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[casi] Down to earth analysis

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 Jordan Times 14th July 2003

'Middle East surprises for America'

By John V. Whitbeck
FOR THOSE formulating American foreign policy and dreaming of remaking the
Middle East in their own image, the region appears to be full of surprises.
The determined resistance of some Iraqis to the Western occupation of their
country seems to have been genuinely unanticipated. It should not have been.
If the United States were conquered and occupied by Arab armies which
announced their intention to stay for years and to restructure the country's
government and economy along Islamic lines, wouldn't Americans ‹ and not
just ³hard-core Bush loyalists² or ³Republican Party remnants² ‹ resist?
The legislative elections in Kuwait on July 5, if noticed in America, should
have constituted an even more stunning surprise. Before and after the
conquest of Iraq, proponents of the war evoked the vision of a virtuous
³domino effect², toppling authoritarian regimes in the region and replacing
them with modernising, Western-oriented ³democratic² ones. As a genuine
reason for war, such a democratic mission always lacked credibility with
those who actually live in the region, who recognise that as long as America
and Israel act like Siamese twins joined at the brain, any government in the
Arab world which actually reflected the will of its people would be
fervently anti-American.
Of course, Americans do like elections ‹ provided that they produce the
³right² result. (Donald Rumsfeld has made clear that an Islamic government
will not be permitted in Iraq even if most of Iraq's people were to favour
one.) However, few believe that the United States would really prefer a
democratically elected government which is anti-American to an authoritarian
regime which is pro-American.
So, what happened in the elections in Kuwait, the most pro-American country
in the Arab world, with the most reason (by far) to be pro-American? The
³liberals², who seek a more open and modern society and had hoped to make
significant gains, were almost wiped out, retaining only three seats (down
from eight) in the 50-seat parliament. The remaining 47 seats went to
conservatives and Islamists, including radical fundamentalists. The ³domino
effect² has not worked out ‹ at least not falling in the ³right² direction ‹
next door to Iraq. What would genuinely fair elections produce in other Arab
countries whose people are far less pro-American? A quiet burial of the
³democratic mission² can be anticipated.
Another illusion destined to be dispelled soon is that the current ³roadmap²
for Israel/Palestine will win the United States friends and gratitude in the
Arab world, diminishing the anger aroused by the conquest and occupation of
Iraq. While the ³roadmap² is widely described as a ³peace plan², in Arab
eyes, ³peace² in Israel/Palestine requires ending the occupation, not
crushing all resistance to it, while, in most of the world, true ³peace² is
recognised to require some measure of ³justice², a word rigorously avoided
by successive American governments in connection with their successive
³peace plans².
If one reads the ³roadmap², it is readily apparent that it builds on a false
premise to reach an unbelievable conclusion. The premise is that the problem
in Israel/Palestine is Palestinian resistance to the 36-year-long
occupation, not the occupation itself. The conclusion is that, if the
Palestinian leadership will first suppress completely all forms of
resistance to the occupation and eliminate all capabilities for ever
resisting again, thereby making the occupation totally cost-free for
Israelis, then (and only then) Israel will choose, of its own free will, to
end the occupation, withdrawing to (essentially) its internationally
recognised pre-1967 borders, vacating the settlements, sharing Jerusalem and
agreeing to a just settlement of the refugee issue.
The Holy Land may, in theory, be a land of miracles, but, even if the ³if²
were possible at the start of the road (which is most unlikely), it is
difficult to believe that anyone in a state of sobriety could genuinely
believe that the ³then² would follow. (By contrast, if such a destination,
fully consistent with international law, were announced and guaranteed at
the start of the road, as it would be in any peace plan devised with a
sincere intention to achieve peace, there would no longer be any need for
Arabs are no fools. Even if they have not read the ³roadmap², when they see
both George W. Bush and Colin Powell insisting that a total cessation of
Palestinian violence is not good enough and that the Palestinian leadership
must also eliminate any capability for resuming violent resistance in the
future, they can recognise that the true American objective is not ³peace²,
as they understand the word, but, at best, simply ³quiet² ‹ Palestinian
acquiescence in the occupation and acceptance of whatever terms Israel may
wish to impose on a defeated and demoralised people ‹ and, at worst,
provoking a Palestinian civil war.
Such a ³peace plan² will win the United States no more friends and gratitude
in the Arab world than American efforts to repress resistance to its own
occupation of a proud Arab country by ever-escalating force, which is
condemned to produce ever-intensifying resistance, which will be met by yet
more brutal force in an infernal cycle which Israelis and Palestinians know
all too well.
Is there any way to prevent an already ugly situation in the Middle East
from degenerating into a long-term war of civilisations? Actually, there is.
In March 2002, the Arab League, in its Beirut Declaration, dramatically
offered full peace and normal diplomatic and economic relations between
Israel and all Arab states in return for a total end to the occupation of
all Arab lands occupied in 1967. The Arab League should formally reaffirm
this offer, while also making clear the ³other side of the coin² ‹ that
there will never be peace or normal relations until the occupation ends.
Then, the United States should make clear that what must end ‹ and soon ‹ is
the occupation, not the resistance to it. Of course, for America to do so
would require a virtual ³second American declaration of independence².
American politicians would have to put the interests of their own country
and people ahead of the desires of extreme right-wing elements in Israel and
their vocal, intimidating and well-funded supporters in the United States.
Most observers would consider such a revolution inconceivable, but, at least
in theory, it is possible ‹ and it is urgent.
The true ³roadmap² confronting Iraq, Palestine and the region as a whole is
not one of steady progress towards peace, prosperity, Western-style
democracy and increasingly pro-American sentiments. Unless the world focuses
soon on the real problem and its only real solution, and insists on the
prompt implementation of that solution, we are all risking a rapid descent
into hell.
The writer is an international lawyer who writes frequently on the
Israeli-Palestinian conflict. He contributed this article to The Jordan
Monday, July 14, 2003

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