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The Palestinian Issue – a Mid-East Perspective

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.


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Open letter to Prime Minister Bennett ahead of visit to USA

(Hebrew edition in “Israel Hayom,” Israel’s largest circulation daily)

During your first official visit to Washington, DC, you’ll have to choose between two options:

*Blurring your deeply-rooted, assertive Israeli positions on the future of Judea and Samaria (the West Bank), which would be welcome by the Biden Administration, yielding to short-term political convenience and popularity inside the beltway;


*Tenaciously advocating your deeply-rooted, principle-driven positions, which would underscore a profound disagreement with the Biden Administration and the “elite” US media, while granting you and Israel long-term strategic respect, as demonstrated by some of your predecessors.

For example, the late Prime Minister Shamir honed the second option, bluntly introduced his assertive Israeli positions on Judea and Samaria, rebuffed heavy US pressure – including a mudslinging campaign by President Bush and Secretary of State Baker – suffered a popularity setback, but produced unprecedented expansion of US-Israel strategic cooperation. When it comes to facing the intensified threats of rogue regimes and Islamic terrorism, the US prefers principle-driven, reliable, patriotic, pressure-defying partners, irrespective of disagreements on the Palestinian issue.

Assuming that you shall not budge on the historical and national security centrality of Judea and Samaria, it behooves you to highlight the following matters during your meetings with President Biden, Secretary of State Blinken, National Security Advisor Sullivan, Secretary of Defense Austin and Congressional leaders (especially the members of the Appropriations Committees):

  1. The 1,400-year-old track record of the stormy, unpredictable, violent and anti-“infidel” Middle East, which has yet to experience intra-Arab peaceful-coexistence, along with the 100-year-old Palestinian track record (including the systematic collaboration with anti-US entities, hate-education and anti-Arab and anti-Jewish terrorism) demonstrates that the proposed Palestinian state would be a Mini-Afghanistan or a Mega-Gaza on the mountain ridges of Judea and Samaria.

It would dominate 80% of Israel’s population and infrastructures in the 9-15-mile sliver between Judea and Samaria and the Mediterranean, which is shorter than the distance between RFK Stadium and the Kennedy Center.

Thus, a Palestinian state would pose a clear and present existential threat to Israel; and therefore, Israel’s control of the mountain ridges of Judea and Samaria is a prerequisite for its survival.

  1. The proposed Palestinian state would undermine US interests, as concluded from the Palestinian intra-Arab track record, which has transformed the Palestinians into a role-model of intra-Arab subversion, terrorism and ingratitude. Arabs are aware that a Palestinian state would add fuel to the Middle East fire, teaming up with their enemies (e.g., Iran’s Ayatollahs, the Muslim Brotherhood and Turkey’s Erdogan) and providing a strategic foothold to Russia and China. Consequently, Arabs shower Palestinians with favorable talk, but with cold and negative walk.

Hence, during the October, 1994 Israel-Jordan peace treaty ceremony, Jordan’s military leaders asserted to their Israeli colleagues that a Palestinian state west of the Jordan River would doom the pro-US Hashemite regime east of the River, and lead, subsequently, to the toppling of all pro-US Arab Peninsula regimes.

  1. There is no foundation for the contention that Israel’s retreat from the mountain ridges of Judea and Samaria – which are the cradle of Jewish history, religion and culture – is required in order to sustain Israel’s Jewish majority. In reality, there is unprecedented Jewish demographic momentum, while Arab demography – throughout the Middle East – has Westernized dramatically. The Jewish majority in the combined area of Judea, Samaria and pre-1967 Israel benefits from a robust tailwind of fertility and migration.
  2. Israel’s control of the mountain ridges of Judea and Samaria and the Golan Heights, bolsters its posture of deterrence, which has daunted rogue regimes, reduced regional instability, enhanced the national security of all pro-US Arab regimes, and has advanced Israel’s role as a unique force-multiplier for the US. An Israeli retreat from Judea and Samaria would transform Israel from a strategic asset – to a strategic liability – for the US.
  3. As the US reduces its military presence in the Middle East – which is a global epicenter of oil production, global trade (Asia-Africa), international Islamic terrorism and proliferation of non-conventional military technologies – Israel’s posture of deterrence becomes increasingly critical for the pro-US Arab countries (e.g., Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Oman, Jordan), who consider Israel to be the most reliable “life insurance agent” in the region.

Contrary to NATO, South Korea and Japan, Israel’s defense does not require the presence of US troops on its soil.

  1. Sustaining Israel’s Qualitative Military Edge is a mutual interest for the US and Israel, which serves as the most cost-effective battle-tested laboratory for the US defense industries and armed forces. Thus, Israel’s use of hundreds of US military systems has yielded thousands of lessons (operation, maintenance and repairs), which have been integrated, by the US manufacturers, into the next generation of the military systems, saving the US many years of research and development, increasing US exports and expanding the US employment base – a mega billion dollar bonanza for the US. At the same time, the US armed forces have benefitted from Israel’s military intelligence and battle experience, as well as joint training maneuvers with Israel’s defense forces, which has improved the US formulation of battle tactics.

Prime Minister Bennett, your visit to Washington, is an opportunity to demonstrate your adherence to your deeply-rooted strong Israeli positions, rejecting the ill-advised appeals and temptations to sacrifice Israel’s national security on the altar of convenience and popularity.

Yours truly,

Yoram Ettinger, expert on US-Israel relations and Middle East affairs

Support Appreciated







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