West Asia crisis: It's still the occupation, stupid! - View from Dubai
If the world genuinely wants peace in the Middle East, it has to address the real issue at the heart of this conflict
In an Op-Ed piece for the International Herald Tribune three years ago, I wrote: "If Bush wants to usher in a new era of democracy and peace in the Muslim world, he should be prepared to deal with the (people's) genuine and legitimate representatives." (IHT, June 29, 2005). Commenting on Washington's refusal to engage groups like Hamas because it views them as 'terrorist organizations', I had pointed out that "terrorists do not take part in elections and political processes," as Hamas has repeatedly done.
That was three years ago. A friend recently forwarded the article back to me noting how my argument was still relevant. Indeed, reading it today you are struck by the fact that little has changed in the Middle East and the US' approach to the Muslim world.
Three years on, the same hypocrisy, the same double standards and the same obstinate refusal to see reason and the big picture prevail, in Washington and indeed much of the West.
After yet another relentless bombing campaign by the brave Israeli Defence Forces on a besieged and battered people that killed nearly 150 Palestinians — dozens of them infants as young as a month-old — Condi Rice arrived in the Middle East on yet another of her whistle-stop tours.
|A young Palestinian demonstrator hurls stones at Israeli soldiers during a protest in Bilin, near the West Bank city of Ramallah on Friday against Israel's separation barrier and the raids on the Gaza Strip that have killed more than 120 Palestinians. AFP
If some of us thought that the murderous campaign against a defenceless population would evoke at least a perfunctory condemnation by the world's most powerful diplomat, we were disappointed. Rubbing shoulders with a dazed and distraught looking Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah, Condi looked into television cameras and with a straight face held Hamas responsible for the Gaza carnage.
"The people who are firing rockets do not want peace, they sow instability, that is what Hamas is doing," she pointed out.
You have to hand it to this administration. It remains remarkably consistent in sticking to the script provided by its Zionist friends, crisis after crisis, blitz after blitz. Facts be damned! To hell with historical and ground realities! They cannot be allowed to interfere with Israel's divine right to the land stretching from Cairo to Constantinople.
Does it matter if the original inhabitants of the land for thousands of years find themselves homeless and persecuted? And who's losing sleep over the killings of a couple of hundreds of Palestinians every now and then! What matters is the lasting peace and happiness — of the people of Israel.
Condi's call to Fatah leadership for 'renewed peace talks' with Israel came even as the Israelis raided more Palestinian homes and killed more babies in Gaza. Peace, negotiations, dialogue, stability and hope… Do these words mean anything anymore? Does the gaped-tooth mandarin even know what she is talking about? What planet does Dr Rice live on?
For a people under siege, incarcerated and impoverished in their homes for years and decades, these words are not just empty rhetoric; they are salt and pepper on their wounds. Clearly, this was a wee bit too much even for the ever-ingratiating leaders of Fatah.
So Abbas (Abu Mazen) steeled himself and pleaded with his good friend Ehud Olmert to call off the aggression against the Palestinians. If the cynics and sceptics like me were surprised by Abu Mazen's courage to call off the 'peace talks' with Israel — as if these talks over the past several years and decades have made a difference — he quickly cleared the notion. Abbas assured Rice he was ready to resume negotiations with Israel, if only the Israeli leadership be so kind as to stop these rather inconvenient attacks on Gaza.
Not that he minds the killings of 'Hamas terrorists'. It's just that in the noise and din of this bombing campaign, it's rather difficult to hear what the other side is talking about during the negotiations!
Is it surprising then Israel and US view the Palestinian leader as their 'loyal friend and invaluable ally.'
So what if in the process the Palestinians' legitimate representatives, chosen through the globally recognized free and fair polls, are sidelined and cheated out of power. And what if this approach actually exacerbates the Palestine-Israel conflict fuelling anger and hatred against the US and the West in the restive Muslim world. Who is interested in resolving this conflict anyway? In fact, it turns out that even as Bush was sermonizing to us on the virtues of democracy and freedom, his administration including Rice was working with the rogue elements in Fatah to unseat the democratically elected government of Hamas.
If this isn't hypocrisy, what is? The Vanity Fair report, now corroborated by the administration officials as well as Palestinian sources, hit Rice in the face during her Ramallah Press conference even as she blamed Hamas for the mess in Gaza.
The US armed and heavily financed Fatah strongman Dhahlan to mount a coup against the Hamas government after the 2006 elections. "But the secret plan backfired, resulting in a further setback for American foreign policy under Bush," says British journalist David Rose in the Vanity Fair's latest issue.
"Instead of driving its enemies out of power, the US-backed Fatah fighters inadvertently provoked Hamas to seize total control of Gaza."
The Vanity Fair expose also puts in perspective why the Makkah Accord between Hamas and Fatah — painstakingly brokered by King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia — that led to peace and the Palestinian unity government collapsed so soon. Rice relentlessly pushed Abbas to sack the Hamas government. At the same time, the Middle East Quartet led by the US served an ultimatum on Hamas leadership — recognize Israel or face the total blockade of the Palestinian Territories.
How Abbas gave in to the US and Israeli pressure to sack the Hamas government leading to unprecedented bloodshed between the Palestinian groups is part of history. The Rice visit and Vanity Fair report coincided with international aid agencies warning of the worst humanitarian crisis in the territory since the 1967 war, a consequence of the punishing blockade by Israel and Western agencies. When will the US and rest of the West realize that the dirty, underhand tricks like the anti-Hamas coup will never resolve the 'Palestine problem'.
The days of dividing the Palestinians and Arabs so Israel can rule are over. If they genuinely want peace in the Middle East and the rest of the world, they'll have to address the real issue at the heart of this conflict. It's still the Occupation, stupid!
(Aijaz Zaka Syed is a Dubai-based journalist and commentator. Mail: Aijaz.Syed@hotmail.com)