By Linda Heard
Palestinian suffering rarely hits the headlines in a world preoccupied with North Korean nukes, British politicians pontificating about the rights or wrongs of veil wearing and Madonna’s new baby. It’s doubtful that many in the West are even aware of Israel’s “Operation Summer Rain” targeting Gaza that has robbed the lives of 290 Palestinians — almost half of them children — or that Israel is considering re-occupying this overpopulated open-air prison.
I’ve just finished reading an excellent book by the American-Palestinian author Ramzy Baroud “The Second Intifada: a Chronicle of a People’s Struggle”, which takes the reader on an excruciating journey from the failed Oslo Accords until the present day. It’s a catalogue of pain that doesn’t make easy reading for anyone with a conscience. But it’s also a fine salute to the courageous and tenacity of the Palestinian people, who refuse to conveniently fade away.
While championing the Palestinians’ right to resist occupation, Baroud believes that “the front-line in the battle for Palestine is public opinion in the United States”. He maintains that “only by changing popular attitudes toward Israel and the Palestinians can we hope to end US sponsorship of Israel’s ongoing war…”
He has a point but given the powerful pro-Israel think tanks and lobbies that wield influence over Congress and the corporate media any such opinion-altering process would take untold decades and thousands more deaths to reach fruition, if ever. There is another way — one that would require the Arab world adopting a unity of purpose, speaking with one voice and proactively seeking an end to the conflict. There was a glimmer of this during the 2002 Arab League Summit held in Beirut when Saudi Arabia put forward a peace plan that was endorsed by all 22 member nations.
It didn’t get off the ground due to lack of support from Washington, which favored a “road map” to nowhere as a concession to Britain’s Tony Blair in the run-up to the invasion of Iraq. Moreover the timing wasn’t conducive as the proposal came when the Sharon-led Israeli government was in no mood to talk peace.
Today, the climate is very different. The recent Israel-Lebanon conflict exposed Israel’s military vulnerabilities and triggered existential concerns among ordinary Israelis, now well aware that their nuclear arsenal provides little deterrence to hostile neighbor states or non-state actors.
It’s interesting that Israelis are now debating whether to make peace with Syria that would necessitate the relinquishment of the strategic Golan Heights, formerly considered a “no-no”.
Then earlier this month the Israeli Minister of Justice Meir Sheetrit urged his government to engage Saudi Arabia and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in talks on the lines of Israel’s pull back to its 1967 borders in return for full peace. “In other words, if you want peace — we welcome you,” Sheetrit said, adding, “We are prepared to make far-reaching concessions and fix the permanent borders of the State of Israel”.
This is a historic moment…or should be. If Israel truly wants peace and the Arabs want peace while Palestinians need a viable, secure state then where is the obstacle? It’s doubtful that Hamas would continue its reluctance to recognize Israel in the event land occupied post-1967 was returned and even if it did it would no longer receive popular support. Palestinians may be idealists but they are also pragmatists.
The problem is the so-called honest broker, the US, is far from honest. If Bush administration genuinely wanted peace in this region, the president would have flown to the area himself in an attempt to put the parties together.
Moreover, Tony Blair would have sought permission from the White House to shuttle between Riyadh, Ramallah and Tel Aviv so as to secure a meaningful legacy before he leaves office next spring.
Instead, the US is busy sowing division between Palestinian groups with its campaign to provide millions of dollars, weapons and military training to anti-Hamas factions. If Palestine ends up embroiled in a civil war, Israel can confidently say it doesn’t have a partner for peace and be believed.
If Washington sought peace, it would be engaged in uniting those factions and putting pressure on Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert to meet with his Palestinian counterpart.
Let’s face it. If the Arabs and the Israelis got together to produce a fait accompli this would not be in America’s interests.
A region devoid of enemies would not need Washington’s “protection” or US bases. In such a peaceful region economies would flourish and in time the Israelis would no longer require US aid while foreign investment would flood into the fledgling Palestinian state.
Put simply, Israelis and Arabs should cease looking toward Washington for direction. The Bush administration harbors its own secret road map, one that facilitates its grip on the region and enables it to control the area’s rich natural resources.
I recently received an e-mail from Albert Pardo, an Egyptian Jew now residing in France, in response to an article I wrote on the subject of Cairo’s famous Groppi teashop (Maison Groppi) that’s approaching its 100th anniversary.
Pardo thanked me for what he described as a “moving evocation of our carefree and happy youth”. Another communication came from an American journalist requesting permission to republish that article in a memoir she is writing on her Jewish Egyptian grandfather.
Arabs and Jews have lived together harmoniously and, given time, they could do so again.
It was Britain and France that pulled the political strings initially driving Arabs and Jews apart, a role since adopted by the US. Only when regional leaders are able to look that unpalatable truth in the face will they say “no” to faux honest brokers and “yes” to a genuine road map to peace rather than one with inbuilt hurdles and untenable aims.
-Linda Heard is a specialist writer on Middle East affairs. She can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org.