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The Middle East Policy Paralysis Paradox


It is very frustrating. On the one hand, say the pundits, "everyone" agrees on the major problems in the Middle East, and also on their proper solution. On the other hand, each day we move further away from the possibility of solving those problems.

Let's go through a (partial) list.

  • Israel and the Palestinians - Two states for two peoples, approximately along the lines of the Geneva accord or Taba non-agreement. Bring about a new future for Palestinian refugees and a real life.

  • Lebanon - Implementation of UN Security Council Resolutions 1559 and 1680, so that Lebanon becomes an independent and secure country.

  • Israel and Syria- Israel retreats from the Golan heights. Israel and Syria sign a peace treaty.

  • Democracy and human rights- Democracy in every country. Free elections, freedom of the press, freedom of religion, repsect for human rights.

  • Iraq- An end to civil war. A democracic government works for reconstruction. The US and its allies leave Iraq for the Iraqis, who develop their oil wealth and live happily ever after in a united and prosperous country.

  • Iran- Iran becomes a modern industrialized state whose people enjoy prosperity, and which is not a threat to its neighbors.

All of the above are worthy goals. Yet the world seems to be faced with a paralysis that prevents implementing any of them. The US, the UN, the EU, the Arab League and Israel all make announcements and resolutions and roadmaps, and nothing happens.

In Gaza there is utter chaos. Reporters are kidnapped for ransom. Arms are smuggled in through the Rafah checkpoint under the noses of European inspectors. The terrorists fire rockets at Sderot, and the Israeli military does what it wants. Gaza has become a big perpetual Wild West saloon brawl. The Fatah cannot control the situation, and the Hamas refuse to do so. The different groups that want to govern through the Palestinian Authority cannot all agree to honor the agreements with Israel that created that authority.

Iraq is another saloon brawl. Factions and sects blow each other up, money for reconstruction disappears down a bottomless pit, religious fanatics enforce dress codes by violence.

Lebanon is a controlled saloon brawl. The Shi'a justifiably want representation in proportion to their numbers, and an end to the sectarian apportionment of power. That is a democratic right, but that would most likely create a state ruled by Islamic law. Everyone says they want Lebanese unity and the rule of law, but nobody is willing to undertake the disarmament of the Hezbollah militia, or to let an international force do it.

In almost every case too, there is a danger that anything that is done will make the situation worse. If the US withdraws from Iraq, the chaos will get worse, and every day they stay there, it gets worse as well. "Everyone" agreed that the Israeli occupation of Gaza was making the situation worse. However, when Israel withdrew, it got worse again. Ignore Mr. Ahmadinejad and he will certainly build an atomic bomb and use it to threaten his neighbors. Impose sanctions and perhaps he will develop it anyhow, and then really use it, instead of just threatening.

We cannot see all the problems, but we can discern a few reasons for the problems:

  • "Everybody" doesn't really agree - The "everybody" who agrees to most of the above includes, perhaps, most Europeans and Americans, and a handful of Middle Eastern leaders, journalists and academics.

  • Hypocrisy - Every government has a "Sunday Best" policy that is trotted out for visitors, and an actual every day policy that is followed in practice.

"Everybody" - The "Arab street" for example, does not really support democracy in the sense that it is understood in the west. The crowds are perfectly willing to glorify the genocidal Hassan Nasrallah, or to follow Mr. Sadr and his Mahdi army. The basic issue of agreeing that Israel has a right to exist has not been settled either. Both Hamas and Hezbollah, which negate the right of Israel to exist, are immensely popular in the Arab world and among Palestinians. The Iranian government does not agree that Israel has a right to exist. Syria does not really agree that Lebanon has a right to exist.

Different Policies for different days - On Sunday (or Friday in their case) Saudi Arabia is against terrorism everywhere, and so is Jordan, on the other days of the week they may support "resistance," and Saudi Arabia may fund Islamist Madrassahs. On Sunday (or Shabbat) Israel favors the roadmap, peace and dialogue, but the rest of the week excuses are found for not dismantling illegal outposts, not finding and punishing settlers who persecute Palestinians, and for carrying on carnage in Gaza that doesn't always seem to serve a defined military purpose.

On Sunday France is for a free Lebanon, and announces it will lead an international force. The rest of the week France torpedos the international force by insisting it should have no power to enforce UN Security Council Resolution 1559, and has to be coaxed into sending more than a token force.

On Sunday Fuad Seniora says he wants peace with Israel and an independent Lebanon. On the work days, he allows Hezbollah to control Lebanon and explains that Lebanon will be the last country to make peace with Israel.

On Sunday, the US supports democracy in Iraq. On the other days, it is quite willing to live with the Mahdi army enforcing sectarian religious rule, and with anyone else in Iraq, as long as they don't shoot at Americans.

We could go on and on with the list. Next time everyone trots out the "everyone agrees" paradox, remember why it is only an apparent paradox. The paralysis, however, is all too real.

Ami Isseroff

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Original text copyright by the author and MidEastWeb for Coexistence, RA. Posted at MidEastWeb Middle East Web Log at http://www.mideastweb.org/log/archives/00000504.htm where your intelligent and constructive comments are welcome. Distributed by MEW Newslist. Subscribe by e-mail to mew-subscribe@yahoogroups.com. Please forward by email with this notice and link to and cite this article. Other uses by permission.

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Replies: 1 Comment

Crises in the Middle East

The Jewish population in Palestine increased from 90,000 in 1914 to 238,000 in 1933 for various reasons. The Arab population resisted and still resists the Zionist movement. The British tried unsuccessfully after WWII, to reconcile Jewish and Arab demands during the creation of Israel. Zionism achieved its goal with the creation of Israel in 1948. Inhabiting the land of Israel today are 5 million Jews, 4.5 million Arabs and the 0.5 non-Jewish immigrants, mainly from the former Soviet Union. But all is not well! Lets keep trying to achieve peace!

Now in 2006, Israel, Iran, and the US are setting the stage for a chain of events that could lead to nuclear war. If events are left to unfold, the trigger will be Israel, the target Iran, the nuclear aggressor the U.S.

Iran’s President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad claims that there ‘was no holocaust!’ In my view, the West, with US military backing, pushed the Palestinians out of their homes to make room for Israel in order to mitigate the placid tolerance for the actual holocaust in Europe under Naziism. Lets understand what this might mead to the East!

The East, and particularly Iranian people, did not participate or cause the holocaust. While Ahmadinejad’s statement is erroneous in every factual manner, it is somewhat understandable that he intends to disassociate Iran from the guilt for the holocaust because the Palestinian people are paying the price for the West’s pre and post holocaust behavior. It is apparent that Ahmadinejad is careful to say that it is the “Zionist government” that is unacceptable to him and not the Israeli people!.
G. Neuburger (http://www.sherryshriner.com/judaism_vs_zionism.htm) writes: “Where the Torah tells about the creation of the first human being, the most prominent Jewish commentator, Rashi, explains that the earth from which Adam was formed was not taken from one spot but from various parts of the globe. Thus human dignity does not depend on the place of one's birth nor is it limited to one region. Indeed Judaism and Zion are incompatible and irreconcilable: If one is a good Jew, one cannot be a Zionist; if one is a Zionist, one cannot be a good Jew.”
Ahmadinejad is in error for denying the holocaust because he is apparently ignorant of the Nazi goal to “solve the Jewish problem” by murdering members of a so called “race of people” in order to create a state of “Nordic superiority.” Ahmadinejad can and should be educated in this matter!

The US and Israel, on the other hand, fail to deal with the strongly held believes that ”Zionism” is a quasi form of Naziism and serves as a lightening rod in the Middle East. The “Zionist Government” is perceived by people in that part of the world as relegating the Arabian people to a lesser form of human beings. Ahmadinejad protests this notion but distinguishes Israeli Jews from Zionists however inaccurately and he is gaining powers in the region by doing so. Rather then facing the problem with diplomacy, the US (G. W. Bush and Co.) chooses to see only the military threat and claims: The Pentagon adviser on the war on terror said that “allowing Iran to have the bomb is not on the table. We cannot have nukes being sent downstream to a terror network. It’s just too dangerous.” This is ironical because the US is the only country ever to use nuclear bombs, however justified they may have been!

In my opinion, Nixon and Kissinger went to China in the 70’s thereby possibly preventing WWIII. The Bush administration seems not to have the wherewithal to send an emissary to another one of the oldest civilizations in history namely Persia, now renamed Iran. This situation is getting dangerously close to WWIII and the nullification of Nixon's main accomplishment. It would be even worse if China still were a pre-Nixon adversary.

From a broader perspective, Abraham is the originator of all three major religions, Judaism, Christianity and Islam. Judaism embraced the notion of a “One” God (unlike the Greeks who had gods for everything), Jesus Christ focused on the One God within all of us and the Muslims believe in the 72 virgins meaning that the ‘after life’ is our reward. Each belief has profound value to human existence.

We in the US with our Christian/Jewish beliefs are supposed to be “the good guys” as if that was true. The Bush administration was voted into power and caused the deaths of 40,000 Iraqi’s and 2,600 American soldiers for questionable purposes. What is good about that? Maybe Bush and all of us should consider that there is an ‘after-life’ and act with the belief that some form of immortality truly exists in a higher authority that unites all human beings.

Let us focus on the real solution based on what we know rather then be blinded by bigotry, chauvinism and greed.

Richard Armitage said: “Any American bombing attack (on Iran), would have to consider the following questions: “What will happen in the other Islamic countries? What ability does Iran have to reach us and touch us globally—that is, terrorism? Will Syria and Lebanon up the pressure on Israel? What does the attack do to our already diminished international standing? And what does this mean for Russia, China, and the U.N. Security Council?”

The Armitage went on to say, “There are people in Washington who would be unhappy if we found a solution. They are still banking on isolation and regime change (in Iran). This is wishful thinking.” He added, “The window of opportunity is now.”

Bush avoids moving in a direction where Iran gains strength in the Middle East because Bush fails to trust an age old civilization that is not Arabic even though it could mitigate the Shiia/Sunni conflict without destroying Israel. Iranians love to barter so negotiations would be done with vigor, weakening the apparent fervor for war. It appears that Bush views Mahmoud Ahmadinejad as another Sedum Hussein with weapons of mass destruction, etc.

US Presidents like Eisenhower, Kennedy, Nixon, Carter, Reagan, Clinton, Bush#1 and Clinton had their shortcomings but they would negotiate with Iran aiming at a peaceful resolution. It is possible that Iran would accept negotiations on the grounds that a quasi-Nazi like Zionism is unacceptable; that the West is responsible for the holocaust; Iron (Persia) should play a leading role in the Middle East including acquiring some control of the Persian Sea since they are China’s greatest oil providers; that ‘voting’ Israel out of existence in not an option; and nuclear war in definitely not an option in the Middle East nor in Korea!

If the Bush administration cannot understand or handle this task, than voices of protests should be heard loud and clear pointing to different policy not bent only on single minded military action.

Let us participate in what is happening to our future with the understanding of what is at stake; Bush-that is the US-should debate or negotiate with Ahmadinejad the leader of a non-Arabic mature civilization, insist on preserving the integrated society of Israel and stop threatening nuclear war on the world. Ahmadinejad is not stupid, he may be using the nuclear threat at this time but preparing for a very different US administration that is more in keeping with our post WWII tradition. I hope so!


Steven Kalman Hegedeos, September 2006; Born in Budapest Hungary in 1942 and a good citizen of the US since 1951.

Posted by steven k. hegedeos @ 09/06/2006 09:21 PM CST

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