Ever since Yasser Arafat passed away, the Palestinians have lacked a strong leader with the authority to speak on their behalf. His successor Mahmoud Abbas took a different approach on statehood in the belief the road to peace ran through Washington. And to that end, he has been unfailingly conciliatory, even on some of his people's basic demands. His statements were always designed to be non-inflammatory and whereas the Israelis and their American backers thought of him as a good guy, Palestinians themselves expected a lot more from him.
Last Friday, in the UN General Assembly, President Abbas was a different man. His appeal for Palestinian statehood wasn't couched in diplomatic jargon. He spoke truthfully about the crippling effects of occupation, the illegal Israeli blockade of Gaza and the need for Palestinian refugees to return to their homeland. He insisted that any future Palestinian state would be drawn on 1967 borders with occupied Jerusalem as its capital and stressed he would not return to the negotiating table as long as Israel continued its policy of colony expansion.
He told the world how Palestinian hopes and dreams have been dashed for decades. "Enough, enough, enough" was the main thrust of the Palestinian leader's message and judging by the lengthy standing ovation he received, for the first time in ages, the world was truly listening.
President Abbas has turned into a dignified statesman. His courage in defying the US President's ‘order' not to go the UN route should be saluted. His tenaciousness to fast-track the UN Security Council (UNSC) vote in the face of outrageous threats from the Netanyahu government, the White House and the US Congress proves he means business.
The fact that Tel Aviv has threatened to withhold Palestinian taxes — or even to annex parts of the West Bank — should the bid proceed illustrates Israel's moral bankruptcy when the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) has chosen the highway of international legality.
While Congress mulls cutting US aid to Palestinians and the UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), President Obama says he will veto Palestinian statehood in the UNSC. It's a shameful reflection on a country that was once a beacon of justice that his diplomats are twisting the arms of UNSC members to vote ‘no', as former Palestinian National Authority (PNA) negotiator Hanan Ashrawi has disclosed. Such is reminiscent of old Chicago mafia tactics when godfathers would browbeat witnesses not to turn up in court while seeking to pay off jury members.
As someone who believed that President Obama was a peacemaker, I was shocked to hear his address to the Assembly that contravened the message he delivered on the same podium last year. This time he sounded like Israel's lawyer neglecting to mention either 1967 borders or Israeli colonies.
It's a bitter irony that while Obama praised Arabs for pursuing freedom, he thwarts the Palestinians from getting theirs. He said nothing about Palestinian suffering preferring to focus on America's "unshakeable" commitment to Israel's security.
He spoke of Israeli citizens killed by rockets while ignoring the thousands of Palestinian civilians murdered by the Israeli Defence Forces. He evoked the six million Jews slaughtered during the Holocaust, which has nothing to do with Arabs who lived peacefully with Jewish populations prior to the 1948 Nakba. I wonder whether Obama even believes his own words when he's been such a strong proponent of a Palestinian state until now.
For us As Arabs, the bottom line is this. We must not in all good conscience allow President Abbas to face the music from the US and Israel alone. We've allowed the Palestinian struggle to fall from our hands for far too long and now that we see that the international community overwhelmingly empathises with their cause, we should be prepared to put ourselves on the line in its defence.
Our leaders should unite against any nation that prevents Palestinians from attaining statehood in the same way that the Israelis and Americans are united to block Palestinian rights. Because the role of the Arab League isn't being properly met as its host country remains unstable and various member countries need to take care of internal problems, I believe it should be temporarily moved to a Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) state with a respected GCC figure as its secretary-general who can speak with authority on the Palestinian issue.
We must open our pockets to the PNA and sanction any country that stands in the way of right. Ours is no longer a region where the wishes of citizens can be disregarded; our people are with the Palestinians and their leaders should reflect their will.
Winston Churchill once said, "The pessimist sees the difficulty in an opportunity, while the optimist sees the opportunity in difficulty." For the sake of our region's stability, we Arabs must grasp this opportunity to show our commitment to justice and regain our karama (dignity), whatever the cost. Our once proud Arab nation needs to prove its relevance, or it will splinter and become a mere historical afterthought. Now is the time to become brothers, real brothers, again and lift our own Palestinian people out of their misery.
Tell me! Who is with me? Are you with me? Or are people like me who care deeply about old-fashioned concepts of honour and truth simply crying to the wind?
Khalaf Al Habtoor is a businessman and chairman of Al Habtoor Group.