Hassan Barari
The Jordan Times (Opinion)
December 21, 2010 - 1:00am

Aquestion Westerners often ask is whether solving the Arab-Israeli conflict constitutes a priority for Arab regimes. No matter how one answers this question, a majority of them are convinced that political survival for the ruling regimes is the number one priority, and not the Palestinian cause.
Some in our part of the world wonder if there is a contradiction between the two matters in the first place.

A close look at the WikiLeaks documents reveals a rather different story. Contrary to the rhetoric employed by Arab officials, Arab leaders, by and large, approach Washington only to sway the United States from intervening in their internal issues. They seek to get assurances that the US will not tackle the issue of democracy. Moreover, these leaders have been doing nothing but trying to sanitise their image for the US, as if their source of legitimacy were not local.

Is this true? Evidence suggests that the majority of Arab regimes are undemocratic, and it is not unnatural for them to consider the local source of legitimacy secondary. No single Arab leader is threatened by rotation of power and in many countries elections take place just cosmetically. Most elections are indeed fixed.

That said, Arabs on the whole keep repeating the mantra that there is a close link between different regional disputes in the Arab-Israeli conflict. The argument used is that solving it will automatically solve other conflicts in the region. This kind of rhetoric helped convince General David Petraeus, now commander of US Forces Afghanistan, who was commander general of the Multi-National Force-Iraq, to testify before the American Congress, arguing that the lack of a solution to the conflict only works against American interests in the region and prevents the moderate Arab states from forming an anti-Iran coalition.

These efforts, however, have yet to create a momentum in Washington to push decision makers to give solving this conflict priority.

In his latest article in Foreign Policy, Mathews Duss wrote about the linkage among different sorts of conflict in the region. He dismisses the idea that there is one, as Arab regimes are more obsessed with internal problems and the Iranian threat. He cites some officials who claim that Arab leaders rarely mention Palestine in their private meetings with Westerners. This brings to mind President Barack Obama’s injunction that Arab leaders should be courageous enough to say in public what they say in private.

Do we really know what they say in private meetings? No, given the lack of transparency, so one has the right to conclude that there is some “collusion” on the part of Arab leaders. Perhaps, documents revealed by WikiLeaks can square the matter.

If we lived in democratic countries in this part of the world, leaders would be more transparent for their public. The irony is that it is the Americans who expose our leaders and challenge them to say the truth.

But do Westerners tell the truth? We all know about King Abdullah’s famous speech before a joint session of the Congress in March 2007? He forcefully talked about the need to bring about the two-state solution. So it seems we cannot really rely on WikiLeaks.


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