‘Our identity as Arabs and Muslims is finished’

Michael Jansen: Arab world delivers mixed reaction to Trump’s Palestinian-Israeli plan

US president Donald Trump and Israelai prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu take part in an announcement of Mr Trump’s Middle East peace plan in  the White House in Washington, DC on January 28th. Photograph: Mandel Ngan/AFP via Getty

US president Donald Trump and Israelai prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu take part in an announcement of Mr Trump’s Middle East peace plan in the White House in Washington, DC on January 28th. Photograph: Mandel Ngan/AFP via Getty

 

The Arab world has delivered a mixed reaction to the Trump administration’s plan to settle the Palestinian-Israeli dispute.

Uncertain of the attitude of youngsters who have taken to the streets in several countries to demand reform and regime change, Arab rulers who are friends of Washington are hedging their bets while critics are condemning the plan.

The line adopted by Arab League secretary general Ahmed Abul Gheit is a perfect example. He said the plan ignored Palestinian rights and argued that only negotiations between the two sides could achieve a balanced peace deal.

However, he said the league was “studying the American vision carefully. We are open to any serious effort to make peace”. The league is set to meet in emergency session on Saturday with Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas attending.

Arab League secretary general Ahmed Abul Gheit. Photograph: Tobias Schwarz/AFP via Getty
Arab League secretary general Ahmed Abul Gheit. Photograph: Tobias Schwarz/AFP via Getty

‘Totally ashamed’

Egypt’s foreign ministry urged consideration of the plan but insisted it had to be interpreted in a way that restored all Palestinian rights.

Accused of betrayal in 1979 when it became the first Arab country to make peace with Israel, Egypt’s relations with Israel remain cool due to popular hostility, despite governmental co-operation on anti-terrorism operations and development of natural gas resources.

Arab and Muslim feeling toward Israel was summed up by Sheikh Ahmed al- Tayeb, imam of Cairo’s 1,000 year old al-Azhar mosque and university, who told a Cairo conference of the world’s leading Sunni religious scholars, “Our identity as Arabs and Muslims is finished.”

“I felt totally ashamed watching Trump with the Israeli leader. They’re the ones planning, talking, controlling and solving problems for us and there’s no Arab or Muslim.”

The second country to make peace with Israel, Jordan also faces popular pressure to adhere to the traditional Arab nationalist stance.

A Syrian foreign ministry spokesman argued the plan was a prescription for surrender to the Israeli occupation and liquidation of the Palestinian cause

Foreign minister Ayman Safadi said the establishment of a Palestinian state in all the West Bank with East Jerusalem as its capital was the only route to comprehensive and lasting peace.

He warned “of the dangerous consequences of unilateral Israeli measures, such as annexation of Palestinian lands, that aim at imposing facts on the ground”.

Jordan is caught between a rock and a hard place. It flatly rejects Israel’s intention to annex the Jordan Valley, a rich agricultural area that borders the kingdom, but it relies on US and Israeli support for its management of Muslim holy places in occupied East Jerusalem.

While the Saudi foreign ministry reiterated Riyadh’s support for efforts aimed at reaching a just and comprehensive solution to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, King Salman and his son, Crown Prince Mohammad, reaffirmed the kingdom’s commitment to the Palestinian cause and Palestinian rights during phone calls with Abbas.

Starting point

Having risked censure for attending the controversial launch of his plan by Donald Trump in the White House, Yousef al-Otaiba, the United Arab Emirates’s ambassador to the US, said the plan offered “an important starting point for a return to negotiations within a US-led international framework”, but also argued a solution must be based on agreement between the sides. The ambassadors of Bahrain and Oman also attended the launch.

Lebanese prime minister Hassan Diab flatly rejected the Trump plan. “Jerusalem will remain the compass and Palestine will remain the cause,” he tweeted. Hizbullah called the US initiative a “shameful deal” and said it would not have been proposed without the “complicity and betrayal” of some Arab states.

A Syrian foreign ministry spokesman argued the plan was a prescription for surrender to the Israeli occupation and liquidation of the Palestinian cause.

Yemeni rebel leader Mohammed Ali al-Houthi said Trump’s proposal was “blatant US aggression on Palestine and the [Arab] nation”.

He accused Saudi Arabia and the Emirates of funding the deal “to cement Israeli occupation”.

“The people of the region have to bear the responsibility of standing up to this danger and facing it with every possible and legitimate means,” he said.

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