Do Arab States Really Support the Palestinians?
In Israel and in much of the Western world, we tend to think the Arab world is united in its support for the Palestinians — that it wants nothing more than to solve the Palestinian problem by giving them a state, and that all Arabs and Muslims love the Palestinians and hate Israel. This is a simplistic and incomplete view. While it is true that many, perhaps even the majority, of Arabs and Muslims hate Israel, there are a good many who hate the Palestinians just as much.
Their hatred of Israel stems from its success at surviving despite wars, terror, boycotts, and constant enmity. It stems from the fact that a Jewish state exists even though Judaism, in the Muslim view, was superseded by Islam, the “true religion.” This hatred is exacerbated by other stark disparities: Israel is a democracy while many Arabs and Muslims live under dictatorships; Israel is rich while many Arabs and Muslims are poor; Israel is a paradise compared to some Arab countries. In short, they despise Israel because it has succeeded in areas where they have failed.
But why should they hate the Palestinian Arabs? After all, the Arab narrative says the Palestinian Arabs’ land was stolen and they were forced to become refugees. Surely they are deserving of unreserved support?
The answer to this question is complex. It is a function of Middle Eastern culture that neither Israelis nor most Westerners fully understand or recognize.
One of the worst things to experience, in Arab eyes, is to be cheated, fooled, or taken advantage of. When someone attempts to cheat an Arab — and even more so, if that person succeeds — the victim is overcome by furious anger, even if the person who did the cheating was his own cousin. He will call on his brother to take revenge on that cousin, in line with the Arab adage: “My brother and I against my cousin — and my brother, my cousin, and I against a stranger.”
Regarding the Palestinian Arabs, the first point to make is that many of them are not originally Palestinians at all. They are immigrants who came to the Land of Israel from all over the Arab world during the British Mandate in order to find employment in the cities and on the farms the Jews had built. These immigrants still have names like Hourani (from Houran in southern Syria), Tzurani (from Tyre in southern Lebanon), Zrakawi (from Mazraka in Jordan), Masri (the Egyptian), Hijazi (from the Hijaz province of the Arabian peninsula), Mughrabi (from the Maghreb), and many other names that point to their true geographical origins. Why, ask the other Arabs, should they get preferential treatment over those who remained in their original countries?
Starting with the end of the 1948 Israeli War of Independence, politics in the Arab world began to center on Israel and the “Palestinian problem,” the solution to which was to be achieved by eliminating Israel. In order to succeed in that mission, the Arab “refugees” were kept in camps, with explicit instructions from the Arab League that they be kept there and not absorbed into other Arab countries.
The UN agency UNRWA ensured that they were provided with food, education, and medical care without charge — that is to say, the nations of the world paid the bill, even as the Arab neighbors of these eternal “refugees” had to work to provide food, education, and medical care for their own families by the sweat of their brow. “Refugees” who were supplied with free foodstuffs, such as rice, flour, sugar, and oil, for the use of their families, would often sell some of it to their non-refugee neighbors and make a tidy profit.
Residents in the refugee camps do not pay municipal taxes. This tax exemption has led a significant number of “refugees” to rent out their homes and collect exorbitant sums in comparison with those renting apartments in nearby cities. In other words, the world subsidizes the refugees’ taxes, and the refugees line their own pockets.
In Lebanon, several refugee camps were built near Beirut, but they were incorporated into the expanding city and then turned into high-class neighborhoods with imposing high-rise apartment buildings. Someone profited from this change, and it was not the man in the street. He has every reason to feel cheated.
The Palestinian “refugee” camps in Lebanon were taken over by armed organizations, from the PLO to ISIS, including Hamas, the Popular Front, the Democratic Front, and Salafist jihadi organizations. These groups acted viciously toward the surrounding Lebanese citizens, and in 1975 brought on a civil war that lasted for 14 long years of bloodshed and destruction. The war saw hundreds of thousands of Lebanese forced to leave their villages only to enter into lives of horrible suffering in tent camps all over the country. Many took refuge in Palestinian “refugee” camps, but the Lebanese refugees received less than 10% of what Palestinian Arabs received. This too caused much internecine jealousy and hatred.
In 1970 in Jordan, the Palestinian terror organizations, led by PLO head Yasser Arafat, attempted to take over the country by establishing autonomous regions of their own in the north, complete with roadblocks and armed Palestinian Arabs who challenged the monarchy. In September 1970, known as “Black September,” King Hussein decided he had had enough and would show them who was boss in Jordan. The war he declared against them cost thousands of lives on both sides.
Meanwhile, in Israel, 20% of the citizenry within the pre-1967 borders is made up of “Palestinian” Arabs who do not rebel or fight against the state. In other words, the “Palestinians” living in pre-1967 Israel enjoy life in the only democracy in the Middle East, while the Arab countries sacrifice their soldiers’ blood to liberate “Palestine.” Many an Arab soldier has been exploited by having his life put at risk for the sake of this meaningless cause.
Worse still is what every Arab knows: Palestinian Arabs have been selling land to Jews for at least a century, profiting immensely from the deals, and then wailing to their Arab brethren to come and free “Palestine” from the “Zionist occupation.”
Over the years, the Palestinian Arabs were given many billions of euros and dollars by the nations of the world, so that the yearly per capita income in the PA is several times greater than that of the Egyptian, Sudanese, or Algerian man or woman in the street. Their lives are many times better than that of Arabs living in Syria, Iraq, Libya, and Yemen, certainly over the past seven years.
On a political level, the Palestinians have managed to arouse the hatred of many of their Arab brethren. In 1990, Arafat supported Saddam Hussein’s Iraqi invasion of Kuwait. In revenge, Kuwait, once it was freed of the Iraqi conquest, expelled some 400,000 Palestinians, most of whom had been living in the emirate for decades, leaving them destitute overnight. This led to an economic crisis for their families in the West Bank and Gaza, who had been receiving regular stipends from their relatives in Kuwait.
Today, Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad are supported by Iran, a country abhorred by many Arabs who remember that airplane hijackings and the ensuing blackmail were invented by the Palestinian Arabs. It was they who hijacked an El Al plane to Algiers in 1968, 52 years ago, beginning a period of travail still being endured by the entire world.
Despite the 1989 Taif agreement, which ended the civil war in Lebanon and was supposed to lead to the disarmament and dissolution of all the Lebanese militias, Syria allowed Hezbollah to keep its arms and develop its military power unrestrainedly. The repeated excuse was that the weapons were meant to “liberate Palestine” and would not be aimed at the Lebanese. To anyone with a modicum of brains, it was clear that the Palestine story was a fig leaf covering the sad truth that the weapons were going to be aimed at Hezbollah’s Syrian and Lebanese enemies. “Palestine” was simply an excuse for the Shiite takeover of Lebanon.
Worst of all is the Palestinian demand that Arab states refrain from any relations with Israel until the Palestinian problem is solved to the satisfaction of the PLO and Hamas leaders. A good portion of the Arab world cannot find any commonalities that could unite the PLO and Hamas. As they watched the two sides’ endless squabbles ruin any chances of progress regarding Israel, they gave up on the belief that an internal Palestinian reconciliation can be achieved.
To sum up the situation, the Arab world — that part of it that sees Israel as the only hope in dealing with Iran — does not appreciate the expectation that it must mortgage its future and its very existence to the internal fighting between the PLO and Hamas. And let us not forget that Egypt and Jordan have signed peace agreements with Israel, moved outside the circle of war for the “liberation of Palestine,” and forsaken their Palestinian Arab “brothers,” leaving them to deal with the problem on their own.
Much of the Arab and Muslim world is convinced that the “Palestinians” do not in fact want a state of their own. After all, if that state were established, the world would cease its steady donations of enormous sums. There would be no more “refugees,” and Palestinian Arabs would have to work just like everyone else. How can they, when they are addicted to handouts that come with no strings attached?
One can say with assurance that 70 years after the creation of the “Palestinian problem,” the Arab world has realized that no solution will satisfy those who have turned “refugee-ism” into a profession. The “Palestinian problem” has become an emotional and financial scam that only serves to enrich the corrupt leaders of Ramallah and Gaza.
Lt. Col. (res.) Dr. Mordechai Kedar is a senior research associate at the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies. He served for 25 years in IDF military intelligence specializing in Syria, Arab political discourse, Arab mass media, Islamic groups, and Israeli Arabs, and is an expert on the Muslim Brotherhood and other Islamist groups.
A version of this article was originally published by Arutz Sheva and the BESA Center.