While I am writing this, in the background is President Obama addressing the United Nations. For some, this is an historic day—21 September 2011. For others, it is more of the same, a different form of warfare that will lead to yet another kind of warfare and on and on…
The history of conflict in the Middle East between Israel and the Arab nations has gone through many different stages.
In the beginning, shortly after the Second World War, when the United Nations meant something both politically and influentially, the organization voted to create the Jewish State. When the Palestinians were offered their own legal entity within the West Bank and Gaza, Yasser Arafat—the man who never missed an opportunity to miss an opportunity—refused. The reason would remain etched in stone for the duration of time—all of the land or nothing and they (the Palestinians) would fight to the death to reclaim what they claimed was theirs, which was not only the West Bank and Gaza but also the newly-created State of Israel.
During that time, Jordan was the occupying force in the West Bank and Egypt controlled Gaza. All the Arab nations applauded the Palestinians. Yasser Arafat became a hero and a symbol of the Palestinian struggle and the Arabs vowed to support the plucky Palestinians until Israel was obliterated from the map. Digging in their heels, Jordan and Egypt did nothing to improve the living conditions of the Palestinian people who languished in abysmal conditions in refugee camps. Egypt did not allow them to cross over from Gaza into Egypt to work. Jordan, whose population consisted mainly of Palestinians, did nothing as well to help them build an infrastructure which would have included schools, hospitals, or agricultural knowledge. Instead, the Arab world did exactly what they should have done to exemplify the tragedy of the displaced Palestinians. They ignored their plight. Jordan was fearful that the Palestinian majority would overthrow the concocted Hashemite Kingdom and Egypt was flexing its muscles as the leader of the Arab world.
Two of the many wars, uprisings, targeted killings, terrorist attacks, and skirmishes that followed changed the map of the Middle East and left us where we are today—with the American President addressing the United Nations on the subject of Palestine.
The first war happened in the 1950s.
In the early 1950s, Egypt violated the terms of the Egyptian-Israeli armistice agreement and blocked Israeli ships from passing through the Suez Canal, a major international waterway. It also began to block traffic through the Straits of Tiran, a narrow passage of water linking the Israeli port of Eilat to the Red Sea. This action effectively cut off the port of Eilat—Israel’s only outlet to the Red Sea and Indian Ocean. Closure of the Suez Canal and the Tiran Straits damaged Israel’s trade with Asia. Foreign ships carrying goods bound for Israel and Israeli ships carrying goods bound for the Far East were forced to take a long and costly circuitous route to the Atlantic and Israel’s Mediterranean ports.
At the same time, Palestinian Arab fedayeen (militants, based in Egypt, Jordan, and Syria) launched attacks on Israeli civilian centers and military outposts. A now-familiar pattern began—attacks by Arab fedayeen and retaliation by Israeli troops.
In July 1956, Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser nationalized the Suez Canal which not only affected Israeli trade, but also British and French oil interests and commerce with the West. For the first time in history, France, the United Kingdom and Israel had a common interest—to liberate the Suez Canal to achieve free passage through international waters. Israel had an additional agenda—to end terrorist attacks on their civilians within the borders of Israel.
On 29 October 1956, Israel began an assault on Egyptian military positions which ended by the Israeli capture of the Gaza Strip and the Sinai Peninsula.
The second war was in 1967, fought in six days in June, from the 5th until the 10th. After a long period of tension between Israel, Egypt, Jordan and Syria, Israel launched several surprise air strikes against its neighbors. The end was decisive when Israel took control of the Gaza Strip and the Sinai Peninsula from Egypt, the West Bank and East Jerusalem from Jordan and the Golan Heights from Syria. The rest is recent history.
To capsulize, the Palestinians remained in the refugee camps—this time under Israeli control—in abysmal conditions. The Arab world used the Palestinians as a glaring example of Israeli brutality. Peace conferences were organized both for public consumption and behind the scenes negotiations. On 26 March 1979, the one and only peace accord was actually signed under the auspices of the United States and President Jimmy Carter. President Anwar Sadat, the President of Egypt and Menachem Begin, the Prime Minister of Israel, shook hands and signed an agreement to end their decades-long state of war. Two years later, on 6 October 1981, Anwar Sadat was assassinated by a group of Fundamentalist army officers. The rest is even more recent history.
More peace conferences, uprisings, Palestinian targeted killings, Israeli incursions, tanks versus stones, suicide bombers killing themselves and Israeli civilians, poverty, hopelessness, and intractable Palestinian leaders who aligned themselves with radical Islamic groups against arrogant Israeli leaders who kept on building new settlements on disputed land.
Spring 2011 arrived with all the beauty of buds, flowers, birds, sunshine, and bloodshed. The Arab world finally realized that they had been governed by despots and dictators who had billions in oil dollars, lived in sumptuous luxury, while the people suffered starvation, unemployment, and an absence of human rights. The list is long.
The Arabic Rebellions of the Arab Revolutions actually but unofficially began on 18 December 2010 in Tunisia. By Spring 2011, it had spread to Egypt, and then to Libya where a civil uprising resulted in the fall of the Ghadaffi regime. Civil uprisings occurred also in Bahrain, Syria, and Yemen, while there were major protests in Algeria, Iraq, Jordan, Morocco and Oman. Minor protests broke out in Kuwait, Lebanon, Mauritania, Saudi Arabia, Sudan and Western Sahara. Israelis and Palestinians were not exempt. In May 2011, there were increased clashes between Palestinians and Israelis at Israeli borders, clearly inspired by the so-called Arab Spring revolts. The major slogan of the demonstrations was Ash-sha’b yrid isqat an-nizam or “the people want to bring down the regime.”
Perhaps the most interesting and telling reaction to the rebellion was that brute force was not the only method used to quell the protests. The ruling regimes used internet censorship to stymie the use of social media by the protestors as to where to gather for marches, protests, and demonstrations, and where and when to close businesses and strike.
The world was ecstatic. Democracy was finally taking hold in those Arab countries where people had been subjugated for hundreds of years. Those who understood the improbability of democracy in those regions where there had never been equality or the freedom to vote knew that the only cohesive structure in place was the Mosque. It would only be a question of time before the Muslim Brotherhood and other radical political factions such as Hamas or the Islamic Jihad would come to power and lead the people into another kind of subjugation. Those same people also understood that countries under the control of extreme Islamic groups would join together to wage war against Israel.
Perhaps the world had forgotten that in the charter of Al-Fatah, Yasser Arafat’s political party, was the call for the total destruction of Israel. Perhaps the world has also forgotten that right now within the Palestinian entity on the West Bank and Gaza there are two governments. Roni Shaked, one of the pre-eminent experts on Palestinian affairs who writes for Yediot, a major Israeli newspaper, calls the two states Fatahland led by Mahmoud Abbas or Abu Mazin (his nom de guerre) and Hamastan led by Ismail Haniyeh. While Abu Mazin is received in Europe and the United States because of his lip service agreement to peace with Israel, Ismail Haniyeh has refused to take out the edict in the Hamas charter which calls for the total destruction of Israel.
Abu Mazin has the worst job in the world. He is restrained by Hamas to come forward and actually sign an accord, assuming that he understands economically and socially it would be the best course for the Palestinian people. So, once again, the Palestinians never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity.
Someone within Al Fatah had the brilliant idea of going to the Security Council at the United Nations and asking the Council to vote on granting Palestine permanent status as a member nation as well as making Palestine a State. It was clearly a short-cut approach after decades of attempting to negotiate a viable peace between Israelis and Palestinians, and a short-cut that would provide nothing except an official recognition of a state that had no cohesive government, borders, or willingness to live peacefully with Israel. This act motivated and foolishly inspired by Arab Spring (read Arab Winter) was a direct challenge to the American President who had the power to veto the motion. And herein was the dilemma.
If President Obama did not veto the motion, he would lose the right-wing Christian vote and support of the Jewish American population. If he did not veto the motion, he would once again be accused of being an Arab, or a Muslim, or of being sympathetic to a group of people who somehow were in the same camp as those who took down the World Trade Center.
Barak Obama has the second worst job in the world after Abu Mazin.
During his speech in front of the United Nations this morning, President Obama explained in a most measured and eloquent manner the facts of life. It is up to the Palestinians to unite and enter into peace negotiations with Israel. The United States would be willing to broker any peace accord along with those European countries who were also interested in securing restraint throughout the Middle East. But the United States would not endorse a short-cut measure that had not yet addressed the critical issues concerning borders, a recognition of Israel, and a better life for the Palestinians.
Unfortunately, there will be fallout from Obama’s decision and most probably within two days or so, the Palestinian delegation will take this vote before the General Assembly. Win or lose during that round, there are, however, far more serious problems.
War in the Middle East is inevitable. When the rest of those Arab nations eventually fall to those who are or who will rebel against the despots and dictators, the radical Islamic groups will take power. Democracy is a far-off dream that can never happen as we, in America, know it. Ultimately, when there is no more Mubarak or Ghadaffi to blame for the economic woes of those Arab countries, Israel will be the target. This time around the options are plenty—biological warfare, cyber warfare, more terrorism, suicide bombings, and yes, even the export of terror to our shores. This is a zero sum game.
Once, several years ago when I was traveling throughout the West Bank and Gaza filming a documentary entitled Army of Roses about the first six women suicide bombers, I was asked the following question many times by many Palestinians.
“Are you for or against suicide bombings?”
I understood the implication.
If I was against suicide bombings, I was pro-Israeli occupation.
If I was for suicide bombings, I was pro-Palestinian statehood.
In defense of Barak Obama, he is in the same bind. The fact that he vetoed this fast track to Palestinian statehood does not mean he is against the creation of a Palestinian State. At the same time, I would hope that just because he has a cordial television moment with Benjamin Netanyahu does not mean that he is in favor of continuing to build Jewish settlements on disputed land.
There should be no trick questions. There should be no hidden agendas. And, most of all, the world should understand that Arab Spring is really Arab Winter. There are no winners. There are only losers. If someone does not force face to face negotiations with results, Arabs and Israelis will be slipping on the icy slopes of repression or oblivion instead of basking in the sunshine of freedom.