Friday, July 18, 2014

Putting things into perspective

Yoram Ettinger

The Hamas-Israel war is a test of Israel's power-projection and posture of deterrence, which directly impacts the national security of Jordan and other pro-U.S. Arab countries. They rely on Israel's deterrence in their own battle against rogue Islamic regimes.
In addition, the Hamas-Israel war highlights the limited impact of the Palestinian issue -- both the Palestine Liberation Organization and Hamas -- on Middle East developments and intra-Arab relations. The war underlines the gap between the Western perception and the Egyptian and general Arab perception of the Palestinian issue.
Contrary to Western conventional wisdom, Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi and all other Arab leaders do not consider the Palestinian issue a top priority, a strategic added value, a core cause of Middle East turbulence or the crux of their conflict with Israel. In contrast to U.S. policy -- as executed by President Barack Obama since his June 2009 speech in Cairo, when he elevated the Muslim Brotherhood to unprecedented heights and dumped Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak -- Sissi outlawed the Muslim Brotherhood, the "parent company" of Hamas, branded it a terror organization and sentenced its leaders to death.

During the current Israeli offensive in Gaza, the Arab World has not flexed political, financial or military muscles on behalf of the Palestinian Hamas, nor did they during the recent intensive Israeli military crackdown on Palestinian terrorism in areas controlled by Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas (in the aftermath of the murder of three Israeli teens). This low Arab regard for the Palestinian issue was similarly displayed in reaction to Israel's wars against Hamas terrorism in 2009 and 2012; Israel's 2000-2004 comprehensive war on Palestinian Authority terrorism (the Second Intifada); Israel's 1987-1991 military suppression of PLO terrorism (First Intifada); and Israel's 1982-1983 hot pursuit of PLO terrorists in Lebanon, all the way to Yasser Arafat's and Abbas' expulsion from Beirut.
Recently, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates have extended a $20 billion emergency financial assistance to Egypt; in 2006-2007 the Saudis supported Lebanon with a $2.5 billion package; during 1980-1988, Riyadh provided $1 billion annually to the Muslim rebels in Afghanistan, compared to $100 million annually to the PLO; but, the Saudi financial aid to the Palestinian Authority has been limited to a total of $1 billion to $1.5 billion since 1994, reflecting the Saudi mistrust toward Abbas and Arafat. Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States do not forget and do not forgive Abbas' participation in Saddam Hussein's plunder of Kuwait in 1990. They are aware of Abbas' track record of subversion and terrorism since the 1950s in Egypt, 1966 in Syria, 1970 in Jordan, 1970-1982 in Lebanon and 1990 in Kuwait.
Sissi's attitude toward the Palestinian issue is consistent with his predecessors Anwar Sadat's and Mubarak's distrust of the PLO/Palestinians. For example, during 1977-79, Sadat defied then-U.S. President Jimmy Carter's insistence upon placing the Palestinian issue at the center of the Egypt-Israel peace process. Sadat did not trust the PLO and was convinced that a PLO-dominated state would undermine regional stability. In 1994, during the signing of the Cairo Israel-PLO agreement, Mubarak expressed his attitude toward the PLO, scolding Arafat in public: "Sign, you dog." In recent months, the Egyptian military killed scores of Palestinian terrorists in Sinai, as they did in the aftermath of Israel's 2005 "disengagement" from Gaza, killing scores of Palestinians in Rafah. Moreover, Sissi's fundamental position on the Palestinian issue was influenced by Abbas' and Arafat's key role in the Cairo cell of the Muslim Brotherhood in 1954, when the Muslim Brotherhood attempted to assassinate Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser. Abbas and Arafat fled Egypt due to their involvement in subversion and terrorism.
The Arab League -- just like all Arab countries -- has been preoccupied with the Arab tsunami currently sweeping the Middle East independent of the Palestinian issue, highlighting the marginal role played by the Palestinian issue in shaping the Middle East. The Arab League persists in its historical attitude toward the Palestinian issue: showering Palestinians with rhetoric, but not with resources. Thus, in 1948, the Arab League formed the "All Palestine Government" as an Egyptian-molded phantom, which was reduced by 1952 to a department within the Arab League and officially dissolved, in 1959, by Nasser. In 1948-1949, the Arab countries did not fight Israel for the Palestinians, did not share the spoils of the war with the Palestinians (Hama, Jerusalem, Samaria, Judea and Gaza) and were not interested in establishing a Palestinian state.
While Hamas urges the Arabs to rise in support of the Palestinians, the Egyptian media features unprecedented criticism of Hamas, reminding Egyptians that Hamas murdered 16 Egyptian soldiers in Sinai in August, 2012, supported the Muslim Brotherhood in toppling Mubarak, broke into Egyptian prisons and released Muslim Brotherhood terrorists, supported the Muslim Brotherhood's attempts to oust the Sissi regime, and undermined the stability of Arab countries.
Putting the Palestinian issue in its proper intra-Arab perspective is a prerequisite for a realistic Middle East policy (focusing on "smothering sandstorms," not on "tumbleweeds"), for any progress in the "peace process," and for the survival of Jordan and other pro-U.S. Arab regimes, which face clear and present Islamic terrorist danger. They realize that the outcome of the Hamas-Israel war may either embolden or deter their mortal enemies.

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