Here’s the scariest part of events at the UN during the last week: In its obsession with the Palestinian statehood bid, the world seems quite prepared to let the entire rest of the Middle East implode.
Tunisia, Libya and Egypt all underwent revolutions this year and are struggling to rebuild their countries; revolutions in progress are convulsing Syria and Yemen. Not only is the Israeli-Palestinian arena stable by comparison, but most of these countries, and especially Egypt and Syria, are far more important to the region’s future than the backwater of the West Bank and Gaza. Yet as Lilia Labidi, Tunisia’s new minister of women’s affairs, discovered, nobody at the UN had any attention to spare for their problems:
Her own appeal to the gathering for help in consolidating gains for women in Tunisia elicited little reaction, with [Secretary of State Hillary] Clinton, President Dilma Rousseff of Brazil and various other female heads of state sweeping out of the meeting on empowering women without stopping for even a hello … She found it frustrating that the question she was asked the most by people had little bearing on her projects, like improving girls’ access to elementary school. The question she heard over and over: What effect will the revolution have on Tunisian attitudes toward the Arab-Israeli conflict?
Ban Ki-Moon, the United Nations secretary general, conducts a version of political speed-dating during the gathering, holding a 15-minute meeting with each delegation. Virtually every leader has brought up the need to solve the Israeli-Palestinian dispute, said a senior aide, while he could not remember any discussions about the Arab revolution.
This inattention also translates into a shortage of much-needed cash. Earlier this month, the G-8 pledged $38 billion in aid to Libya, Tunisia, Egypt, Jordan and Morocco. But while the recipients appreciated the gesture, they pointed out that of the $20 billion the G-8 promised Tunisia and Egypt in May, Tunisia has yet to receive a penny and Egypt has received only $500 million.
By contrast, Palestinians are deluged with Western aid. In 2008 and 2009, for instance, they received $2.6 billion and $3.1 billion, respectively, making the Palestinian Authority the world’s top aid recipient per capita–$725 in 2009, almost triple the $273 the G-8 just pledged the five other states.
The West has a vital interest in ensuring stability in the Arab Spring states. If these states implode, not only will hordes of migrants flood Europe’s shores, but global Islamism – and the terror it spawns – will get a tremendous boost, having “proven” because democracy failed to solve these countries’ problems, Islam must be the answer. In contrast, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict threatens no vital Western interest: The world has lived with it quite successfully for decades, and can easily do so for decades to come. But in its obsession with the unimportant and non-urgent, the West is ignoring a problem that is both important and urgent.
The primary victims of this strategic myopia are obviously the Arab Spring countries themselves. But the West is liable to pay dearly for it down the road.