What makes Arab leaders pragmatic

Support for the Palestinian cause tends to take a back seat when their rule is on the line, but that doesn’t mean they will become Israel’s allies

By Moshe Arens

Who are these pragmatic Arab rulers who have aroused such great expectations in recent months? In forging a united front against terrorism, in assisting in the resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict? They can be recognized by a moderation of their past hostility toward Israel.

They were listening attentively to a simultaneous translation of U.S. President Donald Trump’s address in Riyadh last week, in which he called on them to form a united front against terrorism and rid themselves of the terrorists in their midst. They are autocratic or dictatorial rulers concerned with dangers to their survival in the face of growing Iranian influence and terrorism, much of it promoted or aided by the Islamic Republic.

When your survival is threatened, it seems to concentrate the mind. Their support for the Palestinian cause tends to take a back seat to those measures that need to be taken to assure their survival – which includes a search for potential allies. Israel, also threatened by Iran and an expert in fighting terrorism, is seen as such an ally.

The rulers of Egypt and Jordan, of Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states, feel this threat. Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah al-Sissi is engaged daily in fighting terrorists attempting to destabilize his rule. He is not only prepared to be helped by Israel: he is in need of Israeli assistance. Military and intelligence cooperation between Egypt and Israel have never been as close as they are at present. They take precedence over Sissi’s lip service to the Palestinian cause.

King Abdullah II of Jordan faces a similar threat and is eager to cooperate with Israel to combat it, while making pronouncements in favor of the Palestinian cause. And the rulers of Saudi Arabia, fearing Iranian nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles, and dealing with the Houthi rebellion backed by Iran in Yemen, see a potential ally in Israel. When their survival is at stake, these considerations take precedence over their support for the Palestinian cause.

Does this make these rulers more pragmatic or more moderate? Not really. They are simply giving their most immediate interest – their survival – precedence.

How do the Palestinians fit into this changing Middle Eastern world? Of course, if the Israeli-Palestinian conflict were to be resolved, it would make it easier for all concerned. But that, under the best of circumstances, is going to take time. A long time. Meanwhile, the barbarians are at the gate.

How about the “pragmatic” Arab rulers assisting in resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict? Sounds good at first sight, but not very likely. They seem to agree with Trump calling Hezbollah and Hamas terrorist organizations. Both organizations claim they are fighting for the Palestinian cause. Asking the Palestinians to rid themselves of the terrorists in their midst is almost like asking them to rid themselves of themselves.

It is they who have brought to the world the modern version of terrorism – the indiscriminate killing of civilians; the blowing up of airliners; the hijacking of civilian aircraft; the killing of Israeli athletes at the 1972 Munich Olympics; the bombing of restaurants. Can they really become allies in the fight against terrorism while proclaiming convicted terrorists as heroes and rewarding their families?

There are Palestinians, like Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, who have come to realize that Palestinian terrorism has only damaged the Palestinian cause, and that it was the wave of terrorism during the second intifada – which killed over 1,000 Israeli civilians – that brought Israeli military rule into the West Bank.

But the rejection of terrorism has yet to become part of the education of young Palestinians. Abbas has not managed to do that. He seems incapable of becoming a partner in a war against terrorism, and it is difficult to believe that the “pragmatic” Arab rulers can get him to join a coalition against terrorism.

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