Israeli historian Efraim Karsh argues in the New York Times (8/2/10) today that Arabs have lost interest in the Palestinian cause, which apparently is a good thing because that severs “the spurious link between this particular issue and other regional and global problems,” making it a “positive” sign of hope for future Arab/Israeli peace.
But Karsh’s argument has little basis in fact. The opinion piece takes off from his selective interpretation of a recent poll which, as Marc Lynch of Foreign Policy points out, is not at all scientific. Conducted by the Arabic-language news outlet Al Arabiya (National, 7/22/10), the online survey found that (in Karsh’s words) “a staggering 71 percent of the Arabic respondents have no interest in the Palestinian/Israeli peace talks.”
There’s a world of difference between people in the Arab world saying they couldn’t care less about “peace talks” between Israel and the Palestinian Authority and not caring about the Palestinian cause. In fact, it would be surprising if Arabs, both in Palestine and throughout the Arab world, did express hope in the moribund “peace talks” currently ongoing. Since the Israeli/Palestinian “peace process” started in the early 1990s, Palestinians have gotten little in return besides an ever-growing colonization process in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, a separation barrier that annexes illegal Israeli settlements and restricts freedom of movement for Palestinians, and brutal Israeli assaults that have killed many innocent civilians (GRITtv, 7/21/10).
Another wrench is thrown into Karsh’s argument that “many Arabs have apparently grown…apathetic about the Palestinian-Israeli conflict” when one looks at a 2009 poll of Arab public opinion conducted by the University of Maryland and Zogby International. According to the poll, 76 percent of respondents put “the Palestinian issue” as either the “most important” issue or as one of their “top 3 priorities.”
As a recent statement from the United Arab Emirates’ ambassador to the U.S. made clear (War in Context, 7/8/10), contrary to Karsh’s claim that there is no link between the resolution of the conflict and “peace and stability in the Middle East,” Palestine remains a core issue in the Arab world.