Arabs divide; Israel rules
By Linda S. Heard
Online Journal Contributing Writer

Apr 2, 2008, 00:57

As the Damascus Arab League Summit has illustrated, the principle of Arab unity has rarely been as fragile. For the people of this region, this is a tragedy. The more Arabs are divided on crucial issues affecting their lives, the more unprotected and powerless ordinary people feel. For in the world of geopolitics small is definitely not beautiful.

Every crack that forms within the Arab nation represents another vulnerability that offers its enemies a quicker route to fulfilling their own goals. For instance, on Sunday, an Arab League statement warned Israel that the league's continued support for the 2002 Saudi "Arab Peace Initiative" was contingent upon Israel's actions. The Israeli papers have reacted by suggesting the offer isn't workable anyway because it relies on the agreement of all 22 Arab League member countries, many of which are currently at odds with one another.

Such divisions have given the Israelis an excuse to pour public scorn on the Arab Peace Initiative, which they never intended to take seriously anyway, since they have little intention of pulling back behind pre-1967 borders or handing over East Jerusalem to become the capital of a new Palestinian state.

Put simply, the more Arabs can't get along, the more Israel is strengthened. The current animosities between Lebanese are music to the Israeli government's ears because a strong, unified and economically viable Lebanon might emerge as a potential threat on its borders.

Similarly, the ideological and political split between Palestinian factions is a bonus for Israel, which is able, in all good conscience, to proclaim it doesn't have a partner for peace. This is a chasm that was engineered by the US State Department as we now know from leaked memos and which is being promoted by Israel every time it offers concessions to the West Bank while heaping more pain on Gaza.

The ousting by the West of Israel's arch foe Saddam Hussein was cheered on by Tel Aviv, which also benefits from the inter-fighting within Iraq that precludes it from reemerging as a power any time soon, even if the occupation forces were to pack up and go.

Arab disunity was at the core of a 1982 paper, titled "A Strategy for Israel in the Nineteen Eighties," written by Oded Yinon, an Israeli journalist attached to his country's Foreign Ministry, and published by the Association of Arab American University Graduates. "The plan operates on two essential premises," goes the introduction written by Khalil Nakhleh. "To survive, Israel must first become an imperial regional power and secondly, must effect the division of the whole area into small states . . ." The paper itself accurately predicts the dissolution of Iraq into three autonomous regions and describes Lebanon as being "a state in which there is no centralized power but only five de facto sovereign authorities." Lebanon "is torn apart and its economy is falling to pieces," Yinon wrote more than a quarter-of-a-century ago.

"Egypt is in the worst situation," he writes. "Millions are on the verge of hunger, half the labor force is unemployed. Who would have believed that 26 years on Egypt is facing a shortage of wheat that has led to bread riots while 20 percent live below the poverty level even though unemployment has been reduced to ten percent!"

The author of the 1982 paper points out that Egypt relies on US aid, which it still does today. This state of affairs begs this question. Why does a country considered the mother of the Arab nation have to rely on handouts from a Western power when this region is one of the richest on the planet? Why aren't wealthier Arab countries ready to step in with cash to ensure Egypt's independence?

This question is especially pertinent after the recent Suez Canal incident, whereby a cargo ship under contract to the US Navy shot and killed a 27-year-old Egyptian cigarette vendor plying his trade by motorboat within his country's own waters. And instead of being detained for questioning, the ship's crew were allowed to continue their journey unimpeded. The father of two children was buried last Tuesday without anyone being held responsible. Why is it that, while the rest of the world's nation states are forging political, economic and defense links with allies, the Arab world is fragmenting?

The EU has become a bloc of 27 countries with a joint population of almost 500 million with disparate cultures, traditions and languages. Canada, the US and Mexico will join forces if the touted North American Union ever gets off the ground. South American states are unifying on the lines of the EU. The Caspian states have found common purpose. Russia is reclaiming its former status as a major world power. China and India are developing economically and militarily.

In a nutshell, this is not the time for feuding between Arab states if the Arab world expects to maintain any clout within the international arena. Such bickering not only feeds into Israel's long-term strategies, it also facilitates the regional grip of oil-hungry foreign powers.

An Arab world united toward achieving the common good of its 300 million people would be a force to be reckoned with. If European countries could put aside cultural differences and mend rifts brought about by wars, then surely Arabs with so much in common can do it, too, provided there's a will to trust and forgive.

Linda S. Heard is a British specialist writer on Middle East affairs. She welcomes feedback and can be contacted by email at

Copyright © 1998-2007 Online Journal
Email Online Journal Editor