The myth of Palestinian centrality has dominated Western policy in the Middle East, while contrasting the reality of the Middle East.
In 2015, following in the footsteps of Presidents Mubarak and Sadat, Egyptian President Al-Sisi does not subordinate Egypt’s national security ties with Israel to Egypt’s ties with the Palestinians.
President Al-Sisi – just like his two predecessors – considers the transnational Muslim Brotherhood and Palestinian terrorism mutual threats to Israel, Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and other Arab Gulf States, which have never regarded the Palestinian issue as a top priority, and have denied the Palestinian Authority their financial generosity. Notwithstanding Palestinian opposition, strategic cooperation between Israel and Egypt, as well as between Israel and Jordan and other moderate Arab regimes, has surged to an unprecedented level.
In 2014, Al-Sisi and most pro-US Arab regimes – which have never embraced the myth of Palestinian centrality – supported Israel’s war on Palestinian terrorism in Gaza, which also haunts Egyptian and Jordanian homeland security.
In 1977, Egyptian President Sadat embraced Israeli Prime Minister Begin’s peace initiative, in spite of stormy Palestinian opposition, and in defiance of President Carter’s initial objection to direct negotiation between Jerusalem and Cairo. Carter promoted the concept of an international conference, centering on the Palestinian issue, which he assumed was the chief axis of the Arab-Israeli conflict. He pressured Begin to highlight the Palestinian issue, but received no effective support from Sadat.
Israel-Arab relations, in general, and the Arab-Israeli conflict, in particular, have never revolved around the Palestinian axis, irrespective of Western conventional wisdom and political correctness, which have been shaped by Arab talk rather than Arab walk, by oversimplification and wishful thinking rather than Middle Eastern reality.
The 1948/49 War was launched by Arab countries, against the newly-born Jewish State, at the expense – and not on behalf – of a Palestinian cause, exposing the myth of Palestinian centrality. Thus, Iraq leveraged the war to advance its goal of intra-Arab hegemony and control the oil pipeline from Kirkuk to Haifa; Jordan joined the assault on Israel to expand all the way to the Mediterranean; Egypt was more interested in foiling Jordan’s expansionist plans than the annihilation of the Jewish State; and Syria aspired to advance its vision of Greater Syria.
The 1948 War was not a war of, for, or (mostly) by Palestinian Arabs. According to Prof. Efraim Karsh, a leading Middle East expert from London’s Kings College, “the 1948 pan-Arab invasion of Israel was a classic scramble for territory and not a battle for Palestinian national rights. As the first Secretary General of the Arab league, Abdel Rahman Azzam, admitted, the goal of Jordan was to swallow up the central hill regions of Palestine…. The Egyptians would get the Negev. The Galilee would go to Syria, except that the coastal part as far as Acre would be added to Lebanon.”
Upon the conclusion of the war, Iraq occupied Samaria (the northern West Bank), but transferred the area to Jordan, not to the Palestinian Arabs. Jordan occupied Judea (the southern West Bank) and annexed Judea and Samaria to the East Bank of the Jordan River. Egypt occupied Gaza and did not transfer it to the Palestinian Arabs. Just like Jordan, Egypt prohibited Palestinian national activities and expelled Palestinian activists. In 1959, Egypt and the Arab League dissolved the ineffective provisional Palestinian (“All Palestine”) government, which was established by them in 1949.
The 1956 (Sinai) War was also not triggered by the Palestinian issue. It was a derivative of Egyptian-sponsored terrorism (activated by Palestinian Arabs in Gaza), aimed at undermining Israel’s sovereignty in the Negev; Egypt’s nationalization of the British and French-owned Suez Canal; and Egypt’s support for anti-French elements in Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia.
The 1967 Six Day War erupted as a result of Egyptian President Nasser’s aggression, aimed at advancing his pan-Arab megalomaniac aspiration, which were unrelated to the Palestinian issue: Egypt’s blockade of Israel’s southern (oil and commerce) waterway; Egypt’s violation of the 1957 Sinai Peninsula demilitarization agreement; the Egypt-Syria-Jordan Military Pact.
The 1969-70 Egypt-Israel war of attrition along the Suez Canal took place irrespective of the Palestinian issue. And, the 1973 War (the most recent Arab-Israel war) was initiated by Egypt, Syria, Jordan and Iraq, independent of the Palestinian issue.
Since 1973, there have been a number of wars between Israel and Palestinian Arabs, none evolved into an Arab-Israeli war. Arabs have been aware of the subversive/terrorist track record of Palestinian Arabs, and therefore have showered them with rhetoric, not resources, and certainly not on the battlefield.
For example, the 1982 Israel war on PLO terrorism in Lebanon was launched on June 5, but the Arab League did not convene until September, following the PLO expulsion from Beirut. The 1987-1992 and the 2000-2003 waves of Palestinian terrorism were quelled by Israel’s defense forces with no Arab intervention, as were Israel’s wars on Palestinian terrorism in Gaza (2008, 2012 and 2014).
Unlike Arab policy makers Western policy makers and public opinion molders are preoccupied with the Palestinian issue, misperceiving it as the root cause of Middle East turbulence, the crown jewel of Arab policy making and the crux of the Arab –Israeli conflict.
This Western-formulated myth of Palestinian centrality has led to an oversimplification of Middle East complexities, corrupting Western policy, undermining vital Western interests, exacerbating problems rather than advancing solutions, intensifying terrorism, diverting attention away from major obstacles to peace, thus creating another major obstacle to peace.