Middle East Update
A review of the Middle East Crisis is in order. For starters, some
of you may want to review my pieces on Jerusalem by accessing
the archives (8/3 & 8/10). I won''t go through a lot of the history
here and I will continue to use "Week in Review" for more current
commentary. But it is interesting to look at the two protagonists.
--Israel - 6.1 million
--Palestine - 3.1 million...there are also 3.9 million refugees
scattered throughout the Middle East
--Israel - 173,000 active duty soldiers
--Palestinian National Authority - 30,000 armed police are
allowed under previous agreements. However, many experts
believe the figure is now closer to 40,000. The police are the
only Palestinians who are to have arms. The best estimate today,
though, is that the Palestinians have about 80,000 guns. In other
words, a true war between the two could be ugly. Let alone if
other combatants enter the fray.
--Israel - GDP of $97 billion. Per capita income of $17,500.
--Palestine - $5 billion. Per capita income of $1,575.
The Palestinians are essentially divided into two areas; the West
Bank and the Gaza Strip.
The West Bank, about the size of Delaware, has a population of 2
million Palestinians with 200,000 Jewish settlers. The West Bank
was captured from Jordan in 1967.
The Gaza Strip is about twice the size of Washington, D.C. Of
the 1.1 million Palestinians here, some 35% live in squalid refugee
camps. [Actually, almost all 3 million Palestinians live in awful
conditions.] There are still about 4,000 Jewish settlers in Gaza.
Gaza is also home to the highest birth rate in the world and 50%
of the population is younger than 15. You can make the same
sort of statement about the West Bank.
Under the Oslo Accords of 1993, autonomy of the West Bank
and Gaza were granted to the PLO (this is to occur over time). It
was then that the Palestinian National Authority was created with
Yasser Arafat as its first elected leader.
Arafat now has to decide whether to declare an independent
Palestinian state, a move which he has postponed a few times
under political pressure from moderate Arab states like Egypt.
Should he do so in the future (the next deadline is November 15),
you would have a situation where the state would consist of the
West Bank and Gaza, 25 miles apart. And through its military
power, as well as simple checkpoints, Israel could keep the two
Unemployment is sky high in the Palestinian population. As I
have commented in previous columns here as well as Week in
Reviews, the chief culprit for this is Arafat and his corrupt
Palestinian Authority which has squandered hundreds of millions
in economic development aid. And part of the reason for the
recent violence is the fact that many of the Palestinians are just as
upset at their own failed leadership as they are at the Israelis.
This is how the process can take on a life of its own.
And the Palestinian economy is directly tied to Israel in that a vast
majority of the decent jobs, like day laboring, are there, where the
pay is far greater, for instance, in the construction trade than it is
After the recent Camp David peace process, including the
disastrous follow-up meeting, President Clinton noted that Israeli
Prime Minister Barak had offered an unprecedented compromise,
90% of the West Bank for a Palestinian state and Palestinian
sovereignty over the Muslim and Christian quarters of the Old
City of Jerusalem. But thus far, Arafat has chosen to provoke
Israel rather than accept or make a counteroffer.
Basically, the main sticking point remains Jerusalem. The Temple
Mount is the holiest place of Judaism, the site where King
Solomon built the first of two temples some 3,000 years ago. But
the Muslims believe the Prophet Mohammed ascended to heaven
from this spot as well. [Again, see earlier pieces on the history of
Jerusalem for more details.]
You would think that compromise would be simple. Give the
Israelis control over the Jewish Quarter of the Old City, the
Western Wall and other Jewish neighborhoods. The Palestinians
could be granted control of Muslim and Christian Quarters. The
Temple Mount could then be shared, preferably under some sort
of U.N. arrangement.
But many of the Muslim religious leaders today are calling for
"complete sovereignty over every speck of dirt in Jerusalem."
At times like these it''s time for others to step forward and lead,
namely Egypt, Jordan and Saudi Arabia. And it would appear
that it is with Egypt that the U.S. has the most leverage. After
all, we have granted them some $30 billion in aid since 1978! It''s
pay back time, Hosni!
Actually, you may have noticed that after each summit, Arafat
immediately seeks Mubarak''s advice and counsel. Arafat listens
to Mubarak. But Mubarak is obviously concerned about how
appeasement would look to the more radical Muslim elements.
And when you have terrorists like Hezbollah ("The Party of
God," which operates mostly in Lebanon) and Hamas, you can
see why Mubarak is intimidated.
As for Jordan, newly crowned King Abdullah is a valiant man,
following in the footsteps of his great father, King Hussein. [I
need to mention that I greatly admired Hussein and always
forgave him for his support of Saddam during the Gulf War. He
was only trying to survive.] But Abdullah has a huge Palestinian
problem of his own in that hundreds of thousands of Palestinian
refugees live within Jordan''s borders. The history of the nation is
such that Jordan could explode at any moment itself. Yet
Abdullah knows his future is tied to the West and massive
Finally, there is Saudi Arabia. Crown Prince Abdullah, the ailing
King Fahd''s half-brother and de-facto leader, has issued
contradictory statements throughout the current crisis. He seems
eager to appease radical elements in his own society as a means
of keeping the peace. But he is also too smart to understand that
a wider conflict in the Middle East would be a disaster for all
involved. Saudi Arabia needs peace...and stable oil prices...to
continue its own economic reform program. They have serious
problems; chief of which is the fact that their population is
booming and only 40,000 of 110,000 coming into the job market
each year are finding work. You know where the other 70,000
end up, in the arms of the radicals and terrorists. They have no
There''s your updated player scorecard.
Source for the statistics, Lee Hockstader / Washington Post.