by YORAM ETTINGER — Israel HaYom —
Contrary to conventional wisdom, the Palestinian issue is not a primary Middle East concern.
Pro-Western oil-producing Persian Gulf leaders are traumatized by the lethal Iranian nuclear threat, by a raging Arab street of their own and by a potential Iraqi earthquake in the aftermath of the U.S. troop withdrawal. The pro-Western Hashemite regime in Jordan is threatened by intensified discontent among its Bedouin power base. The Muslim Brotherhood hosted an anti-Western Arab conference in Cairo on July 24 to 25 and strategically critical Turkey is becoming more Islamic and less Western. All the while, the pro-Western Moroccan monarchy is imperiled by the ripple effects of turmoil in North African countries Tunisia, Libya and Egypt. Islamic terrorism is gaining ground; Russia, China and North Korea are expanding their penetration into the Middle East and the U.S.’s deterrence ability is substantially slipping away.
However, while the Middle East burns – irrespective of the Palestinian issue, the Arab-Israeli conflict or Israel’s policies and existence – the foreign policy establishments in the U.S. and Europe are playing the Palestinian fiddle. Their track record features the support of Ayatollah Khomeini and the betrayal of the Shah in Iran, the embrace of Saddam Hussein as a constructive force, the crowning of Yasser Arafat as a messenger of peace, the hailing of Bashar Assad as a moderate leader, the legitimization of Moammar Gadhafi as a reformed ruler and the idolization of Hosni Mubarak as an Egyptian Rock of Gibraltar.
They are convinced that the Palestinian issue is a root cause of Middle East turbulence and the crown jewel of Arab policy-making. They assume, therefore, that resolving the Palestinian issue – by pressuring Israel to surrender Judea and Samaria to the Palestinians – would tame the Middle East, rein in anti-Western terrorism, appease the Arabs, enhance Western ties with Arab countries and facilitate a Western-Arab coalition against Iran.
But the real Middle East invalidates such foreign policy assumptions. The root causes of regional turbulence are inherent fragmentation, instability, unpredictability, volatility, violence, terrorism, hate-filled education and tenuous policies, commitments and alliances. None of these 1,400-year-old root causes is related to the Palestinian issue, which is less than 100 years old.
Arab leaders have never considered the Palestinian issue their prime concern, seeing it instead as a pawn against Israel. They are aware of the subversive and treacherous history of the Arafat-Abbas wing of the Palestinians, which was expelled from Egypt in the late 1950s, from Syria in 1966, from Jordan in 1970, from Lebanon in 1982 and from Kuwait in 1991.
Arab leaders thus marshal their rhetoric, but not their resources, on behalf of Palestinians. During the October 2010 Arab Summit in Libya, Arab leaders pledged $500 million to the Palestinians – only seven percent of it was ever delivered. During the first and second Palestinian Intifadas against Israel, Arabs pledged more than $2 billion in support, but less than $500 million actually reached the Palestinians. During the 1980s, Arab financial support for the PLO was less than 10 percent of Arab financial support for the anti-Soviet Muslims in Afghanistan.
Arab regimes did not actively support the PLO during its 1982 war (in Lebanon) against Israel, nor did they flex their significant muscles on behalf of the Palestinians during 2008’s Operation Cast Lead in Gaza. This lack of intervention has been the Arab status quo toward the Palestinian issue since 1948, irrespective of the identity of the Palestinian leader: Haj Amin al-Husseini, Shukeiri, Hammuda, Arafat, Abbas or Haniyeh.
The red carpet, which is rolled out to welcome Palestinian leaders in the West, is transformed into a shabby rug upon landing in Arab capitals. What do Arab regimes know about the Palestinian issue that Western policy makers do not know or understand?
Yoram Ettinger is a former ambassador and head of “Second Thought: a U.S.-Israel Initiative.”