THE RATHER SEDATE ARAB STREET – Predictably, a lot of people are upset about Donald Trump’s decision to recognise Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. Predictably, a lot of people in the Middle East are particularly upset. But rather unpredictably, the predictable anger and outrage has been relatively mooted. The famous “Arab Street”, which is always part spontaneous but always also part orchestrated, hasn’t particularly erupted with rage. This is not to say that an average Tariq in the street is happy with the American decision, or has reconsidered his lifetime of virulent anti-Semitism, but more an indication that Tariq’s rulers increasingly have many other, competing concerns besides the never-ending Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and the general population of Tariqs is likewise somewhat exhausted and distracted.
The Organisation of Islamic Cooperation just held a special meeting in Istanbul to respond to the “crisis”, but even that felt rather flat:
The Turkish president, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, opened the meeting by denouncing the US move as a provocative “red line” for Muslims, describing Israel as an occupying and “terror” state. His remarks were echoed by other speakers.
But in a sign of cracks in the unity of Muslim countries – and reflecting the wider tensions in the region – Saudi Arabia and Egypt were represented at a relatively junior level, and took a back seat in the proceedings.
In comments pointedly aimed at Saudi Arabia, [the Iranian president, Hassan] Rouhani said the only reason Trump had dared to recognise Jerusalem as the capital of Israel was because some in the region were seeking to establish ties to Israel.
Rouhani’s remarks – and the prominence of countries closer to Iran at the summit – suggested there is a risk that the contentious issue of Jerusalem will be sucked into the escalating confrontation between Riyadh and Tehran.
Erdogan might like to resurrect Turkey’s historical role as the Caliphate (abolished by Ataturk in the early 1920s), but it’s unlikely the Arabs will follow when they’re not actually directly ruled from Istanbul anymore. It’s also true to say that countries like Egypt and Saudi Arabia are much more worried about the nuclear and resurgent (not to mention Shia) Iran than they are about Israel. The Arab states have done quite badly out of their unwavering support for the Palestinians over the past seventy years, while the Palestinians themselves, in Abba Eban’s famous misquoted words (he was talking about the Arabs in general), never missed an opportunity to miss an opportunity. This is merely a hunch, but I have a feeling that the Palestinian-Israeli issue is ever so slowly losing its potency as a lightning rod for anger, the universal excuse for every domestic and international failing in the region, and an evergreen distraction for the populace.