The man who wasn't there


I read something recently about America's Middle East initiative, the "road map," offering Bush the chance for greatness. Verbal excess like that demands a realistic discussion of the prospects.

When Britain achieved a breakthrough for peace in Northern Ireland, it did not do so by telling the IRA that its representatives were terrorists, unacceptable to negotiate. It had not surrounded the houses of IRA leaders with tanks, blasting away until ruins remained. It did not forbid IRA leaders from attending church or traveling. Yet this is the way -- along with a daily toll of reprisal killings and assassinations -- Mr. Sharon prepares for peace.

For many reasons, I can only be pessimistic about the "road map." Sharon's immediate instinct was to reject and belittle it. Under pressure from Washington to reverse himself, he only did so with a list of qualifiers long enough to make it a different document than the one Palestinians accepted.

The fact that Mr. Sharon used, just once, the honest word occupation, normally forbidden in Israeli politics, and offered to trash a couple of clumps of abandoned, beaten-up trailers where the most-crazed settlers play cowboys-and-Indians with assault rifles do seem less than signs of great events to come.

Consider some of the constraints around this initiative. First, it is sponsored by a President who has just launched the United States into two meaningless, destructive wars. American forces, resources, and diplomacy now face huge, complex, and long-term obligations in Afghanistan and Iraq that did not exist a short time ago. Bush has, at the same time, threatened Iran, Syria, and North Korea, and, at least in the case of North Korea, a serious conflict may well be coming.

Second, this President's policies have not ended terrorism, nor do I believe they ever can, which means American concerns and resources will be stretched even further. The President's policies since 9/11 have been exactly those followed by Israel for fifty years, striking out against someone, almost anyone, wearing the right kind of headdress. Has fifty years of that solved Israel's problems? If anything, it has only created new and desperate enemies, like the hopeless young people willing to blow themselves up to strike a blow.

Third, the plan is in the hands of Secretary of State Colin Powell, who has proved ineffective at almost everything undertaken, a judgment from one who once admired him. More importantly, Powell's stature among Bush's intimates is so low that you suspect they have secretly uncovered he is a distant relative of Bill Clinton, the political anti-Christ of neocon America.

Bush appointed Powell to reassure the world that America had not fallen to a coup of drawling closet-fascists, but the appointment has not proved especially helpful. The insane, arrogant intensity of Bush's inner cabinet -- including Rumsfeld, Cheney, and Ashcroft -- does mean that any civilized foreigner with something important to say to the United States might rather face Powell, but he or she will be addressing an exalted messenger with little influence.

Powell works hard trying to overcome the zealots' distrust, as with his recent rants and threats about everything from French ingratitude and delusions of yet finding strategic weapons in Iraq to warning Mr. Arafat about blocking the "road map." He's even gone back in time to the 1960s by attacking the neocons' second-most hated figure after Bill Clinton, Fidel Castro. All this only has him clumsily climbing trees, sawing off unwanted limbs that block the Oval Office view, while the viciously dysfunctional family that hired him gazes through the windows gleefully awaiting his plunge to earth.

But perhaps the most important reason for bleakness over the "road map" is the man who is not at the discussions.

Yasser Arafat is now treated as the source of all evil in the Middle East. He is for Sharon the Middle East's equivalent of what Bill Clinton is for America's neocons, although in Israel the nasty game is played with real blood, and likely only Arafat's world-stature and connections have saved him from Sharon's assassins.

Arafat doesn't speak English well, making it easy to give him bad press in America, and he is indeed given bad press. Few Americans even know that Arafat has a better analytical brain than their current President. He is a civil engineer and comes from a family that includes a remarkable brother who is a pediatrician and the founder of many medical institutions -- not exactly the kind of hot-tempered, inarticulate tribal chief he is so often portrayed in America.

As with almost anyone raised to authority in his part of the world, his experience with democracy is limited to being on the receiving end of what nations boasting of democratic values -- America, Britain and Israel -- dish out abroad but wouldn't dream of doing at home.

Since democracy naturally flows from a healthy, growing society, it should come as no surprise that Arafat's democratic values are less than perfect. One form or another of authoritarianism is the way all the world's people have been governed before experiencing the revolution of economic growth. It is the way most of the world's people are governed still. Does that preclude us from having negotiations, treaties, and agreements with the governments of most of the world's people?

I do not think there is the slightest question that Arafat sincerely wants peace, although the peace he wants includes the long-term interests of all parties with the injustices and grievances attending the birth of modern Israel having been reasonably settled. This runs up against the Sharon concept of peace which means absolute, unconditional security for Israel while giving little more than words to those who insist on running around in keffiahs and kaftans. One suspects Sharon's idea of a concession is to have his tanks roll back from the center to the edge of a village recently flattened.

Of course, all of human history and especially the discoveries of modern physics demonstrate that there are no absolute certainties in this world. Einstein, troubled about quantum mechanics, said God didn't play with dice, but we now know he was wrong about that. Israel's insistence on impossible absolutes always prevents genuine progress -- that is, the kind of practical progress that characterizes normal human relationships and decent relations among nations.

Short of driving the Palestinians, like three-and-a-half million head of cattle, across the Jordan river -- an idea which finds considerable support in Israel and in America's loony Bible belt -- Sharon's vision of peace appears to consign Palestinians perpetually to walled ghettos, dotted with settlements of armed, hostile fanatics and crisscrossed with no-go roads. That is a fairly accurate summary of Barak's Camp David proposal for a Palestinian state, and nothing since has happened to increase Israel's inclination to be large or statesmanlike -- rather, quite the opposite.

Arafat correctly rejected Barak's degrading concept of a nation, feeling humiliated after so many years of effort and so many compromises before and after the Oslo Accords. Accepting such an offer would only have seen Palestinians assassinate him and likely tipped them into civil war, hardly contributions to Israeli security. Indeed, once the insanity of civil war takes hold anywhere, normal restraints and humanity are pitched aside in a frenzy of killing and vengeance.

The second intifadah can be understood both as a natural human reaction to decades of oppression and as an escape-valve for immense internal pressures. Israel blindly insists on seeing only terrorism.

American commentators like Thomas Friedman embroider the theme of Palestinian unreasonableness by asking why Palestinians have not followed the teachings of Gandhi and Dr. King to achieve their goals. I do not know whether this is asked from navet or utter cynicism, but the answer is simple: the structures of these abusive situations are entirely different.

Israel, on short notice, can close Palestine completely down and has done so briefly many times. Israel simply imports guest workers or new migrants for the many daily tasks done by Palestinians. Neither Imperial India nor Bull Connor's South could do this. Also, the afflicted people of Gandhi and King lived in many locations and were actually the large majority in many or most places. Further, Palestinians have no citizenship and no rights and no standing before Israeli courts. Even citizens of Israel have no defined rights. A nation defined by ethnic/religious identity makes a meaningful bill or charter of rights something of a logical puzzle, a puzzle Israel has not solved in over fifty years.

The possibility of bloody civil war among the Palestinians, brought on by the steps of the "road map" itself is not to be treated lightly, because the steps of every American initiative always demand concessions disproportionately from the weak side. Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas has only restated the obvious in refusing a harsh crack-down on militants for fear of civil war, something Arafat has understood for decades and that has always informed his resistance to Israel's harsh, absolute demands.

Arafat has spent his adult life trying to get a reasonable settlement for the Palestinians. He has made mistakes, plenty of them, but the truth is that none of them proved as bloody and destructive as, for instance, Mr. Sharon's brutal invasion of Lebanon. Yet, Mr. Sharon's career of blunders and bloodshed seems not to have disqualified him as spokesman for his people. Indeed, he does more than this; he now determines who is a fitting representative for the Palestinians.

Excluding Arafat may look attractive from the limited vantage points of Israel's volatile politics and Bush's born-again crowd, but to an independent observer, it looks hopeless.

Israelis may be the victims of their own propaganda about Arafat the terrorist, believing that his replacement in talks can genuinely change the dynamics of the situation. How easily Israelis forget that several of their prime ministers had extensive service as terrorists on their resumes.

The achievement of peace requires genuine risks and brutally hard work from all parties, but Israel demonstrates no willingness to assume the kind of risks that ended Apartheid in South Africa and has come close to ending the sectarian violence of Northern Ireland, and Bush is someone who has never worked hard at anything in his life. The existing human and political mess in the Middle East is frozen in place by the immense protection and subsidies of the United States, and so we come full circle to the nature of the people in the present American government and the terrible new obligations they have thoughtlessly assumed. Then we have Bush's intimate relationship with America's delusional Religious Right whose leaders daily rant against a Palestinian state and cheerfully anticipate the promise of Armageddon from the jumbled nightmares of the Book of Revelations.

Hopes for greatness? I think not.

 

Source: Yellow Times


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  17 Comments   Comment

  1. macmoud suwafta from U.S.A

    I admire your ablity to articulate yourself so skillfully. Yet I choose to disagree with your opinion, Arafat may be the analitical thinker you say ,but that wont save him from being a condemmed terriorist in the west,no matter what you say there is to much evedence pointing at Arafats devious character and intentions

  2. abdul from uk

    I think alot non-muslim misunderstand islam....we not here to convert the whole world, but here to invite nations to the best way of worship of GOD...

    the catch is you have free will to accept or reject....remembre no compulsion in religion. As for the failure of muslim to be a witness and example to humanity.....they wil have to answer to this.....

    as for Iran...there is no priesthood in islam so if the ayatollah have failed to deliver justice, so the have go.....but interested to check out who the new elites will be.....

  3. michael 7 from usa

    Thank you for your balanced article on mideast conflict.A;so the truthful comments on Bush cheney and powers were right on.Americans have to go totally alternative to find sources of truth.Our admininstration is facist acting yet many are'nt even aware of this.Yet please remember 9/11 . Yes,fundalmentalism,facism,violence, resulted in America,the worlds first attempt to open democracy,the right to protection. Peace,patience and forbearance with dialogue are weapons,along with concern for all our neighbores. salam

  4. Asad Abdur-Rashid from usa

    I too am one who in the past thought well about Colin Powell, purchased and read his book. Now I am almost ready to trash it. I think he should have resigned like some of the British cabinet members did. I guess he has been unable to grow beyond his military mindset of following orders from the "commander" even if the commander is an idiot. We have seen two men of color, Powell and Kofi Anan, run over and made to look powerless by the Bush zionist cartel.

  5. P.G. Antioch from USA

    THANK YOU!!! Thank you for this articulate, insightful comment on the current distress in the Middle East and the basic bankruptcy of American policy there. The Rumsfeld-Cheney-Ashcroft junta, along with their lazy, dyslexic (often fuzzy-thinking, feeble-minded) puppet, George "Dubya" Bush, have done nearly irreparable harm, poisoning US relations with much of the world for AT LEAST a generation. We will be saddled with this nightmare for many years to come. Still, none of the rest of the world's suffering compares to that of the Palestinian people under the repressive military machine of the WAR CRIMINAL Ariel Sharon. Please keep the faith and persevere, for the junta can't win forever, with so much of the world's peoples wise to their treachery. Thank you again.

  6. Kovitz from Canada

    Israeli groverment under Sharon leadership make Hammas, Hezbullah and Al-qaida look like boyscouts in the eyes of the world.

    It's dangerous!

  7. Sr.D.Albizu from USA

    You forgot to say something about Powell: minority icon for the republican government used to lie to the U.N..Shame on those who in the pursuit of empty ambitions fail to see that they are being used.May Allah forgive US.

  8. Sam Ganam from USA

    My friends and I commend the author for his outspokenness and objective approach to the current situation in the Middle East and the role of the US in the whole scheme of things. Having such a high-caliber author of Jewish descent side with the objectivity of the matter makes us believe firmly that not all Jews are the same like not all Muslims are terrorists. This brings a lot of relief to a lot of those who are eager to see a peaceful and fair solution to the conflict in the region. Thank you for standing out and being honest.

  9. peter jefferies from USA

    The war in Afganastan was meaningless? Comments like that discredit the entire column. Which is just as well.

    Afafat has a better brain than Bush? ...

    The over all point seems to get lost in hopeless drizzle. Too often the case with Muslims these days.

    The scary observation in this article is the line about Bush's policies not being on the right track to end terrorizm. The Muslim Zealots seem to want nothing less than a world conversion to Islam. That ain't gonna happen. So other than the best defense is a good offense, what can we do? The Muslim Zealots are the ones who hijacked our planes and flew them into our buildings. Doing nothing is not an option.

    Talk? With who?

    It still amazes me that so many Muslims still believe these war is about our goverment and it's policies. That is not the case. This is a culture war. The Islamist Zealots are fighting to keep the American culture out of their countries. Things like individual freedom and rights for woman. That is what this war is about.

    The beautiful aspect of this, individual freedom and rights for all, is that it has a life of its own. It is not something our goverment can control. Anymore than Islam can. For Islam, this is a tough pill to swallow.

    And by the way. You are wrong regarding Bush's policies not working. Some points suggesting they are indeed working. First, Al Quada just attacked home, Saudi Arabia. Desperate. Second, the youth in Iran are marching again. (What? nothing about that in Islam city?) And third, still no attacks here at home. ..

  10. Usman from USA

    Bravo!! Article that speaks for me entirely. Thank you!!

  11. GREGORY MUHAMMAD from ATLANTA, GA.

    AS-SALAAM-ALIKUM !!

    AS A STUDENT IN THE NATION OF ISLAM, UNDER THE TEACHINGS AND GUIDE OF THE HONORABLE LOUIS FARRKHAN. I CAN TRULY SAY AS A BLACKMAN LIVING IN AMERICA. WE ARE FIGHTING FOR FREEDOM, JUSTIC AND EQUALITY. HOWEVER, THE FIGHT IS STILL ON...... WE NOW HAVE ALOT OF COMPANY, MUSLIMS FROM ALL OVER IS NOT TREATED FAIRLY(IN AMERICA). AND OTHERS LIKE POOR AND SOME WHITE PEOPLE DO NOT AGREE WITH THE U.S. GOVERMENT. SO, WE PRAY EACH AND EVERYDAY FOR A BETTER DAY, FOR ALL PEOPLE. WHO WANTS TRUE FREEDOM AND JUSTIC AND EQUALITY THEN YOU WILL HAVE PEACE.

    AS-SALAAM-ALAIKUM

    G.MUHAMMAD

  12. Khalid from usa

    Hamas is running the politics of Palestine. They have no interest in letting Israel remain in the region. If they want peace both sides are going to have to make some sacrifices. Enough is Enough people are dying and Hamas won't even let the fighting end. Hatred runs so deep, they can't call themselves muslims. Why is it that he Jordanian Palestinians can live with Israel but Hamas cannot?

  13. Patrick Ernst from Australia

    A very engaging article. Bush and his neocons are very scary people. Or should I say the neocons and their Bush?

    For all the good that the much bally-hooed Roadmap will do, remember the various other plans and agreements. Mostly scuttled by poorly reported attacks by the IDF on Palestinian homes and people in the name of 'security' - always generating the predictable and desired response from Hamas or Islamic Jihad of a reprisal attack.

    All of these plans have one thing in common - they are extensions of the same mentality which found the original partition plans acceptable. When was it ever acceptable to, through the artiface of international law, take away the lands and homes of one group of people and give them to another? The history of Israel is nothing more than another invasion. Indonesia claimed it had historical 'rights' over East Timor so it exercised them. After 25 years, much bloodshed and a referendum, the East Timorese have their lands back. Where was he referendum which allowed Palestinians to vote on the carve up of their country? It never happened. Maybe if the Israelis ask for the forgiveness of the people whose land they took, they will be able to remain - as citizens of Palestine perhaps.

  14. Alain Jean-Mairet from CH

    Once there is war, peace negotiations will be possible only when the parties are capable of forming homogeneous wholes. For Israel, that condition can be considered fulfilled: Sharon does control the army, the police and the society (to a very large extent). As long as such a situation won't be concretized in Palestine too, there won't be any sound negotiations. Thus a possible goal is the creation of a Palestinian state, and some seem to hope that the mere promise of that creation will trigger the necessary drive within the Palestinian people. That is a thin road.

    Another hot problem is the ongoing violence. Once people of a region have been living in a war stress for several years, a balance has been slowly forming among them, giving an edge to those who could cope well with that stress, i.e. essentially the most violent or rigid of them. And those people often don't like the bleak face of a negotiated peace, openly or not, because it shatters their world, the world they actually are at ease with. The people who are running organizations like Hamas don't want any other peace than that following complete victory, or that of death. It might be the attitude of some Israelis as well. To have them change their mind is another uneasy road.

    Then there is the support and encouragement that the parties obtain, for different reasons, from states or individuals--an aspect difficult to handle, because a part of the aid is of humanitarian (or commercial) nature, as is a part of the propaganda (education). Pressure should be exercised here in order to limit the scope of destruction and appeal to more violence.

    Each of those aspects must be addressed, separately but within a concerted program. It should be clear now that Israel and the people of Palestine won't be able to resolve the conflict by themselves. The international community should be doing something. What?

    What would we do if the global human society was "healthy"?

  15. John O'Heeron from USA

    This was an excellant article. Mr. Chuckman expressed my views better than I could have. I know that many, many, Palastinians, Israelis, Americans, and people from everywhere want peace in this area, but, I believe, we will have to wait for a regime change in America and probably Israel to get it.

    I look forward to more articles from Mr. Chuckman.

    John O'Heeron

  16. john norman from uk

    John Chuckman of the "Yellow-belly Times", believes that the Israelis believe that abu Mazen is caopable of changing the dynamics in palestinian politics. Not so. It is because they know that he is incapable of of changing these dynamics - indeed he has confessed to being, weak, incompetent and afraid of his responsibilities - that the Israelis will have to continue to take out the terrorists for him.

    .....