Israel, under Netanyahu, has managed to separate the Palestinian cause from Arab-Israeli relations and the Arabs have gone along with this through their decisions to normalise relations with Israel.
These were sovereign policy decisions undertaken by the states concerned. However, they ignored the broader political picture.
Signing an agreement with Israel is a consummately political act with far-reaching political repercussions on the Arab-Israeli conflict, which outweigh their economic or commercial benefits for the individual states.
The conflict is one and indivisible. It has a Palestinian dimension, a national dimension with respect to each Arab state, and a pan-Arab dimension involving collective Arab security and defence.
In this larger context, normalisation is not only harmful to the Palestinian cause, it is also detrimental to Arabs as whole.
The Arab people understand this instinctively, which is why normalisation has largely been restricted to official circles.
We saw clear evidence of this in the interviews the Israeli press had with Arab spectators at the World Cup in Qatar. This rift between the official stance and public opinion has existed in Egypt for nearly 45 years, ever since the Camp David accords in 1979.
“But in signing that peace agreement, was not Egypt the first to separate the Palestinian cause from Arab relations with Israel?” the journalist asked.
I answered that throughout the negotiations, Egypt explicitly linked its agreement to a settlement of the Palestinian cause. The agreement Egypt signed with Israel included sections pertaining to the Palestinians.
If those terms have remained unfulfilled until today, it is for the same reasons the terms of the UN partition resolution of 1948 pertaining to the establishment of a Palestinian state have remained unfulfilled.
Egypt had not separated the Palestinian cause from the broader Arab cause. The proof can be seen in Egypt’s ongoing efforts to defend the Palestinian cause and promote a just and lasting settlement of the conflict.
As for what is happening today, it is unprecedented.
* A version of this article appears in print in the 16 February, 2023 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly