Edition 4 Volume 7 - January 29, 2009
After Gaza: Arab unity and disunity
Mubarak is on the wrong side of history -
Every Israeli war in the name of "deterrence" exacerbates the country's "otherness".
The war exposes Arab divisions -
Hassan A. Barari
In short, Jordan made the right choices right up to the conclusion of the war by remaining in a diplomatic grey area
Whom did Israel serve? -
Hizballah's reaction ensured that the struggle against Israel would be seen as an Arab rather than an Iranian endeavor.
Always divided -
an interview with Ahmed Yousef
I've never seen the Arabs united on any issue.
Mubarak is on the wrong side of history
Palestine transcends; it is inescapable. If the recent invasion of Gaza has taught us anything it is that the Palestinian call for self-determination and justice has reverberated globally. I start off with this statement, which is already known to any well-informed person with an analytically sober disposition, in order to emphasize that the conflict in Palestine affects both the domestic politics of Arab and Muslim states and world politics more generally. It is not a "local" conflict, as the Israeli state would have us believe. It is not detachable from the sentiments, culture and emotions permeating the Arab and Islamic worlds or the humanity of any peace-loving individual.
Palestine transcends because in an increasingly networked and multi-media world, the tragedy of the Palestinians does not pass without comment and strident opposition. In the past couple of weeks many academic colleagues have joined in signing several petitions that have been published in mainstream daily newspapers. I have witnessed the peaceful occupation of university buildings by students and the protest of Muslim activists, socialists, feminists, secularists, Jewish leftists, etc., in denouncing the Israeli invasion of Gaza. There is no silence about the injustice in Palestine. The well-oiled Israeli propaganda machine cannot effectively monopolize the international media discourse anymore.
Nor can al-Qaeda type movements hijack the emotions of the rational majority for their destructive agenda. Two political logics emerge from this modified context: One--which affects the domestic politics of regional governments and which I must return to in a moment--is that Arab and Muslim states that are perceived to be oblivious to the Palestinian plight gamble away a considerable amount of their ideological power, even legitimacy. The other is that every Israeli war in the name of "deterrence" exacerbates the country's "otherness" in a region that has existed without the Israeli entity for several millennia. For how long does Israel want to live in a state of ideological detachment from the rest of the region? Hysterical wars, anti-Arab and anti-Islamic identity politics merely strengthen the opinion shared by many peoples of the region, that the establishment of Israel has been singularly disruptive.
So Israel stands for discontinuity in the Arab and Islamic worlds. Any transnational call for unity in the name of Arabism or Islam that inevitably puts the Palestinian cause on the agenda is considered a threat to Israel's strategic plan to re-structure the past, present and future of the region according to its preferences. Indeed, the war against Hizballah and Lebanon in 2006, the recent invasion of Gaza and angry agitations against Iran are a part of the strategic plan, partially condoned by successive US administrations, to crush "indigenous" movements that mix sympathy for the Palestinian cause with Islamic populism. Israel has identified such Islamic movements as the country's primary enemy because they have proven to be resistant to intimidation (hence the wars on Hizballah/Hamas), bribery (the Iran-Contra affair) and gunboat diplomacy (e.g., the Oslo peace process).
But allow me to return to the link between legitimacy (or "smart power", in Hillary Clinton's new foreign policy discourse) and the Palestinian cause. The reason why the leader of Lebanese Hizballah Hassan Nasrallah is so popular is not due to his democratic credentials. It is because he is perceived to stand up to Israel and the United States. Indeed, as I have mentioned repeatedly, the existence of Israel provides the very raison d'etre of movements such as Hizballah and Hamas. Without Israel there would be no resistance in the first place. Conversely, the regime of President Hosni Mubarak must be viewed as one of the main losers of the recent conflict. His government's real and perceived collusion with Israel and successive pro-Israeli US administrations has compromised his power vis-a-vis Egyptian society, which harbors considerable sympathy for the plight of the Palestinians.
It so happens that Mubarak finds himself on the wrong side of history. His subservience is ultimately self-defeating. Supporting the Palestinian quest for self-determination continues to be a central norm in the (international) politics of the Arab and Muslim worlds. Hence, states that are perceived to collude with Israel's destructive policies weaken themselves considerably. The leaders of the Arab and Islamic worlds have a very fundamental choice to make: represent their societies who demand an equitable solution to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict or oppose, control and subdue them.- Published 29/1/2009 © bitterlemons-international.org
Arshin Adib-Moghaddam teaches at the School of Oriental and African Studies in London and is author of "A Metahistory of the Clash of Civilizations" (Hurst & Columbia U. Press).
The war exposes Arab divisions
Hassan A. Barari
The Israel-Hamas war posed a dilemma for the Jordanian government in its reaction to unfolding events. As the war brought inter-Arab divisions to the fore, the Jordanian government felt compelled to take a clear stand with regard to evolving regional alignments. Jordan seemed to be wavering between two dominant positions that define the degree of polarization within Arab political dynamics.
These positions were evident from the outset. On the one hand, Egypt stood out as a key player; it followed a delicate path to make sure the outcome of the war would be conducive to its regional interests. For Egypt, the stakes were high: although it condemned the war, it was daring enough to call a spade a spade. FM Ahmed Aboul Gheit reiterated that Egypt had warned Hamas of the grave consequences of ending the truce, thus explicitly pinning the blame on Hamas. Although it was obvious that Egypt's role in achieving a ceasefire was indispensable, the Saudi role in the reconstruction of Gaza has become equally important. The Egyptian-Saudi bloc maintained its position for the duration of the war, showing little support for Hamas.
On the other hand Syria, backed by Iran and all its proxies in the region, supported Hamas and called for the Arabs to deter Israel. Hizballah leader Hassan Nasrallah went a step further in calling on Egyptians to defy their leadership. His incitement of the Egyptian army to act independently and force President Mubarak to change his stand was, to say the least, outrageous. To the moderates, it was obvious that the other bloc was exploiting the war to galvanize the masses as a means of settling accounts. Paradoxically, the rejectionist camp failed to back up its rhetoric with tangible aid, thus leaving Hamas in the lurch as it fought Israel.
This was how Jordanians analyzed the deepening inter-Arab divisions following the war. Jordan sought to take the middle path between the two blocs--a function of Jordan's sensitive regional position.
Accordingly, Jordan permitted scores of demonstrations condemning Israel's actions in Gaza. Jordanian political forces capitalized on this new mood and called for the abrogation of the Jordan-Israel peace treaty and the expulsion of the Israeli ambassador from Amman. This in turn led to a kind of "Hamasization" of the Jordanian street, a development that worked to the detriment of Egypt and of PLO leader Mahmoud Abbas and was of some concern to them.
Many argue that the sacking of the director of the Jordanian General Intelligence Department Mohammed Dahabi happened partly because he was behind the decision to open up relations with Hamas. In doing so, Dahabi had assessed that the Palestinian Authority would most probably collapse in 2009. He reckoned that a void would follow and that it could be filled by Hamas and concluded that it was therefore in Jordan's best interest to open channels of communication with Hamas.
The sacking of Dahabi coincided with an Arab call for a summit to discuss Gaza. The call came from Qatar, which is perceived as being closer to the radical bloc. In a knee-jerk reaction, Egypt and Saudi Arabia refused to attend the summit, fearing lest a Doha summit expose their inability to stop or deter Israel. This position left little room for Jordan to maneuver.
In contrast, Syria and Qatar saw in the summit an opportunity to revive Arab solidarity, even though such a development would force some Arab countries to forfeit their comparatively good relations with Israel. In view of this regional dichotomy, Jordan eventually opted to boycott the Doha summit and realign with Saudi Arabia and Egypt. The Doha meeting lacked the necessary quorum, thereby providing Jordan with a pretext for not attending.
In short, Jordan made the right choices right up to the conclusion of the war by remaining in a diplomatic grey area and emerging from the crisis with minimal damage. Amman allowed the masses to express anti-war sentiments without being seen to take sides in an inter-Arab dispute. It hoped in this way to maintain its traditional relations with the Saudis and Egyptians without hurting its newly flourishing relationship with the other camp.- Published 29/1/2009 © bitterlemons-international.org
Hassan A. Barari is professor of Middle Eastern politics at the University of Jordan and the author of "Israelism: Arab Scholarship on Israel, a Critical Assessment" (London: Ithaca, 2009).
Whom did Israel serve?
In Operation Cast Lead, the situation seemed not that different from that of the Second Lebanon War. The war in Gaza produced a strategic loss for Israel that outweighed any immediate gains in the field. The latter are probably no greater than what Israel could have obtained by launching selective strikes on key Hamas positions.
One wonders if Israel somehow blundered into a steadily escalating war without a clear strategic goal, or at least one it could credibly achieve. Some anti-Iranian factions in Lebanon are asking whether Israel realized that by ending the war as it did it would empower the Iran-Syria axis in political terms even though it defeated it in tactical terms.
Are Israeli decision-makers aware that their actions seriously damaged the US position in the region and undermined the hope of peace while demoralizing moderate Arab regimes and voices in the process? Is it wise for any leader interested in strengthening his or her election campaign to take a tough stand and claim that tactical gains constitute a meaningful victory? If this is all that PM Ehud Olmert, FM Tzipi Livni and Defense Minister Ehud Barak have for an answer, then they have not realized the extent to which they disturbed the regional balance of power and the damage they have brought upon their country and their associates.
The impact of Operation Cast Lead can be assessed by evaluating the implications of the katyusha rockets that were fired at Israel from Lebanon during the war. Hizballah issued an official announcement that the organization had not carried out this operation and had no idea who fired the rockets. To a great extent this response indicates the strategy of Hizballah and concomitantly Iran in lauding the Arab orientation of the struggle against Israel. Indeed, during Israel's military operation, and the ground war in particular, Hizballah's reaction, against the backdrop of the pictures of destruction emerging from Gaza and the wave of protests in the Arab and Islamic world, ensured that the struggle against Israel would be seen as an Arab rather than an Iranian endeavor.
Hassan Nasrallah, who projects himself as not merely a Shi'ite figure but an Arab and Islamic leader, did not condemn the katyusha rocket fire at Israel. He indirectly expressed a view common among many in the Arab and Islamic world, Hamas among them, that the Israeli operation was part of an American-Israeli attempt to impose a humiliating arrangement on Arabs (not Iran) in the region. According to Hizballah, it is a shame that the Palestinians, Syrians and Lebanese were left to continue the fight on their own after Egypt and Jordan signed peace agreements with Israel.
This means that there is a strong tendency on the part of Iran, via Hizballah, to exploit Operation Cast Lead to reactivate the entire Arab world in struggle against Israel, ultimately weakening both and embarrassing the new US administration.
The current campaign in Gaza and the Arab world proclaims that resistance in general is the way to bring about Arab and Palestinian rights. In the process, Nasrallah is vigorously attacking pro-American Arab regimes. According to Nasrallah, as was the case during the 2006 Second Lebanon War, now too Israeli military activity is being undertaken with the acquiescence of Arabs, "and in some cases even on the basis of Arab demands". This approach was well-summarized by Hashem Safi al-Din, chairman of Hizballah's Executive Council ("government"), when he stated that as in the summer of 2006, "the decision is American, the implementation is Zionist and the conspiracy is Arab." The foot-dragging at the Arab summit meeting and the belated Arab appeal to the Security Council strengthen these claims in the view of Hizballah supporters and are very convincing to the Arab masses.
Nonetheless, despite American cooperation with both Israel and the moderate Arab states to exploit the consequences of Operation Cast Lead to their advantage, Iran through Nasrallah benefits from any war launched by Israel against Arabs and proclaims that the issue of resistance will be resolved in the Palestinians' favor. Nasrallah constantly emphasizes two Israeli weaknesses: first, lack of self-confidence, as evidenced by the absence of clearly stated goals for the operation; and second, the sensitivity of the Israeli public to casualties. This vulnerability, according to Nasrallah, grew after the Second Lebanon War and was at the heart of Israel's hesitancy in launching the ground campaign, thereby resulting in victory by Hamas.
If both the Israelis and Hamas claim they are victorious, who really are the losers? The Arabs of course. The Arab world emerges from this war far more divided than it has been in decades. Egypt and Syria, the two powerhouses in the Middle East, remain as far apart as they have ever been. Syria has been working overtime trying to convince the rest of the Arab world that it should sever ties with the Jewish state, while Egypt's approach to the conflict is to keep negotiations with Israel going. Whose side did Israel serve by Operation Cast Lead?- Published 29/1/2009 © bitterlemons-international.org
Professor Michel Nehme is director of University International Affairs, Notre Dame University, Lebanon.
an interview with Ahmed Yousef
BI: Did the war on Gaza, and the Doha summit, expose deep divisions in the Arab world?
Yousef: The Arabs have always been divided. These divisions are a remnant from the colonial era of divide and conquer. I've never seen the Arabs united on any issue. All the time there are two or three camps. Most of the Arab regimes are dictatorial, furthermore. None of them would win real elections or survive real democracy.
Many of them are puppet regimes of western capitals and everybody tries to satisfy Washington by showing some kind of friendship with or understanding of Israel, i.e., they satisfy the Israelis to satisfy Washington. So sometimes they put Hamas in the camp of Iran. Before that we were in the camp of Saudi Arabia. This is just people talking.
BI: It was a non-Arab country, Turkey, that first tried to mediate a ceasefire. What did you make of Ankara's role?
Yousef: I believe Turkey played a very positive role. Ankara contacted Hamas and Egypt. [PM Recep Tayyip] Erdogan visited the region and met many Arab leaders. He also worked out that Arabs were divided, even on this issue. He tried to help the Egyptians and to cooperate with the French regarding what is best for Palestinians and Israelis, but--and this is part of the dirty politics of the region--everyone wants to show they are in charge. Egypt, for example, needs to show it is the country that handles the immediate ceasefire and efforts to extend it.
So actually, with all these efforts, because Arabs are divided and are sometimes working against each other, we failed to get Arab unity behind the cause.
BI: What about the US role in Arab divisions?
Yousef: Well, the American administration played its part, or the previous American administration, with [President George W.] Bush calling everybody to bully the Qataris, the Egyptians and the Saudis. The US is responsible for the terrible situation in the region generally. The Bush administration was never helpful to the region, did not take a strong position regarding the Arab initiative and, with the American pressure, the Arab countries are in total disarray. The US has pressured Arab countries not to do anything and so Arab countries don't know what to do.
So the mess in the region is because Washington only tries to satisfy the Israelis and pays no attention to any Arab country or the Arab masses, who showed up on the streets with all kinds of anti-American sentiment.
BI: What about the Arab street? Is there also a divide between people and their regimes?
Yousef: I was puzzled when I saw that even with all these millions who demonstrated in Morocco, in Algeria, in Mauritania, in Egypt none of these regimes seemed afraid. Countries didn't even think to withdraw their ambassadors or attaches and showed no inclination to listen to their own people's demands.
I was stunned. All these millions taking to the streets and the regimes had no fear? It was amazing. I am sure something will build up; something is accumulated. Some day these masses will rise up against some of these regimes.
BI: Will the new US administration apply the same kind of pressure that the previous one did?
Yousef: I don't think [Barack] Obama will try to bully any country. I think he will use soft diplomacy. He will work with dialogue, discussion and diplomacy.
BI: Will that bring about Arab unity?
Yousef: No. This will still take years. When there is democracy in the Arab world then maybe we can talk about unity, solidarity even confederacy. But this will take a long time.- Published 29/1/2009 © bitterlemons-international.org
Ahmed Yousef is the deputy foreign minister of Hamas