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News Analysis: Mideast Could Be Friendlier Place for Israel After Iraq is Defeated

January 23, 1991
See Original Daily Bulletin From This Date

The Middle East may offer a friendlier environment for Israel once Saddam Hussein’s Iraq is defeated, a number of thinkers and analysts here believe.

By the same token, Israel inevitably will be forced to confront and resolve its Palestinian problem, they say.

With Hussein gone, Egypt, the only Arab state formally at peace with Israel, will emerge stronger.

Syria, until a year ago regarded as Israel’s most implacable foe, will be in the American camp. It refused to be drawn into “a foolish war by Saddam,” in the words of its defense minister, Mustafa Tlas.

Instead of turning on Israel, Syria has joined the U.S.-led coalition against Iraq.

The Damascus daily Tishrin chided Iraq for serving Israel’s interests by attacking it with SCUD missiles. Israel could some day use its newly acquired Patriot anti-missile missiles against Arab targets, the newspaper said.

After the war, Saudi Arabia will be at least psychologically closer to Israel, having shared with it the experience of being the target of Iraqi missile attacks.


Under such circumstances, Israel will find it increasingly difficult to argue credibly that Arab hostility to it is the “core” of the Middle East conflict, rather than the Palestinian problem.

Israel’s struggle with the Palestinians will not evaporate with the disappearance of Hussein. It may take a lower profile, but will rise to the surface as it always has.

The prominent Israeli author A.B. Yehoshua wrote in the mass-circulation daily Yediot Achronot this week that it is not too soon to give serious thought to this matter.

“The strange and new military alliance between us and the coalition countries will be able to survive only if it is not poisoned by the Palestinian problem.

“This is exactly the hour to make the Palestinian people a clear and generous offer which can only be judged by one criterion: Had we been in their place, could we accept it?” the writer said.

But at the moment, the Palestinians are not making their situation any easier. They are probably stronger supporters of Saddam Hussein than many of his own people.

To the despair of their most thoughtful leaders, they have once again backed the wrong horse.

As SCUD missiles whistled over Tel Aviv and Haifa, nobody was happier than the Palestinians. Despite curfews, they took to the streets in the refugee camps and in the big West Bank cities, like Nablus and Tulkarm, chanting slogans in support of Hussein, “the first Arab leader who dared attack Israel’s cities.”

The Palestinians were well aware they could be casualties of the Iraqi missile attacks. After all, about 15,000 Arabs live in Jaffa, just south of Tel Aviv, and several thousand Israeli Arabs live in the center of Haifa.

But in the administered territories, they did not seem to care, as long as their arch-enemy was under attack.

When the air raid sirens were heard, many Palestinians climbed to the rooftops to try to see the Iraqi missiles in action, chanting “Allah akhbar” (God is great).


In the western outskirts of Ramallah, just north of Jerusalem, it was possible to hear the explosions of SCUD missiles in Tel Aviv, much to the delight of the local population.

The hatred of the Israeli presence is so deep in the territories that it undermines rationality.

Dr. Sari Nusseibeh, a lecturer at Bir Zeit University in the West Bank, was one of the first Palestinian leaders to admit there was something wrong with Palestinian support of Iraq.

“We knew that Saddam Hussein was about to lose, but we could not help supporting him, because he is our only ray of light,” Nusseibeh said.

Mayor Elias Freij of Bethlehem, an experienced political hand, warned from the outset that the Palestinians erred in supporting Saddam Hussein, because the Persian Gulf crisis relegated the Palestinian issue to the bottom of the Middle East agenda.

Faisal Husseini, a leading Palestinian nationalist leader in East Jerusalem, expressed sorrow Sunday over the Iraqi attack on Israel, though he equated it with American air attacks on Baghdad.

Palestine Liberation Organization chief Yasir Arafat may have dug the biggest hole for himself when he spoke out in support of Hussein at the start of the Persian Gulf crisis.

Arafat is still trying to formulate some kind of peaceful settlement, a hopeless task at this juncture.

But he keeps at it. According to rumors, Israel has been assured that it will be rewarded for refraining from retaliation against Iraqi missile attacks by the removal of an international conference from the Middle East peace agenda.

In other words, there will be no linkage between Kuwait and the Palestinian issue, which was the main reason the Palestinians supported Hussein at the outset.

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