The events of September 11, 2001 altered the Israeli-Palestinian equation both directly and indirectly.
Directly, because Israeli PM Ariel Sharon and Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat fairly quickly sorted themselves out into the two dichotomous camps that emerged in the Bush administration's view of the Middle East after 9/11: good guys and bad guys, those who support the American war on terror and those who (accurately or not) are deemed to be against it.
With regard to terrorism, this development dramatically upgraded the Israeli-American alliance. Yet, this was hardly an automatic outcome of 9/11. After all, Arafat also condemned the al-Qaeda attacks (though the Palestinian street seemingly did not). And Israel initially dealt with the ramifications of 9/11 clumsily. Ariel Sharon briefly angered the US by comparing Bush to Chamberlain. I recall a senior American official telling a senior Israeli, to the latter's consternation, that for the US 9/11 was the equivalent of the Holocaust, thereby implying that its ramifications were not open to Israeli interpretation or manipulation--as in comparing Arafat to Osama Bin Laden or equating the Palestinians, with whom we have a dispute over land and history, with the al-Qaeda terrorists. Ultimately it was the Karine-A affair--the attempt by Arafat to import sophisticated weaponry from Iran in January 2002, several months after 9/11--that sealed Arafat's fate in American eyes by allying him with the axis of evil camp.
Israelis, in the midst of the intifada, felt a huge sense of relief: we were no longer alone in our struggle with radical Arab terrorism; we had a mega-power ally. We would be supported in taking increasingly extreme measures against Palestinian terrorists and their supporters.
Yet it is questionable whether the Bush administration's approach to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict itself (as opposed to Israel's struggle against Palestinian terrorism) would have been appreciably different without 9/11. Even before that tragic day, Bush showed little inclination to become actively involved in our conflict. Even after it, he endorsed a two-state solution and the roadmap. Karine-A would probably have happened without 9/11. It was the European attitude toward the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that changed measurably to Israel's advantage after 9/11.
Indirectly, 9/11 triggered a chain of American actions and reactions in the greater Middle East region that have profoundly affected our conflict. The conquest and occupation of Iraq was declaredly intended to implant democracy in the region as an antidote to terrorism, reduce the danger of weapons of mass destruction and eliminate a state supporter of terrorism. It did indeed remove a key supporter of Palestinian terrorism, Saddam Hussein, from the arena. It placed nearly 150,000 American troops in the heart of the Middle East, thereby affecting the regional military balance. And it eliminated any near-term prospect of a coalition of Arab countries making war against Israel. This further freed Israel's hand in its dealings with the Palestinians, both militarily and in terms of political risk-taking, as in the August 2005 unilateral withdrawal from Gaza.
But the occupation of Iraq and the earlier occupation of Afghanistan also had the unintended effect of strengthening Iran, a major supporter of Hizballah and Palestinian Islamist organizations, by removing its neighboring enemies from power and elevating the Iraqi Shi'ites to dominance. America inadvertently turned Iraq into a hotbed of terrorism that affects the entire region. And the misguided American attempt to foster instant electoral democracy in Iraq, Palestine and elsewhere, without heed to the armed and radical nature of Islamist parties, helped enfranchise Hamas and legitimize its rule in Palestine.
Hamas' approach to the conflict, in turn, has to an extent moved the Israeli-Palestinian conflict out of the realm of a mere territorial dispute and into the "clash of civilizations" between Islam and the West. The current fighting with Hamas, and the recent war with Hizballah in Lebanon and indirectly with Iran and Syria, have galvanized an initial degree of Egyptian, Jordanian and Saudi support for Israel that is unprecedented in the history of the Arab-Israel conflict and that reflects the emergence of a western-oriented anti-Islamist camp in the region.
On balance, the US role in the Middle East since the invasion of Iraq has, from Israel's standpoint, contributed to a dangerous escalation of the confrontation with militant Islam, including in the Palestinian sphere. The United States certainly bears part of the blame. For that matter, so does Israel, for not supporting and aiding Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas when that support might have made a difference.
But the primary blame for the current state of affairs between Israel and the Palestinians, and in a larger sense between Israel and the radical Islamist camp, both Arab and Iranian, is . . . Arab and Iranian. It did not begin on 9/11. But 9/11 was definitely a turning point.- Published 11/9/2006 © bitterlemons.org
The Palestinian cause has become a victim of 9/11 in more than one respect. First and foremost, 9/11 enabled Israel to successfully conflate the legitimate Palestinian struggle and resistance against the illegal Israeli occupation with terrorism.
Israel has long been trying to convince American and European governments, as well as public opinion, especially in the West, that the Palestinian struggle against the occupation is illegitimate. Israel has always claimed that its own violence against Palestinians came only in reaction to Palestinian violence against Israelis and was thus self-defense.
Previously, Israel was only moderately successful in this endeavor because the majority of the world's governments and their publics were able to see the vicious cycle of violence between Palestinians and Israelis as falling within the context of an illegal occupation. That's why international efforts, starting with the Madrid conference and ending with the roadmap, always included clauses indicating the necessity of ending the occupation as the means to achieve peace.
But the events of 9/11, the emergence of al-Qaeda in Arab and Islamic countries and that group's continuing ability to perpetrate terrorist attacks against civilians in different parts of the world, created an atmosphere in which Israeli propaganda--seeking to portray Israel's continued occupation of Palestinian land as part of the struggle between the West and the free world against terrorism--was more readily accepted.
The Palestinian leadership, in particular the late Yasser Arafat, was among the first to sense the danger. In hindsight, it was obvious which way the wind was blowing when Israeli leaders, including Ehud Barak, Shimon Peres and Benyamin Netanyahu, volunteered on international TV to offer the "expertise" they had developed in fighting "Palestinian terrorism".
At that early stage Arafat, in a closed meeting with the heads of all the Palestinian factions including the Islamists, pointed out the danger and underlined his conviction that Palestinians now needed to stop any kind of violent activity against Israelis.
Everybody at that meeting seemed to agree and understand. A unilateral ceasefire was entered into by all factions and a few weeks of calm followed. But the calm was punctuated by a series of unprovoked Israeli assassinations and violent attacks against Palestinian targets, including against civilians. Unfortunately, even though many warned that these assassinations were provocations to force a violent Palestinian response, the Palestinian factions duly resumed their attacks, including against Israeli civilians.
The world, especially the West, did not see the provocations, but only the reactions. Israel's propaganda job had been made easier.
On a different level, 9/11 contributed to giving international relations a religious and ideological flavor at the expense of the legal, political and economic parameters with which they were usually conducted. To the Palestinian cause, dependent as it is on international legality, that was a serious setback. In general, where once nations and peoples argued on the basis of international law and political treaties in addition to issues of economic development and exploitation, and problems could be solved on rational bases, logic has now gone out the window.
The world has been witnessing an increase in ideological radicalism and religious extremism in both the West and the East. There is a Christian fundamentalist influence in Washington while there are extreme interpretations of Islam gaining currency in the Middle East. The current religious and ideological flavor that governs international relations makes it harder to find solutions to crises and makes dialogue more difficult because logic and reason are no longer relied upon.
In addition, 9/11 gave rise to unfortunate policy stratagems, particularly from the West. The wars in Afghanistan, Iraq and now, possibly, Iran, are being justified in terms of a catchall and ill-defined global foreign policy aim called the "war against terror". But neither war fought so far would seem to have yielded much result for the West. On the contrary, the world seems a more dangerous place now than it was before those invasions and the scant regard they paid to international law.
The recent phenomena of extremism, whether religious or ideological, do need to be understood, but they cannot be understood only in political and security terms. The economic marginalization of certain parts of the world, the failure of most of the regimes in the Arab world to ensure economic prosperity, the regional increase in unemployment, especially among the young, the use by powerful countries like the US of globalization as a means for domination, not only economic and political but also cultural and ideological, and the continuing injustice created by regional conflicts like the Palestinian-Israeli conflict on which the world appears unwilling to act decisively, were and are all factors contributing to an atmosphere that created al-Qaeda.
The problem is not only the individuals that are willing to commit the violence. The problem is the environment that creates not only these individuals but a public opinion that allows them to flourish.
For these reasons, non-political but influential personalities and groups should be invited to come up with a better understanding of the phenomenon of radicalization and extremism and the tendency to violence that has been occurring in different parts of the world. It is important to understand the causes that create such desperation, and those causes undoubtedly mostly stem from social, economic, cultural as well as political circumstances. Only this way can long-term solutions be formulated that aim at reducing the growing gap in wealth and other aspects of life between the different parts of humanity.- Published 11/9/2006 © bitterlemons.org
Ghassan Khatib is coeditor of the bitterlemons family of internet publications. He is the former Palestinian Authority minister of planning, and has been a political analyst and media contact for many years.
AN ISRAELI VIEW|
The fundamental issues remain unresolved
by Shlomo Avineri
Until 9/11, suicide terrorism had appeared mainly in two contexts: the Palestinian-Israeli conflict and the Tamil insurrection against Sinhalese majority rule in Sri Lanka. The latter received little international attention, as it has had scant impact on world politics (though it did spill over into India with the assassination of Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi). The Palestinian phenomenon was usually attributed to specific local conditions, and since most suicide bombers were youngsters coming from refugee camps, most international observers viewed this as just one, albeit extreme, manifestation of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.
With 15 of the 9/11 suicide murderers being Saudis, perceptions among both commentators and policy-makers changed: no longer was it possible to view suicide bombers as deprived, angry youth from poverty-stricken refugee camps who might also have been victimized by Israeli occupation. As more became known about the 9/11 perpetrators, the more it became clear that many of them (the Egyptian Mohammed Atta being a prime example) came from comfortable, middle-class families with access to education and foreign travel. Moreover, many had families, and the long range planning involved in the operation suggested dedicated people, aware of what they were doing, deeply motivated--not, as in the Palestinian case, angry young men who could easily be manipulated by older men sending them to their deaths.
The phenomenon was thus reevaluated, linking it to a deeply-held belief system: Said Qutub was mentioned, the deeply anti-western and anti-modernist Wahabi education in Saudi schools was for the first time noticed by western observers, extremist madrassas in Pakistan began to feature in journalistic reports and intelligence assessments. Even people who rejected Prof. Samuel Huntington's theory of a clash of civilizations became aware of the fact that a wider, cultural dimension was involved. Few westerners bought the facile Israeli equation of Yasser Arafat with Osama Bin Laden, but more people were ready to view Palestinian suicide terrorism in a wider context--even if they continued to criticize many aspects of Israeli policies in the occupied territories.
Certainly all this had an impact on President George W. Bush's perception of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the chances of peace-making. When the Camp David 2000 debacle was followed by the violence of the second intifada, the Bush administration had no problem in linking suicide bombs in Jerusalem, Tel Aviv and Haifa with 9/11: the mindset was perceived to be the same, even as all due respect was paid to legitimate Palestinian claims (see the roadmap). But the insistence by the White House that no meaningful negotiations were possible until the Palestinian Authority took the fight against terrorism seriously was certainly linked to the overall perception that there is something in extremist fundamentalist Islam that legitimizes mass terrorism against civilians.
Palestinians have to thank the people who brought down the Twin Towers for the White House's indifference to Arafat's virtual incarceration in the Muqataa as well as its acquiescence in Israel's policy of building a security fence. With Hamas' victory in the January 2006 elections, not only Washington but also the European Union viewed this as part of a wider, extremist Islamic movement that must be curbed--lofty principles about democracy and elections notwithstanding.
The fact that many of the 9/11 terrorists resided in Europe prior to traveling to the United States also focused attention on the internal security problems emanating from the existence of large Muslim minorities in Europe: terrorist acts in Spain, the UK and now also Germany, as well as political murders carried out by extremist Muslims (as in the Netherlands) brought about more understanding for some of the dilemmas faced by Israel. This also has clear repercussions in the field of security and intelligence gathering.
While it is now clear that 9/11 cannot be traced to Saddam, the shock created by it did legitimate, for most Americans, the invasion of Iraq. Whatever the rights and wrongs of the war, it not only brought down Saddam but also put an end to Sunni hegemony in Iraq, gave rise to the first Shi'ite dominated Arab state, enhanced Iran's influence in Iraq, and created a de facto Kurdish statelet in the north.
It may be too early to assess some of the consequences of these complex developments. Obviously, the messianic and utopian American attempt to impose democracy in Iraq--and consequently in the Arab Middle East--has failed; rulers like King Abdullah of Jordan are understandably worried about a "Shi'ite crescent", and most Saudi and Egyptian statesmen would agree, albeit quietly.
The impact on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is complex: on the one hand, a weakening of Sunni hegemony (which has always been the leading force of Arab nationalism) and the de facto disappearance of Iraq as a coherent polity could not but be welcomed by Israel; the Palestinians lost both their symbolic Saladin as well as an effective supporter of the families of suicide bombers. At the same time, the strengthening of Iran--the one indisputable result of the fall of Saddam--has encouraged an extreme anti-Israel player in the region, with far-reaching consequences ranging from its nuclear program to deeper support for Hizballah.
The impact of 9/11 on Israel itself has been equally complex. While the initial feeling that "now they will understand us" has not been fully justified, there is no doubt that putting Palestinian suicide terrorism into a wider context has helped Israel find allies in the US as well as in Europe. The EU has been less sympathetic than the US to the building of the fence, yet even European statesmen, when pressed, have had to admit that they have difficulty telling Israel not to defend itself from what Europeans may now understand a bit better.
On the other hand, Israel's unilateral withdrawal from Gaza would have been unthinkable had Iraq still been ruled by Saddam: this too has to be viewed as one of the consequences of the changes in the wake of 9/11. The war in Lebanon has made further unilateral disengagements highly improbable, but the present situation is in its own way also part of the post-9/11 world.
Contrary to the immediate rhetoric after 9/11, the world has not changed, and most of the fundamental issues in the Middle East remain the same--and unresolved. But absent 9/11, many aspects of the present configuration of forces and trends would have been different.- Published 11/9/2006 © bitterlemons.org
Shlomo Avineri is professor of political science at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and a former director general of Israel's Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
A PALESTINIAN VIEW
Hostage to 9/11
by Mahdi Abdul Hadi
Five years ago, on September 11, I was giving a lecture at Bethlehem University when the news from New York filtered through. Once the scale of what had happened became clear I turned to address my audience angrily.
"This," I said, "is the collapse of the status quo, the collapse of trust and it spells the end of the usual norms. Things will no longer be the same and we, the Arab-Islamic world, will be on the defensive for a long time."
Five years later the world has fundamentally changed. 9/11 brought us the twin cultures of fear and war to govern not only US-Arab/Muslim relations, but also the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.
George Bush, unlike his predecessors Bill Clinton, George Bush senior and Jimmy Carter, originally had no inclination to deal with the Middle East, especially the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. But 9/11 gave him an unexpected agenda for the Middle East as well as for the US, the world's only remaining superpower.
Unfortunately, this agenda has become dominated by what might be called the five 'I's: Islamophobia, Iraq, Iran, Israel and Intelligence in the service of disinformation and psychological warfare.
9/11 brought the issues of religious identity and national identity, i.e. faith and patriotism, to the fore. But rather than reflecting carefully about what these meant, they were distorted and twisted by all sides in this new climate of fear and vengeance to promote a perverse political aim that was best summed up by Bush's own "with us or against us" dictum.
Islamophobia, or as Washington now prefers to call it, the struggle against "Islamic Fascism," makes it impossible to distinguish between Muslims, whether "moderate" or "extreme". In fact, Islam and Muslims have become an internal issue in the West much like the "Jewish Question" 60 years ago was an internal issue in Europe. It must be dealt with there, where people do not even realize that Islam per se considered not only 9/11 an evil, unacceptable, and unethical attack, but also prohibits any form of suicide, regarding it a sin.
Further, forcing people to choose between their cultural-religious identity or being "with us" leaves them no option at all. Angry young generations, who've lived under oppressive and corrupt regimes, can turn nowhere in their desire for justice, whether religiously informed or not, and instead are now willing to sacrifice their lives, something made easy after creating a new meaning for martyrdom, in this void that is created by a black and white world.
Iraq was one victim of the new agenda, and the brutal but secular dictatorship of Saddam Hussein was confused with a haven for "Islamic terrorism", all the better to lump everything into the easily understood and generally accepted rubric with which the whole world was now engaged as the new evil. Iran, a burgeoning regional power with a strong Islamic (Shi'ite) culture and oil resources to boot, is the next stop on this ill-judged tour.
Israel, on the other hand, already a strategic ally of the US and the West, became, by its own volition, a tool to confront these threats that the new worldview from Washington now identifies.
But having lumped all into one category, and on the way exacerbated long-dormant rifts between Sunni and Shi'ite in Iraq and empowered Iran, this new agenda is isolating Israel behind walls it has itself built under the pretext of security and fear. Seen as an outpost of western bigotry against Muslims, it is encouraging more and more in the Arab world to renounce any attempts at recognition or compromise.
The Palestinian-Israeli conflict has become hostage to 9/11. Once the peculiarities of this conflict were subsumed by the "war against terror", room for international pressure, understanding and compromise was gone. Israel was allowed a free hand to exercise its military superiority, which, in the absence of any political plan, achieved only that: killing more Palestinians, taking more of their land, dehumanizing their daily lives and all of that for no observable reason or aim.
On the Palestinian side, meanwhile, Yasser Arafat's leadership and legitimate resistance in general were immediately branded terrorism. Thus, with no political allies, no restraint on Israel and already a part of those "against us", Palestinians have few options but to object, reject and deny.
When Palestinians, a historic first in the region, exercised their democratic right to choose who governs them, they chose Hamas, but not as political Islam. They chose reform and change in the way many in the region would choose those from the so-called, and badly labeled, Islamist parties: because they want to get rid of their corrupt regimes.
But their choice was punished by the West, and rather than a democratically answerable government that would have to yield to the wishes and judgment of its own people, Palestinians got a new government that was never given a chance to succeed or fail. Poverty and unemployment, already at disastrous levels, were irredeemably exacerbated by the international boycott of the Palestinian Authority, a boycott that was a direct consequence of the misbegotten policies arising from 9/11. This is pushing back further and further any possible climate in which Palestinians may again have any faith in a political process.
There have been failures on the Palestinian side, in particular that of the secular intellectual elite to present and defend, both to its own people and to the rest of the world, an alternative that is both modernist, secular, and still firmly rooted in the Arab and Muslim culture from which any successful model of governance in the region must spring.
Palestinians are not al-Qaeda, which hijacked their cause, indeed, hijacked Islam. They are simply a people struggling under the yoke of an oppressive occupation. They happen to be Arab and, mostly, Muslim, and that informs many of their priorities and positions. But fundamentally they are simply struggling for independence and to be free. Like any nation they deserve that, but it will not happen for as long as Israel successfully portrays its continued occupation as somehow a part of the "war against terror" and for as long as the international community, the West in particular and specifically the US, blinded as it is by its pain and thirst for revenge, allows Israel that luxury.- Published 11/9/2006 © bitterlemons.org
Mahdi Abdul Hadi is the head of PASSIA, the Palestinian Academic Society for the Study of International Affairs in Jerusalem.
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