Who’s Afraid of the Palestinians?

Egypt is afraid of the Palestinians on its border, and Jordan, the majority of whose population is Palestinian, desires no more of them.


By Moshe Arens

(A version of this column appeared in Haaretz on July 6, 2010.)

Little noticed in the brouhaha that surrounded the Israeli interception of the “peace flotilla” that tried to break the Israeli blockade of the Gaza Strip was Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak’s remarks to the Egyptian parliament last week. Trying to distance Egypt from the problem of allowing supplies to enter Gaza, even though Egypt shares a border with the Strip and could supply the population there with all its needs, he said: “Israel is trying to shirk its responsibility to Gaza and throw it at Egypt.” He studiously ignored the fact that if Egypt had been prepared to allow supplies for Gaza to enter through the Rafah crossing, there would have been no excuse for attempting to bring supplies in by sea.

But Egypt is afraid of the Palestinians on its border. The Egyptians will not allow Palestinian refugees to enter Egypt, nor do they want to assist the Hamas rulers of the Gaza Strip in any way. Continually voicing their concern for the plight of the Palestinians, Egyptian rulers over the years have done little to help the Palestinians in Gaza, out of fear that they may be reinforcing Hamas, which is an ally of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood.

Putting the burden on Israel is Egyptian policy. Their attitude to the Palestinians is not that different from that of King Farouk 62 years ago when he sent his army, navy and air force to squash the newly born Jewish state. Trying to gain control of as much as possible of the territory that British forces had evacuated in Palestine, he had no intention of establishing a Palestinian state in these areas. Soundly beaten by the Israel Defense Forces forces under the command of Yigal Alon, his army saved from total destruction only by the pressure applied on the Ben-Gurion government by the United States and Britain, he was finally left with a toehold in the Gaza Strip. And it remained under Egyptian military control for 19 years, until the Six-Day War. Establishing a Palestinian state was not seen as a priority for Egyptian governments.

The Jordanian government’s policy, as well, seems to be based on the principle of keeping one’s distance from the Palestinians. Jordan, the majority of whose population is Palestinian, desires no more of them. King Abdullah II sounds pathetic alarm bells every few weeks that a war in the area is inevitable unless a Palestinian state is established, but will not entertain the thought that the areas in Judea and Samaria populated by Palestinians be incorporated into Jordan as part of a negotiated settlement with Israel.

It was many years before he was born – May 15, 1948 – that his great-grandfather King Abdullah sent his British-officered and British equipped Arab Legion across the Jordan aiming to gain as much territory as possible for his kingdom. After months of fighting, his army on the verge of defeat by the IDF, he managed to retain control of Judea and Samaria and East Jerusalem, including the Old City, in the 1949 armistice agreement with Israel. He had no intention of establishing a Palestinian state in the areas that came under his control. Instead, he annexed the areas to Jordan, granting Jordanian citizenship to the Palestinian population living there.

That was the situation until the Six-Day War. Seven years later, in 1974, King Hussein, Abdullah II’s father, effectively renounced Jordan’s claim to Judea, Samaria and East Jerusalem by recognizing Yasser Arafat’s Palestine Liberation Organization as the sole legitimate representative of the Palestinian people. At that point, with the memory still fresh in his mind of Black September in 1970, when the PLO attempted to take over Jordan, Hussein decided that he already had enough Palestinians on his hands. Better that they become Israel’s problem.

There are many reasons why Egypt and Jordan have come to fear the Palestinians. Part of the responsibility rests on the Palestinian leadership, which on almost all occasions chose the path of violence – first the Mufti of Jerusalem, Hajj Amin al-Husseini, who during World War II allied himself with Hitler, and later Yasser Arafat, who headed an international campaign of terror to be followed by a wave of Palestinian suicide bombers in Israel’s cities. And more recently, the Hamas leadership in Gaza that has made rocket terror attacks against Israeli civilians its specialty.

It remains to be seen whether Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah, who advocates a policy that forswears violence, can establish sufficient authority among the Palestinians so as to allay Egyptian and Jordanian fears of the Palestinians.

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