US President Barack Obama greets PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas (Image credit: Pete Souza [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons)
Western conventional wisdom has systematically failed in assessing Middle East developments.
For example, in 1978, conventional wisdom turned its back on the Shah of Iran – who was the USA’s policeman of the Gulf – providing a tailwind to Ayatollah Khomeini who transformed Iran into the most critical, clear, and present threat to regional and global stability, as well as the homeland security of the USA and Europe.
In 1981 and 2007, conventional wisdom aggressively criticized Israel for bombing the nuclear reactors of Iraq and Syria. Until Saddam Hussein’s invasion of Kuwait in 1990, conventional wisdom considered the ruthless Iraqi dictator an ally of the USA, worthy of intelligence-sharing, dual-use systems, and multi-billion-dollar loan guarantees.
In 1994, conventional wisdom awarded the Nobel Peace Prize to Yasser Arafat, a role model of hate education, terrorism, and intra-Arab treachery.
In 2010, conventional wisdom misread the volcanic eruption of the anti-Western Arab Tsunami as the Arab Spring - a Facebook and Youth Revolution. In 2012, conventional wisdom turned its back on Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, welcoming the rise to power of the Muslim Brotherhood, the largest Islamic terrorist group in the world.
In 2018, Western conventional wisdom embraces Mahmoud Abbas as a moderate in comparison to Hamas, highlighting Abbas’ talk rather than focusing on his walk: intra-Arab subversion, a terror-oriented K-12 education system, generous monthly subsidies to terrorists and their families, and maintaining close ties with enemies and adversaries of the USA.
Western conventional wisdom, on the one hand, and Middle East reality, on the other hand, have constituted a classic oxymoron.
In defiance of Western conventional wisdom, Arab policy-makers are aware of the irrelevance of the Palestinian issue to the turbulence, which has plagued the Middle East since the 7th century, as well as the current (2010-2018) seismic developments, which traumatize every Arab regime from Northwestern Africa to the Persian Gulf and from Syria and Lebanon to Yemen and the Sudan.
Moreover, in contrast to Western conventional wisdom, Arab policy-makers do not consider the Palestinians a crown-jewel, but recognize their intra-Arab subversive, terroristic, and unreliable/treacherous track record.
Hence the flood of pro-Palestinian Arab talk, which has never been supported by the Arab walk.
Consequently, every Arab regime - and especially Saudi Arabia, the Gulf States, Jordan, and Egypt – are not preoccupied with the Palestinian issue, but with the immediate and lethal threats of the Ayatollahs and Islamic terrorism, which could topple them and transform their countries into Iraqi, Syrian, Libyan, Yemeni look-alike traumatic arenas.
For example, from 1979-1989, during the civil war in Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia demonstrated its order of national security priorities, investing $1 billion annually in the struggle of the Afghan rebels against the Soviet-backed regime in Kabul. This was ten times as much as the annual Saudi foreign aid to the PLO – $100 million.
Moreover, the Palestinian Authority was not among the top ten recipients of the $33 billion foreign aid from Riyadh from 2007-2017: Yemen, Syria, Egypt, Niger, Mauritania, Afghanistan, China, Pakistan, Jordan, and Tunisia.
While the total Saudi foreign aid from 1985-2015 was $130 billion - according to the Dubai-based daily, Gulf News - Saudi annual foreign aid to the Palestinian Authority was $100 million-$200 million, reflecting the inferior weight of the Palestinian issue in the Saudi order of national priorities.
According to Reuters News Agency, Saudi Arabia assigned to Egypt a $23 billion aid package, reflecting the joint Cairo-Riyadh front against a common enemy: Muslim Brotherhood terrorists. The Toronto-based Geopolitical Monitor reported that a $12 billion package was extended to Egypt by Saudi Arabia, the UAE, and Kuwait, in addition to the $8 billion Saudi investment in the Egyptian economy.
While the Palestinian Authority claims that Saudi Arabia has failed to fulfill its commitment to the its limited foreign aid package, Dubai-based Al Arabiya TV reported that Yemen supersedes the Palestinians in the eyes of Riyadh, which has provided the Aden-based regime of Abdrabbuh Mansur Hadi with $8.2 billion aid in the battle against the Sanaa’-based Iran-supported Houthis.
The Palestinians have also taken a backseat to Jordan when it comes to Saudi national priorities, as documented by the Saudi-Jordanian Coordination Council, which is unlocking billions of dollars to the Hashemite regime.
The relative marginalization of the Palestinians – who benefit from a $100 million-$200 million annual Saudi foreign aid package (whenever it is not suspended by Riyadh) – is gleaned through the CNBC December 18, 2017 report on the House of Saud purchasing a rare Leonardo da Vinci painting for $450 million, an exquisite palace in France for $300 million, and a royal yacht for $500 million.
The expanded strategic and economic ties between Israel and the pro-US Arab countries have been a derivative of the Arab order of national security priorities. They have recognized Israel’s unique added-value – militarily and commercially - in their battle for survival against domestic and regional threats and challenges.
Furthermore, the pro-US Arab policy-makers do not forget, nor forgive, Palestinian subversion, in collaboration with the Muslim Brotherhood, in Egypt during the early 1950s and collaboration with Islamic terrorism in the Sinai Peninsula in 2018; the murder of Syrian intelligence officers in 1966; the terroristic attempt to topple their host Hashemite regime in 1970; the triggering of a series of civil wars in Lebanon during the 1970s; and the back-stabbing of the most hospitable Kuwaiti regime through their collaboration with Saddam Hussein’s 1990 invasion and the plunder of the Emirate.
Therefore, there was overall Arab sympathy with Kuwait’s 1991 expulsion of some 300,000 Palestinians; and the 2006 expulsion of more than 50,000 pro-Saddam Palestinians from Iraq following the execution of the Iraqi dictator.
Therefore, the Arab countries were reluctant to act, effectively, on behalf of the Palestinians – militarily, economically, or diplomatically - during the Israeli-Palestinian wars in Lebanon and Gaza, and during the first and second Intifadas.
In defiance of Western conventional wisdom, Arab policy-makers have been increasingly aware that overcoming the mounting threats to their survival mandates adherence to reality, which has underlined the secondary/tertiary – and treacherous - role played by the Palestinians in setting the Middle East agenda.
Ambassador (ret.) Yoram Ettinger is the director of The Ettinger Report: Second Thought: a US-Israel Initiative