by Dr. Mordechai Kedar
Much has been written about US President Donald Trump's visit to Saudi Arabia, the Palestinian Authority and Israel, but all of it from the points of view of Israeli and American pundits. This article, in contrast, will center on the Arab - and particularly, the Palestinian Arab - views on his visit.
Two main points in Trump's words upset a large number of Arab spokespeople.
Two main points in Trump's words upset a large number of Arab spokespeople. The first was said on his Riyadh stop, to tens of Arab and Islamic heads of state, chief among them Saudi Arabia's monarch, Suleman ben Abd Al-Aziz. Trump's speech centered on the Muslim world's obligation - more accurately, the Muslim rulers' obligation - to fight terror, meaning terror aimed at the United States, the West and, except for a few instances, against the Muslim rulers themselves. In his speech, Trump named four organizations: ISIS, al Qaeda, Hezbollah and Hamas. It is important to note that by the American government's own definition, in a ruling hailing from the George W. Bush administration, Hamas is a bona fide terrorist organization.
To some of those at the conference, especially the Emir of Qatar, including Hamas in the list of terror organizations poses a serious problem, because, after all, Qatar is the main provider of funds to Hamas. Several years ago, Qatar donated half a billion dollars to develop infrastracture - roads, schools and hospitals - in Gaza, but it is common knowledge that a good part of that sum went to build terrorist infrastructure, including underground attack tunnels leading into Israel, new weapons and better missiles. Hamas' leaders have made their homes in Qatar and operate openly from there. My heart tells me that the Qatari Emir moved restlessly in his upholstered easychair when Trump included Hamas in his list of terror organizations, but he did not utter a word in response, nor did any of the other leaders of the Muslim world who were present.
The rulers' thunderous silence infuriated many Palestinian Arabs, principally Hamas spokesmen, who grabbed every available microphone to declare that Hamas is not a terror organization but a national liberation organization that fights the "occupation" and has established a functioning political entity. Gazan men, women and children demonstrated, protesting Trump's words, but in the Palestinian Authority, Chairman Abbas' spokesmen remained quiet for the most part, silently blessing Trump's words which they see as a hit below the belt for their Hamas arch-enemies in the Palestinian arena. Off camera, they surely smiled at each other in enjoyment. The rest of the Arab world is divided down the lines separating Hamas supporters, who protested its inclusion in the list of terror organizations, and those in the opposition to Hamas who remained silent or quietly approving.
Hamas is not the only subject causing ill feeling between Qatar and the US. Possibly more important is the issue of Qatar's cooperation with Iran. In his Riyadh speech, Trump stressed the negative role played by Iran in the various Middle East conflicts, in Yemen, Syria, Iraq and Lebanon, in spreading terror all over the world and in causing unrest in the Muslim world. Two countries, Qatar and Iran, share ownership of the Persian Gulf underground gas deposits, which explains why the Qatari Emir is very careful not to upset Iran's rulers. On the other hand, Qatar is home to the largest and most important US airfield in the Gulf, so there may be a limit to the amount of pressure Trump can wield on Qatar's connections with Iran.
The second point unites all the players, because it is a matter of consensus. Trump said that Jerusalem is a holy city, that there is no other city in the world that is as beautiful and magnificent, that has such tradition. He affirmed that the ties of the Jewish people to the Holy Land are ancient and eternal, they existed thousands of years ago, including the period of King David's reign - and he prayed at the Western Wall. Although, like his predecessors, he did not declare Jerusalem the capital of the state of Israel and did not move the US embassy to the city, the Arab world hears what he didn't say as well.
For example, the sentence saying that the Jewish people's ties to the Holy Land existed thousands of years ago are seen as Trump's recognition of the fact that the Jewish people were in the land of Israel before Islam's appearance there 1400 years ago. This sentence pulls the rug out from under the Palestinian Arab lie that claims that they are descendants of the ancient Jebusites and preceded the Jews in Israel, a lie that the Arab countries use in order to refute the Jewish claims that the Land of Israel belongs to the Jewish people.
Even MK Ahmed Tibi, who knows Israeli politics better than many Jewis do, said in a videoed interview that eastern Jerusalem (the Temple Mount included) has to be the capital of a Palestinian state and that without Jerusalem as its capital, there will be no Palestinian state. And I ask: What is Tibi's demand, shared by so many Arabs and Muslims, based on? When was Jerusalem capital of an Arab or Islamic state? When did any Arab Caliph, monarch, Emir, or Sultan rule from Jerusalem? When was there a Palestinian state with its capital in Jerusalem? The answers are clear to everyone, and Tibi's words lack any historical basis.
Trump did not mention the idea of a Palestinian state, not in Riyadh, not in Jerusalem and not in the Palestinian Authority. This omission has great significance, especially when seen against the background of its centrality in the previous president's 2009 speech in Cairo. The message in Trump's omission is that he does not see the establishment of such a state as imperative, that he is open to other ideas and is leaving the subject for the most part for negotiations between the two parties involved.
This obviously does not please Mahmoud Abbas, the PLO and its administration, but it does raise a smile on Hamas' face, only not on camera. They are pleased to see Abbas has failed in his attempt to convince Trump to support publicly the establishment of a Palestinian state, while they - Hamas - have succeeded in doing so. They established a state in Gaza ten years ago despite Israel and no one in the world, including Israel with its strong IDF, will succeed in eliminating it.
Yet with all due honor to Trump's speeches, they have to be put into proportion. He, of course, expressed his opinionד, but he did not write the speeches, others did, and his commitment to standing behind those words for a long period is not that high. What counts is what is going to happen in the future, what will be said to his special Middle East envoy, Jason Greenblatt, the counsel he will give Trump. These things happen behind the scenes, far from the media, and they are the really important and reliable ones.
Sent to Arutz Sheva, translated by Rochel Sylvetsky
Dr. Mordechai Kedar is a senior lecturer in the Department of Arabic at Bar-Ilan University. He served in IDF Military Intelligence for 25 years, specializing in Arab political discourse, Arab mass media, Islamic groups and the Syrian domestic arena. Thoroughly familiar with Arab media in real time, he is frequently interviewed on the various news programs in Israel.
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