Saudi blogger Mohammed Saud fell victim to Palestinian outrage last week during a visit to Jerusalem. Saud was part of a delegation of bloggers from Arab countries invited to Israel by the Israeli Foreign Ministry. The delegation toured the country and met with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who told them that “Israel is the only force in the Middle East preventing its collapse, because without it [the region] would fall to extremist Islamic-Shi’ite forces led by Iran, or to radical Sunni forces led by the Islamic State group.”
But when Saud went to pray on the Temple Mount, he was attacked by a wild mob for his “betrayal of the Palestinian cause.” In a similar incident in December 2003, towards the tail end of the Second Intifada, former Egyptian foreign minister Ahmad Maher was pelted with shoes on the Temple Mount while trying to foster dialogue between Israel and the Palestinians.
Where does the rage come from? Some 71 years after its establishment, Israel isn’t just a regional power with military and economic clout, but a legitimate player in the Middle East, and even a partner and ally of numerous Arab countries. This process of rapprochement between Israel and the Arab world isn’t only moving forwards, it is accelerating—breaking through walls and mainly past preconceptions.
It has dashed, for example, the assumption that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict bars rapprochement between Israel and its Arab neighbors.
The new reality, of course, is driving the Palestinians mad. One after another, they are losing all their cards for applying pressure against Israel. Case in point, in recent months Arab countries have pressured the Palestinians to cooperate with the American administration to advance a peace deal with Israel, even if it means conceding longstanding demands the Palestinians have deemed “non-negotiable.”
Because the Palestinians need the Arab states and don’t dare oppose them, their only recourse is to unleash their frustrations on individuals from the Arab world who dare to take the next step, which is seemingly necessary and logical, and cultivate normalization between Israel and the Arab world, or at the very least cordiality between peoples.
The “street” in several Arab countries seem on board with the Palestinians, as enmity towards Israel remains the lowest common denominator for unloading frustrations in light of the Arab world’s dire conditions, both domestically and abroad. Suffice it to say that rejection of normalization with Israel and any effort to recognize it—in the claim that doing so would grant the Jewish state legitimacy—is the main reason the Arab world is struggling so mightily to close the gap of scientific and technological progress with the rest of the world.
Either way, this sentiment bears no practical significance with regard to the current decision-making process of Arab rulers. No one is seriously proposing abandoning the path of peace in favor of war. In actuality, the Saudi regime rushed to the support of the accosted Saudi blogger and even bothered to deny reports that someone in the kingdom considered stripping him of his Saudi citizenship.
It appears, incidentally, that the Palestinians’ fury was greater than ever because the blogger was a Saudi; Saudi Arabia has become the tone-setter in the Arab world regarding rapprochement with Israel. Saudi Arabia also wants to seize control of the Temple Mount and add it to the other holy cities in Islam, Mecca and Medina, which are subject to the rule of the Saudi king.
This aspiration, of course, is opposed by Jordan, which is itself is mired in a fight with the Palestinians over control of the Temple Mount. Also playing this game is Turkey, which has been trying to entrench its presence in Jerusalem and the Temple Mount for some time now.
The Saudi blogger was left to pay the price for these tensions and Palestinian frustrations. But the attack against him didn’t deter him and likely won’t deter those who will follow in his footsteps. This rapprochement between Israel and the Arab world cannot be stopped, not if Israel is wise enough to maintain its regional status and clout.
Eyal Zisser is a lecturer in the Middle East History Department at Tel Aviv University.
This article first appeared in Israel Hayom.