Linkage Unavoidable in the Middle East

THE invasion of Kuwait has brought to the fore the question of linkage between the Israeli-Palestinian issue and political currents of the Persian Gulf region. Saddam Hussein has stated that any resolution of the Kuwait issue must be in parallel with an Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank and Gaza. Other Arabs complain of a ``double standard'' by pointing to the quick reaction of the United States and the United Nations Security Council to the invasion of Kuwait in contrast to years of unimplemented Security Council resolutions relating to Palestine.

Israelis insist that Baghdad's action is in no way comparable to the occupation of the West Bank and Gaza; the latter resulted from an attack on Israel by Arab countries. To them, Iraq's action, related to inter-Arab quarrels, cannot be linked to the existence of Israel.

Washington generally supports this view and stresses that the focus of the current crisis should be on Iraq's aggression and not, for the moment, on the Israeli-Palestine issue.

At the same time, however the Kuwait issue is resolved, the question of relations with Israel and the future of Palestinians remains a destabilizing factor in the region. This is nothing new. The conflict between Arab and Jew in the former Palestine mandate has been linked to wider regional issues and to the position of the United States in the area for five decades; it is likely to remain so.

That linkage exists, first, at the historical level. In seeking to create opposition to the presence of forces of the US and other Western powers in the Gulf region, Saddam Hussein has exploited deep-seated feelings of humiliation and frustration throughout the Arab world. In this view, widely held by Arabs, centuries of perceived domination by outside powers, whether Turks, British, French, or American, has been capped by the ultimate insult of the establishment of a Jewish state on Arab land. Although the concept may be regarded in the West as far-fetched and unjustified, deep in the emotions of many Arabs is the hope for a reincarnation of Saladin, the Muslim leader who captured Jerusalem from the Crusaders in 1187. The vision of Saddam Hussein as a strong leader, however ruthless, revives this hope.

The relationship between the future of the Gulf and the Palestinian question exists, also, at the political level. Fear of the power of the dispersed Palestinians and of terrorism executed in the name of their cause, has, in the past, led traditional regimes in the Arabian peninsula to restrict cooperation with the United States because of its identification with Israel. They have paid substantial sums to Palestinian movements and have tried to avoid actions that would create threats to their stability. Until the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states resisted offers of open security cooperation with Washington.

The support given by the Palestine Liberation Organization to Iraq in the present crisis has been deeply resented by the Arab states of the Gulf, but that resentment will not end the involvement of Palestinians in the politics of the region.

Finally, US policies of the last five decades have recognized this link. In one of the earliest US efforts to establish a relationship with Saudi Arabia, President Franklin Roosevelt, in his meeting with King Abdul Aziz in 1945, stated, ``Your Majesty will recall that on previous occasions I communicated to you the attitude of the American Government toward Palestine and made clear our desire that no decision be taken with respect to the basic situation in that country without full consultation with both Arabs and Jews.''

Today, although Washington continues to resist tying the issue of Kuwait with that of the Palestinians, the US cannot deny linkage if it is to hold together the fragile coalition of current Arab support for US deployments. President Bush acknowledged in his United Nations General Assembly speech on Oct. 1 that, once the Kuwait issue was resolved, other issues in the region - including the Palestinian issue - could be addressed.

The current crisis in the region illustrates once more that the Middle East is a mosaic of inter-linked problems, whether they involve Iraq, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Lebanon, Syria, Israel, Jordan, Egypt, or the Palestinians. Efforts to isolate parts of the mosaic may be possible for short periods, but, ultimately, those who would bring stability to the region must look at the whole.

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