Dr. Umar Khan
Dr. Khan heads a Lahore based Think Tank. 9-1-08
Middle East Peace and Bush
Finally President George Bush found time for the Middle East. Supposedly the strongest man in the world would be trying to solve the most complicated conflict. There is consensus that to solve it the strongest person and the strongest country must play their share to have any realistic chance of success. He wants to revitalize the near extinct peace process which appears to be on a ventilator and also the numerous road maps some of which he presented himself. Watching Bush in a peacemaking role appears strange but pleasant because the world over and particularly in the Islamic world he is certainly not associated with peace. Although it took him eight years of presidency to come this far still his efforts must be appreciated and helped although his critics might argue that he certainly played his role in making the already messy situation even worse. He might be part of a problem.
Many statesmen and countries tried to bring peace to the Middle East but failed. Different shades of leaderships in Israel and Palestine also struggled most of whom were doubtlessly sincere but all efforts went in vane further complicating the issues. This particular situation and history lends credence to the skeptic theory that there are some grave inherent problems in the facts on ground making achievement of peace nearly impossible. The actual dynamics at work are not conducive to peace.
President Bush in his early years of Presidency in 2001 tried to play his role in Middle East but was repeatedly embarrassed by the hawkish Israeli PM Sharon who would never accede to American or international demands of any kind. Finally it was 9/11, which saved him from repeated blushes in front of the world media because Bush’s attention shifted from the Middle East. He declared a holy war on terror declaring himself a war president amassing all the advantages that come with it like getting reelected easily. Terrorists were portrayed as inhumane criminals and their views or demands were ignored and slapped down on the pretext that terrorism should not be rewarded. The political correctness spelled that terrorism is bad; Palestinians are terrorists so their point of view should not be heard. This gave a blank check to the Israelis who took full advantage of it.
During this holy tirade a very important factor was ignored without which no battle against terrorism can be won and that was the Middle East Peace. According to most political observers and commentators the Middle East issue and the obvious miserable conditions of the Palestinians is the real mother of religious extremism, intolerance and terrorism. Roots of terrorism that we see in all quarters of the world can be traced back to the Middle East. Even the jihad of Afghanistan, which later became terrorism, also derived a significant amount of inspiration from the Middle East issue. It is strange how a working democracy like America could stray so much to fight terrorism only militarily ignoring the equally if not more important political aspects of this problem. This situation sounded like music to the Israeli Jewish extremists who dealt with the Palestinians according to their wishes and whims without any fear of liability or blame from the west, the segment of the world it cares.
Realistically President Bush doesn’t have much of a chance to achieve peace here. There are allegations on him of being a warmonger, neo-con and too close an ally of Israel to be an honest broker. In addition to these challenges lies the gravest challenge of all; the huge discrepancy in the balance of power between the two sides. It is a known fact that strength guarantees peace whereas weakness attracts conflict. It is the actual or presumed weakness that precipitated many conflicts our history books are full of. Even with difference in strengths of the two rivals some semblance of parity in other fields might create sufficient incentive enabling them to sacrifice their respective positions for peace. In today’s world strength can be measured broadly militarily, economic, media and diplomatically. Population and other factors, which used to be most important, now rate much below in importance. Let us compare.
Militarily there is no match as Israelis enjoy absolute supremacy. They have a state whereas the Palestinians don’t and they have the world’s most well equipped highly trained modern army. On the other hand the Palestinians are a rag tag group of young men fighting basically with stones and a few guns. They make some strange very low-tech weapons in their garages and backyards, which are routinely called rockets raising questions if these are rockets then what are those that Israelis fire from F16s. They don’t have any air force or tanks. In short militarily they are absolutely helpless in front of the Israelis except for their most lethal weapon they discovered lately; the human bomb. The frustrations and helplessness converted many Palestinians, men and women alike to become suicide bombers because this was the only way they could resist the foreign occupation. This strategy proved useful initially but at a great cost to both parties but was ultimately defeated by the Israelis. So now imbalance has worsened.
Even the economic comparison is extremely odd. Israelis have a standard of living equal to Europeans while the Palestinians are wretched. They are dependant on Israelis, their foes for everything even their basic necessities making them extremely vulnerable. The Israeli economy is modern, vibrant and sturdy whereas the Palestinians hardly have an economy despite enormous potential. They are basically surviving on the remittances of their Diaspora or the alms of Muslim countries. There is a mismatch here.
Media, another pillar of strength in today’s world is also heavily tilted in favor of the Israelis. The Palestinians did not understand the workings of the media and out of their naiveté routinely got in traps laid by their foes portraying them as uncivilized warmongers. Even now although they are better equipped to deal with the international media they are not getting the desired results because international media is heavily influenced by Israel and the Jewish Diaspora more committed to Zionism than the Israelis. It is no surprise that the weak and occupied Palestinians are still generally portrayed and considered as villains while the stronger occupiers Israelis, as peace loving victims of violence. And this story is going on for the last 60 years despite many technological breakthroughs. The occupier is still a victim.
Diplomatically also the unevenness between the two rivals persists. Israelis have the world’s lone super power behind them whereas the Palestinians appear lonely and helpless. In addition to America, Israel enjoys excellent relations with the Europe, Asia and South America also. In the Western countries where they pride in their culture of free speech, only matters sensitive to the Jews are forbidden to be questioned showing their strength. Israel is now building relations with the nonaligned countries very fast while the Palestinians seem to be getting even more maligned, stigmatized and rejected. Giap, the legendary Vietnamese general once admired Arafaat for fighting without friends and the situation now is even worse. Now even the sympathetic world seems to have run out of it’s understanding for the Palestinians as their sufferings appear to be endless and the world has other things on its mind.
Not very long ago many people mistakenly used to refer to a power block called Muslim Ummah. Unfortunately this doesn’t exist any more even on paper or theoretically. A billion Muslims might be sympathetic towards the Palestinians but they are in no position to do anything about it. On the contrary the pro Israeli Jewish communities are alive and well all over the world that matters. They are certainly influential and many people even consider them the actual rulers of those countries. A few Muslim countries after the rise in the price of oil might appear rich initially but a closer look makes their huge weaknesses all too visible. All the Muslim countries are struggling to keep their heads afloat facing serious problems of different types. There is no Islamic country in the world that can afford to confront Israel for the sake of Palestinians. Iran is trying to do it at a great cost to its people and this policy is facing serious opposition. In short we can easily summarize that the collected strength of all Muslim countries does not stand a chance against Israel. The days of the childish talk of Turkish or Pakistani army being able to fight Israelis are over. We must face the hard reality irrespective of its painfulness.
This disparity of strength between the two historic rivals is the biggest impediment for peace. Because of this the Palestinians might want peace because they need it badly but not Israelis because it might not serve their purposes. They are occupying valuable real estate for 40 years and annexing it piece by piece. Except for intifadas they could control the Palestinians effectively and now they have learned to control intifada too although at a substantial cost. Israelis openly want more real estate of their choice and all this is bound to be impossible after establishment of the Palestinian state so Israelis hardly have an incentive for peace. All this along with Israel’s ability to get away with anything against the Palestinians might be the biggest barrier to peace. The Red Indians in Americas and the Aborigines in Australia succumbed with absolute submission in the ancestral homelands but the Palestinians are astonishingly resisting at a very high cost to themselves. Most Israelis who claim to want peace are actually looking for an absolute submission of the Palestinians of the Red Indian type and cannot comprehend why it is proving so difficult. This Israeli impunity must be checked if the world wants to live in peace.
Palestinian efforts of basically firing homemade rockets and suicide bombings are helping Israelis achieve their objectives of improving international image and confiscation of more real estate while further hurting their cause. Palestinians must reassess and realign their strategy to move towards their goals. They must work hard to focus on strengthening themselves socially, economically, diplomatically and politically. Japanese have shown after the humiliation of 1945 that this can be done even under occupation as Jalib said, “Raqs Zanjeer pahan kar bhi kiya jaata hai”. Palestinians have their best chances of achieving peace and better conditions for their children following this way and not by fighting with rudimentary weapons. They have already run out of options.
The world must be acknowledge that as long as the extreme imbalance of power exists between the two sides a genuine workable peace might prove to be an illusion. For a proper enduring peace a better balance of strength must be achieved and for this the Palestinians have to be strengthened along with reducing the impunity enjoyed by Israelis for so long. The world can start with threatening sanctions on Israel for illegal activities like building of settlements on the occupied territories to begin with. History is full of examples where different heads of states managed to influence Israeli governments getting results but nearly all had to pay political price domestically discouraging others to interfere. The world does not have options; this conflict has lasted too long and is seriously hampering the workings of the modern world for which everyone is paying a price. It must rise to the occasion and settle this problem once forever and take care of this most dangerous spark, which can cause fire with potential to burn all humanity. If we fail to win here we can reasonable expect another century of conflict and sufferings. Good luck President Bush, try your best to achieve peace. Your success here might absolve you of your misadventures in Iraq and Afghanistan.