The 40th anniversary of the 1973 Yom Kippur War marks the rollout of UN Security Council Resolution 338. A proxy flashpoint for the Cold War, the Israel repulsion of the Syrian attack on the Golan Heights and establishment of a bridgehead on the Egyptian border of the Suez Canal drew intense international pressure to stop the fighting. US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger flew to Moscow on October 20, 1973 and together with the Soviets, proposed a ceasefire resolution in the UN Security Council.
Revisiting 338 is useful, as it highlights its own obsolescence given the contemporary turmoil in Syria and the wider Middle East. UN Resolutions 242 (which came in the wake of the 1967 Six-Day War) and 338 set as a prerequisite for "lasting peace in the region" territorial compromise between Israel and her neighbors. Clearly, in the four decades that have passed since the war, lasting peace is neither close nor imminent – and, disturbingly, no one is precisely sure what that term means.
Israelis, though, have not forgotten the lessons of 1973 and have no intention of repeating the mistakes made 40 years ago, especially when it comes to Syria today. The Israeli collective memory still sees the Yom Kippur War as Americans view Pearl Harbor - a shocking, devastating attack followed by a war that claimed the lives of nearly 3,000 IDF soldiers (at the time, nearly 1% of Israel's Jewish population).
Over the past four decades Israel has only been able to achieve a negotiated peace treaty with two Arab countries - Egypt and Jordan. Syria, as the culpable party in 1973 and now enveloped in total devolution, could hardly be in a worse position to negotiate anything. As for the Palestinians, the PLO (under Arafat) begrudgingly accepted 242 more than twenty years after it passed (in 1988); today the Palestinians – divided between the PLO-led Palestinian Authority in the West Bank and the Islamist Hamas in Gaza – are not even remotely close to conceding Israel's right to exist.
Palestinian issue's centrality receding
These complex dynamics highlight the complexity of the Middle East architecture, as well as the role of growing Islamist voices who remain focused on Israel's destruction. While the paradigm of negotiated peace incorporated in Resolutions 242 and 338 was embraced by the international community at large, it was rejected by many among the Arab players, for whom Israel as a legitimate "peace partner" is a concept not in the lexicon of possibilities.
Key to UN resolution 338 and 242 – as well as the amorphous peace process – is resolving one of the most intractable aspects of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict: The Palestinians refugees and the Arab demand for a full "right of return." While the Palestinian refugee agency UNRWA (and its concomitant infrastructure) might still believe the Palestinian refugee issue represents the focal point of Middle East conflict, the burgeoning number of Syrian refugees fleeing the massacres led by the Assad regime describe a different picture.
Now, with the Arab and Muslim worlds confronting this genuine humanitarian tragedy, the Palestinian issue's centrality is receding. The influx of Syrian refugees into Lebanon has challenged conventional wisdom regarding the Palestinians refugees. One Hezbollah fighter who goes by Abu Jihad was recently quoted in Der Spiegel, stating that "fighting the rebels in Syria is now even more important than the fight against Israel." Furthermore: "Let the Palestinians liberate their country themselves."
Who would have imagined?
All and all, Arab concerns about whether a Palestinian state is imminent are deflected due to the potential destabilization in Lebanon; that nation's ability to secure its borders while helping Syrian refugees in need is the more pressing issue.
Whether or not the statement should be taken seriously or not, it underscores the shift away from the centrality of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as being the fulcrum of Middle East violence. While UN Resolutions 242 and 338 reflected the reality of the decades immediately following Israel's independence, current events demonstrate that a just and durable peace in the region is not contingent on an immediate solution to the Palestinian problem. While there is no doubt that the feud affects the region to the detriment of Palestinians, it is hardly the driving force behind the instability of the region at large.