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Tilting the Playing Field?
A bumbling incompetence, running here or there, but doing nothing consistently

1 June   |   2004   |   Subject  Middle East & North Africa (MENA)

Dr Michael Hudson, Seif Ghobash Professor of Arab Studies and Professor of International Relations at the Center for Contemporary Arab Studies, Georgetown University, used these harsh words last week to describe the present policies of the US Administration in the Middle East. His words reminded me of those from retired General Anthony Zinni who told the Center for Defense Information earlier this month, I couldn’t believe what I was hearing about the benefits of this strategic move - that the road to Jerusalem led through Baghdad, when the opposite is true, the road to Baghdad led through Jerusalem. You solve the Middle East process, and you’d be surprised what kinds of other things will work out.

Have we reached a nadir in our hopes for an irenic approach to the Middle East in general, and to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in particular? Have vision and reality flown the intellectual coop of policy-makers? Just look at the wanton destruction and debris left behind in the Gaza Strip last week after the withdrawal of most Israeli tanks. Here is a sliver of land, 30 miles long and 6 miles wide, sandwiched between Egypt, Israel and the Mediterranean. It is home to around 7,500 Jewish settlers and 1.3 million Palestinians - most of the latter living in appalling poverty. And yet, the Palestinians are made to bear the price for PM Ariel Sharon’s unremittingly neo-colonialist policies. Those who watched the UK-based Channel 4 documentary Death in Gaza that recorded James Miller’s last work before being killed will have realised the measure of despair that has permeated Palestinian society and crumbled the hopes of many Israelis and Palestinians alike.

As the columnist Nicholas D Kristoff wrote last week in the New York Times, My guess is that Mr Sharon has done more to undermine Israel’s long-term security than Yasser Arafat ever did. Mr Sharon’s actions have knocked the legs out from under Palestinian moderates and have bolstered Hamas and Islamic Jihad. Mr Sharon means well - he wants to stop terrorism - but his policies have led Palestinians to turn to Islamic extremists rather than secular nationalists. Now even the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, a Marxist group, has found God and quotes from the Koran. Kristoff adds, Particularly in a new age when terrorist attacks could use WMD to kill perhaps thousands at a time, Israel can achieve safety only through a peace agreement with the Palestinians. A model is the unofficial Geneva accord of last October, reached between courageous Israelis and Palestinians - the very people we should be supporting.

Some short weeks ago, President Bush ‘authorised’ PM Sharon to keep six settlement blocs on the basis of “demographic reality” and ruled out at a stroke the Palestinian refugees’ right of return. Despite the assurances Bush later gave to King Abdullah II of Jordan, this concept of “demographic reality” has contributed not only toward the trashing of International law but also toward the growing realisation that the two-state solution is becoming virtually impracticable. As Dr Haider Abdul Shafi, the revered Palestinian Madrid negotiator, told Emma Williams in Trapped behind the wall in the Holy Land in the Spectator magazine, the one-state solution for two peoples is the only logical thing.

Can any party salvage the situation now and redeem a travesty of justice that is also a scandal in political impropriety? Can the world community transliterate its vocal concern into proactive disapprobation? Can the US Administration be made to realise that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict remains manifestly the hub of many Middle Eastern issues today?

Churches and Christian organisations or communities - invariably at the avant-garde of non-violent and faith-driven quest for peace, reconciliation and justice - have attempted to highlight their own growing concern. For instance, the Lutheran Church of Sweden has embarked on a campaign entitled Hopp (Hope in Swedish) with the backing of twelve other Christian organisations that want the European Union to re-negotiate its trade agreement with Israel. Archbishop K G Hammar, leader of the Church of Sweden, wrote on 17 May 2004, The conflict cannot be solved with violence. The campaign’s demand for stopping the violence, of course applies to both parties in the conflict. The higher demands on Israel hinge on the fact that it is much stronger and that the Israelis occupy land meant for the Palestinians.

In a compelling article in Le Monde Diplomatique entitled Palestine, a universal cause, Etienne Balibar, Distinguished Professor of Humanities at the University of California, wrote, We should urge public opinion everywhere to be more concerned, to ask our governments to respect the truth of the past facts, the urgent necessities of the present and the justice of future perspectives. This will not be easy. [] It is not possible to keep an equal stance between unequal causes. However, while voicing powerful support for oppressed Palestine, public opinion must make this cause universal. Only then will it gain worldwide support. Is it already too late for that? Maybe it is late, but there is no alternative.

Today, I am neither setting the standard for an intellectual engagement on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, nor am I procreating the modern-day equivalent of a political pamphlet that echoes Émile Zola’s J’Accuse! of 1898. Today, I am simply saying that the alarmingly confused and deteriorating reality on the ground brooks no alternative but to continue the pursuit of a just resolution of this conflict. However, this necessitates a priori an acknowledgement that there has been a 37-year occupation by Israel of Palestinian territories. Otherwise, if the occupation of the West Bank and Gaza were not checked, the geo-political tilts would become increasingly more dangerous and engulf the Middle East - country-by-country - in further mayhem, bloodshed and instability.  Are we willing to assume the risk of such a misdirected tilt?

© Dr Harry Hagopian   |   2004   |   1 June


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