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by Youssef Ibrahim


A maxim in Middle East affairs to Europeans and many American advocates of convoluted solutions is that settling the 100-year-old dispute between Israelis and Palestinian Arabs is a sine qua non to resolving other Middle East catastrophes.

Indeed Secretary of State Rice is reinvigorating this view with a new round of diplomacy in the Greater Middle East, which means inevitably putting pressure on Israel to accommodate Palestinian Arabs and Syrians with withdrawals from the West Bank and the Golan Heights. But something doesn't click here, like the whole argument. It is a red herring from start to finish. The catastrophes in the Middle East lie in five areas:

Ever since they achieved independence in the past century, cliques of families and army officers have ruled Arabs, be they Al Sauds in Saudi Arabia, Al Qaddafis in Libya, Al Mubaraks in Egypt, Al Sabahs in Kuwait, etc. They will neither share power nor are willing to pass it along. These elites have robbed, generated corruption, instituted police states, and observed fitful development and great injustice -- all ingredients of failed governments. Their actions have produced violent reactions including fundamentalist jihadis that now target them and the West, which supports them. The logical action here is to force them to reform and end repression at home.

But the "advocates" advance the view that once America "pressures" Israel to settle with Palestinian Arabs, enough goodwill will be generated to resolve other matters. Manifestly, this is nonsense. Arab dictators corner the market on power because they want it, not o ut of compassion for Palestinian Arabs.

The second catastrophe is growing sectarian divides, not only between Muslims -- as in Shiites vs. Sunnis -- but between Arabs of different ethnic, tribal, and religious backgrounds as with the Druze, Kurds, North African Berbers, and among tribal clans in Somalia, Yemen, and Saudi Arabia. These frictions have turned into gun battles and genocide in the Sudan, Lebanon, Iraq, Algeria, among others. Here, again, it would be quite a stretch to argue that Arabs and Muslims will stop killing each other once Israelis and Palestinian Arabs kiss and make up.

Indeed, the Arabs themselves never awaited Palestinian Arab accord before striking peace with Israel. Egypt and Jordan formalized peace treaties with Jerusalem that still hold, regardless.

Another canard is that the Palestinian Arabs themselves are ready for anything in the way of peace. As this is being written the only thing that Palestinian Arabs are gearing up for is a civil war of their own. Should Israel unilaterally return to the 1967 demarcation lines, leaving much of the West Bank, the follow up will be a Palestinian Arab blood bath. Gaza, evacuated by Israeli occupation troops more than a year ago, stands as a vivid example a mess of armed factions, extortion, corruption, and Islamic fundamentalism. Palestinian Arabs need rule of law before a settlement with Israel.

What of massive illiteracy among Arabs who, the United Nations reports, have left 25% of their populations with no education -- neither able to read nor to write. That ranks as major problem without Israeli-Palestinian Arab ingredients behind it. Weapons accumulated by Arab regimes, including Egypt, which has been at peace with Israel since 1979, serve only two purposes: fighting other Muslims and generating billions of dollars in commissions for ruling families.

One has to be a die-hard conspiracy theorist to argue that any of these issues is related to the Israeli-Palestinian Arab conflict.

Youssef Ibrahim is an Egyptian-born American reporter serving for twenty-four years as a senior Middle East regional correspondent for The New York Times.

This article appeared January 11, 2007 in the New York Sun


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