On September 21, 2011, President Obama proclaimed at the UN General Assembly: “There is one issue that stands as… a test for American foreign policy and that is the conflict between the Israelis and the Palestinians.” President Obama assumes that the Palestinian issue is a root cause of Mid-East turbulence, the crown jewel of Arab policy-making and the crux of the Arab-Israeli conflict. Is it?
Is the Palestinian issue the root cause of Mid-East Turbulence?
Irrespective of the Palestinian issue, 2011 has catapulted the anti-Western Muslim Brotherhood – the Big Brother of Hamas terrorists – to political prominence in Egypt, Tunisia and Morocco and soon in Jordan and other Arab countries. The rise of the Muslim Brotherhood, and other Islamic parties, is a derivative of a 1,400 year old supremacy of Islam in the educational, social and political sectors in every Arab country.
Independent of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, imperialistic and radical Muslim Iran – the West’s staunchest enemy – could shortly become a nuclear power; a nightmare for Persian Gulf, Middle East and global regimes. Unless preempted militarily, a nuclear Teheran would fuel global turbulence to unprecedented heights.
Regardless of Israel’s own policies and existence, 2011 has exposed the Mid-East as the role model of intra-Arab/Muslim violence, volatility, shifty one-bullet and one-revolution regimes, tenuous policies and alliances, instability, uncertainty, unpredictability, corruption, hate education, treachery, non-compliance with agreements, and intra-Muslim/Arab fragmentation along tribal, ethnic, religious, ideological and geographic lines.
Distinct from the Palestinian issue, the US is evacuating Iraq and will evacuate Afghanistan. The evacuation of Iraq, without bringing terrorism to submission – along with a hesitant US policy towards Iran and North Korea – is perceived by rivals and enemies of the US as a lack of endurance and an extension of the evacuation/retreat from Lebanon (1958), Vietnam (1973), Lebanon (1983) and Somalia (1993). It undermines the US posture of deterrence and pumps adrenalin into the veins of terrorists. Therefore, the evacuation will fuel turmoil in Iraq and Afghanistan, advance Iran’s posture and jolt Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and other Gulf States. It may entice Islamic terrorists to chase the evacuating US military all the way to the US mainland.
Unrelated to the Palestinian issue, the Saudi-Yemen border is boiling; intra-Muslim terrorism proliferates; post-Mubarak Egypt could follow the anti-US Turkish or even Iranian path; the Sudan and the Horn of Africa are saturated with conflicts; the Islamization of Turkey’s policy fosters regional radicalization, and Lebanon remains an arena for violent domestic and intra-Arab conflicts. These, and many other conflicts, hemorrhage the region, facilitating Russian, Chinese and North Korean penetration of the region, while leveraging the US withdrawal. None of the above is impacted by the lack of an Israeli-Palestinian accord!
Notwithstanding the Arab-Israeli conflict, Libya and Iran were transformed in 1969 and 1979 respectively, via revolutions, from pro-US to anti-US regimes. In 1980 and in 1990, Iraq abrogated peace accords, invading Iran and Kuwait. In 1990, pro-US King Hussein collaborated with Saddam’s invasion of Kuwait. In 2002, pro-USA Turkey switched over from NATO-oriented to Islam-oriented policy, courting Russia and Iran, Hezbollah and Hamas and additional rivals and enemies of the West. In 2003, a radical regime was trounced in Baghdad, but in 2011 Baghdad could become an active volcano, spreading lava throughout the region. Welcome to the real Mid-East, whose major shifty and violent developments are not driven, even remotely, by the Palestinian issue.
Is the Palestinian Issue the crown jewel of Arab Policy-Making?
Contrary to conventional wisdom, the Palestinian issue is not a primary Arab concern.
Pro-Western oil-producing Persian Gulf leaders are traumatized by, and preoccupied with, the lethal Iranian nuclear threat, by the raging Arab Street, and by a potential Iraqi “earthquake” in the aftermath of the US evacuation. The pro-Western Hashemite regime is alarmed by the Muslim Brotherhood surge in the Middle East, possibly also in neighboring Syria, and by the growing discontent among its Bedouin power base in Southern Jordan. Strategically-critical Turkey is becoming more Islam-driven and less western-oriented; the pro-Western Moroccan monarchy is imperiled by the ripple effects of the Tunisian, Libyan and Egyptian turmoil; Islamic terrorism is gaining ground; Russia, China and North Korea expand their penetration into the Middle East and the US posture of deterrence is eroding substantially.
However, while the Middle East is burning – irrespective of the Palestinian issue, President Obama is highlighting the Palestinian issue. But, his Palestinian policy is invalidated by the real Mid-East, which highlights 1,400 year old roots of intra-Arab/Muslim turbulence. Could the less than 100 year old Arab-Israeli conflict be the core cause of the 1,400 year old Islamic reality in the Mid-East?!
Arab leaders have never considered the Palestinian issue their prime concern, but a tool in intra-Arab political and military battles and a pawn against Israel. They are concerned about a potential Palestinian-driven domestic upheaval (“Lebanonization”) as was caused by the PLO in Lebanon. They consider the Arafat-Mahmoud Abbas wing of the Palestinians a source of treachery and subversion. Unlike Western policy-makers, they accord significant weight to the expulsion of Mahmoud Abbas, Arafat and other PLO leaders – for subversion and treachery – from Egypt in the late 1950s, from Syria in 1966, from Jordan in 1970, from Lebanon in 1982/3 and from Kuwait in 1991. The latter expulsion was triggered by Mahmoud Abbas’ and Arafat’s collaboration with Saddam Hussein’s invasion and plunder of Kuwait, which offered the PLO a unique safe haven, economically, politically, socially and diplomatically.
Arab leaders marshal their rhetoric, but not their resources, on behalf of Palestinians. For example, during the October 2010 Arab Summit in Libya, Arab leaders pledged $500MN to the Palestinian – only seven percent was ever delivered. More than $2 billion were pledged by the Arabs in support of the first and second Palestinian Intifada against Israel, but less than $500 million reached the Palestinians. During the 1980s, Saudi financial support of the PLO was 10% of Riad’s financial support of the anti-Soviet Muslims in Afghanistan.
Arab regimes did not actively support the PLO during its 1982 war (in Lebanon) against Israeli and they did not flex a significant muscle on behalf of the Palestinians during the 2008 war in Gaza. In fact, this has been the Arab attitude toward the Palestinian issue since 1948, irrespective of the identity of the Palestinian leader: Haj Amin al-Husseini, Shukeiri, Hammuda, Arafat, Mahmoud Abbas or Haniyeh.
The Red Carpet, which welcomes Palestinian leaders in the West, is transformed into a shabby rug when they land in Arab capitals.
Is the Palestinian issue the crux of the Arab-Israeli conflct?
US policy-makers have contended that the Palestinian issue is the crux of the Arab-Israeli conflict, which supposedly is a key axis of regional Mid-East geo-politics. Therefore, they assume, that the resolution of the Palestinian issue – via the establishment of a Palestinian State – would resolve the Arab-Israeli conflict, thus moderating the Mid-East. Really? !
The 1948/9 War was not fought by the Arabs because, or for, the Palestinians. Therefore, Egypt, Jordan, Iraq and Syria, which occupied Gaza, Judea, Samaria and Hama respectively, did not transfer the area to the Palestinians.
The 1956 (Sinai) War was triggered by Egyptian-sponsored Palestinian terrorism, aiming to advance Egyptian claims to the Negev, by the Egyptian-French-British conflict over the Suez Canal and by Egyptian support of anti-French elements in North Africa and possibly by the Egyptian agitation in the Arabian Peninsula.
The 1967 (Six Day) War erupted in response to Egypt’s blockade of Israel’s southern (oil and commerce) waterway, Egypt’s violation of the Sinai demilitarization and the Egypt-Syria-Jordan military axis, aimed at Israel’s destruction.
The 1969-70 War of attrition along the Suez Canal took place irrespective of the Palestinian issue.
The 1973 War (the most recent Arab-Israel war) was initiated by Egypt, Syria, Jordan and Iraq, independent of the Palestinian issue.
The 1982 PLO-Israel War in Lebanon (pre-empting a grand scale PLO assault on northern Israel) was not transformed into an Arab-Israeli war. Arabs shed much rhetoric – not blood – on behalf of Palestinian.
The 1987-1992 First Palestinian Intifada (terrorism) was not transformed into an Arab-Israeli war. No Arab military-financial support; only rhetoric.
The 1994-2011 Oslo-triggered Palestinian terrorism has not been transformed into an Arab-Israeli war. Western financial aid to the Palestinian Authority dramatically exceeds Arab aid!
The Arab-Israeli conflict was not triggered by the Palestinian issue.