For some 100 years, the following was considered an undisputed fact: The Arab-Israeli conflict is the “father of all Mideastern conflicts.” Should it be “resolved,” the world thought, we shall see cosmic tranquility descending upon the entire region. Mounds of “research” were written about this conflict, inflating to the point of becoming a bubble threatening to explode.
Yet then came the so-called "Arab Spring" and the grim truth was exposed: The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is marginal compared to the region’s real conflicts and its actual influence is limited. Indeed, it was an imaginary conflict based on self-interested reasons.
Over the years, Arab rulers who knew that the ethnic, religious, tribal and regional problems in their own countries were terrible and irresolvable (and this is the reason for the awful slaughter in Syria,) always diverted attention to Israel. And so, the Arab masses ignored their actual distress and instead were preoccupied with the usual anti-Israel incitement.
The Jewish State imagined by the Arab world, the Israel no Arab was actually familiar with, had turned involuntarily into a means for washing away Mideastern sins. Many people made a living and gained fame through this beneficial conflict: It became a career for them.
Why should Saddam Hussein reveal to the world the terrible hatred between Sunnis and Shiites in Iraq? Why should Assad expose his bloody Alawite rule in Syria? Why should the Egyptians share the terrible economic distress faced by their country? Why should Gaddafi reveal the complex tribal split in his state? And why should Lebanon expose its messy mixture of ethnicities and religions? It’s always better to hide one’s dirty laundry while focusing on Israel: Condemn it, criticize it and disparage it.
And so, the conflict between Israel and the Arabs has turned into a truly operative means for regional rulers; it provided them with their almost only legitimacy vis-à-vis their own people and the world. As long as they spoke about Israel’s brutality, nobody would be talking about their own brutality. They imagined Israel as fragile and crumbling while imagining that they were stable. The truth was the other way around, of course.
Arab masses were fooled
Yet then came the Arab Spring, the Arab public was given a way to express itself for the first time in its history, and suddenly it turned out that Israel is far away and not too relevant. Besides, what does the real Arab distress have to do with Israel at all? The Arabs realized that in many ways their tyrannical rulers deceived them via an imaginary Israel.
If a Palestinian state is established, for example, will Assad embrace his domestic foes? Will Ahmadinejad reconcile with his enemies? Will Libya’s militias make up? Will Yemen regain even a hint of stability? And what does one have to do with the other at all?
Hezbollah used similar logic. The organization gained its fleeting glory during the war it fought against the IDF on Lebanese soil. Yet once that conflict ended, the group lost its legitimacy in the Arab world. Hezbollah would happily revive its conflict with Israel, yet it realizes that the Jewish state is powerful and has the means to destroy the organization this time around.
The first to realize their stock crashed were the Palestinians. Abbas’ decision to approach the United Nations last September was a desperate move. He knew developments were not playing out in his favor. After all, if the region’s real problems are finally being addressed, there is no longer any need for the Palestinian facade.
Who would actually care whether Abbas joins forces with Hamas’ Khaled Mashaal or not? Is there anyone actually affected by this? When the entire Mideast is burning, the Palestinian issue comes off the agenda. This is the reason why international networks such as CNN or France2 are leaving Israel at this time or closing down their offices. The Israeli conflict is not longer a story, with the focus shifting to Damascus, Cairo and Tripoli.
Even if the Israeli-Palestinian conflict resumes in the future, it will merely constitute one conflict among many in the Middle East, rather than the “father of all conflicts” as it was perceived in the past. Israel, which was perceived as a demon, is returning to its natural dimensions in the region: A small country, not the most influential, but much more legitimate and integrated in the region than in the past.
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