Friday, December 10, 2004

Centrality of Palestine in Middle East politics

Centrality Of Palestine in Middle East Politics

Ghassan Rubeiz, December 2004 ( unpublished)

Most Americans do not appreciate the centrality of Palestine in the Arab psyche. Neither do Arabs appreciate the centrality of Israel in the American soul.
Americans tend to believe that Arabs and Muslims, obsess too much about Palestine. Arabs disagree. For them, losing Palestine to Israel has been a long cycle of military humiliation. Despite the guilt that Arab countries must harbor for their poor social protection of Palestinian refugees, regaining Palestine, is a collective moral challenge; it is a regional dream of redemption for Arabs.

Regardless of how others think, Arabs believe that the failure to liberate Palestine from the Mandate System of the British Empire is a direct consequence of colonialism. The Arab view is that Palestine was lost to Israel due to deceptive Western policy and military support to Israel.

Today, many Arabs look at Israel as a religious state supported by the Christian West. The memory of the Crusaders’ presence in the Holy Land is fresh in the Arab psyche. Arabs are puzzled that on one hand, the Western world expects them to secularize in order to modernize and, on the other hand, they are supposed to accept Israel as a Jewish state.

The Arab’s agonizing reflection on the dynamics of failure in Palestine has grown to include analysis of Arab identity, unity and disunity, honor and treason, honesty and hypocrisy. The Palestine question has also led Arabs from different countries to discuss their past, present and future, priorities, and threats. In discussing Palestine, Arabs inevitably reflect on the disturbing nature of their regimes and the role of religion in politics. As a result of this generalized reflection and emotions, every Arab has become a Palestinian.

Similarly, most Arabs believe that Americans are obsessed about Israel. Americans disagree.
Americans identify with Israel for a variety of pragmatic and altruistic reasons. They see Israel as an engine of creativity. Most Americans believe that Israel turned the desert into a land of milk and honey. The story of Israeli pioneering success reminds Americans of their success in their own country.
Israel is an economic, military, political, and cultural ally. Israel is a free market economy par excellence. It has a strong military that is a regional power. It has a security and intelligence system that is an object of America’s awe and admiration.

Americans postulate that if the Arab world is not willing to secularize, it is likely to remain a threat to the US. Israel is a buffer zone, a security zone, a laboratory of social change, a potential partner in rebuilding the political landscape of the region.

America supports Israel on perceived moral grounds. America is spiritually close to the Jewish people. The Holocaust has made an indelible impression on the American mind. Americans see a parallel between their liberation from the autocratic, old world of Europe and the liberation of the Jews from past European oppression.

Many American religious leaders promote Israel as a land of peace and democracy. Israel is both a land of pilgrimage for Christians and a land of promise for the Jews and Christians.

The Jewish-American community is a powerful lobby in Washington. Muslims fear that this phenomenal Jewish advocacy makes it harder for the US to act as an honest broker in the Middle East. The challenge for a growing community of Arab Americas will be to compete in the lobbying process, creatively.

It is clear that Muslims, Christians and Jews see the question of Palestine through widely different historical, political and cultural lenses.

Despite the current progress in the peace process, the status quo will not change for the better until the Arab and Jewish American communities realize that the future security of Israel is tied intimately to the viability and security of a Palestinian state. So far, unfortunately, sincere Arab- Jewish communication has been rare.

To start dialogue, these two American, Diaspora communities will have to visualize the benefits of an integrated and free Middle East region, in which Israel is secure for the long run and Palestine is a freed and viable state. We are currently seeing signs of progress in negotiation on all sides. Our challenge is to find a way to shift the perspectives of dialogue so that religion can act as a blessing.

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