Tuesday, July 11, 2006

"Dear Palestinian Arab brethren": Face reality (Youssef Ibrahim)

One of the most intriguing features of the current crisis unfolding in Gaza is the relatively muted reaction to it throughout the Arab world--so far. This may change, but for the moment it is a phenomenon worth noticing (as Sherlock Holmes would have put it, a dog that didn't bark). A recent Reuters report, "Arabs helpless onlookers in Gaza standoff" (July 1, 2006), expressed some puzzlement about this.:
This time there are no angry protests in Arab streets or recalls of diplomats -- only a low-key bid to mediate between Israelis and Palestinians.
A widening Israeli military campaign in the Gaza Strip to secure the release of a captured soldier has exposed a sense of helplessness among Arab governments and ordinary people alike.
Most Arab governments have done little more than issue standard condemnations of the Israeli airstrikes on targets in Gaza and the tightening blockade of its 1.3 million residents. [....]
"They (the Arabs) don't have an answer. They don't have much choice," analyst Abdel-Monem Said, of Egypt's Al-Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies, told Reuters. [....]
"Most of what we are seeing right now is a repercussion of Hamas winning the Palestinian elections (in January), which narrowed very much the choices available to Arab countries in terms of mediating the relationship between the Palestinians and the Israelis," Said said. [....]

As Ami Isseroff pointed out, a number of commentaries in the Arab press have sharply criticized Hamas and other Palestinian rejectionists for having recklessly and pointlessly provoked this crisis ("Arab commentators tell the truth about Hamas and violence" - July 10, 2006). One article in the important newspaper ASharq AlAwsat was quite blunt:
It has become customary for every side looking for a way out of a major crisis to send out such distress calls, just as they are now doing in the occupied Palestinian territories, where civilians are being killed indiscriminately, houses are being demolished and basic services, such as electricity and roads, being destroyed.
The groups making these calls ought to ask themselves: Who consulted Arab people or governments before kidnapping the Israeli soldier or before carrying out military operations that only lead to enormous damage being inflicted on the people, as we are now witnessing in Gaza? Did the Palestinian government inform Arab leaders about the operation or seek their advice? Why then are they entitled to ask for help? [....]
What can Arab governments do in this case? Nothing, except condemn and denounce Israeli aggression. No Arab government or people want to be pulled into a battle they know they will lose. The history of the four countries, which border Palestine, is ample proof of this. Why should they destroy their countries? Is it for the sake of defending the kidnapping of an Israeli soldier? What victory is worth all this bloodshed and destruction?
The Palestinian president and experienced Palestinian groups warned Hamas and other factions of the consequences of firing missiles devoid of any military value and of entering into unequal battles that will destroy everything the Palestinians have built so far and lead to a political, military and moral failure. [....] I know many are asking themselves these very questions but lack the courage to say them in public, for fear of embarrassment. They too look forward to an end to this disaster caused by a worthless kidnapping.

And on July 7 there was an even more striking piece by the prominent Egyptian-born Arab-American journalist Youssef Ibrahim (see below).
Youssef M. Ibrahim is an Egyptian-born American reporter serving for twenty-four years as a senior Middle East regional correspondent for The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal, mainly covering political, economic, energy and military issues. Mr. Ibrahim has been based throughout the world, filing hundreds of reports detailing the conflicts and issues between the Middle East and the West.
During his foreign correspondence, Mr. Ibrahim received several distinguished press awards for his work [...] During these assignments, Mr. Ibrahim interviewed and met with virtually all leaders of Middle East countries and covered more than 120 OPEC meetings.
Is all this a straw in the wind? Possibly, possibly not. If Arabs and Israelis (and their supporters) had been more willing to face realities over the past half-century, history would have turned out very differently. Unfortunately, we shouldn't hold our breath.

--Jeff Weintraub
New York Sun
July 7, 2006

Dear Brethren, the War with Israel is Over
By Youssef Ibrahim

As Israel enters the third week of an incursion into the same Gaza Strip it voluntarily evacuated a few months ago, a sense of reality among Arabs is spreading through commentary by Arab pundits, letters to the editor, and political talk shows on Arabic-language TV networks.The new views are stunning both in their maturity and in their realism. The best way I can think of to convey them is in the form of a letter to the Palestinian Arabs from their Arab friends:

Dear Palestinian Arab brethren:

The war with Israel is over.
You have lost. Surrender and negotiate to secure a future for your children.

We, your Arab brothers, may say until we are blue in the face that we stand by you, but the wise among you and most of us know that we are moving on, away from the tired old idea of the Palestinian Arab cause and the "eternal struggle" with Israel.
Dear friends, you and your leaders have wasted three generations trying to fight for Palestine, but the truth is the Palestine you could have had in 1948 is much bigger than the one you could have had in 1967, which in turn is much bigger than what you may have to settle for now or in another 10 years. Struggle means less land and more misery and utter loneliness.
At the moment, brothers, you would be lucky to secure a semblance of a state in that Gaza Strip into which you have all crowded, and a small part of the West Bank of the Jordan. It isn't going to get better. Time is running out even for this much land, so here are some facts, figures, and sound advice, friends.
You hold keys, which you drag out for television interviews, to houses that do not exist or are inhabited by Israelis who have no intention of leaving Jaffa, Haifa, Tel Aviv, or West Jerusalem. You shoot old guns at modern Israeli tanks and American-made fighter jets, doing virtually no harm to Israel while bringing the wrath of its mighty army down upon you. You fire ridiculously inept Kassam rockets that cause little destruction and delude yourselves into thinking this is a war of liberation. Your government, your social institutions, your schools, and your economy are all in ruins.
Your young people are growing up illiterate, ill, and bent on rites of death and suicide, while you, in effect, are living on the kindness of foreigners, including America and the United Nations. Every day your officials must beg for your daily bread, dependent on relief trucks that carry food and medicine into the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, while your criminal Muslim fundamentalist Hamas government continues to fan the flames of a war it can neither fight nor hope to win.
In other words, brothers, you are down, out, and alone in a burnt-out landscape that is shrinking by the day.
What kind of struggle is this? Is it worth waging at all? More important, what kind of miserable future does it portend for your children, the fourth or fifth generation of the Arab world's have-nots?
We, your Arab brothers, have moved on.
Those of us who have oil money are busy accumulating wealth and building housing, luxury developments, state-of-the-art universities and schools, and new highways and byways. Those of us who share borders with Israel, such as Egypt and Jordan, have signed a peace treaty with it and are not going to war for you any time soon. Those of us who are far away, in places like North Africa and Iraq, frankly could not care less about what happens to you.
Only Syria continues to feed your fantasies that someday it will join you in liberating Palestine, even though a huge chunk of its territory, the entire Golan Heights, was taken by Israel in 1967 and annexed. The Syrians, my friends, will gladly fight down to the last Palestinian Arab.
Before you got stuck with this Hamas crowd, another cheating, conniving, leader of yours,Yasser Arafat, sold you a rotten bill of goods — more pain, greater corruption, and millions stolen by his relatives — while your children played in the sewers of Gaza.
The war is over. Why not let a new future begin?