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21 February 2010

Deadlock in The Middle East & Western Responsibility

Deadlock in The Middle East and Western Responsibility
By H.E. Mourad Bencheikh
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Keeping silent over Israel's crimes: Western policy shaped by holocaust and religion
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The German Chancellor's address to the American Congress last November gives an exact measure of why the Middle East question - with the Palestinian problem at its core - is in such deadlock. Reading the speech, one is struck by the somewhat glaring omission of any similarity between the Berlin Wall and the Israeli Wall: two very similar and comparable examples of brutal population segregation. One, the Soviet inspired and controlled Berlin Wall, had divided Germany for nearly half a century. The second and most pertinent, the Israeli Wall, divides what is left of the Palestinian territory (now 60% of the size that it occupied before the 1967 war) into isolated plots of land, condemning their inhabitants to permanent house arrest. In addition, just like "the Iron Curtain", humiliating police harassment and abuse leads to painful family separation. Loved ones are forced to live and work apart, separated by the "Wall" - the latest glaring symbol of repression. This should leave no-one indifferent, especially in Germany where the terrible suffering experienced by the populace as a result of the enforced separation created by the "Wall" is still a vivid memory.
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The second point of note is that the paragraph devoted to human rights, and which advocates zero tolerance to any deliberate violation thereof, does not include any reference to the UN fact finding mission report on the Gaza conflict, released on 25 September 2009. It should have, since the report is extremely critical in every regard. The blockade of the Gaza Strip started in mid-2006 and caused extensive damage to the physical and mental health of the people of Gaza, in particular the women and children who, even now, suffer terrible ordeals as the blockade continues.
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The air, sea and land attacks lasted from 27 December 2008 to 18 January 2009. The Israeli army used white phosphorous missiles, causing severe and sometimes untreatable burns, as well as depleted and non-depleted uranium shells. Hospitals, schools, mosques and shelters of terror-stricken civilians were targeted, leaving about 1,500 dead. These needless deaths cannot be categorized as collateral damage in the pursuit of military objectives, but rather as government sponsored murder. After a comprehensive and thoroughly detailed investigation, Justice Goldstone and his two colleagues drew the conclusion that extensive and highly deliberate human rights abuses had occurred, the mass civilian death toll adding up to a crime against humanity.
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Arguably, the German Chancellor's speech is a good example of how Western countries, through their silence, give tacit approval to the Jewish State's repressive policy in the Palestinian occupied territories. As a case in point, the confinement and killings in Gaza did not give rise to the same emotional and indignant reactions as they would have if they had occurred elsewhere in the world. The reason is that Western countries are still brooding on the past, feeling guilty for not having prevented the Nazi-inspired holocaust. Thus, it follows that Western countries have based their Middle East policy on the myth that the past suffering of the Jewish people makes it quite impossible for them to resort to similar crimes. In addition, there is the US specificity, namely the existence in that country of a powerful fundamentalist trend strongly imbued with a word-for-word interpretation of the Old Testament, and thus with the firm belief in the return to the promised land of a people claiming to be chosen by God. This trend is sometimes called Christian Zionism.
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Here, then, is the reason for the mobilization of the Jewish lobby and the friends of Israel throughout the world, not least of which are the western countries, whenever the myth is contradicted by facts. After the publication of the Goldstone report, a new harsher campaign was led against the Geneva-based UN Council for Human Rights, challenging the credibility of some of its members. Richard Goldstone, who is a South African of Jewish denomination, was not spared in spite of his moral stature. Justice Goldstone risked his life during apartheid by taking a strong stance against oppression and injustice. Last but not least, the US administration pressurized President Mahmoud Abbas to accept a six-month postponement of the debate on the Goldstone report, which he eventually did.
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The Arab countries then took the initiative in submitting the matter to the UN Security Council, while fully aware that the US would use their veto against any resolution referring the case to the International Criminal Court (ICC). Moreover, the ICC can exercise jurisdiction only if the accused are nationals of a State party. Unfortunately, Israel does not qualify since it has not ratified the Rome Statute. It is abundantly clear then that the guilty, those behind and on the field alike, will escape justice and continue their brutality.

Islamophobia: another good reason for the West to feel closer to Israel

The strong prejudice in favour of Israel is also a side-effect of rampant Islamophobia in the West. In the US, the perception of Islam is moulded by Bernard Lewis. According to this British orientalist, the Muslim countries are angry and crave revenge because the West has overtaken them as the world's leading civilization.
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In all instances since 9/11, the common denominator of the many analyses dealing with Islam has been oversimplification. The third monotheist religion is generally equated with Islamism and Jihad with terrorism. Islamism, for instance, is a political line conceptualized by Mawdudi (1903-1979) in Jihad in Islam, published in Urdu in 1927. This book caused quite a stir because of its appeal for violence to protect Islam from Western and Indian threats. Two of his most famous followers, Egyptians Hassan Al Banna (1906-1949) and Seyyid Qutb (1906-1966) focused their analyses on the Arab world. They were both convinced that the nationalist governments, which came to power in the region in the aftermath of the collapse of the Ottoman Empire, were not living up to the expectations of their people. Their main goal was to topple these governments and replace them with governments that abide by Islamic rule or Sharia.
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Currently, this goal remains unchanged. The only difference is that the Islamists now try to achieve their goals by legal means, namely by entering the political arena in their respective countries. A small minority continues to act violently, and interacts with the Salafists or fundamentalists who want to revive Islam as it was at the time of the Prophet. By definition, therefore, Islamism is not Islam. It is, rather, the exploitation of religion for political ends.
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Most importantly Jihad, as put forward by Mawdudi and perceived by American public opinion, is a gross misconception. It is not, as normally defined, an Islamic holy war against unbelievers. Jihad, in reality, is a commandment compelling the faithful to defend their religion against any threat and as self-defence, known as "major Jihad", against any temptation that could jeopardize their moral integrity. Far from being an offensive weapon targeting Western countries, this precept is exclusively defensive.
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To a large extent, the Middle East policy of the Bush administration was shaped according to this prevailing oversimplification of Islam and Jihad. At its core lies preventive action, namely the negation and destruction of any potential threat. Its objectives were the imposition of democracy or a democratic value system and the "encouragement", forcibly or otherwise, of an Islamic adaptation to secular and modern standards. We all know the disaster engendered by this policy in Iraq and Afghanistan.
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The current US president should be given credit for the conciliatory speech delivered in Cairo. But President Obama's good intentions should be followed up by a concerted effort to create a less biased trend against Islam and Muslims in "the hearts and minds" of the American public. So far, it does not seem that things are moving in the right direction. The neo-conservatives still wield a great deal of influence. The teaching of the Arab language and Islamic civilization is given a low priority in the US education system. In all likelihood, the American public for the foreseeable future will continue to believe in the inevitable clash with the Islamic world. Predictably, any progress will continue to be stalled by strict adherence to the same old rhetoric.
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Islamophobia in Europe is rampant and endemic from one generation to the other. It is rising dramatically due to the presence of significant Moslem minorities. It is now claimed, justified and exploited by some political parties and famous opinion shapers. The racial ranting of Oriana Fallaci or Michel Houellebeq and the outrageous drawings of a Danish sensationalist are prime examples of how Islam is perceived. Their significance should not be minimized by their correspondence to similar sentiments expressed at a lecture given at the Ratisbonne in 2006 by the Pope.
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Benedict the XVI, the head of state, described as the "conscience of the world" by a correspondent of the Lebanese newspaper L'Orient Le Jour, declared that Islam is inseparable from violence. This presupposes that Christianity is not since it has been imbued with Greek rationality. The lecture aroused great indignation in the Muslim world and is the cause of an ongoing controversy.
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Similarly, there must be a link between an openly expressed Islamophobia and the clear-cut opposition to Turkey's entry into the European Union in the name of Judeo-Christianity. These are but two good examples of how instinctive reactions against Islam are endorsed at the highest religious and political level. The appalling consequences of Islamophobia are visible in the creation of "ghettos" in some suburbs of Europe and the open or latent discrimination against fully-fledged naturalized citizens looking for work or lodgings. In short, this type of exclusion forces those concerned to live in close proximity. This very fact is used as evidence of the lack of feasibility of a social integration policy, which leads to a vicious cycle that the few advocates of a multicultural society seem unable or unwilling to break.
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When all is said and done, Western countries' strong prejudice in favour of Israel stems from three reasons. The first and probably most fundamental is the perpetual feeling of guilt associated with the holocaust. The second reason is related to "Christian Zionism", which is specific to the US. American policy is influenced, as always, by religion when it comes to the Middle East. The last is generated by a perception from time immemorial that the Muslim world is a source of danger internationally and a cause of potential destabilization at the national level. Against this background, Israel is seen as a close partner that shares common values and common threats. In other words, the enemy of my enemy is my friend. For Muslims in general and the Arabs in particular, this old saying is fraught with danger.
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The Muslim perception: the West is not rejected for what it is but for what it does By all accounts this is indeed the opinion of the people often referred to as "the street" by some western opinionshapers who want to send the subliminal message of huge and unruly crowds. It is also the stance of all governments, including those bound to comply with realpolitik requirements. Israel's impunity is of great concern to the Muslim world because it implies a green light for further repression. Actually, the prevailing opinion is that Israel and the Western countries are equally responsible for the present stalemate. Put in a historical perspective, the West's passivity is considered an extension of a series of aggressions against Muslims since the Middle-Ages. This long list begins with the Catholic inspired massacres during the first crusade and the relentless re-conquest and eradication of Muslim territory in Spain by Isabel the Catholic and Gimenez.
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Other telling examples are the wars of colonial conquest and occupation by some European countries, or the largescale bombing in Afghanistan and its extensive collateral damage. One has also to keep in mind the terrible suppression of the independence movement in Chechnya, and the mass murder in Lebanon masterminded by a "butcher" later appointed prime minister. In addition, we have to mention the double-speak of the former occupying power and its proxy in Western Sahara. However, the most burning issue for the Muslim world is certainly the ongoing crime against humanity in Palestine, which has been occupied for more than sixty years. Obviously this continuous occupation is a part of the "greater Israel" strategy claimed or suggested by all the Israeli governments from the inception of the Jewish State. In addition, there is the insidious propaganda war waged by Israel and it's apologists to excuse and cover up Israeli excesses under the pretext of a war against terrorism.
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The "rage and frustration" allegedly branded into the Muslim psyche by the apparent loss of global influence to the advantage of Western civilization is simply not the case. Rather, this real anger is the result of the everlasting, brutal, arrogant and ruthless behaviour of the West. As farfetched as it may seem, the latter explanation has some implications. One, the West wishes to portray itself in a good light. Two, the intention of the West is to disguise its various crimes. Three, the objective of the West is to claim that it is rejected for what it is and not for what it does.
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This gross falsification is the very foundation of the "clash of civilizations" (coined, for the record, by Bernard Lewis and not by Samuel Huntington as is often believed) that Western propaganda aims to make a self-fulfilling prophecy.
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The West self-deception: the defence and promotion of universal values Muslims have nothing against the age of Enlightenment. What is at stake is the West's thirst for power, the haughty negation of its crimes during colonial times, its firm intention to expand its model on a global scale, its never-ending inclination to preach, its aggressive design to force the Moslems into democracy and religious reform and, last but not least, its alignment with Israel's colonial policy.
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Western countries need to break with such behaviour if they really want to establish long-term and mutually beneficial relations with a region of critical strategic importance for the Muslim world. One confidence-building measure would be to accept responsibility for the past. To try to gain forgiveness for one's crimes is not to belittle one. Rather to repent is to increase one's stature, help placate the victims' sorrow and pave the way for a thorough reconciliation. The second would be a noninterventionist external policy. Democracy is not a universal panacea.
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Things must follow their natural course, irrespective of any difficulty. Foreign meddling in this matter will have serious consequences. A third possible step would involve Muslim European nationals. Whatever feelings the West may have about Islam, it should, in its own best interest, interact with Muslim European nationals in an all-inclusive approach to pave the way for a much sought-after integration. On the other hand, the West should avoid any attempt to influence the adaptation of religion in the Islamic world. The overwhelming majority of Muslims observe their faith in a peaceful way. They reject extremists as well as would-be reformers. Muslims have to decide for themselves whether there is a need for reform, without external pressure. They could, if necessary, consult some of Islam's new thinkers. However, the litmus test pertains to the Palestinian question. All Muslims, especially the Arabs, cannot understand why the West is so emotional about the Jews' past suffering and so indifferent to the alarming plight of the Palestinians. The West, and particularly the US, should be committed to giving momentum to the peace process in accordance with the relevant UN Security Council resolutions.
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It seems, however, that the time is not ripe for such a dramatic change. Since the collapse of Communism in 1989, the Western countries have been more assertive than ever. They still claim that the invasion and occupation of Iraq was justified, conveniently ignoring the evidence that there were no weapons of mass destruction in that country. They are sending significant reinforcements to Afghanistan. They will make no apology for their crimes and offer no compensation for the damage. They place extreme pressure on Iran to prevent the production of nuclear warheads while turning a blind eye to Israel's stockpile of atomic bombs. In other words, ignoring the lessons of history, the West adheres to power politics.
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What is good for Israel is good for the West. The laissez faire policy
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In contrast, the Western countries are neither willing nor able to adopt a stronger policy vis-à-vis Israel. In the Middle East conflict it is self-evident that the West feels closer ties to Israel for both historical and religious reasons. This is at the expense of Arabs who have embodied, since time immemorial, a threatening otherness. In addition, much like the proverbial "sorcerer's apprentice", the State that they have created is beyond their control and there is no stopping the momentum that is, and continues, to build up.
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There is no denying that the Israelis feel free to do whatever they want. One of the activists of Peace Now gave the following opinion in 2007: "If you look at what Israel does rather than what it says, the conclusion is that Israel is not willing to accept a Palestinian State." The Jewish State's policy of fait accompli is a clear confirmation of his statement. The plain truth is that Israel occupies 40% of the Palestinian territory (as it was before 1967) including East Jerusalem. The settlement policy is ongoing. One should note that its short-lived freeze appears, with hindsight, to have been a confidence trick designed to focus attention on a so-called Israeli concession and divert global attention away from the settlement itself.
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In any case, the creeping annexation of Palestinian territory is a clear indication of how the Jewish State continues towards its goal of a "greater Israel". Alternatively, the objective appears to be the occupation of the whole of Palestine and the concomitant expulsion of all Palestinians including those with Israeli nationality. Retrospectively one realizes why Israel and the Western countries endorsed the UN Security council resolution 242 under the condition that the English version be the sole reference. The English version of the resolution "conveniently" provides for the withdrawal of territories and not of the territories. It is an excellent ploy to facilitate further expansion as long as there is no solution. It is abundantly clear that there will be no settlement while the peace process is in permanent stasis. New blood within the Palestinian Authority: a mandate from the people to make peace with Israel The Palestinians find themselves caught between Israel's constant obstruction of the peace process and the persistent Western warning against any attempt to jeopardize its resumption. The Palestinian Authority has been trying to comply with these imperatives since the election of President Mahmoud Abbas.
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The peace with Israel option was overwhelmingly endorsed in August 2009 by the Fatah 6th Congress. There is a new generation of leaders; honest, educated and born in the Gaza Strip or the West Bank. Furthermore, they are democratically elected and trusted by the people. The head of government is a graduate from Texas University and was the IMF permanent representative in Gaza and Ramallah. He is a native son. Under his leadership internal Fatah quarrels have been settled, corruption is being dealt with, the economy is improving and investments are on the rise. Last, but not least, order is being restored in cooperation with the Israeli security forces. Hamas militants are under continuous police harassment while their leaders are left alone with a view to bringing Fatah and Hamas together through negotiation.
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In other words, the Israelis can no longer argue the Palestinian Authority's lack of credibility for continually delaying the peace process. They now have a valid negotiator of stature, fully mandated by a sizeable portion of the Palestinian people, to make peace with Israel. There are none so blind as those who will not see. Israel's ulterior motives: total annexation or mini state under control - in either case, genocide in Gaza.
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Who still believes that the Palestinian plea will be taken into consideration? Firstly, the Israeli policy of slow, creeping expansion is working well. The routine violations weaken indignation, invoking less and less reaction to the establishment of each new colony. Secondly, the US and the European Union have adamantly rejected a recent Palestinian proposal to return to the UN framework. This rebuttal is a clear confirmation that even the English version of resolution 242 is deemed irrelevant, despite the fact that it has the backing of all the Arab countries. Lastly, Hamas has been blacklisted, leaving the Palestinians without the option of unifying to establish a stronger bargaining position. All the cards are on one side, and Israel will play them as it wishes as long as the West is neither willing nor able to intercede.
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The wisest approach would be for Israel to build bridges and not walls between the two communities. Both communities know what suffering means, they are gifted, well-educated, hard-working and should work hand in hand towards the stability, development and integration of the whole region.
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Unfortunately for all concerned, the heady allure of unbridled power will lead Israel to one of two alternatives. The worst scenario would be a complete annexation of the Palestinian territory. The other would leave a tiny Palestinian State with a capital other than East Jerusalem.
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Nobody has the right to decide for the Palestinians if such a cynical proposal should be discussed, least of all the members of a "brotherhood" ready to dispense good advice but never ready for action. As for Gaza, the Israeli approach is quite clear: Hamas must be wiped out; and since its popular support is obvious, then the people behind it should also be wiped out. These are the seeds for yet another crime against humanity. Once again a wall is being financed by the West at the initiative and under the control of the two nearest neighbours in the region. This wall will definitely curtail smuggling bare essentials to a population already under siege for nearly four years. The weapons of mass destruction in this instance are starvation and health care deprivation. Thousands of Gaza citizens, whose only mistake is their place of birth, will suffer and perish. Is this then the triumph of the Israelis and their Western friends? No, it is but the beginning of their woes, because from generation to generation, until the end of the time, revenge, written in all languages of the world, will be engraved in the Palestinian collective memory.

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H.E. Mourad Bencheikh is the Ambassador of Algeria to South Africa
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