We are constantly being told that the major problem of the Middle East is the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians. For those of us who follow this conflict closely, whether from Israel or abroad, this seems to be true. However, if you look at current events all over the Middle East (not just in Israel) it becomes clear that the problems in the Middle East are much broader.
Walter Russel Mead wrote in American Interest that the main problem in the Mideast is Syria:
The controversy over the Palestinian bid for statehood should not distract policymakers from the main event. Assadâ€™s fall â€” or his attempts to cling to power â€” could easily trigger prolonged armed conflict that could well spread beyond Syriaâ€™s frontiers. The situation is exacerbated by the interests of Saudi Arabia, Iran, and Turkey, who all have much to gain or lose if Damascus is abandoned. Iran could lose an important ally; the Saudis want a Sunni majority government that might be more radical than its neighbors would like; and Turkey will be worried about the Kurds. And given the close links between Syria and Lebanon and the weakness Lebanonâ€™s government and the sectarian factionalism of its politics, it is likely that anything that happens in Syria will have profound implications for Lebanon.
Elliot Jager points out in his article, “The Myth of Mideast Stability,” that the entire Middle East suffers from turmoil. Tunisia, Egypt, Iraq, Syria and Lebanon are all in precarious positions these days. Despite the desire of the international community to trade Israeli security for regional stability, this is an unrealistic goal. Even if the “Palestinian problem” were solved once and for all (hypotheticallyâ€¦), the Middle East would still be an unstable region. According to Jager, the real problem in the Middle East is “regional, tribal, ethnic, and religious fault lines.”
Evelyn Gordon argues that in fact, the world’s obsession with the Palestinian bid for statehood comes at the expense of the rest of the Arab world. As she put it, “In its obsession with the PalestinianÂ statehood bid, the world seems quite prepared to let the entire rest of the Middle East implode.” For instance, Western aid to Palestine is much higher than to anywhere else in the Mideast. The Arab Spring revolutions have made aid to Egypt, Tunisia and Libya especially critical, but despite promises these countries have received almost no aid. As Gordon points out, although right now the victims of this policy are the Arab countries themselves, in the long run the West will suffer from this neglect as the regional instability worsens.
Clearly, the Middle East is beset by numerous problems, of which the Palestinian issue is just one. Media bias has brought the Palestinian desire for a state to the forefront, but if the other problems of the region are not addressed, the results will be dire.