Palestinian-Israeli Conflict Center Stage At 2013 US-Islamic World Forum; Brookings Wrong About Why


The Brookings Institution has published a report on the recently concluded 2013 U.S.-Islamic World Forum. The Brookings report suggests that the Palestinian issue was expected to recede in importance as a series of other issues have come to the fore:

plenary i transitions in afghanistan and pakistan_16x9-1In 1993, Benjamin Netanyahu, then just a Member of Knesset, published a book titled A Place Under the Sun, in which he wrote critically about ‘the theory of Palestinian centrality,’ the idea that the plight of Palestinians is the key to broader Middle East issues. Rather, Netanyahu and others have claimed, the Palestinian issue is a useful ruse for Middle East leaders to deflect domestic criticism away from their own governments toward a hated foreign foe. In private, some would say, Arab leaders’ attitudes toward Israel sounded very differently than they did in public.

At the time, some in Israel, like Netanyahu, argued that this diversionary tactic would only subside when democracy would come to the region, making governments accountable for the wellbeing of their people and answerable to popular needs and votes. With democratic accountability, the argument goes, foreign diversions can only go so far before their hollowness is exposed.

For supporters of a resolution to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, the issue warranted, and still warrants, attention in its own right, regardless of its effects on the rest of the region–resolution of the conflict would have a tremendous benefits for Palestinians and Israelis, its effects on others notwithstanding. But for those opposed to the peace process of the 1990s, the undue attention given in their view to the Israeli-Palestinian relations, masked the wider issues in the Middle East that drove the conflict and obscured the true security risks that Israel faced in its relationship with all its neighbors.

The dramatic changes in the Arab world since the end of 2010 put these assumptions to a partial test. On the face of it, the plethora of domestic, constitutional and economic issues that countries like Egypt now face, not to mention the horrors of the Syrian civil war–with a casualty count that dwarfs that of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict–suggest that the Palestinian question would move down in regional priorities.

Indeed, at last year’s U.S.-Islamic World Forum in Doha, participants discussed an array of complex questions pertaining to the relationship of democracy and religion, democracy and development and U.S. relations with nascent attempts at democracy; all issues that have little to do with the Palestinian-Israeli conflict but whose importance for the future of Middle East societies cannot be overstated. New governments in the Arab world are now preoccupied–as some would say they should be–with deeply vexing domestic issues and uncertain futures.

The Brookings report then goes on to note the centrality of the Palestinian issue at this years event:

And yet, no senior official speaking here before the 2013 U.S.-Islamic World Forum, now underway, has failed to mention prominently the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, from representatives from Benin and the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, to the Deputy Prime Minister of Qatar, to the President of Afghanistan, Hamid Karzai.

In part this persistent emphasis on the Palestinian-Israeli conflict may be due to a second facet of the growing role of public opinion in Muslim-majority countries: the publics in the Muslim world care deeply about the issue. More answerable to them, leaders may be more likely, not less, to highlight Palestine in a genuine way.

The Global Muslim Brotherhood Daily Watch profoundly disagrees with Brookings conclusion that the interest of the officials in question regarding the Palestinian issue is being driven by the “publics” in Muslim-majority countries. If anything, those officials are generally drawn from the ranks of the Global Muslim Brotherhood (or their supporters such as Qatar) which over the years has made every effort to make the Palestinian issue central to every discussion about Islam, perhaps following the lead of Global Brotherhood leader Youssef Qaradawi who recently declared during his Gaza visit that  “this land has never once been a Jewish land. Palestine is for the Arab Islamic nation.” That is of course not to say that this message does not resonate well with the relevant publics only that it is a serious mistake to assert that Forum participants are simple followers of public trends.

As always, this years Forum was attended by a variety of individuals of interest and tied to the Global Muslim Brotherhood including:

  • John Esposito (Saudi-funded Georgetown professor and longtime Muslim Brotherhood supporter)
  • Manal Omar (Director, North Africa, Iraq, and Iran Programs, United States Institute of Peace)

Our predecessor publication covered the 2012 U.S.-Islamic World Forum which featured a much broader range of Global Muslim Brotherhood leaders including Tariq Ramadan, son-in-law of the founder of the  Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood, and Rachid Ghannouchi head of the Muslim Brotherhood in Tunisia). Also featured were several members  the Libyan and  Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood including Essam el-Haddad an Egyptian Brotherhood leader who advises President Morsi.

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