In effect if not in intent, few are as indifferent to Muslim life as Arab countries are. It may be hard for Arabs to admit, but Israel, for all the suffering it has inflicted on the Palestinian territories, has proven—in relative terms—more respectful of Muslim life than most Arab regimes. Nothing Israel has done, or probably could do, can compare to the ongoing Saudi-led intervention in Yemen, which has been roundly condemned as a moral and humanitarian catastrophe of unusual proportions.
No one, then, should fall under the illusion that declaring Jerusalem Israel’s capital will harm America’s alliances with most, or even many, Arab nations (Jordan being a notable exception). The fact that most Arab countries are autocracies, though, complicates the matter, since unelected, unaccountable regimes do not generally reflect popular sentiment, particularly when it comes to the Palestinian conflict. Arab leaders have been content to use Palestine and Palestinians for rhetorical effect and to absorb or deflect popular anger over their own failures and missteps. But for Arab populations, Palestine still matters, even if primarily on a symbolic level (and if we’ve learned anything in recent years, it’s that symbols matter).