Middle East mythology

Posted: Apr 09, 2005 12:00 AM

Tuesday the 2004 Arab Human Development Report was released by the UN Development Project. The report placed a large chunk of the blame for the Arab world's lack of economic progress and political freedom on Israel's creation in 1948 and US support for Israel's continued existence, as well as the US military presence in Iraq.

The report's conclusions about Israel and the US were immediately rejected by the US and Israel. Greg Sullivan, the spokesman for the US State Department's Near Eastern Bureau said, "We think it's misguided to blame Israel for the problems and the challenges that the Arab world faces."

Mark Regev, the Foreign Ministry spokesman, was equally blunt, "For too long too many people in the Arab world have used Israel as an excuse to justify behavior that cannot be justified. You can't have democratic elections because of Israel and you can't give equal rights to women in Saudi Arabia because of Israel. This is of course a cop out."

The American and Israeli denunciations of the report were, of course, wholly reasonable. The notion that 300 million Arabs live under the jackboot because some 5 million Jews in Israel live in freedom and America supports our right to live in freedom is patently insane. So too, it is simply delusional to believe that 300 million Arabs are so bent out of shape by the fact that 2.3 million Palestinian Arabs purportedly have their freedoms curbed by Israel, that they willingly accept their regimes' right to enslave and impoverish them economically and spiritually.

Yet the greatest irony that is brought to the surface by the UNDP report is that in spite of both the American and Israeli governments' ability to differentiate between spit and raindrops, in point of fact, both Israel and the US are basing their policies towards the Palestinians specifically and the Arab world generally on an internalization of the UNDP's ridiculous claims.

How does this manifest itself?

The view among American policymakers and Israeli Foreign Ministry types, both egged on by their ideological bedfellows in Europe and the international Left is based on two presumptions. The first is that the Palestinian conflict with Israel is the cause of the Arab conflict with Israel. The second is that the Palestinians are weak and the Israelis are strong and that the way to solve the conflict is to strengthen the Palestinians and weaken Israel.

The second presumption is what leads both Israeli and American foreign policy elites to advocate Israeli surrender of land and rights to the Palestinians and to support Palestinian acquisition of arms, money and sovereignty.

The first presumption is what leads both Israel and the US to ignore the direct dependence of the Palestinian conflict with Israel on outside support by Arab League member states led by Egypt. Egypt, like the rest of the Arab world has never accepted Israel's inherent right to exist as a Jewish state in the Levant. Yet over the years, the rhetorical focus shifted from overt calls for Israel's destruction through war to overt calls for Israel's destruction through the establishment of a Palestinian state and unlimited immigration of millions of foreign born Arabs to Israel. These calls are obfuscated to a degree by a public fixation on the perceived weakness and actual misery of the 2.3 million Palestinians in Judea, Samaria and Gaza ? both of which are blamed on Israel.

Yet the reality on the ground is vastly different from the picture painted by UN reports whose basic presumptions, though wrong, form the foundations of US and Israeli policy in the region. The squalor in which Palestinians reside is wholly premeditated. As far back as 1949, the Arab League decided that no member state would grant citizenship to the Arabs who left the Land of Israel as a result of the Arab invasion of the nascent Jewish state. And so these miserable people and their children and grandchildren have been incarcerated in the squalor of UN internment camps for nearly 60 years. When in the early 1980s then prime minister Menachem Begin tried to dismantle the camps in Gaza and Judea and Samaria and provide permanent and decent housing for their residents, the "refugees" were warned, on pain of death, by the pan-Arab and PLO leadership to reject Israel's offers.

The reason for this was clear: If the Palestinians had been allowed to freely develop, a core myth ? that Jewish sovereignty is tainted with an original sin ? a myth which was created to justify the continued Arab rejection of Israel, would disappear. And so it remains the case that despite the fact that in the last ten years the Palestinian Authority has received more international aid per capita than any national authority in the history of international aid, the Palestinians today remain in abject poverty. More to the point, their standard of living went into freefall shortly after the PA was established in 1994. Yasser Arafat and his deputies thwarted development efforts by stealing the billions they were given.

That the rejection of Israel still forms a solid basis for Arab and Islamic unity was again made clear in a conference this week in Malaysia devoted to "Peace in Palestine." The conference gave itself a psychological warfare boost by inviting five anti-Israel Israeli and Jewish activists to participate in the proceedings. Led by Malaysia's Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi the participants called for an international "anti-Israeli apartheid" campaign demanding a total international boycott on Israel until a Palestinian state is established with Jerusalem as its capital and Israel becomes a non-Jewish state as a result of unlimited Arab immigration. The fact that the Arab and Muslim, (and Jewish) participants expressed views that were even more extreme than the rhetoric emanating from the PA is indicative of the source of the continued pressure for the indefinite prolongation of the Palestinian conflict with Israel.

Let us return now to the presumptions that form the basis of American and Israeli policy towards the Palestinians specifically and the Arab world generally. We see that by internalizing the view that the Palestinian conflict is the source of the Arab conflict with Israel and that the way to solve the Palestinian conflict is to empower the Palestinians at Israel's expense, both Israel and the US are initiating policies that distance rather than advance their stated goals of peace and security through the democratization of Palestinian society and the Arab world writ large. This is so because the guiding presumptions themselves are not simply wrong, but are the polar opposites of the facts on the ground.

These facts are that the Palestinian conflict with Israel is largely a direct result of the Arab world's rejection of Israel's right to exist. And weakening Israel, by strengthening the Palestinians or in any other manner advances none of these goals.

Arab strength is based on Arab control of the world's largest oil reserves; irredentist Arab immigrant communities throughout the Western world and specifically in Europe that demand their host governments' adopt stridently anti-Israel foreign policies or face violence and instability at home and in global oil markets; and Arab Islamic terrorism and militarism which is financed and engendered in the oil-rich, authoritarian Arab world.

The fact that it is Arab power rather than Palestinian weakness that is fuelling the conflict is made clear by the EU's Middle East policies. As Bat Ye'or, the noted scholar of jihad ideology and Arab-European politics makes crystal clear in her new book Eurabia: The Euro-Arab Axis, Western European abandonment of its early support for Israel came not in the wake of Israel's stunning victory in the 1967 Six Day War, but in the aftermath of the OPEC oil embargo in 1973.

It was the concerted pan-Arab attack on the economies of Western Europe in 1973, not Israel's acquisition of territory in 1967 that caused Europe to embrace the cause of the Palestinians. And it is the power that immigrant voters and activists wield against the European electorate and the threat of violence wielded by Arab terrorists that ensure that year in and year out regardless of the brutality of Arab rhetoric and violence, the Europeans remain faithful to the ideology of Israeli criminality and Palestinian victimhood.

Israeli and American policymakers alike have repeatedly claimed that by strengthening PA leader Mahmoud Abbas, he will gain legitimacy among the Palestinians to move ahead with peace with Israel. They also claim that in the aftermath of Israel's planned removal of its forces and expulsion of its citizenry from northern Samaria and Gaza this summer, the PA will be strengthened and that as a result, chances for peace will be increased.

Yet again, the facts on the ground belie this view. At the end of the summer, oil prices will no doubt be edging towards $60 a barrel. Egypt will have two armored brigades sitting in the Sinai Peninsula. Israel, smarting from its self-inflicted wounds and bearing an extraordinary financial, political and social burden of resettling thousands of Israeli refugees, will be weaker and therefore less able to mount the will and the ability to fend off terror assaults. Finally, there is no reason to assume that Abbas, who has devoted most of his time since replacing Arafat to coddling terrorists and currying favor with their state sponsors, will be in any rush to improve the economic situation in the Palestinian areas. Indeed, again, advancing their economic and political fortunes is actually antithetical to the interests of the PLO and the Arab world.

Given the fact that the America and Israeli governments are both basing their policies on the same false presumptions that formed the basis of the UNDP report they were so quick to reject, perhaps the real question is why did it bother them so much? And the second question is, if they are still able to tell the difference between spit and raindrops, when will they adopt policies that reflect the distinction?