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BACKGROUNDER:
EXPOSING A MAJOR MIDEAST MYTH

"For the man whose knowledge is not in order, the more he has of it, the greater will be his confusion." - Herbert Spencer (1820-1923)
FOR DECADES, THE UNITED NATIONS, A SUCCESSION OF EUROPEAN BODIES, THE ARAB LEAGUE, NON-ALIGNED MOVEMENT AND ORGANISATION OF AFRICAN UNITY HAVE CHURNED OUT THE TIRED MAXIM THAT THE PALESTINIAN QUESTION IS CENTRAL TO PEACE IN THE MIDDLE EAST. LET'S HELP SLAUGHTER THAT HOLY COW.

ALTHOUGH Saddam Hussein's invasion of Kuwait in 1990 and the subsequent Gulf War went a long way towards destroying the myth of Palestinian centrality to the Mideast conflict, some have sought to blame even THAT intra-Arab conflict on Israel.

Argued British writer Bryn Jones in 1991: "To Arabs, the frightening technological weaponry unleashed on Iraq, and the vetoing of efforts to pressurise Israel into obeying similar UN resolutions, only confirmed American intentions to protect Israel, whatever her injustices towards the Palestinians.

"For most Arabs the Gulf War was always about Israel. They believe that President [George] Bush was psychologically mugged by the American Jewish lobby, that Israel used the coalition forces to fight its own war by proxy." (RESTORATION magazine, May-June 1991)

Such breathtaking assertions aside, fair-minded observers blamed the Gulf War squarely on Iraqi aggression, and Israel was, for once, not seen as the culprit.

But aside from the Iraqi situation, governments and international bodies continue to this day to place "the Palestinian problem" at the core of the woes of the Middle East.

In his book, A PLACE AMONG THE NATIONS, Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu recalls: "At nearly all the diplomatic functions I can remember, from the day I first came to Washington as deputy chief of the Israel mission in 1982, right up to the day of the invasion of Kuwait, Western diplomats of all ranks and extractions would solemnly point out that peace would not be achieved in the Middle East as long as the Palestinian Problem was not resolved. And each of them was utterly convinced that this was so 'because, after all, it is the core of the conflict in the region'. "

Netanyahu goes on to enumerate some of the events which for decades have made the Middle East the most unstable region on earth. In most Arab countries, violence is used as a political tool against enemies (real and imagined) both at home and abroad. Assassinations, coups, wars, invasions, terrorism, subversion, conspiracy, torture, detention without trial and other human rights abuses have punctuated the history of the Arab world.

In their unbridled lust for power, Arab tyrants have ignored international conventions on conduct in war. Prisoners of war are routinely tortured and often murdered. At least three of the very few times gas warfare has been used anywhere since World War I involved Arabs - by Nasser in Yemen in the 1960s; by Saddam against the Iranians during the bloody Iraq-Iran War; and again by Saddam, against Kurdish civilians inside Iraq.

"Thus, the penchant for violence of Arab rulers has led to the continual prosecution of wars against Arabs and non-Arabs abroad, and the continual persecution of Arabs and non-Arabs at home," Netanyahu writes. "With such a record, it is hardly a surprise that these rulers have been paid back with a fusillade of assassination efforts, a considerable number of them successful."

Between 1949 and 1992, at least 15 Arab heads of state - kings, presidents and prime ministers - were killed by Arab enemies. For example, eight of the 15 emirs who have consecutively ruled Abu Dhabi have been assassinated.

Netanyahu, a former ambassador to the United Nations, relates in his book how the UN General Assembly regularly devoted two full, week-long sessions to the "Theory of Palestinian Centrality" - the first is called "The Question of Palestine", and the second "The Situation in the Middle East".

When he discovered that the same litany of Israel-bashing characterised both sessions, he stood up during the second session (in 1985), queried the duplication and waste of time, then proceeded to hand to delegates a list of Middle Eastern violence during that year not linked to the Israel-Palestinian issue, compiled by the US Foreign Broadcasting Information Service.

"Given that 1985 was widely considered an 'uneventful' year in the Middle East, this was a remarkable compilation. It was a catalogue of bombings, kidnappings, assassinations, executions, coups, hijackings, and border incursions, alongside the outright war raging at the time between Iran and Iraq.

"The targets were diplomats, journalists, embassies, and airline offices. The victims were Iraqis, Moroccans, Sudanese, and Libyans ... as well as Americans, British, French, Italians, Swiss, Dutch, Soviets, Japanese and many others."

Netanyahu said the Arab UN delegates reacted angrily, demanding what right Israel's representative had to meddle in the "internal affairs" of the Arab world, in disputes within "the Arab family".

While the Arab reluctance to confront the violence racking their region is hardly surprising, what is indeed strange is the willingness of rest of the world, mesmerised as it is by the Arab-Israeli situation, virtually to ignore the grim, wider picture.

CASUALTIES IN MIDEAST CONFLICTS

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