Rallying cry of Jerusalem may have lost force in Arab world

That’s the headline of an article in the New York Times. To which I say, “ya think.”

The point is so obvious that it took three Times reporters — Anne Barnard, Ben Hubbard, and Declan Walsh — to make it. They write:

[A]s Arab and Muslim leaders raised their voices to condemn [Trump’s decision on Jerusalem], many across the Middle East wondered if so much had changed in recent years that the real Arab response would amount to little more than a whimper.

“‘Jerusalem is the capital of Palestine’ joins ‘Palestinian refugees are going back home one day’ in the let’s-hope-it-will-happen-but-it-never-will department,” Mustapha Hamoui, a Lebanese blogger, wrote in a rueful tweet.

The Times explains:

While Arab leaders have continued to pay lip service to the Palestinian cause, it has slipped in importance, displaced by the Arab Spring uprisings, the wars in Iraq, Syria and Yemen, the threat of the Islamic State, and the contest between Saudi Arabia and Iran for regional dominance.

Persian Gulf states like Saudi Arabia, more concerned about their rivalry with Iran, have found their interests increasingly overlapping with those of Israel.

Unless you’re John Kerry, or maybe Jared Kushner, you can understand why war, revolution, and the imperial ambitions of a powerful state are more important to regional leaders than what the capital of Israel is.

But what about the “Arab street”? In Egypt, the Times suggests, it has “been forcibly disappeared” by the regime of Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, “combined with broader anxiety over regional stability.”

If a regime can make the Arab street disappear, you have to suspect a regime can also conjure it up. The Times notes that Arab leaders have often used the Palestinian issue “as a reliable way to appeal to their people, and sometimes as a distraction from domestic problems, including lack of political freedoms and economic opportunities.”

Thus, the Arab street, insofar it is fixated on the Palestinians and Jerusalem, is to some extent manufactured. End the manufacturing, and the “street” looks different.

I’m not denying that a great many ordinary Arabs care about the Palestinians, or that they should. But it takes more than caring to take to the streets on a sustained basis. Hamas’ call for “a day of rage” may be heeded in substantial portions of the Arab world. But sustained, meaningful rage is another matter.

Thus, the prediction from a Twitter user in Libya with which the Times concludes its article seems quite plausible:

We’ll see token protests and criticism from some countries. The media will make noise and then it will soon be over.

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