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News and views on Israel, Zionism and the war on terrorism.

May 19, 2003

The Palestinian Solution Illusion

The tsunami of terrorist attacks washing the Middle East in blood over the past week should claim among its victims our belief that all the problems of the region would be solved if only we solved the Palestinian question. The bombings in Saudi Arabia, Morocco and Israel are only a fraction of the violence that will erupt in the coming years, as Islamists race to prove to the world that they are still relevant, that they are still there. We should take notice, we should allocate a great amount of resources to fighting these organizations, and we should disillusion ourselves from the quest for Palestinian statehood as a panacea for the Arab peoples' ills.

This view is starting to get serious currency among those who truly know the Middle East, and have the greater human good--not anti-Zionist fatalism--in mind. Professor Fouad Ajami, a premier scholar from Johns Hopkinsā€™s School of Advanced International Studies, writes in the US News and World Report that, as the Saudi bombing showed, "The terror masters paid no heed to the 'road map" Secretary of State Colin Powell had come to promote as a path to peace between Israelis and Palestinians, or to the promise of Palestinian deliverance held out by the 'Bush administration."

This point it important: opponents of this view might state that the Roadmap comes to "drain the swap," or "limit the sea within these terrorists may swim." There would be some truth to that if the Road Map really would do such a thing. But, as Ajami writes, we should have "No grand illusions. It may be the proper thing for America to take up the matter of Israel and the Palestinians; it may be a debt owed the stalwart British Prime Minister Tony Blair. But we should know the Arab world for what it is today and entertain no grand illusions about the gratitude the road map would deliver in Palestinian and Arab streets. We buy no friendship in Arab lands with pro-Palestinian diplomacy; we ward off no anti-American terrorism. There is no possibility the rancid anti-Americanism of Hosni Mubarak's Egypt would be assuaged with a big push for an Israeli-Palestinian settlement."

In support, Saad Eddin Ibrahim, the symbol of democracy in Egypt, imprisoned until recently by President Mubarak for his dissenting views, writes that the Road Map for the Palestinians does not deal with the problem: what is needed is a Road Map for the region as a whole. Yes, he does recognize the emotive power of the Palestinian question, but he goes farther: "...more is needed than a settlement of the Palestinian question. Democracy and development are two important requisites for a dynamic, peaceful regional equilibrium. Democracy must provide greater inclusiveness of the hitherto disenfranchised, such as women, the young and minority groups. Open and free debates are essential. Doing away with the infamous emergency laws and national state security courts must be parts of the democratic reform process. So should constitutional amendments setting strict term limits for presidents and prime ministers. Competitive presidential elections, not plebiscites, must be enshrined, in clear terms."

We should pay heed to these two experts, and understand that Palestine is only part of the problem, and solving it will only give part of a solution. To blame the violence in the region on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as did NPR this morning, saying that the Moroccan street is seething due to the lack of progress on the Road Map, is to downplay the violence and abuses in the 22 Arab states in the region. To say that the problems plaguing those states stem from Israel's treatment of the Palestinians, or a delay in the implementation of the Road Map, is more than just ignorant: it is irresponsible and racist, laying blame on one ethnicity for a region's ills. We should make it clear that it is unacceptable to blame the problems of tyranny on the Jewish democracy, and unrealistic to think that terrorist will disappear with the foundation of a free Palestinian state.
[Crossposted on Middle East and Morality]