Myths do not die easily, and if they do so, only after spectacular and often painful failures. In this century alone, we have witnessed a number of political myths leading to loss of life, disaster, and devastation. Such false beliefs included the myth of the primacy of the German race, the supremacy of the white man, the workers' paradise in the Soviet Union, and world domination by Jewish capitalists.
Recently a new political myth has been spreading. It is the belief in the all-pervading might of Arab petrodollars and the conviction that Arab leaders are guided by emotions and not cool reasoning. This is accompanied by the assumption that the feeling of overwhelming solidarity with the Palestinians is compelling the Arab governments to shape their policies to the needs of the PLO.
However petroleum analysts of the Israeli government have come to the conclusion that this is not so.
They have found that neither Arab international trade nor Arab oil supplies have been influenced thus far by the Middle East policies of the major Western nations.
Support of the Palestinian cause has secured no special privileges in trading with the Arab world. Nor did friendship with Israel prove an obstacle. So far.
This Israeli thesis has been derived from a booklet, "Direction of Trade," published by the United Nations. The booklet deals with export figures of the United States and six West European countries to 14 Arab states. On the Arab side, the booklet includes statistics about such oil and financial giants as Saudi Arabia, Libya, Kuwait, and Iraq.
It also deals with some markedly anti-Western Arab countries, such as Syria, South Yemen, and North Yemen as well. (The former French possessions of North Africa -- Algeria, Morocco, Tunisia -- were excluded from the study since these maintain special relations with France.)
The most unexpected figures show that the United States and West Germany, both consistent supporters of the state of Israel, have fared better in their overall trade with the Arab world than such eagerly anti-Israel and pro-Arab powers as France and Italy.
A few figures: From 1974 till 1978, French exports to the Arab states under study increased by 130 percent. Italy's exports in the same years rose by 164 percent. But during the same period. West germany exported 191 percent more than before; and United States exports showed an impressive growth of 214 percent.
The absence of correlation between Arab international trade and Western attitudes on the Middle East seems to be paralleled by a similar situation with regard to the price of Arab oil. As an example, Israelis point to two recent petroleum agreements concluded by France, one with Kuwait and the other with Iraq.
Although some privileges for France appear to have resulted, the price of petroleum sold to France by both Arab oil exporters rose to the general market level shortly after the signing of the agreement.
Should these figures prove correct -- and there is no reason to doubt them -- one conclusion is clear. It is that the courting of the radical Arab camp, which is increasingly fashionable on both sides of the Atlantic, is neither unavoidable nor a necessarily beneficial policy.
This does not mean that the Palestinian question is not an acute and urgen problem calling for policy revisions and adjustments on many a side -- including Israel. But the figures derived from the UN publication should help to bring into proper perspective two current myths, both rapidly gaining influence in the West's news media and policymaking circles.
One such myth is that Arab political and business leaders are guided by their emotions and not by objective interests. The UN figures reflect the opposite: Sobriety and cool business reasoning operate in the Arab world as in Europe, the US, or Israel -- although the style, semantics, and negotiating tactics differ from country to country.
The other myth is that overwhelming solidarity with the Palestinians is compelling the Arab states to adapt their policies to the needs of the Palestine Liberation Organization. The figures indicate, however, that each Arab country pursues what it considers to be its own advantage.