Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Palestinians as Partners

The kidnappings in Gaza and Lebanon that led to Israel's war against Hezbollah in July haveunveiled a seismic shift in the region, a situation made possible by the war in Iraq and thedismantlement of its army.

War has bequeathed to Iran a shattered Iraq, open to Iranian investment in and profit from historic links with a majority Iraqi Shi'ite community. The U.S. venture in Iraq, paid for in blood, treasure and national pride in pursuit of a New Middle East, has devolved into an exit strategy toescape the Iraqi morass and a search for regional partners to confront the real new Middle East.The net result is that Iran, in less than four years, has emerged as the regional super power andthe guiding force of many regional assets: an emboldened and beholden Syrian regime, an ambitiousHezbollah claiming "divine victory" against Israel and the anomaly of a Sunni Hamas governmentsupported and publicly funded by Iran.

The historic fault lines within the Middle East, those between the Sunni and Shi'ite branches of Islam and the ethnic struggle for dominance among Arabs, Persians and Turks, were ignored for mostof the 20th century and supplanted by the Arab-Israeli conflict over Palestine.

However, the 20th century also introduced the concept, and thus the political reality, of thenation state to the Middle East. Greater Syria has yielded political space for Jordan, Lebanon,Israel, the virtual state of Palestine, as well as modern Syria. Their citizens assumed andaccepted new national identities and acquired new loyalties while the vested elites bolstered thenew regimes. While historical unifying principles, Arab nationalism and Islamic nationhood challenged the legitimacy of the nation states, the new states have proven durable and sustainable.

The central conflict of the region, between Israelis and Palestinians, has been the crucible wherethe conflicts between Jews and Arabs, West and East, developed and underdeveloped, and modern andtribal have simmered, overflowed and threatened the stability of the region for decades.Unresolved, and charged with the passion and rage that the mix of injured pride, religiousfanaticism, economic inequality and existential threat can engender, this conflict threatens tobecome a global nightmare that leads to the Armageddon of the faithful.

For those who care deeply about the welfare of Palestinians and Israelis, time is running short, and failure to move with urgency risks the possibility that this corner of the globe will beswallowed up by the rising tide of religious and ideological fervor gripping the region.

For the Israeli and Palestinian people, it is not enough to ask the "other" to compromise. Eachpeople must accept their painful share of the compromise.

Modern Israel, dealing with the religious claim of zealot Israeli settlers on Palestinian lands,and which denies another nation the right to statehood on its own land, must confront its owndemons. The metaphysical stake must be replaced by political and demographic realities. A historicnegotiated compromise that results in a viable state of Palestine on land occupied in 1967, withmutually agreed borders and with Arab Jerusalem as its capital, is an Israeli imperative as it is aPalestinian need. It is Israel's best guarantee to survive the new existential strategic threatsand the ultimate guarantee for security and peace for both nations. And for Palestinians to achievetheir freedom and viable state, they must repudiate Hamas' regression to the olden days ofrejection of Israel's pre-1967 borders. They also must come to terms with the reality of Israel andwith the fact that while refugees have rights that must be fully redressed — national rights,individual rights, property rights and even the right to an apology — 4 or 5 million Palestinian refugees are not going back to live in Israel.

Neither Israelis nor Palestinians are sufficiently powerful to achieve all their aims. Only a jointventure, with Israelis and Americans working respectfully with empowered Palestinian partners,rather than clients or agents, can end this national conflict. A strategic, coordinated effort,which marshals security, economic and political resources, including serious contributions frommoderate Arabs and European, must be employed. The United States, as the general partner, is theessential power that can make this joint venture a reality.

The president of the United States is the only one who can lead a regional coalition to challengeand check the regional superpower. This coalition must put the Palestine-Israel conflict on acourse toward resolution. The states that can navigate together the region's road to stability andmodernity should count Palestine as their partner.

Ziad Asali is president of the American Task Force on Palestine. He served as one of PresidentBush's delegates to observe the 2005 Palestinian presidential election.

1 comment:

William said...

A powerful cry from the heart. UntilI noticed the bottom line I thought you had written it Jane.