The Arabs, Weak by Choice

By Hasan El-Hasan

Nation-states living in the area from Morocco to Iraq including the Arabian Peninsula share a distinct culture and history, and speak Arabic, albeit with hundreds of dialects. Arab nationalism is "ingrained in the soul of Arab individuals based on the sentiments of a glorious past", but Arab unity today is needed to deal with challenges posed by the twenty-first century Orientalism. European colonialists divided the region, planted the State of Israel, drew the borders and supported its ruling regimes after stripping them of their Arab legitimacy in favor of tribal and local nationalism; and the region remains hostage to its imperialist past. Each state within this region has developed its own realities, laws, culture and history that have grown over the years, and developed its own interests which in many cases are not shared by others. The establishment of a strong union of these nations that can defend their interests against the big bullies of the world, similar to the European Union, can never be taken seriously under the present regimes whose policies cast doubts on their legitimacy. The history of the Arab League since its inception suggests the Arab regimes chose to be weak and irrelevant.

Delegations of Egypt, Syria, Iraq, Lebanon and Trans-Jordan passed what they called "Alexandria Protocol" providing the basis for the creation of the "Arab League" in October 1944; Saudi Arabia joined the protocol in January 1945; and the League pact was signed in March 1945. The Arab League was established according to the wishes of Great Britain as a prerequisite for the admission of the Arab states to the United Nations. Number of the League member states has reached twenty-two today. League members are supposed to co-ordinate and collaborate to safeguard each other independence and sovereignty. But anytime its members have been called upon to meet their obligations, they failed individually and collectively the solidarity test and proved they are high on rhetoric and low on action.

Union attempts among Arab states had short lives but wars, violence and human rights violations became the trademark of the region. The 1958-1961 Egypt and Syria United-Arab-Republic failed; 1958 Iraq and Jordan United-Arab-Kingdom was aborted in the same year when the Iraqi royal family and its supporters were massacred during Abdel-Karim Kassim led military coup; Gaddafi proposed federation among Egypt, Libya, and Syria in 1972 was abandoned in 1977; and the 1990 merger of North and South Yemen is in trouble where separatist’s sentiment in the South is strong.

Sudan, a member in the Arab League, has been embroiled in a civil war that took the lives of hundreds of thousands and will certainly lead to a divided Sudan into north and south or east and west. The West and Israel are actively involved on behalf of the separatists and the Arab League chose to act as a spectator. Even under occupation, the Palestinians are bitterly divided politically with Hamas governing the Palestinians in Gaza and Fatah only nominally governs the Palestinians in the West Bank. Arab states are accomplices in the Palestinians infighting patronizing one faction or another.

The only successful union in the Arab world has been the United Arab Emirates due to the special personal relations among the families that control its six city-states and the feeling of insecurity living next to big, more populous and more powerful neighboring-states. The Arab League has failed to live up to what the name implies.

 In the Arab-Israeli 1948 war, five members of the Arab League decided to intervene militarily on behalf of the Palestinians, but they waited until more than 250,000 Palestinians had been uprooted and thousands were massacred. The Jewish armed units were methodically dehumanizing the Palestinian non-combatant civilians, attacking their villages, detonating their houses, carrying out mass ethnic cleansing, and hunting down thousands of them. While the Palestinians depopulation process was unfolding Arab-League-leaders’ level of rhetoric was reaching new heights which the Jews before and after the establishment of Israel exploited to perpetuate the myth of potential "second Holocaust" by the Arabs.

This gave the Israelis the excuse to use their superior military power to occupy more Arab lands and remove by force the remaining inhabitants of the areas they conquered. Israel was portrayed as the weak David attacked by the Arab Goliath and Jews all over the world and their international sympathizers came to the rescue, providing volunteers and material support. The facts on the ground suggested otherwise. The nascent State of Israel with its half million population had more manpower and arms than the total Arab states military contingents that came to defend the Palestinians. Besides being out-numbered by their opponents, Arab League armies did not have the political will to fight and they were fighting more against each other than against the Israeli military. Personal animosity among the leaders of the Arab states deemed the military intervention futile. They surrendered Palestinians’ lands through their incompetence and corruption, instigating mutual antagonism and promoting their leaders agendas at the Palestinians’ expense. The Trans-Jordan Arab Legion commander-in-Chief, John Bagot Glubb, called the 1948 war "the Phony War".

Nineteen years later, Arab States surrendered the West Bank, Jerusalem, Gaza Strip, Sinai and the Golan Heights in the 1967 war. The Egyptians never intended to go to war in 1967, but they moved their troops in Sinai only to warn Israel not to attack Syria. Egypt’s decision played well into the hands of the Israelis who were eager not to miss the unique opportunity to take over all of Palestine. Israel considered Egypt’s action a declaration of war and responded with a surprise attack on June 5, destroying most of the Egyptian, Syrian and Jordanian forces. Finally, Egypt signed a peace treaty with Israel leaving the Palestinians and the Syrians to deal with the consequences of the 1967 war alone.

No Arab League state supported Libya in its confrontation with the US in 1986 when US planes bombed targets in Libya killing at least 100 people. The Arab states became passive spectators when Arafat was holed up in his Ramallah compound and perhaps killed because he had outlived his usefulness to Israel, or when the Israeli military attacked Lebanon and committed horrendous war crimes against the Lebanese and the Palestinians in 1978, 1982 and 2006, or when Israel destroyed Gaza in 2008-09 and murdered and injured thousands of Palestinians.

Arab League members fought bloody wars against each other in Yemen and Iraq. Following the 1962 military coup in Yemen, Egypt’s military fought to prop the Republican regime against the Royalist insurgents who were aided by the Saudi Arabia which did not recognize the Yemen Arab Republic until 1970. Iraq, a member of the Arab League, invaded and annexed anther member, Kuwait in 1990 and Arab states asked the US to settle their dispute; the US-led coalition of 34 nations to fight against Iraq and liberate Kuwait in 1991; Jordan and the PLO, both members of the Arab League, were virtually treated by the Gulf States and Egypt as pariah for proposing inter-Arab solution to the conflict.

Arab League did not come to the defense of the Iraqi people in 2003 when a multinational force led by the US and the UK invaded Iraq, destroying the country’s institutions, causing horrific bloodshed, displacing millions and creating ethnic, sectarian and religious sub-identities. Arab Gulf States, members of the Arab League, provided bases and the logistic support to the invading foreign armies while Turkey, a NATO member, refused to provide such facilities.

The League impotence and irrelevance in solving the region-wide conflicts and civil strife stigmatized the Arabs who became the subject of international humor and disdain. During the 1982 Argentina-British Falkland Islands conflict, the Argentina Junta leader was quoted saying: "We are not an Arab state; we do not capitulate." The United States adopted the European colonial policies and stereotype views of the Arabs.

The Arab League today chose not to backup its policies to deal with the Arab problems; and its members chose not to translate promises into deeds. The support the Palestinians receive from the Arab League is only occasional rhetoric and advice to accept Israeli-American dictates. The Arab states assumed the role of mediators rather than defenders of the Palestinians. Despite their close relations with Washington, the moderate Arab regimes have no influence on the US policy toward the Palestinians if they wish to intervene on their behalf. The 2006 Khartoum Arab League summit pledged to fund the PA, but no money was provided because its members yielded to the Israeli-US-led campaign for denying aid to the Hamas-led government. Saudi Arabia pledged one billion dollars to rebuild Gaza but like other promises, it has not been kept. The League members pledged to break Gaza siege; instead, some became partners with Israel in the siege. Egypt is building the Israeli designed and US financed steel wall along its 10 km border with Gaza to complete the Strip isolation in violation of the besieged Palestinians rights under the Geneva Convention.

The Arab states collectively have the potential of being politically, economically and militarily strong and respected. They have the manpower, the natural resources, the strategic location, a sizable middle class and they have the capital. But they chose to be weak and irrelevant. The ruling elites are entrenched and estranged from their people; they have no respect for the human rights, suppress dissent and weaken internal opposition. They have not allowed the opposition to act peacefully, to demonstrate, to change or to rise up. Only grass-roots Islamic movements have promised change and threatened these regimes. Some Islamic movements follow ambitious offensive strategies to seize power and others prefer cooperation and gradual change. The ruling elites created authoritarian regimes and chose not to invest in the intellectual, human and material resources in building socioeconomic infrastructure for their citizens. They chose to create consumer rather than productive societies by investing their countries’ resources in the West rather than in their own people and creating jobs for their unemployed. Arab regimes chose to be disunited with no common purpose, thus becoming powerless to back any decision they make.

Regarding the Palestinian issue, Arab regimes chose to submit to the US, the main strategic ally and the defender of Israel’s aggression and violations of the Palestinians human rights and the international laws. The US is not hiding its bias against the Palestinians. It labels the Palestinians who refuse to succumb to occupation and humiliation as terrorists, and it calls the mass murder of the Palestinians and collective punishment Israel imposes on the entire Palestinian civilian population as "self-defense".

The Arab League keeps re-introducing its 2002 "land for peace" initiative and threatens to take it off the table if Israel ignores it. But the League does not have to withdraw the plan; Israel has already rejected it in its provocative rhetoric and bloody deeds; and as long as the Arabs choose to be weak, they cannot do anything about it.

Hasan Afif El-Hasan, Ph.D., is a political analyst. Born in Nablus, Palestine, His upcoming book is "Is the Two-State Solution Already Dead?" (Algora Publishing, NY).  He contributed this article to

(The Palestine Chronicle is a registered 501(c)3 organization, thus, all donations are tax deductible.)
Our Vision For Liberation: Engaged Palestinian Leaders & Intellectuals Speak Out