The infamous "Negev Summit" was undoubtedly a success for Foreign Minister Yair Lapid and the rest of the Israeli government. His ministry's protocol department's impressive achievement, hosting four foreign ministers from Arab countries for dinner, included serenading them with Jerusalem's famous ka'ek (bagels) and lamb from the Golan Heights. Both occupied Arab territories, both illegally annexed by Israel.
Finally, they got the family photo they wanted, and Lapid reaffirmed his role as the "pleasant face" of a government that cheered the approval of the racist law banning the reunification of Palestinian families only a few days ago.
Except for agreeing to do it all again, sometime soon, this summit's greatest distinction was its lack of any substance. The only concrete message from it was for the Palestinian people.
For the Palestinians, membership of the Abraham Accords club means that those "brotherly" Arab states are neither expected nor now even requested to lead their struggle towards national liberation. It's not news that Palestine has been abandoned. After the meeting, Palestinian Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh said that any Arab normalization meeting without an end to Israeli occupation is a gift to Israel. Certainly, it is.
Most Israelis, however, won't accept the other side of the story. Only one of the four Arab countries hosted so royally is strategically vital to Israel, and that is Egypt, whose foreign minister stated their ultimate goal remains a "Palestinian state on the 1967 borders with East Jerusalem its capital."
The presence of Minister Sameh Shoukry was deeply disappointing to most Palestinians. However, I am sure that because of his words some Israelis are also beginning to realize that the Palestinian cause cannot be buried, regardless of the disgusting propaganda made for normalization deals that include benefits for Israeli settlements and companies involved in the ongoing annexation of Palestine.
On the same day that the summit took place, Israel advanced the construction of four exclusively Jewish towns in the Negev. Perhaps the Arab foreign ministers didn't know that near the venue of their conference there are almost 40 villages, home to half of the Negev's Bedouin Palestinians, which are still unrecognized by the state, meaning they don't even have access to electricity or water. One of them, Al-Araqib, has been demolished hundreds of times.
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This signals that Israel's ethnic cleansing process extends not only to the occupied Palestinian territory of Jerusalem, Hebron, and the Jordan Valley, but also within Israel itself: The same Negev that an Arab foreign minister referred to as a "symbol of coexistence," Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch define as a symbol of apartheid.
In 1976, Land Day, which protests the normalized practice of expropriating land from Palestinian villages on both sides of the 1967 border to benefit construction for mainly Israeli Jews, took place in the Galilee because of such discriminatory laws. It is a reality that the vast majority of the international community fails to recognize till this very day, regardless of the hundreds of Palestinian citizens of Israel killed or injured in protests like Land Day in 1976, October 2000, and May 2021.
Even though some Arab foreign ministers may choose to ignore this – to the gratification of most Israeli Jews – it can't erase the reality of dispossession for most Palestinian citizens of Israel, let alone Palestinians in the occupied Palestinian territory.
This week, we commemorated Land Day in a changing regional context, but one nonetheless that has failed to eliminate the existence of the Palestinian people from the river to the sea.
It is with grave concern, therefore, that we continue to observe the double standards applied by Western countries to the situation in Ukraine compared to what is happening in the land of historic Palestine. The Russian occupation of part of Ukraine has been met with international sanctions while for several Western governments the Israeli occupation of all of Palestine has been met merely with references to shared "values."
Palestinians are determined to change the current state of affairs, defying the reality of colonial settlement occupation and apartheid. No matter how successful its protocol efforts may be, Israel's Foreign Ministry will find these inconvenient facts more and more challenging to conceal.
I was in Cairo last month, and I saw the reaction of the Egyptians when I told them I'm Palestinian. Every Egyptian official knows how committed their people are to the rights of the Palestinian people. This week, I spoke to many audiences in the U.S., including at Harvard Law School, and it was evident that the context can positively change.
I congratulate Lapid on a photo opportunity that did not change one bit of what ought to matter most to Israel and the rest of the region: Ending systematic violations of international law and UN resolutions, and ending the decades-long denial of the inalienable rights of the Palestinian people.
Sami Abou Shahadeh is a Palestinian historian, leader of Balad/Tajamu party and member of the Knesset for the Joint List:. Twitter: @ShahadehAbou