A protester holds a Palestinian flag in front of an IDF bulldozer in the West Bank [File].
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Arab propaganda has succeeded in turning the Palestinian-Israeli conflict into the foremost geopolitical issue. This phenomenon started at the United Nations, where the General Assembly adopts many anti-Israeli motions with great majorities every year.
The Arab-Muslim bloc of the UN represents many votes. It can always count on large support from many other countries that need the Arab and Muslim votes for other issues. The same is true for associated organizations of the UN, such as UNESCO and UNHRC.
Against this background, the Palestinian-Israeli conflict has become the dominant Middle East issue in general. Many media outlets have given it extremely disproportionate levels of attention. This was clear once again during Israel’s Protective Edge campaign.
The frequent boycott campaigns against Israel can be better understood in light of the false centrality given to the Palestinian-Israeli issue. Human rights NGOs frequently make biased statements because they are fully aware they stand to receive greater media attention when talking about this conflict than about others.
This is very convenient for the Arab and Muslim leadership. It draws attention away from the many atrocities and high criminality occurring daily in parts of their world. This has been going on for decades. In the 1980s, nearly 1.5 million people died in the Iran- Iraq war. For decades, large numbers of Christians have been forced to flee, having been chased out or murdered. In Syria, there are by now around 200,000 dead and nine million refugees. The cruelty of the Islamic State movement seems to exceed that of what the world has so far seen in the Islamic world. Yet there are also reports that certain Shi’ite tribes, fighting on the side of the Iraqi government and its American supporters, commit similar crimes.
There is also a multitude of problems concerning Muslims in Iraq, Yemen, Sudan, Somalia, Afghanistan, Iran, Pakistan, Libya, Nigeria, Mali and many other countries. The Global Terror Index for 2013 shows that four movements account for 63 percent of all terrorist attacks against civilians. These four organizations are all Muslim movements. The West has been confronted with problems emanating from the Muslim world in various ways. The largest terrorist acts ever committed in the United States, the United Kingdom and Spain have all been caused by Muslims. The nuclear threat from Iran has led to Western sanctions. It is evident that the ongoing problems in and threats emanating from the Muslim world are the main geopolitical issues. Yet many Westerners have fallen for the Arab propaganda of the false centrality of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.
Let us assume that a miracle happens and there is a sudden viable peace between Israel and the Palestinians.
Will the US and its allies drop one bomb less on IS? Will there be fewer refugees from the Syrian civil war? Will fewer Iraqis die as a result of suicide bombers and other attacks? Will IS or the pro-Iraqi government Shi’ite tribes behead one less person? And, as far as geopolitics go, will Boko Haram kidnap one less person? Will one person less die in Eastern Ukraine? Despite all the evidence that the Palestinian-Israeli conflict is not a central issue, the United States, the European Union, the United Nations and leading politicians have given a disproportionate amount of attention to the false argument that the conflict in the Holy Land is central in geopolitics and that a solution will bring major salvation to the rest of the Middle East, or even the world.
In US President Barack Obama’s 2013 address to the United Nations General Assembly, he said, “In the near term, America’s diplomatic efforts will focus on two particular issues: Iran’s pursuit of nuclear weapons, and the Arab-Israeli conflict. While these issues are not the cause of all the region’s problems, they have been a major source of instability for far too long, and resolving them can help serve as a foundation for a broader peace.” A large part of his speech was devoted to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. It would not take that long for Obama to decide that the US had to re-engage militarily in Iraq in order to fight Islamic State. The military engagement was then extended to Syria, where the US military had not been previously involved.
In October, US Secretary of State John Kerry also fell victim to the Arab propaganda. At a reception celebrating the Muslim holiday of Id al-Adha, Kerry said that peace between Israel and the Palestinians takes precedence because the conflict is a recruitment tool for IS. In response to this surrealistic comment, Economy and Trade Minister Naftali Bennett said, “It turns out that even when a British Muslim beheads a British Christian, there will always be those who blame the Jews.” It was not a very tactful comment about Israel’s major ally, but Bennett was right.
The European Union’s website has an official statement on the Middle East peace process. However, the website does not mention any peace process other than the one between Israel, the Palestinians, and its neighboring enemies. According to the statement, “Resolution of the Arab-Israeli conflict is a strategic priority for Europe. Until this is achieved, there will be little chance of solving other problems in the Middle East.” One might comment that there is little chance of solving other problems in the Middle East as a result of this peace.
When searching for motions pertaining to Israel on the website of the UK Parliament, one finds an astounding 361 results, many of them motions from within the past 10 years. Similarly, the focus on Israel is found on the UN News Center’s “News Focus: Middle East” homepage. With the exception of two articles regarding Lebanon and the Palestinian refugees in Syria, every article posted is about the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. Other than these two exceptions, this extensive “Middle East” page has no mention of any other Middle Eastern nations.
The truth is taboo for many. Criminality driven by religion, and other forms of extreme violence in the Muslim world, are the main current geopolitical problems and should be exposed as such. Not much courage is needed to forecast that also in the coming decade, problems in the Muslim world will likely dominate geopolitics. At some point the world’s leaders will be forced to acknowledge that the main threat to the world does not come from Israel but from other actors in the area.Manfred Gerstenfeld is a former chairman of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs. Jamie Berk is a researcher working toward an MA in political science at Hebrew University.