The Al-Aqsa Mosque controversy has exposed, once again, the non-centrality of the Palestinian issue in the overall Arab order of priorities.
Contrary to Western media headlines, Arab policy-makers and the Arab Street are not focused on Palestinian rights and Al Aqsa, but on their own chaotic, raging local and regional challenges, which are not related to the Palestinian issue.
For example, while the top Palestinian religious leader, Mufti Muhammad Hussein, castigates Arab leaders for their inaction on behalf of the Al Aqsa Mosque, Egyptian President General al-Sisi and the Egyptian street are preoccupied with traumatizing economic and social decay and challenges; the dwindling level of tourism, which is a main source of national income; the lethal, domestic threat of Muslim Brotherhood terrorism; the Libyan chaos and its effective spillover into Egypt; the entrenchment of Islamic terrorism in the Sinai Peninsula, across the Gulf of Suez; the Gaza-based terrorism; the threatening collaboration of Turkey-Qatar-Iran and Turkey’s support of Hamas; the potentially-explosive border with Sudan; etc.
General Sisi invests much more time in geo-strategic coordination with Jordan, Saudi Arabia other Arab Gulf States, the US and Israel – which are perceived as critical allies in combating terrorism – than with the Palestinian Authority, which is perceived as a destabilizing entity.
According to the July 20, 2017, issue of the London-based Middle East Monitor, “Al Aqsa has been abandoned by those who profess the leadership of the Muslim World…. [Egypt’s and Saudi Arabia’s] cold indifference…is unworthy of institutions that profess to be the preeminent leaders of Muslims around the world…. The religious institutions in Makkah, Madinah and Cairo have gone absent without leave despite the dangerous situation at the Noble Sanctuary in occupied Jerusalem…. Both countries are spearheading a regional drive for full normalization of relations with Israel. Their reasoning is that friendship with Israel is the best guarantee of US support for themselves….”
The London-based Palestinian newspaper, Al-Quds Al-Arabi, published a cartoon, depicting the Arab World as an ostrich burying its head in the sand while the Al Aqsa Mosque bleeds.
Since 1948, and in defiance of Western foreign policy, academia and media establishments, the Arab/Islamic agenda has transcended the Palestinian issue.
While showering the Palestinian issue with substantial talk, the Arab/Islamic walk has mostly been directed at other issues: the 1,400-year-old regional, intra-Arab/Islamic unpredictability, fragmentation, instability and intolerant violence; the Islamic Sunni terrorist machete at the throat of all pro-US Arab regimes; the clear and present danger, posed by Iran’s Ayatollahs, to the same regimes; the destructive role played by Qatar in the context of – and in assistance to – the Ayatollahs; the lethal, regional ripple effects of the disintegration of Iraq, Syria and Libya; the inherent, tectonic (disintegration) potential in every Arab regime; the impact of the global energy revolution on the potency of the Arab oil producing regimes; and the enhanced role of Israel in the battle against the aforementioned threats.
The dramatic gap between the Arab walk and talk on behalf of Palestinians was particularly noticeable during the Israel-Palestinian wars of 1982 (in Lebanon), 1987-1991 (the 1st Intifada), 2000-2003 (2nd Intifada) and the Israel-Hamas wars of 2009, 2012 and 2014.
Arabs have never shed blood – nor have Arabs dedicated their economic power – on behalf of Palestinians.
Moreover, current Iraqi policy-makers and the Iraqi Street are well-aware of the intense Palestinian collaboration with the repressive regime of Saddam Hussein, which caused the Palestinian flight from Iraq following the fall of Saddam. The Syrian Street has not taken kindly to the Palestinian support of the Assad regime, which has produced an expanding Palestinian emigration from Syria since the eruption of the civil war in 2011.
Palestinians Viewed as Threat to Stability
Furthermore, most Arab policy-makers consider the well-documented subversive, terrorist Palestinian track record – against fellow Arabs – to be a potential threat to domestic and regional stability. The Arab aim has been to reduce the number of stormy spots in the Middle East, realizing that each eruption of violence resembles a rock thrown into a pool, generating ripple effects throughout the pool, as has been documented by the Arab Tsunami, which is simmering in every Arab country. Thus, violence west of the Jordan River could have an infectious impact east of the river, posing a deadly threat to the pro-US Hashemite regime, which could spread southward to Saudi Arabia and other pro-US Arab Gulf states.
In 1948-49 – as was the case in succeeding Arab-Israeli wars – Arab countries did not fight Israel on behalf of Palestinians. Therefore, Syria, Jordan, Iraq and Egypt did not share the spoils of the 1948-49 war with Palestinians, prohibiting Palestinian activities in Judea and Samaria (the West Bank) and Gaza. In fact, a Palestinian Department was established, by the Arab League, in 1949, to be dissolved in 1959.
Sacrificing the complex reality of Israel-Arab relations on the altar of simplistic solutions – suggesting that the Palestinian issue is a core cause of Arab policy-making – has failed to advance the cause of peace.
In order to advance the cause of Israel-Arab peace, one should study the lessons of the Al Aqsa Mosque controversy, which highlight the limited (and negative) role played by the Palestinian issue in Arab policy-making and the pursuit of peace.
By: Yoram Ettinger
Former Israeli Ambassador Yoram Ettinger, publisher of The Ettinger Report, is an expert on US-Israel relations and the Mideast affairs.