Increasingly, Arab nations in the Middle East are distancing themselves from their Palestinian brothers. The half-century-old solidarity of Arab countries with the Palestinian cause has been diminished recently due to numerous factors.
One of the main factors has been the conduct of the Palestinian Authority and PLO. Add the recklessness and terrorist intransigence of the Hamas regime in Gaza, plus the realities of global economics and politics, and most Arab countries have decided that the creation of a Palestinian state can be back-burnered.
Another factor is the passing of pan-Arabism, a political and trans-national force in the twentieth century, advocated by bygone leaders such as Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser. Its passing has been helped along by the so-called Arab Spring, which forced Middle East regimes, from Tunisia to Iraq, to focus on national self-preservation.
Above all, however, is the quest of non-Arab, non-Sunni Iran to extend its brutal sphere of influence into the heart of the Arab world, which has necessitated a re-evaluation of Arab national priorities. Resolving the Palestinian issue is irrelevant to addressing this threat. In fact, because Hamas and Islamic Jihad in Gaza (as well as Hezbollah in Lebanon and Syria) are in Iran’s pocket, any Palestinian progress at Israel’s expense would boost Iran’s penetration of the Middle East.
Last year, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman reportedly stated in a closed-door meeting that “Palestinians should accept peace or shut up and stop complaining.” Ongoing contacts between the Saudi government and Israel are pervasive, even if diplomatic recognition is still a long way off.
While hostility to Israel is still common on the Arab “street,” Arab leaders have come to the conclusion that the reality of Israel and all that it offers—militarily, economically, agriculturally and technologically—is to be cultivated, and if their Palestinian brethren don’t like it, too bad.
Israel’s military provides a real bulwark against Iranian adventurism, and Israel’s intelligence services far outstrip anything in the Arab world. As long as Arab leaders perceive Iran to be the greatest regional threat, Israeli links must be cultivated.
As long as Israel leads the world in water management and desert agriculture, Arab countries with those shared challenges must listen to Israel and try to share in the entrepreneurial and technological leadership that Israel has demonstrated.
Remember, too, that until 1967 most Arab countries didn’t much care about the recently invented “Palestinian nation.” In 1948, Egypt and Jordan had stolen the land that might have become the Palestinian state—and no other Arab nation wanted to rock that boat.
Even after 1967, when Palestine’s “liberation” from Israel became a cause in the Arab world—which had previously merely wanted to exterminate Israel—Palestinians did precious little to form deep sympathetic links with the Arabs.
In fact, under Yasser Arafat the PLO did everything it could to take over the Kingdom of Jordan, until the Black September purge in 1971 by King Hussein.
Arafat and the PLO relocated to Lebanon, where he started a civil war and precipitated the Israeli invasion in 1978. Lebanon has still not recovered from that invasion and its aftermath, and now is thoroughly dominated by Shi’ite Iranian proxy Hezbollah.
In short, Palestinian Arabs have done little to endear themselves to Arab leaders. It would be easy to argue that ongoing Arab support for the Palestinian cause has had little to do with caring about the Palestinian Arabs, and more to do with demagogic, religious and ethnic hatred of Jews and their Jewish state.
The recent economic confab in Bahrain saw three powerful Arab states—Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Jordan—joined by Morocco, the United Arab Emirates, and, of course, Bahrain itself. Leading the meeting, America set forth an aggressive economic program to lift Palestinians and their neighbors out of their pervasive problems. Predictably, the Palestinian leaderships utterly rejected this “Middle East Marshall Plan,” whose prime beneficiaries would be … the Palestinian people.
Despite Ramallah and Gaza’s denunciations of the conference, a dozen leading Palestinian Arab businessmen attended.
Palestinian leadership has alienated its own natural allies—the Arab states. The terrorism, intransigence and corruption of both the Palestinian Authority and Hamas are understood by all—including Arab leaders.
It has become clear that, in the current and near-term political configuration, no possibility of a satisfactory peace plan with Israel exists. The Palestinian Arabs won’t even come to the table. Accordingly, Arab leaders have moved on to deal with their real problems and opportunities today—most of which can be more easily addressed with an Israeli partner.
On the issue of uncritical pan-Arab support for the Palestinian cause—as on so many other issues in the Middle East—time seems to be staunchly on Israel’s side.
For Israel and its allies—and for most of Israel’s former Arab enemies—the road to the future runs through neither Ramallah nor Gaza, but through Israel’s increasingly open engagement with the Arab world in the effort to create a better tomorrow for all.
Ken Cohen is editor of Facts and Logic About the Middle East (FLAME), which publishes educational messages to correct lies and misperceptions about Israel and its relationship to the United States.