Thursday, January 04, 2007

Is a new Middle East war looming?

Is a new Middle East war looming?

Ghassan Rubeiz/ Jan 1, 2007


When Western friends ask me why the Palestinians don’t get their act together, I simply say I do not know. Last week provocative, albeit ineffective, Palestinian rockets were fired from Gaza into Israel while a new Israeli settlement was announced to the world. Palestinians complain in a language of despair and Israel exploits regression in Palestinian politics. Why with force, their weakest weapon, do Palestinians keep offering Israel additional excuses to extend and expand a cruel occupation?

As I listen to Palestinians I detect excessive anger and when I listen to Israelis I detect a subconscious holocaust fear. Palestinians are angry about continued, worsening and expanding occupation. Israelis are afraid of their future; they know that they can not simultaneously have peace and the occupation.

Both Palestinians and Israelis look for miracles to solve problems. For Israel 1948 and 1967, the dates of the creation of the state and the expansion into the Territories respectively, were miracle years. But sine1967, additional wars over forty years were battles of loss and destruction for the Jewish as well for the Arab people. Indeed, the two rival nations need external help as they continue to fulfill each other’s worst nightmares.

Israeli fear is many sided. Surrounded by 300 million angry Arabs Israel seeks security in partnership with the US, the world’s superpower. Israel postpones partnership with its neighbors and evokes their hatred through occupation and Western ties. But Israel will always be searching for security if it continues to conceive of it in terms of isolation from the “enemy”.

There are four million Palestinians living in the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem. In Israel proper (1967 borders) there are five million Jews, and a sizable minority community of one million Palestinians. Within the combined area of Israel proper and the occupied Palestinian territories high Palestinian birth rates will give them the chance to become a majority in the foreseeable future.

In a decade or less Israel will be forced to make a choice between two painful decisions: to terminate the occupation of Palestinian land (to avoid becoming apartheid, as former President Carter suggests his recent bestseller) or to go to war (to drive more Palestinians from the Territories into Jordan, Syria and/or Lebanon).

Terminating the occupation is not on the horizon. Being an alien state in the region, Israel does not feel secure enough to offer Palestinians a sovereign and viable state in exchange for peace and normalization. That is why Israeli illegal settlements in the West Bank continue to expand.
Ironically, lack of vision in Palestinian politics stimulates Israeli injustice. Palestinians are too fratricidal; they do not articulate their exact expectations of Israel; and they do not abandon blind use of force in their struggle against the occupation.

Peace is an investment in a trusting relation with one’s adversary. Peace making demands leadership and positive thinking. Strong leadership is now lacking among Arabs and Israelis. Within the Palestinian community, President Abbas and his Fattah party fight with Prime Minister Haniyeh and his Hamas party. On the Israeli side, Prime Minister Olmert has lost much of his credibility after the summer war with Lebanon.

While Israel is not likely to withdraw from the Occupied Territories voluntarily it does not wish to demographically slide into apartheid. A war of ethnic Israeli cleansing of Palestinians under Israeli rule becomes tempting. The rise of the extremist Avigdor Lieberman, the new deputy prime minister is an indication that ethnic cleansing has advocates in Israel.

But ethnic cleansing is not easy to implement without a cover up. Regional instability provides this cover up. The Middle East looks more unstable than ever today. In Iraq, Lebanon and Palestine there are similar dynamics of political turmoil: a threat of civil war accompanies external intervention in domestic governance.

The major external players in these three related crises are the US and Israel on one side, and Iran and Syria on the other. Global tension concerning Iran’s growing militancy is increasing. On December, 23, the UN Security Council issued sanctions on Iran. Israel and the US are alarmed about Iran’s ideology, its current leadership and its nuclear program.

Regional and local dynamics are blurred. Israel seems to be anticipating a second round of fighting with Hezbollah and Hamas, and their regional allies, since the summer war was not successful in taming resistance forces in Lebanon and Palestine. In the next expected round Israel and/or the US may attack Iran and/or Syria to reach five objectives: dismantle Iran’s nuclear defense, reduce Syria’s influence in the region, liquidate Hezbollah’s militarization in Lebanon, reduce Hamas’ power and quite the Iraq insurgency.

As Israel is desperate to find lasting security in an isolating region, the US is desperate for an exit from the Iraqi quagmire. Neoconservative policy planners in the US and Israel argue that a victory with Iran and Syria would reposition America and the Jewish state as peace makers, democracy builders and 9/11 avengers.

But war planners need to realize three points: Iraq policy failure can not be rectified by a new war with Iran and its allies, previous Middle East wars have not enhanced stability in the region and military success of classical warfare against popular insurgencies is no more guaranteed.

In this conflict there is a perpetual fear- anger cycle: an excessive fear that compels Israel to dominate in order to preserve its future security, and in response to Israeli imperial dominance there is a growing anger that divides and blind Palestinians in political problem solving. Both the fear and the anger are legitimate emotions that need to be tackled by an international force of justice and peace for years to come until the two nations build sufficient trust in each other.

To rely on Israel to change its policy of semi-permanent occupation is unrealistic since its fear of the future is crippling. And to expect Palestinians to give up militant resistance is to dream of collective national spontaneous recovery.

Since the international political climate is not likely to change in the near future further deterioration of the Palestinian- Israeli conflict is expected. Regrettably, it appears that in the foreseeable future a new round of a regional Middle East war looms ahead.



The author’s email is grubeiz@adelphia.net and his blog is .

9 Comments:

Anonymous Nadim said...

I would say the answer is "Yes". And soon. Speaking about Lebanon, I was there recently and clearly saw and felt the dead-lock. Things are not looking good. The parties are extremely polarised with no resolution in sight. This will have to end with one group "defeating" the other. Regionally speaking, things seem just as bad as you have shown us. The question now is which conflict will break out first. Lebanon, Palestine/Israel or region?

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