Wednesday, October 5th | 10 Tishri 5783

November 19, 2020 6:51 am

Make the Palestinian Issue Central Again?

avatar by Yoram Ettinger


Palestinian Authority (PA) President Mahmoud Abbas attends a virtual meeting, in the West Bank city of Ramallah, Sept. 3, 2020. Photo: Alaa Badarneh / Pool / File photo via Reuters.

According to a November 12 op-ed by Nabil Amr, a confidant of Mahmoud Abbas, published by the leading Saudi daily Asharq Al-Awsat: “[The Palestinian Authority’s] bets are that Biden’s victory [will] resume ties with the US Administration, pumping money into the Palestinian Authority’s virtually empty coffers, reopening the PLO’s Washington Office and the US Consulate in Jerusalem, tasked with dealing with Palestinian affairs. … The new Administration will also go back to talking about the two-state solution and repudiate unilateral actions like annexation. … Trump’s Administration took a totally different path.”

The “Palestine Firsters” among the future policymakers in Washington, DC are infatuated with the Palestinian cause, assuming that the Palestinian issue is central to the Arab-Israeli conflict and the overall Arab agenda.

But the “Palestine Firsters” should study the two hour October 5, 2020 TV interview by Prince Bandar bin Sultan, a senior member of the Saudi royal family and a former head of the Saudi intelligence services and national security council, who said:

It is not surprising to see how quick Palestinian leaders are [criticizing the Israel-UAE peace accord] to use terms like “treason,” “betrayal,” and “backstabbing.” These are their ways in dealing with each other. … They always bet on the losing side.

We saw Arafat in Baghdad, embracing Saddam, and laughing and joking with him. … We saw [Palestinian] youth in Nablus dancing joyfully in celebration of [Saddam’s] missile attack on Riyadh, holding pictures of Saddam. … We are at a stage in which rather than … serve the Palestinian cause, we have to pay attention to our national security and interests. … We are surrounded by a stormy sea [Iran’s ayatollahs, the Muslim Brotherhood, Al Qaeda, and Turkey’s Erdogan]. … We do not allow [Palestinian] liars and those who are disloyal to impose their tradition on us. … The Palestinian leaders have come to regard Tehran and Ankara higher than they regard Riyadh, Kuwait, Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Bahrain, Oman, and Egypt.

Contrary to the “Palestine Firsters'” state of mind, Saudi cooperation with Israel — commercially, militarily, and diplomatically — has expanded unprecedentedly, notwithstanding Palestinian condemnations, pressure, and threats. Moreover, Saudi Arabia has been a chief engine behind the UAE’s, Bahrain’s, and Sudan’s peace accords with Israel, which have bypassed the Palestinian issue.

The “Palestine Firsters'” litany of peace initiatives were crashed against the rocks of Middle East reality, due to their erroneous assumptions that the Palestinian issue was a core cause of Middle East turbulence, the crux of the Arab-Israeli conflict, and that the Arabs favored the establishment of a Palestinian state. They sacrificed Middle East reality on the altar of a supposed Palestinian centrality. On the other hand, overcoming the temptation of such an overly simplistic assessment of the Palestinian issue yielded the successful conclusion of Israel’s peace treaties and agreements with Arab countries (Egypt, Jordan, the UAE, Bahrain, and Sudan).

Thus, the farther are peace initiatives from the trap (veto) of the Palestinian issue, the closer they are to expanding the number of Israel-Arab peace treaties. Moreover, the more relevant the peace initiative is to a particular Arab interest — where the threats of Iran, the Muslim Brotherhood, Al Qaeda, and Turkey, and the need to diversify the oil-based economy, dwarf the Palestinian issue — the stronger the incentive for the Arabs to conclude peace agreements with Israel.

The Palestinian track record has led all pro-US, moderate Arab regimes to conclude that the proposed Palestinian state would add fuel to the Middle East fire, while Israel’s track record has played a key role in minimizing Middle East turbulence.

On October 2, former US ambassador Dennis Ross — a veteran “Palestine Firster” — was asked by an i24 News interviewer: “For years you were working on the assumption that peace between Israel and the Palestinians was the key, the only key, to peace between Israel and Arab countries. A few weeks ago, this assumption was shattered by the signing of peace treaties between Israel and the UAE and Israel and Bahrain. Have you been wrong all these years?”

Most “Palestine Firsters” would agree that Israel’s posture of deterrence is a bulwark against Iran’s ayatollahs and Sunni Islamic terrorism, bolstering the stability of the highly vulnerable and relatively-moderate pro-Western Arab regimes, and therefore, incentivizing Arabs to conclude peace treaties with Israel. However, such an assessment, on the one hand, and the urging of Israel to retreat to a 9-15-mile waistline between the Mediterranean and the overpowering mountains of Judea and Samaria — which would obliterate Israel’s posture of deterrence — on the other hand, constitutes a classic oxymoron.

Yoram Ettinger is a commentator and former Israeli ambassador.

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