Egypt’s President Abdel-Fattah [Al-Sisi] said last night at the Munich Security Conference that “the failure to achieve a just solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is the main source of instability in the Middle East,” according to a report published Sunday by the Hebrew paper Haaretz.
Al-Sisi said in his speech that his country supports international efforts to end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict based on the two-state solution within the 1967 borders and a Palestinian capital in East Jerusalem.
At least, this is an improvement over Nasser, who once said “We must fight our way to victory on a sea of blood and a horizon of fire.”
Does this mean that 71 years after the UN partition resolution, the Arabs are ready to accept the reality of a Jewish state? Not at all. More accurately, some Arab leaders, recognizing that Israel is less of a threat (read: zero) to them than Iran, have dialed back their rhetoric. A bit.
Al-Sisi’s words studiously do not call for “two states for two peoples” but just two states. As is well known, the Palestinian Authority’s position is that there will be one Palestinian Arab state in the east, and one “secular, democratic state” in the west, to which Arab “refugees” will have a right of “return.” If this “solution” permits the existence of a Jewish state, it would be for a very short time. The ambiguity in the phrase “two-state solution” – with one meaning including the existence of a Jewish state and the other not – is one of the reasons so many initiatives have failed.
The statement that the manufactured conflict – manufactured by the Arabs and their anti-Jewish European supporters – between Israel and the manufactured “Palestinian nation” (manufactured by the Soviet KGB), is the “main source of instability” in the region is also ludicrous. Israel’s conflict with the Palestinians is an effect of a much broader struggle, not a cause.
Some of the greatest public squanderings of money, effort, and good will in the past 50 years or so have been the efforts – some honest and some cynical – by the West, particularly the USA, to “solve” this conflict, operating on the mistaken principle that it is an underlying cause of the wider troubles, and not an artificial charade created to provide an excuse and a means to try to destroy the Jewish state.
If you think I’m wrong, ask yourself why the Arab nations, instead of trying to ameliorate the problem of the Arab refugees of 1948, forced them to stay in camps, discriminated against them, and fought against any option to normalize them other than “return?” Why did the UN come up with a unique definition of “refugee” that would only be applied to Palestinian Arabs and that would ensure that their number would rapidly multiply over time instead of decreasing?
Why did the PLO refuse to accept any of the various offers of a sovereign state, and why has it always refused to admit that there even is a Jewish people? Why do its claims and demands only escalate? Could it be that the goal is not a “just solution” as al-Sisi says, but the perpetuation of the conflict?
Al-Sisi’s language is the best we can expect from the Arabs, just as the Arctic peace that we have received from Egypt and Jordan has stayed frozen for decades. These are Muslim states, and Islam is an ideology as much as it is a religion. The ideology is scandalized by the idea of a sovereign Jewish state in the Middle East, in dar al Islam. We might as soon invite them to a pig roast and beer party. Every once in a while we catch a glimpse of how strong their feelings are, as when a Jordanian snaps and murders any Israeli Jews that happen to be in range (see here, and here), or when Egyptian rioters attack the Israeli Embassy in Cairo.
The Palestinians, both the PLO and Hamas varieties, are a special case. The Palestinian nation itself was created in opposition to Israel, and their ideology – even among those that are secular – is essentially anti-Israel. To the extent that they see themselves as Palestinians, they will oppose the Jewish state. This is why plans to reduce conflict by improving the economic conditions of the Palestinian Arabs have been and will be unsuccessful.
PM Netanyahu often talks about his success in improving relations with Arab nations like Saudi Arabia, UAR, and Oman. Cooperation on the subject of Iran there definitely is, and I don’t want to minimize its practical importance. But anyone who thinks there is any fundamental ideological change, or that the atmosphere of cooperation will continue any longer than necessary, is deluded. If the Iranian threat were to disappear tomorrow, relations with our new “friends” would snap right back to where they were.
Ideology has become less and less important in the West over the past 500 years or so, with nations being motivated more and more by economic and geopolitical interests and less by religion or other ideological motivations. Even the Marxist Soviet Union behaved rationally. But in the Islamic world, the importance of ideology has never waned. This helps explain the irrational struggle against Israel. It is often noted that both sides could gain from real cooperation, and westerners are sometimes puzzled that it doesn’t happen. The answer, of course, is Islam. Some things are more powerful than economics.
Al-Sisi, probably the “friendliest” of the Arab leaders, has gone as far as he can. He is happy to accept Israel’s help and to cooperate on matters of security, but we can’t expect that he, or any Muslim leader for that matter, will be a Zionist, or even be tolerant of the Jewish state. All we can do is try to make quiet cooperation profitable for them.
Will it someday become possible for real friendship between Jews and Arabs in the Middle East, even a “New Middle East” as Shimon Peres imagined? That will depend on whether Islam can become more tolerant. Perhaps in another 500 years.