Regardless of the outcome of the current confrontation at Al-Aqsa Mosque, which erupted as a result of the Israeli government’s decision to install metal detectors to search worshippers, there are some vital and influential signs that can be observed through the context of developments and events. To start with, we must look at the armed confrontation in the courtyards of the mosque a couple of weeks ago, and the subsequent Israeli decision to close the mosque to Muslims going to prayer inside.
Most Arab media analyses conclude that the issue is mainly about Israel testing the water of Arab public opinion in general, and the Palestinians in particular; and that it is not an attempt by the government of Benjamin Netanyahu to change the status quo. Is that true?
Perhaps, but does Israel really need to test public opinion and the reaction of the Arab regimes? The reality is that these regimes have clearly completely abandoned the Palestinian cause in all of their calculations and considerations, and in their political and media discourse; even in the planning of their regional relationships.
The conflict with Israel no longer represents any interest for these regimes as they are now preoccupied with regional conflicts, such as the Gulf crisis and the conflict with Iran, which Saudi Arabia regards as “existential”. There are also internal crises and the struggle for power in Egypt, Syria, Iraq, Yemen and Libya.
Israel does not need to explore the scope of the strategic vacuum across the Arab regimes. There is no longer any regime that raises nationalist or revolutionary slogans against Israel, as was the case in the past with Nasser, Saddam Hussein or even Hafez Al-Assad. Perhaps the only remaining Arab state that speaks of Jerusalem and the Palestinian issue as a diplomatic priority is Jordan, which is fighting the battle alone. This is due to the strategic, historical, political and social considerations that are at the heart of the national interests of the Hashemite Kingdom.
Otherwise, the only two countries that appear to be brusque and tough with Israel, at least in terms of their rhetoric, are Iran and Turkey. This paradox illustrates clearly the magnitude of the enormous fragility of the current Arab situation.
So does Israel need to explore and test Arab public reactions? I think its ability to read the situation is a substitute for any such efforts. Today the Syrians are busy with a civil war that has caused near total destruction, displacement and killing on a much bigger scale than the Palestinian catastrophe. It was inflected on them by the Assad regime and Iran, which claims to support the Palestinian cause. Iraq is no different when it comes to what has become a sectarian civil war that outranks in its seriousness and importance everything beyond its borders.
This is also true of the Yemenis, Libyans and Egyptians who are not far away. Even the Arab Maghreb, which looks internally to be much better off, is suffering from an economic crisis, anxiety about the future and daily worries that keep most of the regional governments busy.
Is it any different in Saudi Arabia, where the Salafi mainstream dominates? It used to be the state that traditionally and historically supported the Palestinian cause, although its support was only moral, financial and symbolic.
It is clear that the regional considerations, linked to the Gulf crisis, the interior developments associated with new changes, and the priority of the relationship with the Trump administration in Washington all limit the official and popular reactions to what Israel does.
Back to the starting point; perhaps Israel did not want to test the Arab situation because this situation does not need to be tested, as much as it wanted to make sure that the Arabs have reached an advanced stage of domestic conflict. What is more important than this Israeli exploration, is that it is continuing with its Judaisation plans to change the status quo in the occupied Palestinian territories, including Jerusalem, and is moving slowly towards achieving its ambitions without expecting any symbolic or political reactions from its neighbours.
It is time for the Arabs and Palestinians to do their own exploration to see what they have become. They are no longer capable of even claiming to do anything about Israel while the Arab public are burdened with their own concerns and misfortunes, and there are historic changes in the Arab world.
Al-Aqsa in crisis, however, could turn out to be good for the Palestinians, and I believe that this is what some Israeli security officials, who opposed the latest measures imposed by Netanyahu, have realised. The standoff at the Noble Sanctuary may be the catalyst to reawaken the people across the region and return the Palestinian cause to the top of their agenda. It was almost a forgotten issue, but the Israeli Prime Minister’s gift to the Palestinians may well have changed that.