The Palestinian Fiddle

Ambassador (ret.) Yoram Ettinger, “Second Thought: a US-Israel Initiative”

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 US evacuation. The pro-Western Hashemite regime is threatened by intensified discontent among its Bedouin power base; the Muslim Brotherhood hosted an anti-Western Arab
conference in Cairo on July 24-25, 2011; Strategically-critical Turkey is becoming more-Islamic and less-western; 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 and the US posture of deterrence is eroding substantially.

However, while the Middle East is burning – irrespective of the Palestinian issue, of the Arab-Israeli conflict or Israel’s policies and existence – the American and the European foreign policy establishments are playing the Palestinian fiddle. Their track record features the support of Khomeini and the betrayal of the Shah, the embrace of Saddam as a constructive force, the crowning of Arafat as a messenger of peace, the hailing of Bashar Assad as a moderate leader, the legitimization of Qadaffi as a reformed ruler and the idolizing of 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. Therefore, they assume that the resolution of the Palestinian issue – by pressuring Israel to yield Judea and Samaria to the Palestinians – would moderate the Middle East, would subside anti-Western terrorism, would appease the Arabs, would enhance Western ties with Arab countries and would facilitate a Western-Arab coalition against Iran.

But, such foreign policy assumptions are invalidated by the real Middle East, which highlights the root causes of regional turbulence: inherent fragmentation, instability, unpredictability, volatility, violence, terrorism, hate education and tenuous policies, commitments and alliances. None of these 1,400 year old root causes is related to the less than 100 year old Palestinian issue.

Arab leaders have never considered the Palestinian issue their prime concern, but an intra-Arab tool and a pawn against Israel. They are aware of the subversive and treacherous history of the Arafat-Abu Mazen wing of the Palestinians, which was therefore expelled from Egypt in the late 1950s, from Syria in 1966, from Jordan in 1970, from Lebanon in 1982 and from Kuwait in 1991.

Thus, 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, Arab financial support of the PLO was less than 10% of Arab 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, Abu Mazen or Haniyeh.

The Red Carpet, which welcomes 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?!

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