporter of the Palestinian struggle for many decades, starting with the signing of the peace accord with Israel in 1979 and ending with the imposed blockade on Gaza from the Egyptian side.

The power vacuum left in the aftermath of the Arab Spring has been filled to a large extent by the Gulf states. In the past, pledging their support to Palestine was a given, whether it was through public statements or refusal to establish any public/official diplomatic relations with Israel. Recently, however, this stance is shifting. In the backdrop of newly improved relations between the Gulf states and Israel, the UN warns of a worsening situation in the Gaza strip, the US moves its embassy to Jerusalem, and Netanyahu pledges further annexation of the West Bank and Jerusalem.

While Palestinians continue to rely on the support of Arab states, the Gulf states are hosting Israeli sports teams, playing their national anthem in events, and holding official visits with Netanyahu

Yet, all of this has not compelled some Gulf states to harden their stance against Israel; instead, they started receiving Israel more warmly than ever before. Gulf states, one after the other, signaled an unprecedented acceptance of Israel and further efforts towards normalization with it.

While Palestinians continue to rely on the support of Arab states, the Gulf states are hosting Israeli sports teams, playing their national anthem in events, and holding official visits with Netanyahu, the right-wing Israeli prime minister who is credited with the settlements expansion in the West Bank and worsening conditions in Gaza. It is not a surprise that on 13 August 2020, the UAE and Israel announced the signing of a peace agreement.

And does this shift come as a shock? Perhaps not if you look at it as an unfolding trajectory that started to take shape since the six days war. In 1969, following the events of Al Aqsa mosque arson, it was reported that Golda Meir, the prime minister of Israel at the time, feared the reaction of the Arabs. In a quote that has been widely – but never officially - attributed to her, it is claimed that she stated, "after burning the Al-Aqsa Mosque, I did not sleep the whole night. I was afraid the Arabs might enter Israel in groups from all directions. But, when the sun rose the following day, I realized we could do whatever we want because the Arabs are a sleeping nation". The spirit of the statement holds whether Meir truly made it or not.

The Arab regimes, through their actions - or lack thereof, have proven that their support of Palestine has mainly been reduced to symbolic gestures and toothless threats against Israeli aggression. According to research conducted by Mohsen M. Saleh from the Department of History and Civilization in the International Islamic University, Malaysia that relied on 154 documents released by the British government, Arab governments were mostly interested in containing the anger of their masses in 1969 following the burning of Al Aqsa Mosque, and not in taking severe actions against Israel.

So I wonder, as the Gulf states become more public with their outreach to Israel, as Syria, Iraq, and Egypt are unable to offer the support they could have once offered to Palestine, as the hopes of liberating Palestine by the Arabs become a vision more suitable for fiction, and as Palestinians find the support they always felt entitled to from the Arab regimes being pulled from them, what hope are they holding onto? What support do they envision from those who have given them little to no reason for optimism over the last 70 years?

In the play, the two main characters wait for Godot while they fill their time with pointless chatter because waiting offered a chance of escapism. It was easier to wait for Godot than to take matters into their own hands. The Palestinians need to stop waiting. Haven't we realized that our real savior can only come from within? It can only happen with unity and a shared vision for a Palestinian future that includes the diaspora, and the refugees.

My aim is not to overlook or undermine what the Palestinians have achieved this far. Not at all, but I cannot help but think that we were, and we still are waiting for Godot. We waste precious time while settlements engulf the remaining parts of historic Palestine, while Gaza becomes more unlivable by the day, while our human development plummets and the world along with our neighbors would rather sweep us and our problems under the rug. We cannot externalize our salvation. We cannot wait for the world to react. We cannot keep relying on support that we cannot guarantee. My only hope is that the final act in this conflict will not come as we wait for a promise that will never materialize.

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