If you want to understand why much of the Arab world is a basket case, it’s worth considering Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi’s address to an Islamic Solidarity Conference in Mecca this week. Morsi came out in favor of regime change in Syria. But the most urgent problem facing the Muslim world today, he said, is the Palestinian issue.
Now consider a few simple statistics: Since the Syrian uprising began 17 months ago, more than 19,000 people have been killed, including more than 2,750 in July alone, according to the Syrian opposition. The number of Palestinians killed by Israel during those 17 months is around150, according to B’Tselem – less than 1 percent of the Syrian total. In fact, according to Palestinian casualty data compiled by the University of Uppsala, the Syrian death toll over the last 17 months is greater than the total number of Palestinians killed by Israel over the entire 64 years of its existence.
So by any objective standard, the Syrian problem would look incomparably more urgent: Solving it would save far more Muslim Arab lives than solving the Palestinian problem would. But for Morsi, and for all too many others in the Arab world, securing the well-being of his fellow Muslim Arabs is evidently less important than undermining the well-being of the hated Jewish state. The Syrian crisis being a purely intra-Arab conflict, solving it doesn’t contribute one iota to the latter goal. But an obsessive focus on the Palestinian problem does.
Of course, it’s also possible that Morsi doesn’t actually believe in the primacy of the Palestinian cause, but is merely playing the time-honored game that Arab opinion leaders – politicians, journalists, artists and intellectuals – have been playing for decades: Let’s divert attention from the internal problems of Arab society by focusing on an outside enemy. But either way, the message is the same: What really matters isn’t what the Arabs do to themselves, but what the Jews do to them, even if what Arabs are doing to themselves (or each other) is far worse. And therefore, the focus of Arab activity must be Israel, not the Arab world’s internal problems – even if focusing on the latter would do more to actually improve the lot of ordinary Arabs.
More than half a century ago, former Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir famously said that “Peace will come when the Arabs will love their children more than they hate us.” Sadly, that’s still true. But it’s equally true that as long as Arab leaders accord higher priority to their campaign against Israel than they do to the welfare of their own people, the Arab world will continue to lag far behind the West by almost any standard of human well-being.
In fact, the Arab world has paid a far higher price for its Israel obsession than Israel ever has. The Jewish state has grown and thrived despite being continuously at war. But ordinary Arabs can still be slaughtered by their own government while their Arab brethren look on and yawn – and continue prating about Israel.