Disappearing Arab nations

Under the dictatorial rule of Hafez el-Assad and later his son Bashar, there presumably was a neighboring nation-state with whom a peace treaty could in principle be negotiated. There is no such partner on Israel’s northern border at the present time.

Moshe_Arens_cropped-150x150By Moshe Arens

Ninety-eight years ago Sir Mark Sykes for Britain and Francois George Picot for France signed in secrecy the Sykes-Picot agreement dividing parts of the Ottoman Empire into British and French spheres of influence and control, anticipating the defeat of the Ottoman Empire in World War I. With Allied victory the Middle East was restructured more or less in accordance with the agreement, creating new Arab states that were to be the birthplace of new Arab nations. Thus were born the Iraqi nation, the Syrian nation and the Lebanese nation.

The efforts invested by the French and British in the building of these nations led only to ephemeral success. After decades of political independence, Iraq and Syria, both member states of the United Nations, for many years ruled by a succession of brutal despots, are on the way to disappearing from the roster of nations. Syria and Iraq are in the process of tearing themselves apart, tribal and religious loyalties taking precedence over loyalty to the artificial nations created after World War I, while Lebanon is in danger of following in their footsteps.

A part of Palestine, all of which was assigned by the League of Nations to Britain as the mandatory power, in accordance with the Sykes-Picot agreement, eventually became the Jewish nation state, Israel. Here the Jewish nation was rejuvenated on the soil of its ancient homeland. Unlike the artificially created Iraqi, Syrian and Lebanese nations, the Jewish nation has struck deep roots, imbued with a national spirit which has provided it with the ability to function democratically, defend itself and to thrive economically.

The Palestinian areas east of the Jordan river were gifted by Britain to Emir Abdullah, the son of Sharif Hussein of Mecca, and eventually became the Kingdom of Jordan. The population there is roughly 70% of west Palestinian origin and 30% Bedouin. Whether this has given rise to a Jordanian nation is still to be seen.

Judea and Samaria were conquered by the Jordanian army in 1948, annexed to Jordan and passed to Israeli control after the defeat of the Jordanian army in 1967. The Gaza Strip was conquered by the Egyptian army in 1948 and passed to Israeli control after the Egyptian defeat in 1967. The Arab population in Judea and Samaria and the Gaza Strip, feeling abandoned by the Arab states, began developing a separate national identity, as Palestinians, triggered by the creation of the Palestine Liberation Organization under the leadership of Yasser Arafat in 1964. They are now split between the Hamas-controlled Palestinians in the Gaza Strip and the Fatah-controlled Palestinians in Judea and Samaria. Whether a united Palestinian nation, separate from the Jordanians, will become a permanent member of the family of nations will only become clear in the future.

The present ambivalence of the Syrians and the Palestinians as national entities is problematic for Israel. Whereas, under the dictatorial rule of Hafez el-Assad and later his son Bashar, there presumably was a neighboring nation-state with whom a peace treaty could in principle be negotiated which would put an end to the decades-long conflict between Israel and Syria, there, obviously, is no such partner on Israel’s northern border at the present time. Considering the present state of affairs in Lebanon and the involvement of Hezbollah in the fighting in Syria, a peace treaty with Lebanon also does not seem realistic in the foreseeable future.

The dysfunctional nature of the Palestinian political entity creates another problem for Israel. Although Fatah and Hamas, ruling non-contiguous areas of western Palestine, are at present not engaged in fighting among themselves, their relationship is far from friendly, with Hamas denying the right of Mahmoud Abbas to conclude a peace agreement with Israel in the name of the Palestinians, making it impossible for Abbas to commit the Palestinians to end the conflict with Israel. Thus an agreement, if signed by Israel with Abbas, would not end the conflict and would only serve as a jumping-off point for further demands to be made on Israel in the name of the Palestinian nation.

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