Anyone who has been following the tortured ways of Middle East politics will have detected an important shift: have you noticed that Mahmoud Abbas won’t make a decision regarding peace talks with Israel without running to consult the Arab League?
The Arab League told Abbas to suspend the peace talks until Israel had renewed the West Bank ‘settlement freeze’. It is plain as day that nowadays the Arab League tail wags the Palestinian dog.
Since the Palestine Liberation Organisation was set up in 1964, the Palestinian cause has always been the ultimate pan-Arab cause, the Palestinians themselves the shock troops of the jihad against the Jewish state. In their charter the Palestinians define themselves as an integral part of the Arab nation; their flag is based on the flag of the Arab Revolt.
With Yasser Arafat in the driving seat, however, the conflict became known as the ‘Israel-Palestinian conflict’ sometime after 1967 and was reframed, using the language of ‘national liberation’, as the ‘struggle of the Palestinians for their own state’.
The Arab League’s renewed involvement in ‘peace talks’ implies that the Israel-Palestine conflict reverts to being the Arab-Israeli conflict of yore. This development, in turn, should put the issue of Jewish refugees from Arab countries, their recognition and compensation, squarely back on the negotiating table. The Arab side can no longer use the Palestinians as cover, claiming the latter had nothing to do with the expulsion and dispossession of almost a million Jews.
The Arab refusal to accede to Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu’s core demand that they recognise Israel as a Jewish state has forced the focus back on the Palestinian ‘right of return’. Mahmoud Abbas will not acknowledge Israel as a Jewish state because he reserves the right to turn Israel into an Arab state by flooding it with refugees in the future. This too thrusts the Jewish refugees, as the counterpoint to the Palestinian refugees, to the fore in any peace negotiations. The Jewish refugees, who are today citizens of Israel and the West, are living proof that the Arab refugee issue can be solved through resettlement and integration.
Here too the Arab League have a key role to play, for it is they who in the 1950s decreed that no member state (except Jordan) must grant citizenshipto Palestinian refugees or their descendants. Even if a Palestinian state, with its own Law of return, is set up, the bulk of the responsibility for absorbing Palestinian refugees must rest with the Arab states where they currently live. For the Arab League to abrogate the unjust law depriving Palestinians of local citizenship, and violating Palestinian civil and human rights, would be a good start.