SDE BOOKER, Israel – For many Palestinians, the timing of the summit in Israel is driving home the feeling that parts of the Arab world have abandoned them.
Sunday, the first two days of meetings, marks the 20th anniversary of the Arab Peace Initiative, an agreement endorsed by all members of the Arab League in 2002 that promised normalization with Israel in exchange for the establishment of a Palestinian state.
Two decades later, the presence of several members of the Arab League at the summit in Israel shows just how much that solidarity has ebbed. Of the five countries invited to the celebration, only Jordan refused. Jordan’s monarch, Abdullah II, had a pre-commitment on Monday in the West Bank city of Ramallah with Mahmoud Abbas, the president of the Palestinian Authority.
Support for the Palestinians remains high in Arab public opinion. But it now appears that some Arab leaders are prioritizing what they see as the economic and security interests of their countries over the issue of the Palestinians, who – Divided between the West Bank and Gaza – They have been at odds for years and are not in a position to launch a unified campaign for sovereignty.
“Israel has long tried to persuade the world to ignore its occupation and the apartheid regime, and now these other countries seem to go along with it,” said Diana Bhutto, a Palestinian analyst and former lawyer for the Palestine Liberation Organization. It shows we have been right all along – they are working with Israel for their limited security advantages, not for the Palestinians. These regimes are not friendly to the Palestinians and should not be viewed as such.”
As the summit kicked off, the Israeli Defense Ministry announced that it would allow an additional 8,000 Palestinians in Gaza to work in Israel, nearly doubling the current number. But there was no talk of new peace negotiations.
The meeting in Israel also highlights the limits of the ongoing campaign by Palestinians and human rights organizations It portrays Israel as an apartheid state in global consciousness. Israel strongly rejects accusations of apartheid.
If this claim has helped delegitimize Israel in the global rights community, the summit shows how Israel’s legitimacy is simultaneously growing in the Arab world.
The summit was strongly condemned by Palestinian Islamist groups, including Hamas, the armed group that enjoys de facto authority in the Gaza Strip. Another armed group, Islamic Jihad, said a terrorist attack in northern Israel on Sunday night was in response to the summit itself, a Palestinian TV channel reported.
The Palestinian Authority issued a slanted statement that did not refer to the summit directly, but implicitly criticized the participants for having “a new security alliance that circumvents the Palestinian cause,” even with Israel’s expansion of Jewish settlements in the West Bank.
Mukhaimar Abu Saada, a professor of political science in Gaza, said that despite all the uproar surrounding the summit, Israel will still need to eventually return to the negotiating table with the Palestinians.
“Ultimately, they have to realize that they have to make peace with the Palestinians, not with other countries,” he said.
But the only Palestinians close to the talks were a handful of Palestinian workers at the hotel where the summit was held.
“You probably know how I feel as a Palestinian about this summit,” said Faris Arkan, a 42-year-old cleaning worker who commutes to the hotel every day from the occupied West Bank.
“We are used to this kind of treatment from others,” he added.
Rawan Sheikh Ahmed Reporting contributed from Haifa, Israel; And the Lara Jax from Sde Boker.