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26 Nov, 2006

Why does peace remain so elusive in the Middle East?

Originally Published: 26 Nov 2006

I often get asked why I focus so much on the Middle East. An answer came in the past fortnight from the United Nations Deputy Secretary General Mark Malloch-Brown.

Speaking on Nov 20 to an audience of diplomats and students of international affairs at an event organized by Washington University’s Centre of the Global South at UN HQ in New York, Mr Malloch-Brown said that the conflict in the Middle East is the single biggest challenge facing the world today.

“Let’s hope that we all see the international community in the next year finally seizing the nettle and dealing with the Middle East in a serious way and recognizing that these conflicts cannot be allowed to fester, breaking into ever more frequent cycles of violence.” Mr. Malloch-Brown was quoted as saying by UN News.

The region’s conflicts are interlinked, “where you cannot find a solution to Iraq without addressing the issues of Iran and Syria, where you cannot find an enduring solution in Lebanon without similarly addressing the issues of the neighbours, where Israel’s security is pinned on one side by the political crisis in Lebanon and on the other by the crisis in the Palestinian territories,” he said.

“And yet neither can they be solved by bilateral agreements, they are all linked up and this cone of conflict in theMiddle Eastis the single greatest challenge to our world today.”

The conflict will mark another anniversary next year, 40 years since the six-day war of June 1967 that ended with the Israeli occupation of Gaza, the Golan and the West Bank.

After a brief period of hope in the 1990s when the late Israeli and Palestinian leaders Yitzhak Rabin and Yasser Arafat were negotiating the peace agreements, the wounds have reopened and are festering by the day, degenerating into the controversial Clash of Civilizations.

One key reason is the unwillingness to clearly identify who is the occupied and who is the occupier, and the subsequent inability to differentiate between the symptom and the cause, an action and a reaction.

Rabin understood well these differences. Unlike the recent generation of Israeli leaders, his focus on “land for peace” was based on the clear guiding principle that if and when the occupied land is returned, peace will reign.

Rabin’s valiant efforts were terminated by a bullet from a Jewish fundamentalist fanatic terrorist named Yigal Amir – proving irrefutably that the first act of terrorist violence that ended the peace process was by a Jew and NOT a Muslim or a Palestinian.

Since then, every effort has been made to bury this important aspect of history and lay the entire blame on the Palestinian/Arab/Islamic world.

The marketing of this utter fabrication has been executed with the same intensity as the marketing of the “Iraq has weapons of mass destruction” campaign, and a lie told often enough has become the truth.

The campaign’s efficiency and effectiveness has been met on the other side by the utter incompetence of the Arab/Muslim leaders who have also bought into the lie that their own societies and communities are at fault and that all will be well if “freedom and democracy” prevail in their countries.

One clear example of their incompetence will appear this week. Nov 29 is International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People, as designated in 1977 by the UN General Assembly. Another follow-up resolution in 2004 “encouraged Member States to continue to give the widest support and publicity to the observance of the Day of Solidarity.” [http://www.un.org/depts/dhl/palestinian/index.html]

At the UNESCAP, nothing is ever organised by the Bangkok-based representatives of the UN member states. By contrast, the Israelis took the lead to organise a Holocaust Day memorial at ESCAP last January within a few months of a similar observance memorial being approved by the UN General Assembly in 2005.

Lovers of “freedom and democracy” will also want to note another recent event, also virtually unnoticed. The UN General Assembly overwhelmingly passed a resolution urging an immediate end to all acts of violence by Israelis and Palestinians, including Israeli incursions into the Gaza Strip and Palestinian rocket fire into Israel.

It also called on UN Secretary General Kofi Annan to investigate the recent Israeli shelling of Beit Hanoun which killed 18 civilians but which the Israelis called “a technical error.”

Some 156 countries, including all European Union members, voted for it. The US, Israel and Australia were among seven nations to oppose it. According to UN News, the US had earlier vetoed a similar resolution put to the UN Security Council.

Note that lopsided vote: 156 to 7. So much for “freedom and democracy”?

When President Bush visited Indonesia a few days ago, the Indonesians asked him to set a clear timetable for the formation of a Palestinian state. Nothing further was heard of this initiative.

At roughly the same time, the leaders of Spain, France and Italy came up with the first set of suggested actions as part of a new Middle East peace plan.

“Peace between Israel and the Palestinians means to a large extent peace on the international scene … We cannot remain impassive in the face of the horror that continues to unfold before our eyes,” Spanish leader Rodriguez Zapatero said after a meeting with French President Jacques Chirac.

The Palestinians cheered the initiative, the Israelis jeered it.

And so it grows, a festering cancer slowly consuming the world. The doctors continue to make the wrong diagnosis, the cause remains intact, the symptoms worsen, and the patient continues to die a slow but painful death.

A journalist’s job is to bring these issues out into the public domain, as this column has done over Iraq which has turned out to be every bit the disaster I predicted it would be.

As a great believer in the eventual victory of justice and truth over lies and violence, it is hugely inspiring to read Pulitzer-prize winning war correspondent David Halberstam’s comments that US government criticism of news reporters in Iraq reminds him of the way he was treated while covering the war in Vietnam.

“The crueler the war gets, the crueler the attacks get on anybody who doesn’t salute or play the game,” he was quoted as saying at a meeting of combat reporters from The Associated Press and other news outlets at a conference at Middle Tennessee State University. “And then one day, the people who are doing the attacking look around and they’ve used up their credibility.”

Halberstam, who wrote about Vietnam for The New York Times, added: “The attacks on us were very, very unpleasant. There was an attack on our manhood, on our politics. We were portrayed as being communists and weak.”


War critics like Halberstam prevailed. So will I.

Indeed, many people are waking up to the truth. See for yourself: http://www.metacafe.com/watch/306614/anti_bush_speech/