Follow by Email

Tuesday, May 20, 2008


By Barry Rubin

It’s become fashionable to match celebration of Israel’s founding (though part of the media can’t even admit Israelis are celebrating) with Palestinian marking of their 1948 “nakba” catastrophe. Yet whose fault is it that they didn’t use those six decades constructively?
And who killed the independent Palestinian state alongside Israel that was part of the partition plan?
Answer: The Arab states and Palestinian leadership themselves. The mourners were the murderers.
You can read details in my book, The Arab States and the Palestine Conflict.
Here’s a summary. The key point is that in rejecting partition, demanding everything, and starting a war it could not win, the Arab side ensured endless conflict, the Palestinian refugee issue, and no Palestine.
It wasn’t murder it was suicide. Or in the words of General John Glubb, commander of Jordan’s army: “The politicians, the demagogues, the press, and the mob were in charge….
Warnings went unheeded. Doubters were denounced as traitors.” Briefly, the British tried to help the Arabs win; the Americans to assist them in finding a last-minute way out, and the soon-to-be Israeli Jews were ready to have a Palestinian state alongside Israel if their neighbors had accepted it. The British government provided money and arms to Arab states (for Egypt 40 warplanes and 300 troop carriers; for Iraq, planes as well as antiaircraft and antitank guns; for Saudi Arabia, a military training mission) while embargoing them to Israel, tipped off Arabs about the timing of its withdrawals (giving them a head start to seize abandoned installations), subsidized the Arab League,
blocked Jewish immigration, and let British officers run Jordan’s army in the war against Israel. Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Said later said, “It became clear to us that Britain viewed with favor the Arab aims regarding Palestine.”
It’s well-known that President Harry Truman supported partition and quickly recognized Israel. But in March 1948 the U.S. government offered the Arab states a serious plan to suspend partition, block a Jewish state, and create a new, long-term trusteeship.
They considered but rejected it, even after Washington proposed an international peacekeeping force—including Egyptian troops—to maintain order. Finally, if the Arab side has accepted partition, the Jewish leadership would have accepted establishment of a Palestinian Arab state. Many were desperate to get a state at all, lacked confidence they would win the war, and knew they could not buck an international consensus.
Why, then, did the Arab side, and especially the Palestinian leadership, reject partition, go to war, and trigger a 60-year-long crisis that was a disaster for their people?
There are four basic reasons: --Palestinian leader Amin al-Husseini, the mufti of Jerusalem, was a man who thought like Hamas.
Fresh from his stay in Berlin, where he cooperated with Adolph Hitler, he hated Jews, wanted to destroy them, and could not envision compromise. --Pressure from radical forces and public opinion made it unthinkable, or suicidal, for Arab regimes not to go along with all-out war even when they feared the worst. --Arab states competed for influence, seeing the future Palestine either as their satellite or a place they could seize land for themselves. --Finally, they thought they would win easily.
Even the moderate Jordanian King Abdallah said, “It does not matter how many there are. We will sweep them into the sea!” Syria’s prime minister warned that the Arabs would “teach the treacherous Jews an unforgettable lesson.”
The leader of Syria’s client guerrilla force, Fawzi al-Qawukji, bragged, “We will murder, wreck, and ruin everything standing in our way, be it English, American, or Jewish.”
He explained that the holy war would be won not through weapons but through the superiority of self-sacrificing Arab fighters. The idea was revived, with the same failed result, by Yasir Arafat in the 1960s. Today, having learned nothing from experience, radical Arab nationalists and Islamists frequently make the same claim. True, Arab armies in 1948 were badly led, badly trained, and uncoordinated.
Arab regimes distrusted and disliked the Palestinian leadership and bickered among themselves, striving for individual advantage.
This pattern, too, was often repeated in later years. Abdallah secretly negotiated with the Zionists but they distrusted him, knew he couldn’t control the other leaders, and he offered too little. Still, the consensus was, in the words of a U.S. intelligence report, “The loosely organized, ill-equipped armies of the Arab nations do not have any capabilities against a modern opponent but they do have the strength to overrun Jewish resistance in Palestine….” It didn’t work out that way.
The nascent Israeli forces gained ground against the Husseini and Qawukji forces before the Arab states’ invasion then largely won the ensuing international war. Neither during the conflict nor after their defeat did the regimes help create an independent Palestinian Arab state. Egypt held the Gaza Strip; Jordan annexed the West Bank. Their rejecting peace so often thereafter made the conflict last until today.
The continuation of these policies today by much of the Palestinian leadership—either explicitly or in practice—could make it last another century.
The underlying concept was that either the Palestinian interest should be subordinate to wider movements (Arab nationalism, Islamism) or at least a Palestinian state could only be established after total victory, in all the lands between the Mediterranean and the Jordan River.
Even if some Palestinian leaders think differently today, they are unable to act differently. Another element in the self-perpetuated nakba was the management of the Palestinian refugee problem. In contrast to all other refugees in the world, the UN set up a system in which Palestinians who left in 1948 maintained that status forever, even if they obtained another nationality. By not integrating Palestinian refugees—though this sometimes happened on an unofficial level—and keeping them in camps, Arab regimes with the collaboration of the PLO ensured that their suffering would fuel endless conflict and provide recruits for violence. Fifteen million people were expelled from India and Pakistan, twelve million Germans had been thrown out of eastern Europe, about the same number of Jews were forced out of Arab states, and other such situations had occurred.
They are all resolved and mostly forgotten today.
In the Palestinian case, however, the nakba was deliberately perpetuated because the Arab world, including the Palestinian leadership, decreed that it could only be ended by a triumphant return to what was now Israel. Neither resettlement elsewhere nor in a West Bank/Gaza state was satisfactory. Indeed, this was one of the main issues on which Arafat destroyed the peace process in 2000. Even the “moderate” leadership of the Palestinian Authority maintains this stance today. Of course, regarding peace—and even more the desire to avoid war--there has been some real progress in Arab states, including full, but not fully accepted, peace treaties with Egypt and Jordan. Most Arab leaders know they cannot win the struggle with Israel by total victory, but that was also true back in 1948. What has changed is their margin for doing nothing has increased, which lets them avoid war.
Yet their ability to admit the truth publicly, change their course fully, and accept peace formally and fully still remains quite constricted. And the strong challenge from Islamist movements threatens to reverse even this minimal progress. Such is the reality misunderstood or ignored by all those who think peace is easily obtainable with enough effort or unilateral Israeli concessions. Peace, however, cannot be achieved by pretending since those who engage in this process only fool themselves.
Despite the lessons of sixty years ago and throughout the ensuing time, the Arab side has the chutzpah to complain—and a good part of the Western media echo—that they were Israel’s victims in 1948.
Back then, Qawukji explained that once the Arabs started winning, the Western media would proclaim, “The Arab cause is a just one.” The Arab side made no secret of the fact that the Jews were the underdog and everyone knew what happened to underdogs. As Arab League Secretary-General Abd al-Rahman Azzam explained, “This will be a war of extermination and a momentous massacre….” By the way, what slogan were Palestinian schoolchildren told to chant at the Nakba Day demonstrations organized by the Palestinian Authority?
Why, “Palestine is all ours!” of course, the same slogan as in 1948. Sad to say, the main complaint of Palestinians today is still not so much that they are Israel’s victims but that so far Israel hasn’t been theirs, Azzam-style.
What would Qawukji think to learn that in fact the Western media would proclaim, “The Arab cause is a just one,” only after they had so thoroughly and repeatedly failed to gain such a bloody total victory, though long before they fully accepted the lessons of that failure?

Barry Rubin is director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center and editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs (MERIA) Journal. His latest books are The Israel-Arab Reader (seventh edition), with Walter Laqueur (Viking-Penguin); the paperback edition of The Truth About Syria (Palgrave-Macmillan); A Chronological History of Terrorism, with Judy Colp Rubin, (Sharpe); and The Long War for Freedom: The Arab Struggle for Democracy in the Middle East (Wiley). To read and subscribe to MERIA and other GLORIA Center publications or to order books, visit Professor Barry Rubin,Director, Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center <>Editor, Middle East Review of International Affairs (MERIA) Journal <> Editor, Turkish Studies

Tuesday, May 13, 2008


By Barry Rubin

While America’s secretary of state devotes her time to doomed Israel-Palestinian talks and America goes ga-ga over a candidate whose main foreign policy strategy is to talk to dictators, still another crisis strengthens radical Islamists and endangers Western friends and interests.
William Butler Yeats said it best: "Things fall apart; the center cannot hold; Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world, The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere, The ceremony of innocence is drowned; The best lack all conviction, while the worst , Are full of passionate intensity."
The "best" are often too innocent indeed, sunk in constant self-criticism, persuading themselves they must atone for having done too much in the past by doing nothing in the present, trying to convince the other side of their niceness and sensitivity. Their priority is to ensure no one will accuse them of being imperialistic. And to prove it they will let another country fall into the enemy camp.
The Lebanese logjam has broken at last as Hizballah seized west Beirut and inflicted a big defeat on the pro-government side.
While Iran and Syria provide guns and strong backing to their friends, the West responds with words backed by nothing. Who can blame Hizballah and Damascus and Tehran for laughing with contempt, believing they are the tide of the future, assuming their "passionate intensity" will inevitably triumph over the weak-willed West?
The historic great powers act as pitiful, helpless giants but their enemies will take no pity on them. In short, Hizballah is pulling a two-stage version of Hamas’s Gaza strategy in Lebanon and no one does anything effective about that either.
What Spain was in 1936; Lebanon is today.
Does anyone remember the Spanish Civil War? Briefly, a fascist revolt took place against the democratic government. The rebels were motivated by several factors, including anger that their religion had not been given enough respect and regional grievances, but essentially they sought to put their ideology and themselves into power. Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy backed the rebels with money and guns. The Western democracies stood by and did nothing.
Guess who won? And guess whether that outcome led to peace or world war.
Funny, I thought September 11 changed everything.
Why should Lebanese Sunni, Druze, and Christians risk their lives when the West doesn’t help them? Every Israeli speaking nonsense about Syria making peace; every American claiming Damascus might split from Tehran; every European preaching appeasement has in fact been engaged in confidence-breaking measures.
Hizballah doesn’t need to win a military victory but only to show it can win one, using that position of strength to try to force its demands on the moderate government. . The government has already accepted Michel Suleiman, Syria’s candidate for president. But Hizballah and the rest say this is not enough: they want veto power over everything.
The goal of Hizballah, and its Syrian and Iranian backers at present is not the full conquest of Lebanon—something beyond their means—but to control the government so it does nothing they dislike: no strong relations with the West, no ability to stop war against Israel, no disarming Hizballah’s militias or countering that group’s control over large parts of the country, and certainly no investigation of Syrian involvement in terrorism there.
Government supporters don’t have to surrender. Hizballah took west Beirut in large part because local Sunni Muslims lacked their own militia. Once Hizballah tried to keep going into Druze-controlled areas it got a bloody nose. With its Shia Muslim constituency only about one-third of the population, Hizballah is not capable of conquering Lebanon militarily.
Still, the West often acts as if it would like to lose the struggle in the Middle East. There are all too many examples of how this is true:
Why, three years after Damascus ordered the murder of former prime minister Rafiq Hariri do investigators dawdle, having edited out the names of top Syrian officials they blamed for the killing in their initial report?
Israel bombed a nuclear reactor being built in Syria. Rice reportedly opposed the action. The world yawned.
Iran drives for nuclear weapons. There is some effort but too little, too slow. Whether or not the war in Iraq was a mistake, when terrorists murdered Iraqi civilians, much of the West blamed America; all too many Americans agreed.
Far too much Western media, intellectual--sometimes political life--reviles Israel. But Israel is no threat to them; other forces are. And events in Lebanon are one more proof that the Israel-Palestinian conflict is only a portion, say one-fifth, of the wider Middle East crisis.
Many in the West think Israel will pay the price for their follies. But Israel is ready to do what it needs for its self-defense. If anything, the mistakes of the last round in Lebanon reinforced this determination.
Instead, the main victims will be Arabs, mostly Muslims, in Afghanistan, Gaza, Iraq, and Lebanon, killed by the various Jihad groups, or ruled by them where they take power or dominate through intimidation. And second they will be Western interests, which would not fare well in a region dominated by a combination of Islamists and those who feel they have no choice but to appease them.
When Senator and presidential candidate Barack Obama says he will negotiate with Syria and Iran over Iraq’s future, he signals every Persian Gulf regime to cut its own deal with Iran. When his stances convince Hamas that he’s the guy for them; when Iran and Syria conclude they merely need stand defiant and wait until January 21 for any existing pressure vanishes, the U.S. position in the Middle East is being systematically destroyed.
Note that this does not make Obama the candidate favored by Arabs in general but only by the radicals. Egyptians, Jordanians, Gulf Arabs, and the majorities in Lebanon and Iraq are very worried. This is not just an Israel problem; it is one for all non-extremists in the region.
If the dictators and terrorists are smiling, it means everyone else is crying.
The Syrian and Iranian regimes know that while they may walk through the valley of the shadow of sanctions they need fear nothing because there are all too many who comfort them.
After all, if the UN human rights committee is run by Libya, if UNIFIL forces in Lebanon tread lightly so Hizballah won’t be angry with them, if Westerners tremble and repeal freedom of speech lest some Muslims be offended, why should the "bad guys" worry?
Yet the West doesn’t have to play it stupid forever. Now is the time for energetic action on Lebanon to wipe that confident sneer off their faces. To contain Iran and Syria, to buck up the Lebanese government side and all those Arabs who, whatever their faults, don’t want to live in an Islamist caliphate.
If you want to know what’s wrong, consider Obama’s May 10 statement on Lebanon. He starts out playing tough, talking about "Hezbollah's power grab in Beirut….This effort to undermine Lebanon's elected government needs to stop, and all those who have influence with Hezbollah must press them to stand down immediately." He calls for supporting the Lebanese government, strengthening the Lebanese army, and to "insist on disarming Hezbollah."
But how to do this? By "working with the international with the international community and the private sector to rebuild Lebanon and get its economy back on its feet."
In other words, according to the Obama world view, it’s a problem of development. If people have more money they won’t be terrorists. Of course, that was the policy of Hariri, which was countered by Syria blowing him up. In politics, bombs trump business. And any way you can’t have a strong economy with no government and chaos. Part of the mistake here is Obama’s assumption that Hizballah (and other radicals) want stability and prosperity. In fact, they want to use instability as blackmail in their pursuit of power. They don’t want conciliation. It’s a military-strategic problem, not one of community organizing.
The statement continues: "We must support the implementation of UN Security Council Resolutions that reinforce Lebanon's sovereignty, especially resolution 1701 banning the provision of arms to Hezbollah, which is violated by Iran and Syria."
Great. But the UN is no substitute for U.S. power. As David Schenker of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy writes, "It is highly unlikely that the UN -- which failed to even prevent the rearming of Hizballah--would agree to more dangerous deployments in Lebanon." America doesn’t need a president whose solution is to turn over crises to the UN.
Nor can Obama pass the buck to Lebanon’s army. Its commander is Syria’s presidential candidate, its soldiers are mostly pro-Hizballah, and the quarter-billion dollars of U.S. aid given since 2006 may well become additional assets for Tehran.
As President Harry Truman said of the president’s desk, the buck stops here. So the president of the United States must take the lead, be tough, and make credible threats. What’s needed is not a conciliator but a confronter.
These are the questions Obama isn’t even pretending to try to answer: Are you willing to fight on this issue? To defy an "international community" that opposes action? To intimidate and defeat the radicals? Answer: No.
But here’s the worst part that few in America but everyone in Lebanon will understand all too well:
"It's time to engage in diplomatic efforts to help build a new Lebanese consensus that focuses on electoral reform, an end to the current corrupt patronage system, and the development of the economy that provides for a fair distribution of services, opportunities and employment."
Here, make no mistake, Obama is endorsing the Hizballah program. It wants a new Lebanese consensus based on it having, along with its pro-Syrian allies, 51 percent of the power. What’s needed is not consensus (the equivalent being getting Fatah and Hamas to bury their differences, or bringing in Iran and Syria to determine Iraq’s future) but the willingness to fight a battle. In effect, Obama without realizing it, is arguing for a Syrian-, Iranian-, and Hizballah-dominated Lebanon. Such talk makes moderate Arabs despair.
Here, at the "From Beirut to Beltway" blog, is a typical, sarcastic, reaction by Lebanese government supporters:
"Oh the time we wasted by fighting Hizballah all those years….If only we had engaged them and their masters in diplomacy…sitting with them around discussion tables, welcoming them into our parliament, and letting them veto cabinet decisions. If only Obama had shared his wisdom with us before, back when he was rallying with some of our former friends at pro-Palestinian rallies in Chicago. How stupid we were when, instead of developing `national consensus’ with them, we organized media campaigns against Israel on behalf of the impoverished people who voted for them.
"During that time when we bought into the cause against Israel, treating resistance fighters like our brothers, we really should have been `building consensus’ with them. Because what we did…was…unnecessary antagonism, a product of a `corrupt patronage system and unfair distribution of wealth.’"
"We stand today regretting the wasted time that could have been wisely spent talking to them, to the Syrian occupiers who brought them into our system, and the Iranian revolutionary guards who trained them.[1]
The battle isn’t over, which is all the more reason for real—not just verbal—international action. Hizballah has made its point for the moment that it is the most powerful and to it every knee must bend. Yet without serious political and diplomatic support for Lebanon’s government and real costs inflicted on Syria and Iran, the battle will be lost eventually.
For all those in the West who don’t like Israel, then at least help the people you pretend to like. Back the Lebanese government with real power and aid, covertly or overtly, those battling the radical forces in Lebanon.
Rick: "Sam, if it’s December 1941 in Casablanca, what time is it in New York?"
Sam: "Um, my watch stopped."
Rick: "I bet they’re asleep in New York. I’ll bet they’re asleep all over America."

Barry Rubin is director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center and editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs (MERIA) Journal. His latest books are The Israel-Arab Reader (seventh edition), with Walter Laqueur (Viking-Penguin); the paperback edition of The Truth About Syria (Palgrave-Macmillan); A Chronological History of Terrorism, with Judy Colp Rubin, (Sharpe); and The Long War for Freedom: The Arab Struggle for Democracy in the Middle East (Wiley). To read and subscribe to MERIA and other GLORIA Center publications or to order books, visit

Thursday, May 08, 2008

UNRWA: Refuge Of Rejectionism

Barry Rubin, Asaf Romirowsky, and Jonathan Spyer
May 8, 2008

The GLORIA Center has released a new report, "UNRWA: Refuge of Rejectionism?" The report details how this UN agency, nominally a humanitarian effort to help Palestinian refugees, has in fact become a major barrier to resolving the conflict as well as furnishing finances, facilities, and recruits for terrorist groups.
Following is the Executive Summary. The full report is available at: The Gloria Center
We hope you can publicize this important endeavor. Contact us if you are interested in more information or having original op-ed pieces written for you on this issue.
On the surface, the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) seems a humanitarian group helping Palestinian refugees. In reality, it actually helps destroy the chance of Arab-Israeli peace, promotes terrorism, and holds Palestainians back from rebuilding their lives.
Unique in history, UNRWA's job is to keep Palestinian refugees in suspended animation--and at low living standards--until they achieve the goal set for them by the PLO and Hamas: Israel's extinction. In the meantime, their suffering and anger is maintained as a weapon to encourage them toward violence and intransigence.
UNRWA schools become hotbeds of anti-Western, anti-American, and anti-Semitic indoctrination, recruiting offices for terrorist groups. UNRWA's services are dominated by radicals who staff and subsidize radical groups while potentially intimidating anyone from voicing a different line. UNWRA facilities are used to store and transport weapons, actually serving as military bases.
In this process, UNRWA has broken all the rules that are supposed to govern humanitarian enterprises. Consequently, UNRWA is the exact opposite of other refugee relief operations. They seek to resettle refugees; UNRWA is dedicated to blocking resettlement. They help refugees to live normal lives so that they can move on with their existence; UNRWA's role is to ensure their lives remain abnormal so they are filled with anger and a thirst for revenge that inspires violence and can only be quenched by a victorious return. They try to create stable conditions for refugees; UNRWA's mission is to enable radical political activity and indoctrination by armed groups which ensures a continual state of near chaos.
The time has come, especially given the Hamas takeover of the Gaza Strip, which also signals a Hamas takeover of the UNRWA facilities there, to reevaluate the role of UNRWA. If it is indeed very much a part of the problem--a barrier to resolving the refugees' status and returning them to normal lives; a barrier to resolving the Arab-Israeli conflict; and a source of violence--it should be dissolved and replaced by something better.
Three basic steps are required to do this. They would improve the refugees' lives and strengthen moderate Palestinian forces.
First, UNRWA should be dissolved.
Second, all services it provides should be transferred to other agencies within the UN, notably the UNHCR, which has a long and productive experience in this area.
Third, responsibility for normal social services should be turned over to the Palestinian Authority. Most UNRWA staff should be transferred to it. Donors should use the maximum amount of oversight to ensure this be done effectively.
People often wonder why violence and instability persists and why the Arab-Israeli conflict is so seemingly impossible to resolve. One important part of the answer is that UNRWA perpetuates the problem. All those seeking real progress toward peace between Israelis and Palestinians need to take a close look at this unacceptable situation. All those with responsibility for the management of these issues need to work for a change of course.

Barry Rubin is director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center and editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs Journal. His latest books are The Israel-Arab Reader (seventh edition), with Walter Laqueur (Viking-Penguin); the paperback edition of The Truth About Syria (Palgrave-Macmillan); A Chronological History of Terrorism, with Judy Colp Rubin, (Sharpe); and The Long War for Freedom: The Arab Struggle for Democracy in the Middle East (Wiley).
Dr. Jonathan Spyer is a senior research fellow at the Global Research in International Affairs Center at the Interdisciplinary Center, Herzliya Israel.
Asaf Romirowsky is the Manager of Israel & Middle East Affairs for the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia and an associate fellow at the Middle East Forum.

The Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) CenterInterdisciplinary Center (IDC) Herzliya P.O. Box 167 Herzliya, 46150 IsraelEmail: Phone: +972-9-960-2736 Fax: +972-9-956-8605

Irv Rubin and Earl Krugel