OpinionMiddle East

The Palestinian issue: A core cause of Middle East turbulence?

Irrespective of their pro-Palestinian talk, Arab leaders are convinced that a Palestinian state would add fuel to the regional fire.

Saudi Arabia's King Salman receives Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, on Dec. 21, 2016. Credit: Saudi Press Agency.
Saudi Arabia's King Salman receives Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, on Dec. 21, 2016. Credit: Saudi Press Agency.
Yoram Ettinger
Yoram Ettinger
Yoram Ettinger is a former ambassador and head of Second Thought: A U.S.-Israel Initiative.

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, which 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 Anwar 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 Hosni 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 issue reflects Arab contempt for 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-U.S. Arab regimes are preoccupied with domestic and regional epicenters of subversion, terrorism, conventional, ballistic and nuclear threats, which significantly transcend the Palestinian issue.

Irrespective of their pro-Palestinian talk, these Arab leaders are convinced that a Palestinian state would add fuel to the regional fire, as evidenced by the Palestinian 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, Islamic State, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’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-U.S. Arab regime. 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 Muhammad, were murdered: Umar ibn Abd al-Khattab (644 C.E.), Uthman ibn Affan (656 C.E.) and Ali ibn Abi Talib (661 C.E.). The latter ignited the still raging intra-Muslim Sunni-Shi’ite conflict (Palestinian-neutral). Anti-U.S. Islamic terrorism—including 9/11 and the car-bombing of the U.S. embassies in Lebanon, Kenya and Tanzania—has been an integral feature of U.S. 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 and despotism plaguing them (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 Shi’ite-majority regions in Saudi Arabia (Palestinian-neutral).

• The 1978/79 toppling of the Shah—the U.S. 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).

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-U.S. Arab regime and undermining vital U.S. interests.

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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