While the rest of the Arab world was experiencing a great blow to morale after the dramatic collapse of the Iraqi army and regime, Palestinians were having mixed feelings. On the one hand, they shared the great sense of loss of their Arab brethren at the taking of the historic city of Baghdad. On the other hand, Palestinian self-confidence was boosted as they remembered their heroic resistance in invasion after invasion, beginning with Beirut in 1982 and ending with Jenin in 2002.
What will happen on the Palestinian-Israeli track with the end of this war is the subject of heated debate. Some analysts are saying that this war has shifted the balance of power further against the Arabs and consequently reduced the chances of a negotiated solution. They believe that the end of the Iraq war will only encourage Israel’s appetite to end this conflict by force. Their line of thought says that Israel will be spurred by the American army’s disregard in Iraq for human life and international law to carry out its own atrocities.
Their opponents, of course, argue that with the end of the war in Iraq, the American administration and the international community will have to balance out the regional scales by reducing damage done to their regional positioning and credibility--i.e. by addressing the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s statements to Ha’aretz newspaper appear to confirm this second analysis. When Sharon spoke of possibly renewing the peace process and the need for the Israeli public to be prepared for difficult decisions, including the dismantling of some settlements, he indicated that he expects some international efforts to be exerted vis-a-vis the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. He expects some pressure on Israel.
Indeed, Sharon’s statements were an attempt to inoculate his government against any imminent international pressure. One need only recall Sharon’s previous style. It is impossible to judge him and his government on speeches offered for public consumption. Even as Sharon talks of dismantling settlements and advocates a Palestinian state, the military administration he commands over the occupied territories has been expanding Israeli settlement blocs--colonies in the very heart of the Palestinian state. The major means of augmenting these settlements is currently the “separation wall” publicly proclaimed necessary for the protection of Israeli civilians, but which cartographers show will neatly slice away the majority of agricultural areas from the northern West Bank, placing them further in Israeli hands. Speaking no less loudly about the need to alter or “reform” the Palestinian Authority in the name of security, Sharon has dismantled or rendered useless most aspects of the nascent Palestinian political entity--the nucleus of a Palestinian state.
Until the Israeli people realize that this right-wing approach is responsible for the ongoing suffering of both Palestinians and Israelis and the evaporation of the prospects for peace and economic prosperity, there is no opportunity for real peace. In order to shorten the wait, the international community, led by the Quartet and including the United States, must seize this opportunity to invite the Israeli government and the Palestinian leadership back to the negotiating table after convincing both of them to replace their attempts to achieve objectives by force with peaceful talks.
Ghassan Khatib is minister of labor in the Palestinian Authority cabinet. He has served for many years as a political analyst and media contact.
The American and British conquest of Iraq is a major historic event for the modern Middle East. At the strategic level it will almost certainly be seen as a positive development for Israel, insofar as a key existential enemy, with its weaponry, is being dismantled. While it is probably too early to analyze most of the regional and global ramifications, it is instructive to examine some of the more obvious linkages between the war and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Lest we be swept away by comparisons, it behooves us to keep in mind that these are two separate and distinct events with radically different roots. The first is the outcome of the policies of a megalomaniac and a psychopath, Saddam Hussein, coupled with the American decision in the aftermath of the attacks of 9/11 to adopt a preemptive strategy against such rulers who threaten or defy US vital interests. The second constitutes yet another bloody stage in the evolution of a conflict between two peoples that claim the same land.
There are of course characteristics that link the two conflicts. Both take place in the Middle East and involve Arab and Islamic reactions to the perception of invasion by foreigners. A number of additional Middle East states--Iran, Syria, Jordan, Turkey--have geographical links and/or alliances that touch upon both conflict systems. Both involve the United States, either as protagonist or superpower ally and potential peace broker.
It is these characteristics that have been generating a fascinating interaction between the two conflicts--for better or for worse.
On the positive side, a number of linkages favor Israel's interests in its conflict with the Palestinians. Thus, suicide bombings perpetrated against American forces in Iraq, and the inevitable tough reaction toward the Iraqi civilian population that they engender, tend to soften Israel's image in the eyes of international public opinion by portraying the harsh Israeli reaction to suicide bombings within the context of an international norm. By the same token, the US occupation of Iraq and civilian "collateral damage" it causes there act in a way to justify Israeli actions in the West Bank and Gaza that would otherwise be criticized mercilessly. When an Israeli attack in Gaza that kills a terrorist along with six innocent Palestinian civilians is relegated to page 18 of The New York Times, the war in Iraq is definitely distracting attention from the confrontation here.
Many of these interactions are likely to be short lived. A more durable linkage at the strategic level appears to be afforded by Syria's behavior. President Bashar al-Asad seems to have gone out of his way in recent weeks and months to encourage Washington to upgrade Syria to the Axis of Evil, alongside North Korea and Iran, the remaining targets of US policy. He has supported the Saddam Hussein regime both in word and in deed, by supplying weapons, hiding Iraqi weapons, allowing Islamic Jihad and other volunteers to cross into Iraq, and providing a safe haven for leading members of Saddam's regime.
The US reaction to these provocations is likely to include pressure on Syria, that might otherwise have been avoided or delayed, to close down the Palestinian and Lebanese Islamic radical terrorist organizations, Hamas, Islamic Jihad and Hizballah, that rely on Damascus for refuge and logistical support. This could redound favorably on Israel's efforts to combat extremist Palestinian terrorism. An even more energetic American response that brings about the removal of the Ba'th regime from Syria as well, could over time conceivably facilitate a renewed peace process between Israel and Syria/Lebanon that would serve to isolate the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and weaken the Palestine Liberation Organization’s bargaining position, unless it has already reached accommodation with Israel.
There remains the most obvious linkage, whereby President Bush and British Prime Minister Blair are now calling for a concerted attempt to implement the roadmap. The context--the war in Iraq, Blair's political difficulties at home, the alliance's post-war need to demonstrate to a skeptical Arab world that its intentions are pure--is negative for both Israelis and Palestinians. It would have been far better had Bush invested American energies in the roadmap, or some alternative peace process, long before 9/11 and Iraq, simply because he understood this to be in the American interest.
Instead, it is difficult to avoid the impression that the course of US roadmap politics in the coming months will be determined by a combination of two external developments: the vicissitudes of the American occupation of Iraq, and Bush's calculations regarding his reelection in November 2004. Meanwhile Abu Mazen, if and when he is certified as prime minister, will feel obliged to avoid displaying too much friendship for the American occupiers of Iraq, to the detriment of Palestinian interests. And Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon will blame Arab pressures if Bush tries to hold him to roadmap obligations, rather than face up to the objective need to cease the settlements lunacy.
This is regrettable from every aspect. But better a peace process generated by the conquest of Iraq than none at all.
Yossi Alpher is a former senior adviser to Prime Minister Ehud Barak and former Director of the Jaffee Center for Strategic Studies, Tel Aviv University.
bitterlemons: What is your reaction as an Arab, as a Palestinian and as an analyst to the events in Iraq?
Kassis: It is a mixed reaction. The first part of it has to do with the extent of foreign intervention in the region. The other has to do with the obvious changes that are taking place in the so-called "world order." The third has to do with the ability of a totalitarian regime to stand for its country. These three things go in different directions, and it is difficult to give a single comprehensive analysis.
bitterlemons: Can you explain more?
Kassis: The war in Iraq raised a serious question about whether we are now in a neo-imperial era or not. The idea of a superpower just going ahead with something without United Nations decisions poses the question for many countries: will they find themselves in the same situation in the near or farther future?
This eventually will lead to a change in international relations and diplomacy. The immediate results of this war will be a change towards conservatism in the attitudes of many small countries. Opening up to the world seems no longer of great benefit to everybody, as it was in recent years. I think many countries will reconsider being open to UN organizations and the world community, whether in the areas of weaponry or economics or otherwise.
Concerning what you might call “the world order,” there is now a growing factor (it is not a new factor--it existed in the sixties and during the Vietnam War) of massive worldwide public interest in world politics. I think that this revitalization and its role in world politics has to be taken into consideration. So far we haven’t seen its effects on the decision-making process, perhaps with the exception of Germany, but I think that it will begin to be taken into consideration.
bitterlemons: In the Arab world as well?
Kassis: This will also affect the Arab world, if you bear in mind the third component of the analysis, which includes a situation where the Iraqi regime could not depend on the Iraqi people to defend it. This raises a question of how much a government can enter into conflict with its own nation. Usually a government can count on national feelings, but if a country like Iraq with a very strong nationalistic tradition could not, then this poses a question for many Arab regimes: how can they defend against external intervention by other nations?
Put together with the populist factor in world politics, slowly but surely we will be viewing some changes in the Arab world.
bitterlemons: So you think that the civic relationship will improve?
Kassis: It might eventually improve, but it will take a little bit of give-and-take and some confrontation. Now everyone will have to measure once again how far they can go, and during this "testing time," things might happen.
bitterlemons: What about the war’s effect on the Palestinian-Israeli conflict?
Kassis: I can’t think of any major effects that can be thought of as direct results of the war in Iraq on the Palestinian-Israeli conflict and the situation in Palestine. The widespread analysis that tries to equivocate between the situation now and the first Gulf War is baseless, I would say. The situation is completely different now, especially because the situation in Palestine and in the Palestinian community is a different one.
But the process of strangulation by the Israelis of the Palestinians has been coming to an end. There was a question of whether Israel could extend this further in the context of the war in Iraq, but the answer is clear and it was “no”. Now, minor changes will likely happen in the situation here, but they should not be seen as a result of the Iraqi war.
There was previously an urgent need to do something about the conflict and this “something” was postponed because of the Iraqi war. Now that it is over, or when it is over, this postponement has to stop.
bitterlemons: How would you put into context Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s comments about settlements to Ha’aretz newspaper?
Kassis: I thought the main comments were made by the journalist, not by Sharon. I didn’t see that Sharon said anything new. The idea of painful concessions has been repeated, the idea of agreeing with the American administration has been there, the idea of agreeing with the Bush speech was already there, the idea of the establishment of a Palestinian state was also already there.
The major thing that I found interesting in this interview was the question put as to whether the moment of truth has arrived. Sharon’s response was not negative.
The major difference now will be how the international community--and the Quartet in particular--approaches the implementation of the roadmap. Will there be leeway to keep the map without a map, so to speak, or will there be some sort of enforcement for its implementation? I don’t think that this depends on Sharon’s will, but on the kind of pressure that is put on Israel.
bitterlemons: Do you think that the current back-and-forth between Syria and the United States will have an effect on the Palestinian-Israeli track?
Kassis: It is too early to judge. I am not sure what is behind the tension. It might be a tactic used by the Americans to make sure that Syria does not support or aid some sort of resistance from Syria in Iraq that will make the life of American rule harder. There exists another analysis that asks “who is next after Iraq?” but I don’t think that it is the right time to make such judgments. We have still not seen an overall picture of the American attitude towards the world in general after Iraq. It is possible there will be euphoria over winning the war, or there could be drawbacks when it is shown that, even in Iraq, it is not easy to control things.
Mudar Kassis is professor of philosophy at Bir Zeit University and former researcher for the Palestinian Center for Policy and Social Research.
After three weeks of combat, the giant statue of Saddam Hussein in Baghdad's central square was smashed. This symbolic act ended the despotic regime of the Iraqi dictator. The hour is ripe to offer congratulations on what has been accomplished, and express hope and expectations for the future.
There are six good reasons why congratulations for the American victory in Iraq are in order.
First, I offer congratulations as an Israeli. The elimination of Saddam Hussein and his repressive regime, together with the destruction of the arsenal of weapons of mass destruction that Iraq was developing and producing, have removed the extremely dangerous threat of physical destruction that Saddam held over Israel.
Secondly, I offer congratulations for a military victory which has brought a new reality to the Iraqi people. I share the joy of millions who are tasting liberty for the first time.
Third, congratulations on a quick, crushing and unequivocal military achievement. We witnessed a decisive victory that was achieved with minimal losses to the coalition forces fighting in Iraq, and minimal harm to innocent Iraqi civilians.
Fourth, my thanks for a victory that unmasked the hypocrisy of those countries in Europe that, motivated by narrow and partisan interests, sought energetically to prevent action against the dictator from Baghdad.
Fifth, I congratulate the Palestinian people and their leadership, who had the wisdom to stand aside and avoid openly and declaratively supporting Saddam Hussein and his extreme and fanatical policies. This was a shrewd and calculated decision that will benefit the Palestinians.
And finally, I congratulate the president of the United States, George W. Bush, who knew how to take responsibility and make a tough decision under unusual political conditions. He rose to the challenge that placed him at the head of the free world and in command of a struggle against international terrorism and states, regimes and leaders of the "axis of evil" that abet and support the terrorists.
Beyond the congratulations, I have four hopes and expectations for the "day after" the military victory.
I hope that the Iraqi people and state will recover and recuperate and once again stand on their own two feet, without suffering, pain and serious injury. I hope the US will know how to establish an intelligent and sensitive civil administration in Iraq to serve the weighty needs--material, cultural and other--of a conquered people. And I hope that the American leadership will take pains to transfer power to an elected and peace-loving Iraqi government.
In this regard, the American leadership would do well to study the lessons of the Israeli administration in the Palestinian territories, learn to make the right decisions, and avoid the many unnecessary mistakes of the Israeli leadership.
I hope the American success in Iraq does not end there. If we wish to save this world from chaos; if we seek to live in a world free from frenzied extremism--the US must stick with the job. As long as there is no efficient international mechanism that is devoid of partisan or power interests, Washington must serve as the arbiter and judge.
I hope the strategic and geopolitical reality that was revealed by the military campaign in Iraq is now understood by those elements in our region that have been supporting and encouraging religious and nationalist terrorist organizations. These must now be closed down.
Finally, I hope that Washington holds to its commitment to the parties involved in our own immediate arena of conflict, and acts quickly and decisively to renew the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, with the objective of bringing the two sides to a viable and fair agreement. Israel and the Palestinians are ripe for it: after two years of violent, painful and exhausting confrontation, they have come to understand the pointlessness of trying to realize their political aspirations through the use of force. Continuing the violent struggle and postponing compromise will not advance a thing, and will only aggravate the pain and suffering on both sides.
Both we Israelis and the Palestinians know almost down to the last detail the contents of the only realistic agreement that is possible. We are ready to meet the challenge. Yet both sides also have grasped that they cannot reach the required compromise and cannot attain an agreement without the active involvement of a third, neutral party whose authority they recognize and accept.
Major General (res.) Shlomo Gazit was Israel's first Coordinator of Government Operations in the Administered Territories (1967-1974), and Head of Military Intelligence (1974-1979).
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