A Middle East Regime Needing Change

Géopolitique — nucléaire iranien

Bernard Lewis, 93, historian, scourge of Islamic radicalism and
spiritual god-father of America’s neocons, gave a word of advice to
Israel’s Prime Minister Ehud Olmert at a meeting in Jerusalem this
month. There could be no negotiation, he warned, with the regimes of
Tehran and Damascus. They would have to be ‘replaced’.
So it was back to regime change! As if nothing had happened since
2003! As if the catastrophic war in Iraq had not demonstrated the
bankruptcy of the neocon fantasy of using American power to overthrow
and ‘reform’ Arab regimes to make the Middle East safe for Israel and
the United States.
If the region is to be spared another disastrous explosion of
violence, one might argue, the one regime that urgently needs changing
is that of Olmert and his Defence Minister, Ehud Barak.
Both are failed Prime Ministers: Olmert for his lamentable, ill-
conceived and destructive war in Lebanon in 2006, and Barak for his
stubborn inability to seize the chance of peace with the Palestinians
and Syria in 2000 -- when, as a newly-elected Prime Minister, the
chance was there to be seized.
Far from learning from their mistakes, these men appear to be stuck in
a time warp of bad ideas. They seem convinced that Israeli settlement
expansion in Palestinian territory can continue unchecked whatever the
world may say; that resistance movements such as Hamas and Hizballah
can be destroyed by brute force, sanctions and boycotts; that Iran
poses an ‘existential threat’, not just to Israel but to the whole
world, and that it must at all costs be stopped, if necessary by
force; that Israel has no need to return the Golan Heights to Syria;
that deterrence is the key to Israel’s security and that the United
States will, for all time, guarantee Israel’s "qualitative military
edge" over the whole Arab world.
There is an extraordinary contrast between these head-in-sand
attitudes and those of much of the Arab world. Indeed, most Arabs now
seem eager to put an end to their conflict with Israel, once and for
all, in order to get on with enjoying their bonanza of oil wealth,
which offers them a unique chance to transform, develop and modernize
their societies.
The Arab peace plan -- offering Israel peace and normal relations with
all 22 Arab states if it withdraws to its 1967 borders -- remains on
the table. Syria’s President Bashar al-Asad has signaled repeatedly
that he is ready for unconditional peace talks with Israel. Hamas in
Gaza has offered Israel a hudna or cease-fire, of ten, twenty and even
fifty years’ duration.
Yet, Israel adamantly refuses to grasp these extended hands, and
continues to maintain a negative stance. It is only playing at peace
talks with Palestinian President Mahmud Abbas, even though U.S.
President George W. Bush says he wants a peace settlement between
Israelis and Palestinians by the end of the year.
The same message was conveyed this week to Israel by another of its
good friends, France’s President Nicolas Sarkozy. At a state banquet
in Paris for Israel’s President Shimon Peres, Sarkozy reminded his
guest that an independent, democratic and viable Palestinian state was
the best guarantee of Israel’s future security.
Indeed, the whole of the international community is urging Israel to
take the historic path of peace, in this its sixtieth anniversary
year. But Israel shows no inclination to comply. The real question is
Is it that Israelis do not want peace? All the polls suggest the
contrary. Two thirds of Israelis seem ready to give up the settlements
for peace, and sixty-four percent say the government must hold direct
talks with Hamas.
The problem does not lie with Israeli public opinion but with the
present configuration of Israeli politics. Israel’s leadership is
paralysed by the blocking strength of right-wing, ultra-nationalist
forces, which threaten to bring down the government and demand the
immediate cessation of talks with the Palestinians, if they go beyond
empty, time-wasting exchanges.
This is what makes it impossible for Olmert to move boldly in the
direction of peace. Hence the urgent need for regime change.
This conclusion was underlined by the bloody events of the past couple
of weeks. They began when, in a bid to force Hamas to halt the Qassam
rockets fired against Sderot and other Israeli towns, Israel launched
a major assault on Gaza, killing more than 130 Palestinians -- half of
them women and children. It is worth recalling that the Qassams -- the
first of which was fired on 16 April 2001 -- have so far killed 12
Israelis in seven years.
The response of an enraged young Palestinian to the slaughter in Gaza
was to mount a terrorist attack on Jerusalem’s Mercaz HaRav religious
school on the night of 6 March, killing eight students and wounding
several others. All Israelis not blinkered by zealotry will certainly
recognise that the attack, whether on the yeshiva or on some other
Jewish target, was a highly predictable response.
President Bush, who after the lethal Gaza raids went no further than
to urge restraint on Israel, called the attack on Mercaz HaRav
"barbaric and vicious." Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice called it
"an act of terror and depravity." Hilary Clinton called it a
"despicable act of terrorism" and Barack Obama, her challenger for the
Democratic nomination, a "cowardly and outrageous attack." Britain’s
young and inexperienced Foreign Secretary, David Millband, called it
"an arrow aimed at the Peace Process."
What peace process, Mr Milliband?
Mercaz HaRav, where the attack took place, is a hotbed of Zionist
religious extremism. It is a cradle of the settlement movement. Apart
from producing a long list of violent men, this yeshiva has spawned
Gush Emunim, the movement of gun-toting Israeli thugs who steal land,
uproot olive trees, squat in the heart of Arab towns, and make
Palestinian life a misery in the Occupied Territories. This is the
real obstacle to peace.
In terms of incitement and brainwashing of youngsters, Mercaz HaRav’s
record is at least as bad as that of any extremist madrasa in
Pakistan. Any Israeli government seriously interested in peace would
close it down.
Yet, in today’s Israel, that would be unthinkable. After the killing
of the young students, crowds started chanting the obscene slogan of
"Death to the Arabs." Right-wing militants demanded the establishment
of eight new settlements on the West Bank as "a proper Zionist
response" to the murders.
Olmert himself bowed to the pressure and authorized the building of
750 new housing units in the East Jerusalem settlement of Givat Ze’ev,
driving another nail into the coffin of the all but dead peace
process. Without East Jerusalem as its capital, there can be no viable
Palestinian state and hence no peace process worthy of the name.
Meanwhile, Defence Minister Barak has rejected any notion of a cease-
fire with Hamas. He has quashed rumours that Israel was engaged in
indirect contacts with the Islamic movement, by way of Egypt.
"Operational activity in Gaza is continuing and will continue," he
declared belligerently.
Nothing can still be hoped for from the lame duck President George W.
Bush, whose years in office have inflicted terrible damage on both the
United States and the Middle East. Only if the next American president
manages to unite with a resolute European Union in putting an end to
this madness can peace stand a chance -- for the benefit of Arabs and
Israelis alike.
Patrick Seale
Patrick Seale is a leading British writer on the Middle East, and the
author of The Struggle for Syria; also, Asad of Syria: The Struggle
for the Middle East
; and Abu Nidal: A Gun for Hire.

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Patrick Seale1 article

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Patrick Seale is a leading British writer on the Middle East, and the author of The Struggle for Syria; also, Asad of Syria: The Struggle for the Middle East; and Abu Nidal: A Gun for Hire.

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