OpinionIsrael-Palestinian Conflict

Arab policy isn’t determined by the Palestinian issue

Erroneous assumptions produce erroneous policies, as evidenced by the litany of Western peace proposals based on the idea that the Palestinian issue is the crux of the Arab-Israeli conflict.

Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas (right) and King Abdullah of Jordan during a welcoming ceremony in Ramallah on Nov. 21, 2011. Photo by Issam Rimawi/Flash90.
Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas (right) and King Abdullah of Jordan during a welcoming ceremony in Ramallah on Nov. 21, 2011. Photo by Issam Rimawi/Flash90.
Yoram Ettinger
Yoram Ettinger
Yoram Ettinger is a former ambassador and head of Second Thought: A U.S.-Israel Initiative.

In 2020, Morocco, Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and other pro-U.S. Arab countries base their national security policy on issues which far transcend the Palestinian one. These issues include lethal threats posed by Iran’s ayatollahs, the Muslim Brotherhood, Islamic State, Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, the spillover of the civil wars in Libya, Syria, Iraq and Yemen, the potential implosion of all Arab countries, etc.

In 2020, these countries view Israel’s posture of deterrence as a most valuable asset in the face of the aforementioned lethal threats. They also value Israel as a most productive resource to diversify their economy and enhance their standard of living.

At the same time, they consider the proposed Palestinian state a potential rogue regime, which would add fuel to the Middle East fire. Therefore, they are expanding their defense and commercial ties with Israel in an unprecedented manner, in defiance of Palestinian protests and irrespective of the paralysis of the Palestinian issue.

In 1979 and 1994, Egypt and Jordan concluded respective peace accords with Israel, in order to advance their national security—not as a gesture toward Israel—despite Palestinian threats and protests. Notwithstanding occasional anti-Israel Jordanian talk, the Hashemite Kingdom’s walk (militarily and commercially) reflects a realization that Israel makes an irreplaceable and critical contribution to the survival of the kingdom in the face of clear and present threats, both foreign and domestic. Against the backdrop of these threats, the establishment of the proposed Palestinian state would be the straw that breaks the Hashemite camel’s back.

Arab countries have showered Palestinians with warm talk accompanied by a cold walk, a reflection of Arab concern regarding the Palestinians’ systematic track record of association with rogue elements and engagement in intra-Arab subversion and terrorism.

Therefore, Arab countries have never flexed their military muscle—and barely their financial muscle—on behalf of the Palestinians.

Nor did Arab countries assist the Palestinians during the latter’s military confrontations with Israel (e.g., the 1982/83 Lebanon War, the first and second intifadas and the three wars in Gaza). Never did the Arabs fight Israel on behalf of the Palestinians.

The 1948-49 Arab-Israeli war was not launched—by Egypt, Jordan, Iraq, Syria and Lebanon—on behalf of the Arabs in Gaza, Judea and Samaria. It was launched to advance the interests of the various Arab countries. They did not share the spoils of the war with the Palestinians. Thus, Iraq occupied Samaria (the northern West Bank) and transferred it to Jordan, not to the Arabs of the area. Jordan occupied Judea and the eastern part of Jerusalem and proceeded to annex these areas, in addition to Samaria, in April 1950, naming it the “West Bank.”

Egypt occupied Gaza and did not transfer the area to its Arab inhabitants. In fact, both Jordan and Egypt prohibited any Palestinian national activities in their occupied areas, imposed frequent curfews and punished and expelled violators of the prohibition. Moreover, the Arab League established the All-Palestine Government in 1948, rendered it completely impotent and transferred its headquarters from Gaza to Cairo until its dissolution in 1959.

The 1948-49 Arab war against the newly-born Jewish state was launched to eradicate “the infidel Jewish state,” which was established, supposedly, in an area Divinely endowed to “believers.” However, their prime goal was to advance their particular geostrategic postures, while undermining that of their Arab rivals.

Jordan’s Hashemite king aspired to expand his territory beyond the Jordan River toward the Mediterranean, in order to bolster his claim for intra-Arab leadership.

Iraq, which was ruled in 1948-49 by the Hashemite monarchy, collaborated with the Jordanian wing of the Hashemite family, while aiming to gain control over the 585-mile oil pipeline from Kirkuk in Iraq to Haifa on the Mediterranean.

Egypt was not ready for the war logistically, but rivaled Jordan and Iraq for intra-Arab leadership, and therefore joined the attack on the newly-born Jewish state. It deployed troops in the Jerusalem region, in order to check the Jordanian advance.

Syria entered the war to conquer parts of “Southern Syria,” which extended from the Egyptian border through British Mandate Palestine and Jordan.

The 1956 Sinai War was triggered by the pan-Arab leadership aspirations of Egyptian President Nasser, who concluded a huge arms deal with Czechoslovakia and formed a joint Egypt-Syria-Jordan military command against Israel and Arab rivals (e.g., Saudi Arabia). In the process, he nationalized the British-French owned Suez Canal, backed the Algerian uprising against France, blockaded Israel’s southern (oil) port of Eilat, enticed Gaza-based anti-Israel terrorism, and planned the occupation of parts of the Negev in southern Israel.

The 1967 preemptive Six-Day War erupted due to the Soviet-supported Egyptian radical aggression: blockading the port of Eilat, violating the demilitarization of the Sinai Peninsula, reestablishing the joint anti-Israel Egypt-Syria-Jordan military command, and advancing its expansionist design (e.g., deploying troops to Yemen, in order to topple the Saudi regime). Syria shelled Israeli communities below the Golan Heights and Jordan shelled Jerusalem.

The 1969/70 Egypt-Israel war of attrition along the Gulf of Suez was an extension of the 1967 War.

The 1973 War was launched by Egypt, Syria, Jordan and Iraq with the aim of destroying the “infidel state” and advancing their own intra-Arab and domestic interests.

The indifferent Arab walk with regard to the Palestinian issue was demonstrated during Israel’s war against PLO bases and headquarters in Lebanon. The war was launched on June 6, 1982, the PLO was expelled from Beirut on August 30, but the Arab League did not convene until September 9, 1982.

Arab unwillingness to shed blood on behalf of the Palestinians, and the low priority accorded to the Palestinian issue by the Arabs, were reinforced during the 1987-1992 and 2000-05 waves of Palestinian terrorism (intifadas) against Israel, as well as the 2008-09, 2012 and 2014 Israel wars on Gaza-based Palestinian terrorism. These confrontations triggered a lavish pro-Palestinian Arab talk, but no Arab military involvement and minimal Arab diplomatic and financial gestures.

Erroneous assumptions produce erroneous, destructive policies, as evidenced by the litany of Western peace proposals based on the fallacious conventional wisdom that the Palestinian issue was the crux of the Arab-Israeli conflict and a crown jewel of Arab policy-makers. Will the Western foreign-policy establishment learn from history by avoiding past errors?

Yoram Ettinger is a former ambassador and head of Second Thought: A U.S.-Israel Initiative.

This article was first published by The Ettinger Report.

The opinions and facts presented in this article are those of the author, and neither JNS nor its partners assume any responsibility for them.
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