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"We break their legs and give them crutches."

Sarah Graham-Brown's new book (which includes the above quote) is reviewed
below, as is the latest from Geoff Simons.
Middle East
By Peter McKenna

Sunday, November 28, 1999; Page X13 

In the Middle East, the pursuit of lasting peace remains a complex and
densely woven web of intrigue, negotiation and deception. These books
examine the latest twists and turns.

In Sarah Graham-Brown's new book, Sanctioning Saddam: The Politics of
Intervention in Iraq (I.B. Tauris, $35), she includes a particularly
illuminating quote from a Western aid worker in Iraq: "We break their legs
and give them crutches." Through her close contacts with international aid
organizations (she is coordinator of the London-based Gulf Information
Project), Graham-Brown knows only too well the inherently contradictory and
myopic nature of Western (read U.S.) policy toward Saddam's Iraq. The thread
that ties this book together is the interplay of international, regional and
indigenous Iraqi factors and how they created an incredibly complex, fluid
and, ultimately, mistake-prone policy-making environment.

Sanctioning Saddam first discusses the politics of the post-Gulf War
decision-making process within Western governments and the United Nations
and the rationale for crippling economic sanctions. Second, it confronts
head-on the controversial and emotionally charged subject of assessing the
social and economic fallout of the economic embargo. It then delves into an
area largely ignored by the extant literature: an evaluation of the role and
effectiveness of UN humanitarian efforts and international non-governmental
organizations (NGOs) operating in various parts of this infrastructurally
damaged country. By the end of the book, Graham-Brown leaves you with the
unmistakable conclusion that narrowly defined state interests continue to
prevail over the interests of human beings in the post-Cold War era.

After reading Geoff Simons's Iraq-Primus Inter Pariahs: A Crisis Chronology,
1997-98 (St. Martin's, $39.95), there is no doubting that the author is
convinced that the United States, in order to feel important in the world,
must have an obvious "enemy." Simons, a prolific British writer and editor,
argues that Saddam Hussein's Iraq is most assuredly No. 1 on the U.S. Most
Detestable list, and thus the target of what he describes as a cruel and
"genocidal" sanctions campaign. The major overarching theme in this book is
clear and polemical, and one that colors the author's thinking throughout:
Don't dare step out of line and challenge U.S. hegemony in the world. Simons
argues that, as far as the United States is concerned, it doesn't matter one
iota whether Iraq scrupulously adheres to all the UN resolutions or
eliminates every single nuclear, chemical or biological weapon in the

Each of his three sections stays right on message -- namely, that Washington
is on a single-minded quest to starve the Iraqi people, to precipitate a
military confrontation as opposed to a diplomatic settlement with Iraq (what
he dubs "Gulf War II") and to thoroughly humiliate Saddam. Accordingly, he
critically examines the moral fitness of the United States to declare Iraq a
pariah state, chronicles the 1997-98 diplomatic two-step between Washington
and Baghdad, and refers repeatedly to the crippling effect of the UN embargo
on the struggling Iraqi people.

But his obsession with blaming almost everything on the United States, while
completely absolving the Iraqis of any wrongdoing, reads more like a
conspiracy yarn than a penetrating study. One quickly grows tired of his
one-sided diatribe against just about every aspect of Americana -- from its
early democratic beginnings to its current interest-based foreign policy.
There is an obvious Marxist hue to much of his writing, and therefore many
of his more trenchant points are lost in the dust of his ideological
ax-grinding. Had Simons focused more on the reasons why the United States is
so unstinting in its support for the economic embargo against Iraq -- such
as weakening the regime and keeping Saddam "in a box" -- his book would have
made a more important contribution.

In her wonderful book Drinking the Sea at Gaza: Days and Nights in a Land
Under Siege (Metropolitan, $26), Israeli newspaper journalist Amira Hass
argues persuasively that even in the post-Oslo Accords era, life for
ordinary Gazans is still tantamount to that of "animals in a cage."
According to Hass, the undisputed master (and spy) is the Israeli
government, implacable in its long-term objective of ensuring the economic,
national and geographical displacement of Palestinians.

She paints a very depressing and horrific picture -- one of chronic poverty,
stifling immobility, daily humiliations and repeated interrogations and
beatings -- of Gaza's one million inhabitants. With her perceptive eyes and
ears, reinforced by several years of living and traveling in Gaza, Hass does
an incredible job of capturing the essence and daily grind of Palestinian
existence. By focusing extensively on the human side of an oppressed people,
the author enables the reader to get up close and personal with "the true
face of the Strip": how tight family bonds have provided a semblance of
stability; ideological differences between Hamas, Fatah and the Palestinian
Authority (PA); Palestinian religious life; the corruption, authoritarianism
and cronyism that characterize the current Palestinian Authority. Her
sympathies lie with the people of the Strip, and she is clearly moved by
their amazing inner strength, courage, resilience and seemingly
indefatigable hope.

The key issue for Hass, though, is Israel's obsession with controlling and
keeping the Palestinians in line with a calculated policy of hardship and
frustration, economic dependence, heavy taxation and paltry infrastructural
and social investment. The book could have been strengthened by including
more discussion of Israel's justification (involving issues about personal
security, identity and borders) for its policy of Palestinian subjugation.
But if it's true that most Israelis are largely oblivious of what transpires
in the Occupied Territories, the future for Gazans is unlikely to look much
different from what Hass has harshly depicted.

A seminal line in Separate and Unequal: The Inside Story of Israeli Rule in
East Jerusalem (Harvard, $27.95) vividly captures the thrust of this
informative book: "If Israeli leaders had their way, most of the Arab
population of east Jerusalem would have left the city long ago." Indeed, in
an effort to spur debate about the future of Jerusalem, authors Amir S.
Cheshin, Avi Melamed (both were senior advisers to former Jerusalem mayor
Teddy Kollek) and Bill Hutman (a former journalist with the Jerusalem Post),
spend a fair amount of time depicting the horrendous and unnecessarily cruel
treatment visited upon Palestinians by the Israeli authorities.

There is no mistaking the authors' position that more than 30 years of
Israeli rule in east Jerusalem has been an abject failure, a series of
missed opportunities ultimately has created the conditions for increased
tension and conflict in the city. Chapter after chapter delves into the ugly
manner in which various Israeli governments -- through outright
discrimination, housing policies, denial of basic municipal services and de
facto annexation of land -- have sought to force Arab residents out. At the
same time, these very governments have been relentless in "putting facts on
the ground," establishing one new Jewish neighborhood after another by way
of bulldozer and expropriation order. Kollek, or "Mr. Jerusalem" in the
vernacular, is especially singled out for sharp criticism: an influential
political figure whose mastery of empty words and broken promises did little
to bridge the deeply rooted Jewish-Arab divide in the ancient city.

Given their high-level access to key municipal and Israeli decision-makers,
the authors succeed in exposing the horrific lengths to which the Israeli
government went to prevent the re-division of Jerusalem and preserve its
status as the united and eternal capital of Israel. But they fail to explain
in any detail the reasons underpinning the Israeli position and tend not to
apportion any blame whatsoever to the actions of Jerusalem's Arab
inhabitants. Furthermore, the book's plodding pace and stiff writing style,
along with what appears to be a personal vendetta of sorts against Teddy
Kollek, sometimes make difficult reading.

Still, Separate and Unequal does provide a healthy dose of realism from
which to assess the latest round of Arab-Israeli peace negotiations, the
so-called final-status talks and the "Jerusalem question" in particular. And
if the authors are correct in arguing that no self-respecting Israeli
government would ever contemplate sharing authority over the ancient city
with its Arab residents, the fate of Jerusalem and its Arab sector will
continue to be a controversial, vexing and perhaps even deal-breaking issue
for Middle East peace.

With the peace process once again gathering diplomatic steam, albeit with a
slightly different cast of characters, I initially had high hopes for Itamar
Rabinovich's Waging Peace: Israel and the Arabs at the End of the Century
(Farrar Straus Giroux, $20). Unfortunately, a good deal of what Rabinovich,
a history professor and former senior Israeli diplomat, wrote could have
easily been gleaned from the pages of a decent newspaper.

Basically, the book provides a general overview of the long-standing
Arab-Israeli conflict and recent efforts at negotiating a comprehensive
settlement. Rabinovich discusses the Oslo Accords, opposition to their
contents and problems over implementation, and the negative impact of
terrorist attacks on Israeli citizens on the peace process He then outlines
the extinguished hope for peace under right-wing Israeli Prime Minister
Benjamin Netanyahu, the role of the Clinton administration and the
glacier-like movement on the Syrian track. In addition, he examines in a
cursory manner Israel's relations with the major Arab states in the region.
His final section focuses on the crucial issue, at least from an Israeli
standpoint, of "normalizing" its relations with its Arab neighbors and its
significance as part of any broader peace framework.

The book's real strength lies in its ability to identify most of the major
obstacles to a just and lasting Middle East peace -- including Israel's
demand for a final and definitive settlement, its serious concerns about the
"right of return" of Palestinian refugees, Arab reservations about a
post-peace agreement Israel seeking to dominate the regional political
landscape, and substantial Arab resistance to any overall agreement with the
state of Israel. On the whole, though, Waging Peace is overly historical and
descriptive. Moreover, Rabinovich, who has been around the Arab-Israeli
conundrum for a good many years, does not even propose his own recipe or
plan for peacefully and effectively resolving this debilitating dispute.

One gets the feeling from reading this book that Rabinovich, while
displaying some signs of optimism and hopefulness, is only too cognizant of
the powerful forces working against a peaceful resolution of the conflict.
Perhaps that explains his measured advice to Israeli Prime Minister Ehud
Barak and PLO leader Yasser Arafat: You should expect to confront twists and
bumps along the path to reconciliation and thus opt for a more incremental
process for achieving Middle East peace. 

Peter McKenna teaches in the Department of Political and Canadian Studies at
Mount Saint Vincent University, Nova Scotia, Canada. 

 Copyright 1999 The Washington Post Company
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