Six Arab foreign ministers met in Jordan’s capital on Saturday to discuss the response to the US decision to recognise Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. They had little new to say.
The head of the Arab League told a media conference there would be a renewed effort to have East Jerusalem recognised as the capital of a Palestinian state.
But that approach has been tried already, and gained little traction.
Washington’s announcement a month ago that it would relocate its embassy to Jerusalem from Tel Aviv ignited outrage in the Arab world.There was an emergency meeting of the Arab League in Cairo. There were demonstrations across the Middle East.A resolution condemning the US decision passed easily at the United Nations.
And yet, none of that had any real impact. The embassy move is going ahead. No Arab countries have downgraded relations with the US as a result.
In the sprawling Baqa’a Palestinian refugee camp outside of Amman in Jordan, the American recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital is a bitter blow.
“This was to me, as a Palestinian, this made me angry,” Saeed Tabaza, a third generation Palestinian refugee, said.
“Jerusalem has always been to us, since we’ve been kids, the capital of Palestine.”
Mr Tabaza is like many in Baqa’a camp. He is a descendant of Palestinian refugees. He was born in the camp and has lived there his entire life.
The camp is so vast it looks like a city. It is overcrowded, and there are few economic prospects.
Mr Tabaza does not have a job. He and his wife and their four children live in three small rooms.
‘We always dreamt of going there’
One-and-a-half million refugees live in camps like Baqa’a, out of about 5 million registered Palestinian refugees living in countries and territories around Israel.
Mr Tabaza and his 18-year-old daughter Fatima spend hours watching Arabic television news channels, which churn out almost non-stop talk about America’s Jerusalem decision every day.
“We’ve heard so many stories about [Jerusalem] from our grandparents, they made us love it,” Fatima said.
“We always dreamt of going there to pray.”
Her father says it is a “very hard decision”.
“But what can we do?” he asked.
In Amman, Palestinian political commentator Mohammed Abu Goush has a blunt answer to that question.
“Actually, we can do nothing. It’s finished. It’s done,” he said.
Mr Abu Goush is also a third generation Palestinian refugee. He is a successful businessman who has earned a reputation as a straight-talking political pundit.
He says on television what many Palestinians believe — their cause is no longer the rallying cry in the Arab world that it once was.
After the US decision, there were deadly protests in the West Bank and Gaza, and there were protests across the Middle East. But within weeks the anger subsided.
“We used to see thousands and thousands of people in every capital, in every street, demands for war with Israel, demands for fight for our rights,” he said.
“Now, we don’t see anything.”
In a Middle East divided by regional rivalries and war, the Palestinian issue is no longer a paramount concern.
“Just look at the map,” Mr Abu Goush said.
“Look at Saudi Arabia and the Gulf. What can they do? Absolutely nothing.
“Iraq has been destroyed. Syria has been destroyed … Where is Egypt? Egypt now is busy fighting terrorists. The rest of the Arab countries don’t exist as a major player in the Palestinian issue.”
Mr Abu Goush said there are options on the table to respond to the US decision on Jerusalem. But Arab countries have not exercised them.
“At least we should close the embassies, in the Arabic world, for all United States embassies,” he said.
“We should close Israeli embassies in Jordan, in Egypt, in Turkey.
“This could be a resolution. This could be an act if we wanted to do something.”
There was a time, he said, when Arab governments had to be seen to at least be doing something for the Palestinians. But not in today’s Middle East.
“Only statements. Only promises. Only condemning. Only words. Words, words, words.”