On September 21, 2011, US 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 Middle Eastern turbulence, the crown jewel of Arab policy-making, and the crux of the Arab–Israeli conflict. Is it?
The ROOT CAUSE of 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 the 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 Middle 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.
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.
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.
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-US Turkey switched over from NATO-oriented to Islam-oriented policy, courting Russia, Iran, Hizbullah and Hamas, and additional rivals and enemies of the West. In 2003, a radical regime was trounced in Baghdad, but in 2012, Baghdad could become an active volcano, spreading lava throughout the region.
Welcome to the real Middle East, whose major shifty and violent developments are not driven, even remotely, by 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 of Jordan 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 are expanding their penetration into the Middle East while 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 Middle 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 Middle 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 in the 1970s. [The PLO was eventually routed from Lebanon by the Israelis during the 1982 Lebanon War to bring peace to Israel’s northern border.] Arab leaders consider the Arafat–Abu Mazen (or Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian Authority‘s current chairman) wing of the Palestinians a source of treachery and subversion.
Unlike Western policy-makers, they accord significant weight to the expulsion of Abu Mazen, 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 Abu Mazen’s 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 [US] $500 million to the Palestinians—only seven percent was ever delivered. More than $2 billion was pledged by the Arabs in support of the first and second Palestinian intifadas (uprisings, 1987–92 and 2000–06) against Israel, but less than $500 million reached the Palestinians. During the 1980s, Saudi financial support of the PLO was only 10% of Riyadh’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 Israel, 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 (grand mufti of Jerusalem during the British Mandate), Shukeiri (first chairman of the PLO), Hammuda (chairman 1967–69), Arafat (1996–2004), Abu Mazen (2005 to present), or Haniyeh .(head of Hamas faction in Gaza).
The Red Carpet, which welcomes Palestinian leaders in the West, is transformed into a shabby rug when they land in Arab capitals.
The CRUX of the Conflict?
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 Middle 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 Middle East. Really?!
• Israel’s 1948 War of Independence was not fought by the Arabs because, or for, the Palestinians. Therefore, Egypt, Jordan, Iraq, and Syria—which occupied Gaza, Judea, Samaria, and Hama (in the Golan Heights) 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 Yom Kippur 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 (preempting 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 the Palestinians.
• The 1987–1992 first Palestinian intifada was not transformed into an Arab–Israeli war. There was no Arab military or 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. The Palestinian issue has not been the “crown jewel” of Arab policy-making. A Palestinian state would undermine vital Western interests and values: exacerbating global terrorism; dooming the Hashemite and Persian Gulf moderate regimes; promoting radical regimes; providing a Mediterranean platform to Iran, Russia, and China; and rewarding the oppressors of Palestinian Christians and the role model of hate education.