In his speech to the U.N. General Assembly, President Obama directly called on Arab states not to renege on their promise to send funds to the Palestinian Authority (PA). What is striking, however, is not what was said by whom, but rather what was not said by others. The deafening silence of the Arab world on the precipitous decline of aid from Arab states to the Palestinians in the last year underscores a very important point that is all-too-often forgotten in the Israeli-Palestinian dialogue: Pan-Arabism, at least with respect to the Palestinians, is a figment of the Arab imagination, and the plight of the Palestinian people is invoked by Arab regimes only when it can further their own political ends.
Supposed champions of the Palestinian cause, Arab states have refused to criticize one another as well as take responsibility for their deceptive treatment of Palestinians. This apathy is revealed not in their mundane and routine condemnations of Israel, but rather in the deafening silence of these regimes when the plight of the Palestinians no longer suites their needs. The Arab antagonism towards integrating Palestinian refugees into their societies has lead to the denial of basic Palestinian rights to work and live, and in some cases has culminated in the outright violent expulsion of Palestinian families (such as in Kuwait in 1991). More recently, the Egyptian cooperation on the Gaza blockade, the perpetual squalid conditions of Palestinian refugee camps in the Arab states, and the notable silence during Operation Cast Lead of Arab governments who feel threatened by the Hamas regime are just some of the manifestations of a trend that has not changed since 1948.
This year alone, Arab governments across the region have slashed aid to the Palestinian Authority to untenable levels. Reuters and the Washington Post recently reported that oil-rich countries such as Saudi Arabia have drastically slashed assistance to the PA in 2010, causing Arab donations to make up an all-time low of 22% of total Palestinian aid this year (apparently the Saudis could afford to purchase $60 billion in arms from the U.S. this year, but the $30 million sent to the PA was taxing enough for the royal family). Others like Qatar simply cut off their aid entirely. PA Prime Minister Salaam Fayyad has implied that these precipitous slashes in financial assistance will threaten the wages of 148,000 Palestinians and will have a ripple effect across the entire Palestinian economy.
What is the response of other Middle Eastern states to these Arab governments who are withholding aid to their supposed Palestinian brothers and sisters? Outrage? Indignation? No. It has been absolute silence – no denunciation, no condemnation. Not from Turkey, not from Iran, and not from a single Arab state.
How will this story unfold? Make no mistake about it: when these 148,000 Palestinians, including 67,000 in Gaza, do not receive their full wages and instead delve deeper into poverty, these exact same regimes who are withholding aid will move quickly and decisively to condemn and blame Israel over the matter. The hypocritical Arab rhetoric that seeks to paint Israel as the oppressor and enemy of the Palestinians is simply a disingenuous attempt to mask Arab duplicity over the Palestinian question and to score political points in the region by shifting blame to where it does not belong. Perhaps Palestinians would be best served if their Western activists would turn their attention to all parties culpable for the Palestinian tragedy rather than always denouncing Israel.
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