Cairo: On a blisteringly cold Cairo evening, a dozen protesters burned Israeli flags, denounced America in their chants at the steps of the Journalists Syndicate and then walked away.
It was a tepid response, far from what was projected by international political observers, to US President Donald Trump’s shocking announcement that Jerusalem would be Israel’s new capital.
Upending decades of stalled peace negotiations between Palestinians and Israelis, the Trump administration, defying its allies, has signalled its unequivocal support for Israel repeating the mantra that it is the only democracy in the Middle East.
“This is something that Trump as a candidate and now once he came into office said he was going to do … but we all knew that Trump was not the traditional candidate,” said Dr Yousef Munayyer, executive director of the US Campaign for Palestinian Rights.
“It’s very significant as it is a reversal of long-standing US policy.”
“By making this change today unilaterally, the President is changing the very foundations of the peace process that the Americans have been seeking to lead for decades”, he told Fairfax Media from Washington DC.
The expected protests, however, were few and far.
In Bethlehem, Christmas tree lights were dimmed as a sign of disapproval of Trump’s unpopular decision in the region while hundreds turned out waving Palestinian flags voicing their disbelief in Amman and Istanbul. The immediate mass demonstrations that triggered the Arab Spring have not materialised in support of the Palestinian people yet.
Fatigue has set in as more turmoil in recent weeks has gripped Arab capitals from Beirut to Cairo. The Palestinian case – the historical linchpin of Arab political grievances – has given way to more immediate conflicts.
The humanitarian disaster unfolding in Yemen culminating in former president Ali Abdallah Saleh’s assassination by the Houthis locked in a grinding struggle against the US-backed Saudi bombardment is raging on.
Meanwhile, Syria and Libya remain mired in violent quagmires with competing militias and regional powers backing various proxies.
Palestinian officials from Hamas and Fatah denounced Mr Trump’s move calling for an emergency national meeting. They have been hamstrung by their own political infighting in recent years.
As Israel continues expanding its settlements beyond the 1967 borders, Arab regimes who have regrouped militarily after the Arab Spring have tacitly stood by especially in the face of Israeli military campaigns against Hamas in Gaza which have also targeted the civilian population as recently as 2014.
Saudi Arabia has moved in recent years to become the dominant regional force signalling its warming ties to Israel to curb Iran’s influence. Egypt, traditionally a regional mediator between the Israelis and Palestinians, has taken a diplomatic back-seat as it deals with its own domestic problems.
Such moves are indicative that concerns for Palestine’s sovereignty have waned and more importantly that the two-state solution is now completely obliterated.
“Jerusalem was a central piece in two-state solution idea … which calls for a Palestinian state on the territory occupied since 1967 with East Jerusalem serving as the capital. With the US now pre-judging the outcome … they essentially have gifted to the Israelis before any negotiations around this core issue,” Mr Munayyer explained.
“What this will do is make clear to the increasingly small number of people who remain believing in the path of American-mediated negotiations realise that simply is not the path to peace.”
The Trump administration has delayed its plans to move its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem in the coming months. No other country has its embassy in Jerusalem and the international community does not recognise Israeli sovereignty over the entire contested city.
Mike Pence, the US Vice-President, is expected to arrive the region in coming days to smooth over the bombshell announcement but he might receive a cold reception.
Hanan Ashrawi, long-time senior Palestinian Authority official, was forceful in her response to Mr Pence’s proposed visit, saying in a BBC interview: “I belong to the oldest Christian tradition in the world and I don’t believe God ordained the world to be unjust to the Palestinians.”