The Facts — and Myths — of the Middle East and Palestinian Conflict
“The more you know about the past,” Theodore Roosevelt once observed, “the better prepared you are for the future.” Regrettably, The Washington Post is leaving readers ill prepared for the future. The newspaper’s coverage of recent peace agreements between Israel and Gulf Arab states offers a case in point.
Take, for example, the Post’s September 18, 2020, editorial, which sought to minimize the accords signed between Israel and both the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Bahrain. The newspaper’s editorial was quick to claim that they are “not even peace agreements, since Israel and the two states have never been at war.” But this obscures the significance of the achievement.
It is true that Israel has never fought the UAE and Bahrain militarily. Yet it is also true that neither Arab nation previously recognized or maintained relations with the Jewish state. Indeed, no Gulf Arab country has recognized Israel — until now. In fact, prior to the September 15 signing ceremony, only two Arab countries had formal, recognized relations with Israel: Egypt and Jordan. And the recent agreements with the UAE and Bahrain include social, educational and cultural measures that weren’t included in the peace deals with Egypt and Jordan, both of which have resulted in what some analysts have called a “cold peace.”
In the years since the 1994 agreement with Jordan and the 1979 peace treaty with Egypt, despite official recognition of Israel, both Arab nations have nursed ongoing problems of anti-Jewish incitement. Jordan has provided shelter to terrorists who have murdered Israelis, including Ahlam Tamimi who perpetrated the 2001 Sbarro pizzeria bombing attack in which 15 people, including an American child, were killed. Tamimi has lived in Jordan since 2011, even briefly hosting a TV show there. Jordan has refused to cooperate with US requests to extradite Tamimi, who is on the FBI’s Most Wanted list.
Similarly, a 2019 study by IMPACT-se found that while Jordanian textbooks have “greatly liberalized in promoting moderate Islam and tolerance,” they “still reject Israel and its right to exist.” Citing the study, The Algemeiner’s Benjamin Kerstein noted Israel “is typically described in the textbooks as a Zionist entity with no rights nor history.”
IMPACT-se concluded that in Jordanian textbooks, “the peace treaty between the two nations is mostly ignored” and “there is no discourse about peace and collaboration within the Israeli-Jordanian triad and no future vision toward Jordan’s close neighbor.”
One textbook even reprinted a verse from a poem that says of Israel, “I vow I shall sacrifice my blood, to saturate the land of the generous and will eliminate the usurper from my country, and will annihilate the remnants of the foreigners.”
Similarly, Egyptian state-run book fairs have, as recently as February 2020, continued to include antisemitic material that denigrates Jews and the Jewish state. And, on several occasions, Egyptian state TV has broadcast antisemitic shows.
By contrast, the recent agreements with the UAE and Bahrain include significant cultural and economic components. As The Jerusalem Post reported on September 15, the UAE “has already begun including mention of the recent agreement between the UAE and Israel in the 2020 Islamic Studies curriculum and textbooks, according to an IMPACT-se report.”
“The textbook, which covers the Moral Education curriculum for grades 1-12 introduced into the U.A.E in 2016, commends the Abraham Accords and teaches the importance of peace initiatives in real world settings,” The Jerusalem Post noted. Similarly, the agreement with the UAE recognizes that “that the Arab and Jewish peoples are descendant of a common ancestor, Abraham, and inspired, in that spirit, to foster in the Middle East a reality in which Muslims, Jews, Christians and peoples of all faiths, denominations, beliefs and nationalities live in, and are committed to, a spirit of coexistence, mutual understanding and mutual respect.” If implicitly, this language recognizes the Jewish people — and therefore the Jewish State — as a Middle Eastern people with historic and ancient roots in the land. No comparable language appears in the previous peace agreements with Jordan and Egypt.
Yet, The Washington Post misses the historic nature of these accords, instead claiming that “the ‘Abraham Accords,’ as the White House styled them, were a byproduct of Mr. Trump’s lopsided Middle East strategy, which has centered on unconditional support for Israel, Saudi Arabia and other Gulf Sunni states, and is primarily aimed at crushing Iran.”
The newspaper ludicrously claims that “while the recognition of Israel by two already-friendly regimes is welcome, the more consequential results of the policy, especially if it continues beyond January, are likely to be negative. Those include the reinforcement of harsh authoritarian rulers; the deepening of U.S. entanglement in a sectarian conflict among Sunni and Shiite regimes; and the marginalization of the issue on which Israel’s future most depends: relations with the Palestinians.”
According to this line of thinking, Israel — and only Israel — shouldn’t reach any peace agreements with any non-democracies — a standard that no other nation is held to, certainly not the United States. It is also a particularly difficult standard since, if the Post hasn’t noticed, the overwhelming majority of nations in the Middle East aren’t democracies.
Further, the Post’s concern for agreements that “reinforce harsh authoritarian rulers” is curious.
The newspaper’s editorial board supported the Oslo peace process, which gave Yasser Arafat’s Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) money, training, and actual arms in return for its promises — soon broken — to make peace with Israel. Arafat subsequently helped launch the Second Intifada (2000-05), in which Palestinian terrorists murdered more than 1,000 Israelis. As the historian Barry Rubin noted in his biography of Arafat, several of the attacks were perpetrated by Palestinian security services who were armed and trained by the US as a consequence of the Oslo process.
Presumably, the Post’s editorial board wouldn’t want Israel to engage in peace talks or an agreement with either Hamas, the Palestinian terror group that rules the Gaza Strip, or the Fatah-dominated Palestinian Authority (PA), which rules the West Bank (Judea and Samaria). Both the PA and Hamas are autocracies that, among other atrocities, torture their own citizens and journalists.
Yet, the Post has frequently supported Israel reaching an agreement with the PA.
The Post’s opinion section, if not fully its editorial board, also largely supported the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), otherwise known as the Iran nuclear deal, in which, among other things, the US freed up assets and funds and reduced sanctions against the Islamic Republic of Iran, the leading state sponsor of terrorism.
In order to reach a deal with Iran, the Obama administration was largely mute about Iranian human rights abuses, as Jay Solomon documented in his 2016 book The Iran Wars. The administration overlooked the regime murdering its own citizens and sheltering Al-Qaeda operatives, as well as its stated desire to obtain a nuclear weapon and commit genocide against the world’s sole Jewish State. But this didn’t bother some at the Post, with foreign affairs columnist David Ignatius calling it a “strategic success.”
The Post’s claim that the Abraham Accords will deepen “U.S. entanglement in a sectarian conflict among Sunni and Shiite regimes” shows a fundamental misunderstanding of the Islamic Republic of Iran. While dominated by a Shiite clergy, the mullahs in Tehran have longstanding ties to Sunni terrorist groups, having supported Hamas and Al-Qaeda and maintained links to the Muslim Brotherhood. As noted Iran expert Ray Takeyh highlighted in his 2009 history of the Islamic Republic, Guardians of the Revolution, the regime’s founder, Ruhollah Khomeini, had a more grandiose vision, free from sectarian constraints. As Khomeini himself said, Iran’s Islamic revolution was “for an Islamic goal, not for Iran alone. Iran has only been the starting point.” As Takeyh observed, “it is important to appreciate that for Khomeini, his revolt was always an Islamic one free of confessional restraint.”
Put simply: the conflict between the Islamic Republic and its neighbors in the Middle East is not a sectarian one. Rather, it is a conflict between an imperialist, revisionist power, Iran, which seeks regional domination and Gulf Arab states who don’t want to be overthrown or have missiles launched at them by various Tehran-sponsored proxies. Indeed, perhaps more than half of Bahrain’s citizens are Shiite Muslims — a fact that somehow escaped the Post’s attention.
Finally, the Post’s claim that the Abraham Accords “marginalizes” a potential agreement with the Palestinians is but another example of revisionist history. The Post’s World Views columnist Ishaan Tharoor made the same argument in a September 14 post, as did a September 21 op-ed in the newspaper’s Global Opinions section, which has long been a forum utilized by friends of Qatar, a sometime enemy of the UAE and a supporter of Hamas. Yet, both Tharoor and the editorial board omitted a key fact: Palestinian rejectionism. Palestinian Arab leaders have rejected — without counteroffer — offers for statehood in 1937, 1947, 2000, 2001, and 2008, among other instances. They’ve rejected numerous opportunities to negotiate — doing so as recently as 2019. Indeed, the PA has refused to quit paying salaries to terrorists who murder Jews — and despite promises made under the Oslo process, their school curriculum and culture is deeply antisemitic. Yet, as CAMERA has noted, in dozens of reports on the “peace process” between Israel and Palestinians, the Post almost always ignores this history of rejectionism.
The Post’s take on the Abraham Accords is, to use their phrase, “lopsided.” And that’s being charitable. When it comes to understanding the Middle East — both its history and its future — the Post is blinded by its biases and increasingly prone to misleading readers.
A version of this article first appeared at CAMERA, where the author is a senior research analyst.