The dramatic execution of Saddam Hussein appears to have deepened the regional context of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. This presents a mixed bag of potential drawbacks as well as benefits for Israel and Palestine.
The angry reaction to the execution among Sunni Arabs clearly exacerbates the Sunni-Shi'ite divide. This is bad news: a weak, divided and strife-torn Arab world is not a healthy place and may be less likely either to oppose Iran resolutely or to make peace with Israel.
The ugly circumstances of Saddam's physical removal from the scene reflect the colossal strategic failure of the American adventure in Iraq, and this too has potentially negative ramifications for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The US removed an evil ruler, mass murderer and serial aggressor of his neighbors without a working strategy for replacing him with something better. As an almost certain consequence, he is being replaced with something worse: a militant, pro-Iranian Shi'ite Islamist regime in Iraq's south and a militant Sunni Islamist presence in the center. Iraq has become yet another fragmenting Arab country in an increasingly powerless Arab Middle East.
These ominous developments pose very proximate threats to Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Syria. A spillover effect into the Israeli-Palestinian and broader Israel-Arab conflict seems inevitable. In this sense, it is "good" news that Saddam's execution, by an Iraqi Shi'ite-dominated government and in the presence of cat-calling supporters of Iraqi Shi'ite extremist Muktada Sadr, increased Sunni Arab anger at Iran and its satellites and proxies. Iran, Syria, Hizballah, Hamas and the Shi'ites in Iraq currently constitute the principal regional threat to Israel's security. When Fateh supporters in Gaza jeer Hamas by calling its (Sunni) followers "Shi'ites" and when Jordanians express widespread disgust with Iran, this strengthens the possibility for cooperation against Iran and its allies between Israel and the Sunni Arab world.
But this merely underlines the irony of current American efforts in the region to (in US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice's words a few days ago) "resist the efforts [of the] extremist forces [who] are attempting to make it impossible to have the kind of Middle East in which Israelis and Palestinians and other people of the Middle East can live in peace and in which democracy can make progress." It is almost certainly too late for Washington to bring the horses back into the stable.
Surely Saddam's parting words are bad news for Israel. His "long live Palestine" was a statement of Arab devotion to the Palestinian cause that belies all our attempts to isolate the Palestinian issue from other Arab causes and crises. While it in no way confirms the argument of linkage to other Middle East crises that we find so distasteful and illogical, it undeniably does reflect the depth of Arab feeling on the Palestinian issue. This must give pause to Israelis and their supporters.
Finally, Saddam's physical demise represents just punishment for an Arab leader who murdered and suppressed hundreds of thousands of Iraqi Kurds in the most brutal way while the Arab world looked on indifferently. There is an important symbolism here--a positive one from Israel's standpoint. The Kurds are only the second non-Arab people located in the Middle East heartland to achieve political self-determination in the modern era. The first was Israel.
It is the rejection of the Jewish people's right to self-determination in their historical homeland by so many Arabs and Muslims, including the vast majority of Palestinians, that lies at the heart of the Arab-Israel conflict. Anyone seeking a just solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, with a Jewish state and an Arab state side-by-side, has a vested interest in preventing the emergence of a new Saddam in Iraq and in maintaining the degree of autonomy or independence now enjoyed by the Kurds.
We won't miss Saddam. He murdered his own people, started devastating wars and bankrolled Palestinian suicide bombers. But that does not mean our situation is better without him.- Published 15/1/2007 © bitterlemons.org
The Palestinian reaction to the execution of Saddam Hussein is a good example of the way Palestinian public opinion is often formed, with the determining factor related to Israel and the Israeli occupation. The simplest way of putting it is that for Palestinians, the world is divided into two kinds of people, those who support Israel and its occupation and those who don't, regardless, sometimes, of other significant factors that are independent of Israel and the occupation.
With generation upon generation of Palestinians having suffered the systematic deprivation of their most basic rights at the hands of Israel--whether on big issues like self-determination, statehood, freedom and liberty, or basic and individual rights such as freedom of movement--the Palestinian mindset is preoccupied, even obsessed, with the Israeli domination over all aspects of Palestinian life.
In addition, Palestinians are acutely aware of the double standard of many countries in the world vis-a-vis Israel. Even countries that are generally committed to human rights, civil liberties, the right to self-determination and international law suspend these principled positions when it comes to Israel, its illegal occupation and actions in the occupied territories. Israel has been successful in convincing many that its military operations in the occupied territories are justified for security reasons, but few countries have the gumption to even question this rationale let alone the continued and illegal settlement program of all Israeli governments that only exacerbates the security situation.
Thus when Saddam Hussein, exclaiming the name of Palestine in his dying moments, was executed by an Iraqi government controlled by occupying troops from the US, a country that counts itself as the strongest supporter of Israel, the first and immediate reaction on the street was that a supporter of the Palestinian cause had been overthrown and executed by a supporter of the Israeli occupation. Saddam Hussein was probably the last Arab leader to confront Israel militarily, and for Palestinians the missiles Iraq launched at Israel during the first Gulf war were an appropriate response to the decades in which Israel has bombarded, killed, arrested and destroyed Palestinians, their lands and properties.
Palestinian sympathy with Saddam Hussein--a general Arab sentiment--should not be understood in any other way than as a product of his support of the Palestinians and his hostility to the Israelis and Americans. That he remained dignified at the end and outspoken during trial only contributed to this sympathy.
Moreover, the fact that Saddam Hussein chose to mention Palestine in his last moments is an important indicator of the depth to which the Palestinian cause has penetrated the Arab consciousness. The fastest way for a politician or country to reach the hearts and minds of the Arab masses is through support of the Palestinian people and their cause and opposition to the Israeli occupation. That's why the Israeli occupation and the ongoing injustice that this occupation inflicts on the Palestinian people remain the biggest obstacle to US and European policies in the Middle East.
With this injustice so glaring, and the cold war--once an overriding concern that, at a stretch, could have justified western inactivity on the issue--long gone, it is increasingly difficult to understand why influential powers such as the United States and Europe should continue to invite hostility from the Arab people by ignoring Israeli violations of international law in consolidating or simply continuing the occupation.- Published 15/1/2007 © 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|
Saddam's last hurrah?
by Chuck Freilich
The name Saddam Hussein alone is enough to send an involuntary shudder of loathing, fear and abhorrence down many Israelis' backs. A latter day Hitler-wannabe, just much less "capable", Saddam threatened he would "burn half of Israel". A thug, maybe the worst of the many the Arab world has produced, he brutalized millions of his own people, started a bloody war with Iran and conquered and raped Kuwait. A depraved, murderous dictator, Saddam squandered his people's natural wealth; he took one of the Arab world's more educated and industrious peoples and stamped out their freedom, creativity, joy of life, even life itself. This Arab "hero" subjected his own people to a degree of oppression his "occupied Palestinian brethren" never dreamed of.
In January 1991, Israelis hunkered down in shelters and sealed rooms with gas masks, awaiting the next missile. Would this be the one with a chemical warhead, which would link our generation of Jews, born in the post-Holocaust era of a free, militarily proud Israel, with our gassed parents or grandparents' generation in Europe? With each of the 39 missiles Saddam fired, Israel relived a "mini-Holocaust" experience. In the most perverse way, there almost seemed to be poetic justice in it. After all, why did we deserve to live such protected, enriched lives or, to paraphrase the Passover Seder, what made our generation of Jews different from all others? When the war ended, we emerged from our shelters, put away our gas masks and went back to our lives. We had survived this Hitler, this pharaoh, too.
Many Palestinians rejoiced as Saddam's missiles struck Israel, the first Arab leader to give Israel a "taste of what it deserved". This Saddam, as well as the Saddam defiantly championing their cause at the gallows, is what many Palestinians will remember. Gone will be the bone-chilling image of evil incarnate, of Saddam stroking the face of a terrified young boy during the 1991 war, his and his parents' lives clearly at stake, of Saddam the mass murderer.
This "great benefactor" of the Palestinian people gave $10,000 to the families of routine "martyrs" and $25,000 to those of successful suicide bombers. It was a "blood relationship" in the fullest sense of the word. Had Saddam actually developed weapons of mass destruction we can only speculate how far he might have gone in support of the Palestinians. Fortunately, he was not given the chance.
In recent weeks, the Iraq Study Group report and others have reiterated the ostensible link between events in Iraq and elsewhere in the region and the Israeli-Palestinian "peace process". They are not the first to do so and, indeed, there is no doubt that the passions the Palestinian cause inflames throughout the Arab world complicate an already difficult situation. Beyond atmospherics, however, not unimportant in themselves, the link is fatuous. Saddam did not go to war with Iran, conquer Kuwait or oppress his people because of Israel. Indeed, 15 years of international preoccupation with Iraq, as well as the Palestinians' own never-ending dysfunctionality, merely deflected attention from their cause.
Early in its first term, the Bush administration correctly concluded that there was little prospect for progress with the Palestinians and thus that it was free to focus on Iraq. The Palestinians have no one to blame for this but themselves. Arafat's rejection of a deal at Camp David and Taba, coupled with the intifada, relegated the issue to a back burner.
If the United States cannot achieve even minimal success in Iraq--a stable, peaceful and united country--Saddam's last hurrah will be in the ensuing regional chaos. Iraq will deteriorate into ever worsening violence and may splinter, its neighbors all vying to annex parts of the loot. For Jordan, an Iranian-dominated Iraq is a nightmare, a new threat to its already tenuous stability and demographic balance. Might the "Jordan is Palestine" option result for reasons totally unrelated to Israel? Iran, with a de facto Jordanian border and no longer constrained by the need to balance Iraq, would be able to further strengthen its ties with Hamas and project an even more combustible influence over the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. A radical Iranian, Palestinian, Syrian and Hizballah axis could evolve on Israel's borders, the Iranian nuclear threat on its doorstep.
The death sentence is always abhorrent. Indeed, how can a force for good (the state, at least in democracies) use an inherently evil measure to mete out justice, even if Saddam's heinous crimes make it so richly deserved? As a society that sanctifies life, the hanging of even such a truly evil person is not a time for rejoicing in Israel. The world, however, is undoubtedly a better place without him.- Published 15/1/2007 © bitterlemons.org
Chuck Freilich is former deputy Israeli national security adviser. He is currently a senior fellow at the Belfer Center at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government and teaches political science at Tel Aviv and Hebrew universities.
A PALESTINIAN VIEW
A false divide
by Akram Baker
That Saddam Hussein's execution at the hands of the Iraqi government was completely botched is no secret. That Saddam's reputation among Arabs was "rehabilitated" to some extent due to the grotesque handling of the killing is also a well known fact. While the feelings of indignation will more than likely fade in the near future, what Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and US President George W. Bush have sown are the seeds of "sectarianism" in Palestine.
For the first time in modern history, the Palestinian people are moving toward a "sectarian" conflict. Throughout the annals of the tumultuous Palestinian revolution, the PLO, as a reflection of Palestinian society at large, to a large extent succeeded in averting intra-Palestinian armed conflict. There were the odd skirmishes between different factions in Jordan, Lebanon, and the occupied territories with the 1983 Abu Musa insurrection within Fateh in the north of Lebanon the most severe to date, but by and large Palestinian guns were not aimed in anger at other Palestinians. Being a generally homogeneous people, factional differences, while often severe, rarely contained the toxin seen in ethnic conflicts.
So why would the death of an overthrown and basically irrelevant ex-dictator in Baghdad have such a negative effect on Palestinians? The execution in itself is only the clutch that seems to have set a dangerous precedent in gear. By dying at the hands of a brutally sectarian Shi'ite government, remaining stoic and almost dignified in the face of taunts from his masked executioners and chanting pro-Palestinian slogans together with traditional Islamic verses in his dying moments, Saddam deftly lit the match handed to him by Bush and al-Maliki. His actions and words at the gallows proved that he remained a master of manipulation even beyond the grave, shaming Washington's ham-fisted public policy in the region.
In the occupied Palestinian territories, where a lethal game of cat and mouse was being (and continues to be) played out between Fateh and the ruling Hamas movement, Saddam's execution on the holiest day in the Muslim calendar was received with shock. Coming on the back of Palestinian Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh's return from Iran, where he received a hero's welcome and bag full of cash, many Palestinians, especially within Fateh, saw Hamas as a pawn of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinezhad and by extension Shi'ite Islam.
All of a sudden, at Fateh rallies commemorating the forty second anniversary of the Palestinian revolution, crowds would begin shouting "Shi'ites! Shii'tes!" whenever Hamas was mentioned. Even though PA President Mahmoud Abbas scolded those doing the shouting and ordered them to desist, he was basically ignored. The crowds stopped when they wanted to, and not when Abu Mazen told them.
At the same rallies, Abu Mazen (whose speech in Ramallah was very pro-unity and moderate) steadfastly refused to name Saddam Hussein along with the many martyrs of the Palestinian revolution despite repeated and aggressive calls from his supporters. It appeared sometimes as if Abu Mazen was one of the few present who outright rejected any false sectarian undertones.
One of the most disturbing facts of this phenomenon is that Shi'ites were never considered enemies of the Palestinians (with the notable exception of pre-Khomeni Iran or the Lebanese Amal Movement in the mid-1980s) and certainly not of the Palestinian revolution. Amal was despised for its hostile attacks on Beirut's refugee camps in 1984-85, not because it was Shi'ite. While Hizballah, the Lebanese Shi'ite movement that supplanted Amal, has been hailed as heroic throughout the Arab world, it appears that the war in Iraq and the supposed Hamas-Iran alliance have trumped even Palestinians' seemingly unconditional love for Hassan Nasrallah.
There is more than enough blame to go around for this slide to "sectarianism". By using "Shi'ite" as a derogatory term, Fateh cadres are stoking fires that do not really exist but can nevertheless be inflammatory. Issues with Hamas must be dealt with in less offensive ways and it needs to made clear by the Fateh leadership that this kind of noxious baiting from the rank and file will not be tolerated. This not only adds a substantial portion of venom to any national dialogue, but will blow back at some point and burn the sender. There are more important and substantive issues to take Hamas to task for.
Hamas' leadership on the other hand must understand that putting all its eggs in the Iranian basket is unacceptable. Late PLO Chairman Arafat, while making sometimes monumental mistakes, always understood the importance of the independent decision-making process. He also raised enormous sums of money from Arab and Islamic countries, but he never allowed any of them to control the PLO. Hamas looks like a much paler shade of white in comparison to the ultimate wheeler and dealer Arafat. It doesn't help that Hamas kingpin Khaled Mishaal is camped out in Syria, Iran's best friend, issuing orders and influence in the occupied territories much as Arafat did from Tunis in the 1980s.
Saddam Hussein is not responsible for "sectarianism" in the occupied territories. His hanging however, when seen in the light of the prevalent chaos, has sent a lighting bolt of bad blood directly to Gaza and Ramallah.- Published 15/1/2007 © bitterlemons.org
Akram Baker is co-president of the Arab Western Summit of Skill, a global platform for Arab professionals. He is also an independent political analyst based in Ramallah and appears often on the BBC.
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