“The Palestinians,” Gamal Abdel Nasser told a Western reporter in the years before the Six-Day War, “are useful to the Arab states as they are. We will always see that they do not become too powerful. Can you imagine yet another nation on the shores of the eastern Mediterranean!” As Roie Yellinek and Assaf Malach demonstrate, this attitude is typical of Arab leaders, who—despite many protestations to the contrary—have over the decades consistently worked against the creation of a Palestinian state. The rulers of Syria and Jordan in this regard proved little different than Nasser:
In the decade-and-a-half following [Syrian] independence in 1946, the unambiguous [official] line advocated the unification of Greater Syria comprising the territory of present-day Syria, Jordan, Lebanon, and Israel, under Damascus’s reign. (Transjordan’s King Abdullah also strove for the creation of this entity under his own rule). Even the pan-Arab Baath party, which seized power in a military coup in 1963 and which espoused the vision of a unified “Arab nation” from “the [Persian] Gulf to the [Atlantic] Ocean,” continued to view Palestine as an integral part of “southern Syria.” This view was especially strong during the 30-year reign (1970-2000) of Hafez al-Assad, who claimed, [quite accurately], that “a state by the name of Palestine has never existed.”
Despite Jordan’s 1988 renunciation of claims to the West Bank, the Hashemite monarchy has neither shown any desire for the establishment of a Palestinian state, which it fears might subvert its rule, nor shied away from making peace and closely collaborating with Israel with the kingdom’s possible return to the West Bank occasionally mooted by both sides.
This half-hearted approach toward Palestinian nationalism notwithstanding, decades of staunch anti-Zionist propaganda have entrenched the “Palestine question” in the collective regional psyche to the extent of making it exceedingly difficult for the Arab states to conclude functional peace treaties with Israel without a pro forma Palestinian-Israeli agreement. Yet while this state of affairs gives the Palestinians some veto power over inter-Arab politics, it is unlikely to derail the intensifying, multifaceted, and increasingly overt Arab-Israeli collaboration even in the event of severe deterioration in Israeli-Palestinian relations, as the 2020 normalization agreements between Israel and the UAE, Bahrain, Sudan, and Morocco show.