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The Myth of Mideast Stability

The U.S. Ambassador to Israel recently told the International Conference on Economic Regional Cooperation in Tel Aviv that unless Israel and the Palestinians resume negotiations, "the lack of peace will decrease stability dangerously" in the Middle East. The Ambassador was merely repeating an idea that has become diplomatic dogma—the notion that the absence of a peace deal contributes "dangerously" to regional instability.

Relevant Links
Arab Counterrevolution  Hussein Agha, Robert Malley, New York Review of Books. People once thrilled by the potential benefits of change are dumbfounded by its actual and obvious costs.
The Coming Crisis  Barry Rubin, GLORIA. Developments in Turkey and Egypt threaten to plunge the Middle East back into an era of conflict, instability, and the worst threats to Western interests in decades.
Not About Israel  Herb Keinon, Jerusalem Post. The tidal wave of popular anger against the Arab world’s “moderate” states would be washing over those regimes regardless of any Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement.

But the Israeli-Palestinian impasse, in relation to Middle East instability, is like a lighted match tossed into a three-alarm fire.  The number of Arab League member-states not riven by violence and upheaval can be counted on one hand, with fingers to spare.  The reasons for the Mideast's rolling boil are unconnected to the Jewish state.

Tunisia, where the Arab Spring began this year, remains a desperate place, in which unemployed teachers have threatened to commit suicide.  After months of quarrels with other political groups, the Islamist party has agreed to elections for an assembly that will write a new Tunisian constitution.  Given the Islamists' ascendancy, the odds that a Western-style democracy will emerge are low.

In post-Mubarak Egypt, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who is baiting Israel in his bid to establish Turkey's regional leadership, continued his campaign with a trip to Cairo.  Having won the adoration of Cairo's masses, old guard Muslim Brotherhood leaders pointedly warned the premier of non-Arab Turkey against making a play for Middle East hegemony.  "We welcome Turkey and we welcome Erdogan as a prominent leader," said Essam El-Erian, the Brotherhood's deputy leader, "but we do not think that he or his country alone should be leading the region or drawing up its future."  The Egyptians discouraged Erdogan from visiting Gaza or Tahrir Square; and Erdogan's Obama-style speech at the Cairo Opera House, meant to rally the Muslim world against Israel, was not broadcast live in Egypt.  No matter who rules Egypt, its rivalry and tensions with Persia and Turkey will continue.

In near-forgotten Iraq, Sunnis and Shi'ites are still at each others' throats. In Syria, violence perpetrated by President Bashar al-Assad has claimed more than 2,400 lives, with no end in sight.  The Shi'ites in power in Iran will likely stand by their client Assad, though they have backed off their public support.  But Saudi Arabia's Sunni leaders have sided with the Sunni Syrian street, while Sunni Turkey has openly hosted anti-Assad opposition groups.  Even the possibility that Syria will fragment can't be ruled out.  Israel is nowhere in the picture.

Lebanon's fate is ever more precarious.  The country's neighboring Syrian hegemon lies politically stricken, while Beirut's more distant Persian overlord is riven by acrimony between President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei.  No wonder Lebanese Prime Minister Najib Mikatia puppet of Lebanese Hezbollah, allied with Syria and Irancomplains, albeit with notable understatement, about the "unhealthy mood" in Lebanon's polity.  Lebanon's Maronite Patriarch, Bechara Boutros al-Rai's, with Hezbollah's boot on his neck, finds himself praising the Assad regime. Other Christian leaders feel emboldened enough to challenge Hezbollah's corruption. 

Instability driven largely by the absence of political legitimacy is endemic throughout the region.  Take oil-rich Libya: Centrifugal tribal forces, fractious Islamists beholden to the Gulf States, and comparative modernizers all vie for control.  It's anyone's guess whether the country will cohere in the hoped-for post-Qaddafi era.  Neighboring Sudan has been partitioned, yet north-south fighting continues along the new border.  The situation is no less bloody in Yemen, where Saudi Arabia is trying to finesse a deal to protect Riyadh's Sunni interests against those of the Iranian-backed Shi'ite Houthis.  Here, too, the question is whether a war-ravaged country can hold together.  Meanwhile, a similar Iranian-Saudi rivalry plays out in Bahrain.

Israel and the Palestinian situation are no part of these equations. Nor are they factors in the foreboding that regional turmoil continues to produce among the Christian, Druse, Alawite, and Berber minorities in the regionnot to mention the Kurds, whose homeland stretches across parts of Iran, Iraq, and Turkey and whose rightful case for self-determination has been oddly shunted aside by champions of the Palestinian cause.

Conversely, there is no reason to think that UN approval of Palestinian statehood will increase regional stability.  Certainly it will not increase prospects for long-term security in Jordan's Hashemite Kingdom.  For the past several weeks King Abdullah, ostensibly angered over an Israeli remark implying that Jerusalem might pursue a "Jordan is Palestine" strategy, has lashed out at Israel and protested his fidelity to the idea of Palestinian statehood.  Yet the king knows that Israel is his bulwark and that the threats to his throne come from Jordan's internal Islamist opposition, deep-seated economic woes, and the kingdom's episodically restive Palestinian Arab majority, not to mention the nightmare scenario of a Hamas takeover in the West Bank.

Speaking of Hamas, the UN's recognition of Palestinian statehood on the terms proposed by the Palestine Liberation Organization, which rules the West Bank, will not even increase stability within the Palestinian polity, let alone throughout the region.  Can anyone imagine Hamas granting Mahmoud Abbas safe passage to visit Gaza?

The turmoil in the Arab world will persist irrespective of what happens on the Israeli-Palestinian track.  To be gripped by the delusion that solving the "Question of Palestine" will deliver stability to the Middle East requires overlooking intrinsic regional, tribal, ethnic, and religious fault lines.  The Middle East will continue to boil no matter how much "Palestine" is empowered, no matter the extent to which Israel's security interests are denigrated, and no matter how much diplomatic capital is invested in an attempt to fill the bottomless pit of the Palestinian sense of victimization.

Thus, no matter how much the international community wishes to cater to the Arabs on the "Palestine" issue, Israeli security cannot realistically be traded for regional stability.  Misguided UN action on the Palestinian issue can have no significant constructive impact on regional unrest and will not provide breathing space for Arab and Muslim rulers threatened at home or abroad.  

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Ellen on September 26, 2011 at 9:23 am (Reply)
Thank you, Mr. Jager, for saying the absolutely obvious, as your colleague Caroline Glick has been repeating to deaf ears for a long time as well. The people who make up the diplomatic core and chattering classes of the Western world have been repeating the mantra of the Arab and Muslim dictators now for 60 years--that Israel is the cause of all the instability in the 20 or so Muslim majority states that occupy the huge region stretching from Morocco to Iran.

Now that this big lie has been exposed for the diversionary tactic that it always was (pay attention to Israel, please, and not to our theft of national resources and oppression of our own people), one would think that the collective intelligence of these overeducated and increasingly useless people would be on the rise.

But no, they continue on with the same mantras, like intellectual zombies, incapable of thinking new thoughts based on actual evidence rather than on the propaganda of weak, illegitimate regimes. No matter, this sort of zombie-ism can't go on forever. The real world eventually intrudes. Convenient fictions and lies are exposed as lies, as Bret Stephens of The Wall Street Journal recently commented regarding the huge fiscal crisis in the European Union.

Many European countries are going bankrupt, dragging down their vaunted welfare states and the quality of life that they used to brag about. The Arab dictatorships, likewise, are going down, and nothing Netanyahu does or doesn't do is going to change that. We told you so.
Yury on September 26, 2011 at 5:06 pm (Reply)
Two reasons are behind the U.S. foreign policy establishment's position on Palestinian statehood:
1. A strong push from Arab governments which, for reasons of their own preservation, want to divert popular attention from their domestic problems.
2. A strong belief by the American public that every nation deserves own state, even when it is unclear what the “nation” is.
Neither reason can be ignored or dismissed, even if individuals in the State Department have different views. So, the situation will continue. Israel should proceed with its policies, taking both factors into account, and not stand in astonishment and disbelief that after each failed attempt to proceed with Palestinian statehood, all the blame fails on Jewish state.
CHARLI2535 on September 26, 2011 at 7:06 pm (Reply)
If we could population-shift "our Jews" out of Gaza, despite all their protests, and if Abbas insists that all Palestine will be "Judenrein," with no Jews allowed anywhere within it, why dont we just incorporate Judea and Samaria into Greater Israel and invite the Arabs to "population-shift" the Arab inhabitants who are not happy to live under israeli jurisdiction to Sinai, where there is lots of open, unused space, and even a few oil rigs to boot.
Ken Besig, Israel on September 28, 2011 at 5:35 am (Reply)
The Arab states of the Middle East have remained consistent and stable in too many respects. They all have oppressive and undemocratic governments --either monarchies, dictatorships, sheikdoms,or military governors. They are all full of vast numbers of poor, illiterate, ignorant, and violent young men and women who have no hope of a better future. Except for the oil kleptocracies, the Arab states are all deeply in debt and getting deeper in debt, and are unable to feed their growing and restive populations.

So what to do--rant and rave about Israel or improve the econmic, social, educational, and human rights situation of the downtrodden Arab Islamic public? This is a tough one, let me think. . . .

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