One hundred and thirty-two people have been slaughtered in Paris and hundreds more wounded, to say nothing of smaller incidents that followed, victims of a well-coordinated, multi-pronged massacre devised by jihadists owing allegiance to the Islamic State (IS). The French government of François Hollande has responded with air strikes and statements about a new war that has actually been in progress in Europe for quite some time.
But old habits die hard: Swedish Foreign Minister Margot Wallström declares that it’s really about the war that entwines the Israelis and the Palestinians.
“To counteract the radicalization we must go back to the situation such as the one in the Middle East in which not at the least the Palestinians sees that there is no future; we must either accept a desperate situation or resort to violence,” Wallström said in the aftermath of the Paris attacks.
Her remarks were echoed by Dutch Socialist Party leader Jan Marijnissen, who opined that the terrorists’ behavior “eventually is connected also to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict” which he described as “the growth medium for such an attack.”
All of which looks bizarre, were it not so commonplace. The IS’s own communiqué reveling in the slaughter said nothing about Israel. An IS recruiter in Turkey, interviewed at length on in Der Spiegel in October 2014, contributed 2,400 words of advocacy condemning colonialism, secularism, democracy and homosexuality without mentioning Israel or the Palestinians even once.
Until Paris, the on-going EU-backed strikes against the IS depredations in Syria and Iraq had caused the decades-long fixation with the Israelis and Palestinians to assume smaller proportions. No longer was it held to lie at the strategic heart of a troubled Middle East.
“That was probably the case before the Arab uprisings, but a number of other struggles have now joined it, such as the Sunni-Shi’ite struggle and an intra-Sunni conflict,” observed Salman Shaikh, director of the Brookings Doha Center think tank, last August.
European figures like Wallström and Marijnissen won’t take such commonsense lying down. But then the notion that the Arab war with Israel lies at the core of Middle Eastern problems, including apparently the Middle Eastern problems now washing over Europe, has been popular among the political class in all continents for years.
The idea is both nonsensical and tenaciously disproved by history: the Arab war on Israel had no bearing on the Algerian war in the 1950s; Egypt’s invasion of Yemen, the bloody emergence of the Ba’athist dictatorship in Iraq, or the Aden Emergency, in the 1960s; the Libyan-Chad war or the Polisario war against Moroccan forces in Western Sahara, in the 1970s; or the Iran-Iraq war of the 1980s, which claimed a million lives; or Iraq’s invasion and annexation of Kuwait in 1990.
Nor did it have any bearing on events that followed – like Saddam’s subsequent massacres of hundreds of thousands of Kurds and Shia, the Taliban seizure of most of Afghanistan, or the disintegration of Somalia into a Hobbesian arena of rival militias. Events in post-Saddam Iraq and Syria have followed their own trajectory, unrelated to what Israelis and Palestinians say or do.
But supposing for a moment that none of this were true and the conflict presently resolvable, it would still be difficult to see what possible influence an Israeli-Palestinian peace could produce elsewhere across the region.
When gunmen who murdered 19 people, mainly foreign tourists, in Tunisia’s National Museum in March, to take one random example of jihadist terror in the past year, they left no clue as to being motivated by the Palestinian cause. Would an Israeli/Palestinian peace caused them to stay home?
Would the Taliban and al-Qaeda lay down their arms in Afghanistan or Pakistan because of Israelis and Palestinians made peace?
Would the Sudanese regime end its atrocities in Darfur, let alone dispatch an ambassador to Israel?
Would the Al Shabaab jihadists would call off launching incursions into Kenya and Ethiopia upon news of an Israeli-Palestinian peace treaty?
Would the Iranian regime revise its determination that Israel must be wiped from the map, just because Israel would now be sharing it with a neighboring country called Palestine?
Would not jihadists would still shed the blood of Hindus in India, Buddhists in Thailand and Catholics in the Philippines? And would they not still shed the blood of fellow Muslims in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Pakistan, Syria, Turkey and Yemen?
Is it so outré to observe that the conflicts in Syria and Iraq would be completely unattenuated by any sudden outbreak of Israeli/Palestinian peace?
Those who insist on the centrality of this conflict to the world misfortunes are not making a credible assertion about the importance of producing an Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement.
Rather, they are availing themselves of an alibi for their own hostility to Israel’s existence.
Hostility and convenience go hand in glove: European politicians gratify and appease the Arab/Muslim street –– coming, not coincidentally, in droves to their shores –– when laying the blame in whole or part on the absence of peace between Israel and Palestinians and issuing professions as to the complete irrelevance of Islam to the terrorism taking place in their streets.
Short of resolution, let alone a program, for resisting Islamist encroachments at home, this is what passes for the strategy of the free world today, or at least its governments: in Europe, as burgeoning insecurity and violence expand, we can expect populations to grow more restive even as their governments grow more obtuse (at least publicly) about what is happening.
Breaking out of this dangerous, self-defeating cycle of delusion and distraction will be painful. But for an exponential surge of attacks and casualties, we can expect much continued avoidance and denial in Western chanceries.