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Research Report

The Myth of Palestinian Centrality

Efraim Karsh
Copyright Date: Jul. 1, 2014
Pages: 45

Table of Contents

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  1. (pp. 1-4)
  2. (pp. 5-6)
  3. (pp. 7-8)
    Efraim Karsh
  4. (pp. 9-10)
    Efraim Karsh

    No cliché has dominated the discourse on Middle Eastern affairs more than the supposed "linkage" between the resolution of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict and the attainment of regional peace and stability.

    According to this argument, since Arabs and Muslims are so passionate about Palestinian statehood, the Israeli-Palestinian stalemate feeds regional anger and despair, gives a larger rationale to terrorist groups like al-Qaeda and to the insurgency in Iraq, and obstructs the formation of a regional coalition that will help block Iran's quest for nuclear weapons. As President Obama asserted after his first meeting with Prime Minister Netanyahu in May 2009: "[Making]...

  5. (pp. 10-15)

    It is the doctrine of pan-Arabism, postulating the existence of "a single nation bound by the common ties of language, religion and history.... behind the facade of a multiplicity of sovereign states,"² that has transformed the "Palestine question" from a minor local dispute between Arabs and Jews into an international problem of the first order. This, however, has had nothing to do with the protection of Palestinian national rights for the simple reason that pan-Arabism does not consider the Palestinians a distinct people deserving statehood, but rather an integral part of a wider Arab framework stretching over substantial parts of...

  6. (pp. 15-18)

    If subscription to the pan-Arab dream has made the Palestinian cause captive to inter-Arab machinations, stirring unrealistic hopes and expectations in Palestinian political circles, and inciting widespread and horrifically destructive violence that has made the likelihood of Palestinian statehood ever more remote, adherence to Islamist ideals has subordinated Palestinian identity to the far wider ambition of Islamic world domination.

    Consider the Islamic Resistance Movement, better known by its Arabic acronym Hamas. Since making its debut in the 1987-92 intifada, Hamas has established itself as the foremost political and military Palestinian force, winning a landslide victory in the 2006 general elections...

  7. (pp. 18-20)

    Having helped drive the Palestinians to national ruin, the Arab states continued to manipulate the Palestinian national cause to their own ends. Neither Egypt nor Jordan allowed Palestinian self-determination in the parts of Palestine they conquered during the 1948 war. Upon occupying the biblical lands of Judea and Samaria, King Abdullah moved to erase all traces of corporate Palestinian Arab identity. On April 4, 1950, the territory was formally annexed to Jordan to be subsequently known as the "West Bank" of the Hashemite kingdom of Jordan. Its residents became Jordanian citizens, and they were increasingly integrated into the kingdom's economic,...

  8. (pp. 20-24)

    The political manipulation of the Palestinian cause was mirrored by the dismal treatment of the Palestinian refugees based in Arab states since the 1948 war. Far from being welcomed, the new arrivals were seen by their host societies as an unpatriotic and cowardly lot who had shamefully abdicated their national duty while expecting others to fight on their behalf. In Syria, Lebanon, and Transjordan there were repeated calls for their return to Palestine, or at the very least of the young men of military age, many of whom had arrived on the pretext of volunteering for the pan-Arab force be...

  9. (pp. 24-25)

    Not only have the host Arab states marginalized and abused their Palestinian guests, but they have not shrunk from massacring them on a grand scale whenever this suited their needs. When in 1970 his throne was endangered by the Palestinian guerilla organizations, the affable and thoroughly Westernized King Hussein slaughtered thousands of Palestinians during a single month, now known as "Black September." Fearing certain death, scores of Palestinian fighters fled their Jordanian "brothers" to surrender themselves to the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF). Civilian casualties were exorbitant with estimates ranging from three thousand to fifteen thousand dead - higher than the...

  10. (pp. 25-27)

    Much has been made of the Palestinian exodus of 1948, though far more Palestinians were actually driven from their homes by their own leaders and/or by Arab armed forces than by Jewish/Israeli forces.51 Nowadays, the collapse and dispersal of Palestinian society has come to be known in Arab discourse as al-Nakba, "the catastrophe," but it was not known as this at the time. To the contrary, as a senior British official discovered to his surprise during a fact-finding mission to Gaza in June 1949, "while [the refugees] express no bitterness against the Jews (or for that matter against the Americans...

  11. (pp. 27-29)

    In fairness to the Arab states, their animosity and distrust were more than reciprocated by the Palestinians. As early as the 1948 war, the pan-Arab volunteer force that entered Palestine to fight the Jews found itself at loggerheads with the community it was supposed to defend. Denunciations and violent clashes were common with the local population often refusing to provide the Arab Liberation Army, as this force was ambitiously named, with the basic necessities for daily upkeep and military operations. For their part, Arab army personnel abused their Palestinian hosts of whom they were openly contemptuous.

    This mutual animosity was...

  12. (pp. 29-32)

    As if the Palestinians' longtime manipulation and abuse by their supposed Arab "brothers" has not been enough, their own leaders have never had a real stake in leading them to statehood. This is both because the hopes and wishes of their constituents did not figure in their calculations, and because they have vastly profited from having their hapless constituents run around in circles for nearly a century, while milking world sympathy for the plight they brought about themselves in the first place.

    In mandatory Palestine, ordinary Arabs were persecuted and murdered by their alleged betters for the crime of "selling...

  13. (pp. 32-33)

    For nearly a century, Palestinian leaders have missed no opportunity to impede the development of Palestinian civil society and the attainment of Palestinian statehood. Had the Mufti chosen to lead his constituents to peace and reconciliation with their Jewish neighbors, as he promised the British officials who appointed him to his high rank in 1921, the Palestinians would have had their independent state over a substantial part of mandate Palestine by 1948, if not a decade earlier, and would have been spared the traumatic experience of dispersal and exile. Had Arafat set the PLO from the start on the path...

  14. (pp. 34-42)
  15. (pp. 43-44)