Since Sept. 11, 2001, American neoconservatives have forcefully argued that the combination of economic stagnation, rapid demographic growth, lack of upward social mobility, and political repression in most Arab countries was a breeding ground for Islamic radicalism. Their “freedom agenda”-which George W. Bush embraced during his first term but largely relinquished after 2006-rejected the conventional wisdom that the Arab rage that brought down the Twin Towers was a child of Israel’s occupation; that the Islamist wave sweeping the Muslim world fed on the humiliation of the Palestinians; and that the growing radicalism infecting Muslim immigrant communities in the West was made in Israel.

This narrative informed the heretofore accepted view that the only alternatives to repression in the Middle East were civil war and failed states, or the rise of Islamic theocracies. That the status quo was unjust, that the regimes were corrupt, and that their rulers were cruel, were unpleasant but necessary facts of life.

The Arab world’s unpalatable regimes would nonetheless help the West midwife the solution to the region’s ills: a Palestinian state that, by restoring Palestinian justice and dignity, would miraculously neutralize extremism.

So when the European Union’s foreign-relations chief, Catherine Ashton, spoke in Cairo last year, she only mentioned freedom once-Palestinian freedom from Israel. This, even as the regimes hosting her at the Arab League’s headquarters were busy silencing and torturing their own citizenry.

Europe has always had a vast array of political tools and economic leverage to push its Arab allies to introduce reforms, liberalize their media, unblock civil society, improve governance, and tame corruption. But the Middle East’s tyrants warned every European visitor that doing so would open the floodgates to radical Islam. Algeria, with the bloodbath that followed the Islamists’ electoral victory in 1992 and the subsequent military takeover, gave credence to their arguments. Foreign ministry mandarins advised their bosses to believe the tyrants: Solve Palestine, they whispered, and everything else will follow.

And so they did, doggedly pursuing Palestinian-Israeli peace, and furiously blaming Israel at every twist and turn not just for the lack of peace but also for every other regional problem.

Now, the Arabs’ revolutionary awakening should force the standard bearers of Western conventional wisdom to finally abandon this mindset. Unfortunately, the lesson is still not sinking in. Speaking in Israel this month, former U.S. National U.S. Security Adviser General James L. Jones identified progress on Israeli-Palestinian peace as “the one thing that could have the local, regional and global impact that is now a matter of urgent necessity.” He added that “continued Arab-Israeli dispute strengthens and amplifies the appeal of [Iran’s] message to the oppressed and those who feel that they have no future.”

British Foreign Secretary William Hague also chimed in by dismissing Israel’s concerns about the stability of its peace treaty with Egypt in the wake of Hosni Mubarak’s ousting. Reminding the world of the old Camel Corps wisdom, he said “This should not be a time for belligerent language. It’s a time to inject greater urgency into the Middle East peace process.”

Lost in all this is the simple fact that the ordinary Arabs who rose against their regimes didn’t do so because they wanted to free Palestine, but because they wanted to free themselves. Western mandarins always assumed that Palestinian freedom was all that the Arab world needed, and in the process they resigned themselves to the region’s rampant corruption, repression, and persecution of women and minorities. Yet Mohammad Bouazizi didn’t set himself on fire in December, thereby triggering Tunisia’s Jasmine Revolution, to express solidarity with Palestinians. Instead, his suicide was a direct response to the economic and social strictures in his own country. Meanwhile, his countrymen’s spontaneous reaction to that desperate act stood in sharp contrast to the customary Arab displays of solidarity with Palestinians-usually staged, regime-backed affairs.

So suddenly, Arab freedom has taken precedence over Israel and Palestine-or so says the much-maligned Arab Street, as it topples one tyrant and challenges the next. The conventional wisdom that the Palestinian-Israeli conflict is the mother of all problems in the region has now been exposed as nothing but a myth. Will Western leaders finally learn?