Is the Palestinian issue a core cause of Middle East turbulence?

None of the threats facing today's Arab world is triggered by the Palestinian Arab issue and none affected by the lack of a solution. Op-ed.

Amb. (ret.) Yoram Ettinger ,

Amb. (ret.) Yoram Ettinger
Amb. (ret.) Yoram Ettinger
צילום: Hadas Parush/Flash90

Why is the red carpet, which welcomes Palestinian leaders to Western capitals, exchanged for a shabby rug when they land in most Arab capitals?

In 2020, the widely-disseminated Arabic hashtag, “Palestine is not my cause,” reflects the growing Arab disdain toward Palestinians.

It is consistent with the policy of key Arab leaders, who facilitated the successful conclusion of the 1979 Israel-Egypt peace negotiations, by avoiding the myth of Palestinian centrality.

For example, Morocco’s King Hassan, who provided an essential tailwind to the initial stage of the peace negotiations, proclaimed: “The PLO is a cancer in the Arab body.” It is also compatible with a statement made by Egypt’s former President Sadat, a co-signer of the peace treaty: “Why would I want a Palestinian state?! A Palestinian state would enhance the Soviet standing in the region and would join the radical Arab camp.”

This position was echoed by Mubarak, Sadat’s deputy, who succeeded him as President: “Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates are not concerned about the Palestinians, and Jordan does not want a Palestinian state either…nor does Israel” (No More War, E. Ben Elissar, 1995, pp 106, 209, 207).

The tangible Arab walk – rather than the placating Arab talk – on the Palestinian Arab issue reflects Arab contempt of the Palestinian track record, as well as the peripheral role played by the Palestinian issue in shaping Middle East reality.

In 2020, Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and all other pro-US Arab regimes are preoccupied with domestic and regional epicenters of subversion, terrorism, conventional, ballistic and nuclear threats, which significantly transcend the Palestinian Arab issue.

Irrespective of their pro-Palestinian talk, these Arab leaders are convinced that the proposed Palestinian state would add fuel to the regional fire, as evidenced by the Palestinian Arab track record. Hence, the unprecedented expansion of their defense and civilian cooperation with Israel - in the face of mutual threats - while there is no progress on the Palestinian issue. Israel is perceived as their most effective and reliable “life insurance agent.”

These lethal threats include Iran’s Ayatollahs, the Muslim Brotherhood, ISIS, Erdogan’s imperialistic aspirations, and the regional spillover of the raging civil wars in Libya, Syria, Iraq and Yemen. Additionally, there is domestic subversion and terrorism and the growing vulnerability of every pro-US Arab regimes. The toppling of any such regime would yield a major platform for regional and global Islamic terrorism.

While some of these threats would be intensified by the proposed Palestinian state, none of them was triggered - directly or indirectly - by the Palestinian issue. For example:

*Islamic terrorism has traumatized the Middle East and the world since the emergence of Islam in the 7th century (Palestinian neutral). Three of the first four Caliphs, who succeeded Muhammed were murdered: Umar ibn Abd al-Khattab (644 AD), Uthman ibn Affan (656 AD) and Ali ibn Abi Talib (661 AD). The latter ignited the still raging intra-Muslim Sunni-Shia conflict (Palestinian neutral). Anti-US Islamic terrorism - including 9/11 and the car-bombing of the US Embassies in Lebanon, Kenya and Tanzania - has been an integral feature of US history since 1776 (Palestinian neutral).

*The tectonic Arab Tsunami – superficially named “the Arab Spring” – has been raging throughout the Arab World since December 2010, threatening every Arab regime, and highlighting the 1,400-year-old fragmentation, intolerance, violence, instability, unpredictability, rise to power through violence, despotism, lack of inter-Arab peaceful-coexistence (Palestinian neutral).

*Four major civil wars – in Iraq, Syria, Libya and Yemen – jolt the Middle East (Palestinian neutral).

*Two Gulf Wars were ignited by Iraq’s imperialistic aggression against Kuwait (Palestinian neutral).

*The 1980-1988 Iraq-Iran War reflected the inherent religious and geo-strategic conflict between the two countries (Palestinian neutral).

*The 1979-1989 civil and global war in Afghanistan is still simmering (Palestinian neutral).

*The 1979-1983 civil war in the oil rich Qatif and al-Hasa Shiite-majority regions in Saudi Arabia (Palestinian neutral).

*The 1978/79 toppling of the Shah – the US’ policeman in the Gulf – and the rise of Iran’s Ayatollahs, now the lead threat to regional and global sanity (Palestinian neutral).

*The 1979 war between South and North Yemen (Palestinian neutral).

*The 1958 Iraqi revolution, which terminated the rule of the Hashemite monarchy and elevated to power a despotic, terroristic, military regime (Palestinian neutral).

*The 1952 Egyptian revolution, which toppled the monarchy and ushered in a military regime (Palestinian neutral).

*Etc.

Thus, while conventional Western wisdom assumes that the Palestinian issue is a crown-jewel of Arab policy-making, and a core cause of Middle East turbulence, Middle East reality documents the non-centrality of the Palestinian issue and the negative role played by Palestinians in the intra-Arab context.

Moreover, while conventional Western wisdom presumes that the proposed Palestinian state would advance the cause of regional stability and peace, Middle East reality documents the potential destabilizing impact of a Palestinian state, exacerbating threats to every pro-US Arab regime and undermining vital US interests.

Yoram Ettinger is a former ambassador and head of "Second Thought: a U.S.-Israel initiative." A writer, lecturer and consultant on US affairs, he is former Minister for Congressional Affairs and former Consul General in Houston, Texas.




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