Common sense suggests that simplistic and erroneous assumptions produce simplistic and erroneous policies, as has been the case of all US initiatives towards the Palestinian issue, which has been erroneously perceived – by the US foreign policy establishment – to be the root cause of the Arab-Israeli conflict.
Hence, the initial US opposition to the 1977 Israel-Egypt peace initiative and the attempt to inject the Palestinian issue on the eve of the 1979 signing ceremony; the 1988 US recognition of the PLO, which rewarded a role-model of – and provided significant tailwind to – international terrorism; the passive US role in the 1994 Israel-Jordan peace initiative; the US endorsement of Arafat as a Nobel Laureate and the embrace of the self-destruct 1993 Oslo Accords; the failure to punish the Palestinian Authority for its hate-education and other systematic violations of the Oslo Accords; and the resounding failure of President Obama’s initiatives, which have highlighted the Palestinian issue.
In contrast to the US foreign policy establishment’s worldview, the first 1948/49 Arab-Israeli War was not launched, by Arab countries, on behalf of Palestinian aspirations. The Arabs launched the war in order to advance their own particular – not Palestinian – interests through the occupation of the strategic area between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea. In fact, the Palestinians blame Arab leaders for what they term “the 1948 debacle.”
Moreover, the 1948/49 War was aimed to prevent the establishment of an “infidel” Jewish entity on a land, which Muslims believe is divinely endowed to the “believers” (Waqf). Thus, during the October, 1947 Pan-Arab Summit, the Secretary General of the Arab League, Abdul Rahman Azzam, stated: “The establishment of a Jewish state would lead to a war of extermination and momentous massacre, which will be spoken of like the Mongolian massacre and the Crusades…. This war will be distinguished by three serious matters… the shortest road to paradise… an opportunity for vast plunder… avenging the martyrdom of Palestinian Arabs.”
Jordan joined the 1948/49 War, in order to expand its territory from the east bank of the Jordan River to the Mediterranean, as a step towards domination of the Arab World. Egypt harbored a similar ambition, and therefore attempted to foil Jordan’s ambitious strategy, and deployed some of its soldiers to the Jerusalem region to check the Jordanian military moves. Iraq aspired to control the 585-mile-long Iraq-Haifa oil pipeline, extending from the oil fields in Kirkuk/Mosul, through Jordan to the refineries in Haifa. Syria considered the war as an opportunity to conquer some southern sections of “Greater Syria.”
Therefore, at the end of the 1948/9 war, Iraq occupied Samaria (the northern West Bank), but transferred it to Jordan, not to the Palestinians. Jordan occupied Judea (the southern West Bank) and in April 1950 annexed both Judea & Samaria (naming it the West Bank) to the Hashemite Kingdom on the East Bank of the Jordan River. The Hashemite Kingdom prohibited Palestinian activities and punished/expelled Palestinian activists. Egypt conquered the Gaza Strip, imposed a nightly curfew, which was terminated when Israel gained control of Gaza in 1967. Egypt prohibited Palestinian national activities and expelled Palestinian leaders. Syria occupied and annexed the al-Hama area in the Golan Heights.
In 1948, the Arab League formed the “All Palestine Government” as a department within the Arab League headquarters in Cairo, dissolving it in 1959.
Independent of the Palestinian issue, the 1956 Sinai War was triggered by Egyptian President Nasser’s megalomaniacal aspirations to rule the Arab World. Nasser concluded a major arms deal with Czechoslovakia and formed a joint Egypt-Syria-Jordan military command against his Arab rivals and Israel. Consequently, he nationalized the British-French owned Suez Canal, supported the Algerian uprising against France, blockaded Israel’s southern port of Eilat, and unleashed Gaza-based terrorism against Israel, aiming to occupy parts of the Negev in southern Israel.
Irrespective of the Palestinian issue, the 1967 (Six Day) War was launched by Israel in response to Egypt’s blockade of Eilat, the oil port of Israel; Egyptian deployment of troops into Sinai, toward Israel, in violation of the 1957 Sinai demilitarization agreement; the Egypt-Syria-Jordan Military Pact aimed at Israel’s destruction; the Syrian shelling of Israeli communities below the Golan Heights; and the Jordanian shelling of Jerusalem.
Unrelated to the Palestinian issue, the 1969-70 Egypt-Israel War of Attrition was conducted along the Suez Canal, as an extension of the 1967 War.
Regardless of the Palestinian issue, and consistent with the goal to advance their national interests and eradicate the “infidel” Jewish state, Egypt, Syria, Jordan and Iraq initiated the October 1973 War.
Arabs have systematically and traditionally shed rhetoric, but no blood and minimal financial resources, for the Palestinians. Therefore, the 1982 PLO-Israel War in Lebanon – pre-empting a grand-scale PLO assault on northern Israel -was the first war with no Arab military involvement. The war erupted on June 6, 1982, but the Arab League only convened an emergency session in September, after the PLO had already been expelled from Beirut. Moreover, the Arab oil producing countries – at a time when they controlled the oil market – refused to flex any oil muscle on behalf of the PLO.
Similarly, the 1987-1992 and the 2000-2003 First and Second Palestinian Intifadas were not transformed into an Arab-Israeli war. There was no Arab military or financial walk, only talk, and the US and West European financial aid to the Palestinians dramatically exceeded the Arab aid.
Israel’s 2008/9, 2012 and 2014 wars against the Gaza-based Palestinian terrorism were not top priorities for Arab leaders, most of whom blamed Hamas for the eruption of the 2014 war.
Erroneous Western assumptions that the Arab-Israeli conflict was triggered by the Palestinian issue have led to erroneous policies. It’s time for the “Palestine Firsters” to disengage from over-simplification and reengage with the complex reality of the Mideast.