Lost Jerusalem

  • Palestinian dreams

The Star of David fluttering over the Mosque of Omar has evoked the deepest, most visceral, passions among Muslims and defined the merciless, zero-sum game of Middle East politics for decades. For a while old man Arafat’s PLO sold the Naqba (catastrophe, when in ’48 Palestinians were plucked from their olive gardens and turned into the world largest refugee population) narrative about as well as Israel’s own Judea and Samaria package tour, leveraging the agony of the Roman destruction of the Second Temple, the memory of the six million Jewish souls gutted in the Holocaust, etc, not to mention the financial/political muscle of the Jewish diaspora in capitals that mattered.

Yet it was the Muslim world’s own customary impotence – just like it breathed fire at the OIC summit in Istanbul recently, then got the UN to hold a session, knowing it will amount to naught – that ultimately pushed Arafat to abandon the maximalist argument and accept the reality of the two state solution. He did not consult Gaza’s insular clans – who, not PLO bigwigs living in luxury in Lebanon, paid in blood and tears for the occupation – before shaking Rabin’s hands at the White House lawn. Nor did he share any of the billions in Gulf and EU money, the olive branch in return for abandoning the gun, that made PLO the world’s best funded revolutionary movement.

Trump’s decision to move the embassy to Jerusalem drives the last nail in the coffin of the peace process that Arafat thought might just grant the Palestinians a little land, and a little dignity. Alas, like Clinton’s Nobel prize, it was not to be. The Muslim world can spew venom and shake its fist all it likes, but it’s far too fragmented, too much of it far too dependent on Uncle Sam’s greenback, and parts of it itching to cozy up to Israel for its own selfish political interests in the region to matter as the Jewish state inches its way towards permanent annexation of the Holy Land.

How distant the cry of the dispossessed, “Thawra, thawra”, revolution until victory, sounds now. “Oh Haifa! Oh Jerusalem! We are returning. We are returning!” cried Arafat again and again

Countries like Pakistan, while speaking for the Palestinians of course, will be looking over their shoulder as Trump promises consequences for those that dare to defy at the UN. Islamabad is, after all, sixth among the top recipients of US foreign aid, to the tune of $750m a year; not to mention the nod that keeps the tap flowing from the IMFs and IFIs of this world. With the Americans already unhappy about the safe havens, and Trump and Tillerson saying so again and again, there’s already a chance of the good-will shrinking somewhat. And since even our presidency’s kitchen runs on borrowed money, we might have to really decide finally where we really want to keep the Palestinians on our priority list. Besides, the days when Gazan refugees could be seen on the streets of Lahore and Karachi went with Gen Zia.

How distant the cry of the dispossessed, “Thawra, thawra”, revolution until victory, sounds now. “Oh Haifa! Oh Jerusalem! We are returning. We are returning!” cried Arafat again and again. Yet even as he emerged as a seminal figure in the Arab world, his ‘revolution’ ushered in no social transformation of Palestinian society, no political reorganisation of the angry, wronged youth. Arafat and his comrades grew rich in luxury in the Levant, while Arabs in occupied terrorists watched Jewish right wingers entrench themselves as deeply in the Knesset as the settlements made inroads into stolen land.

Then there was the ‘fratricide’ that culminated in the Fatah-Hamas civil war of ’07. Palestinians themselves embarrassed and insulted sixty years of sacrifice by plunging into internal war. About the decade that followed, nobody better than Khaled Meshal can tell how the Palestinian ‘cause’ is forever at the mercy of outside forces. The Syrian civil war first made him abandon Damascus and embrace the Brotherhood in Cairo. Then, when things went south there, he went to the cozy hospitality of the Gulf kingdoms. Then, when they told him armed ‘revolution’ was out of the question, and he could take the status-quo in return for a lot of money, he found himself on a long, temporary, journey to Tunisia; just like Arafat when he got booted out of Beirut. Then, in his last days as Hamas head, he was begging Bashar al Assad to let him back into Damascus.

Neither the Palestinians themselves, nor the Muslim world at large, made any real effort at regaining the lost land. For Israel, and its friends in the US, the ‘project’ that took the direction of the two state solution had stagnated far too long. And the Obama years were a scare. What good is all that money and clout if an errant president can badmouth Netanyahu and sign deals with Tehran? So, with a likeminded in the White House, and a likeminded in Riyadh, they seemingly decided to go the distance this time.

Jerusalem, as they say, has been the crucible of dreams for millennia. But has the pendulum, finally, swung the way of the Jews forever, with a certain Donald Trump the catalyst? Will there be no more back-and-forth? Did the executive order also deliver the kiss of death to the dream of the Return?