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Posts Tagged ‘Middle East’

I liked what I read about Obama’s Cairo speech and I pretty much liked the speech itself. At the risk of sounding fatuous, I would have given a similar presentation had I been in his position – with a couple of additions. I would have been more direct about the necessity of giving more than lip service to democracy. I would have reminded the Arab countries a little more forcefully (as he had indicated he would do) that they haven’t exactly stepped up to the plate when it comes to investing in the future of Palestine although some nations have been happy to arm the militant factions. He might have been a bit more careful when discussing the Holocaust as if it were equivalent to the Palestinian plight; from a tactical standpoint, that wasn’t going to sit too well with an Israel already stunned by the idea that an American President would tell them to stop building settlements. But by and large and given the setting, I think it worked. It brilliantly undermined Osama Bin Laden’s bid for attention and made it seem almost churlish to dislike an America that was trying hard to balance competing interests. 

What I don’t know is whether his comments will help resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. It seems at this point to be intractable.  As I wrote in a similarly named post here in January:  

“Israelis see themselves as always and evermore in danger of being targeted for extinction. Nearly everything they do seems to derive from their understanding of and belief in the constant threat of annihilation… Palestinians see themselves as always and evermore in danger of remaining as refugees, without rights, without opportunities and without a homeland, pushed around by a small country with a large and powerful friend. Many have been raised to believe it is uniquely Israel that stands in the way of their liberation and so Israel must be destroyed, which, of course, confirms Israel’s worst fears.”

We’ve lived through other two-party conflicts: the Cold War was all about a nuclear standoff between two superpowers with weapons of mass destruction aimed at each other’s cities. Capitalism seems to have been a major player in the end of that faceoff; that and internal dissention pursuaded the USSR to have a go at the free market way of life. There was also the impracticality of surviving in a post-nuclear world, something I wish I felt the current nuclear powers were considering more carefully.

What’s going on between Israel and Palestine ought to be able to be resolved along similarly pragmatic lines: yes to the two-state solution and to Israel’s right to exist, with the proviso that punishment for any violators will come from the Muslim world. Not a chance, I hear some of my readers say. Well then, let’s get right to the heart of the matter. While grievances and fears and biases and hatreds exist, they can be overcome by proof that common ground might yield a better life for everyone. Resolution is always potentially possible, especially when it becomes obvious it makes more sense to do so. So who wants the Israel-Palestinian issue to be resolved, and more importantly, who doesn’t – and why not?

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20ambusha6002 The photo on the front page of Monday’s New York Times of a soldier caught in a firefight in a remote region of Afghanistan came in the midst of a news cycle filled with depressing stories out of the region: Taliban takeovers of towns and villages close to Pakistan’s capitol city, new bombings in Baghdad and the story out of Afghanistan.

The day after the story about the ambush, the paper ran an op-ed piece by two young Afghan women who begged America not to turn its back on give up on the brave women who took to the streets to protest the latest government law caving in to fundamentalist demands. “[Westerners assume] Afghans are a ‘tribal people’ who probably do not want a say in choosing their leaders,” they wrote. “Others claim that because Afghanistan is a traditional Islamic society, any promotion of democracy and women’s rights will be resented as an imposition of Western values… These assumptions are wrong.”15afghan2-600

That’s good to know. There are people in Afghanistan and in Pakistan who fervently support women’s rights, human rights and democracy. Possibly even more of the population simply wants to live in peace under whatever form of government is presented to them. In any event, we should support their efforts to live a life free from terror and intimidation.

And it’s not quite fair to say we’ve turned our backs on Afghan human rights, regardless of which country our politicians may discuss from one day to the next. We’ve got boots on the ground there who will soon be joined by new troops our experts are moving from what we and they hope is a more stabilized Iraq.  Although we have no troops in nuclear neighbor Pakistan, we have planes overhead and an Executive Branch proposal for nearly 3 billion in investments to support a military I worry seems far more focused on India than the Taliban militants. Decisions have to be made about how and where to place finite resources – our resources. Maybe that’s why it seems as if Uncle Sam is playing in  high-stakes chess game all by himself.

It’s no fun to be a superpower soloist.

The authors of the piece about Afghan’s marching women note that “Democracy and progress are not products to be packaged and exported to Afghanistan. Afghans have to fight for them.” Absolutely true, as I think our government is beginning to figure out.  Democracy promotion isn’t something that can be done strictly from the outside in. We should assist, support, speak out in no uncertain terms  concerning anything relating to human rights. But as far as translating words into actions, we can always use a little inside help.

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Today’s highly touted Mideast peace conference in Annapolis ended with a pledge amongst the designated representatives. Since said representatives have pledged before, cynics might argue that the announcement was hardly what you’d call a breakthrough on the order of, say, creating stem cells from adult human skin instead of human embryos. Even the most dedicated optimist might have winced to watch the lame-duck, heretofore uninvolved U.S. President presiding over a handshake between the scandal-ridden Israeli Prime Minister and the politically diminished Palestinian leader. As one of my friends remarked dismissively, “Like that’s ever gonna happen.” 

It’s pretty hard not to view today’s conference as just another photo-op.  For one thing, there have been agreements before. For another, a number of experienced and well-intentioned people put forward their thoughts, suggestions and advice prior to this gathering and its not clear that any of those were incorporated, considered or even advanced. Of course, both sides balked at specifics. The “joint understanding” between the Israelis and the Palestinians appears as fragile as a spider’s web – and just as treacherous. It falls short of the detailed document put forth by Palestinians yet feels pushy to a highly suspicious Israel.  The two sides, or their leaders, have agreed to “engage in vigorous, ongoing and continuous negotiations,”  which is as vague as it gets.

One wonders how many issues can one conflict contain? Land, power, pride, jobs, security, ancient grievances and religious beliefs all play a role. Are these issues addressed by settling borders, moving settlers, dividing Jerusalem, or by making promises as to security, autonomy and the right of two distinct states to exist? Are they addressed by agreeing first to try and address them?

So maybe it’s different this time. Maybe President Bush, finally goaded by his Secretary of State, sees this as an opportunity for a legacy and maybe he’ll push, really push, for progress towards a treaty. Maybe Saudi Arabia finally sees that conflict in the region is not to their advantage. Maybe Olmert and Abbas can enhance their political capital by reaching for peace while remaining firmly committed to addressing their constituents’ concerns. Maybe Iran’s foray into nuclear power and/or weapons development gives everyone pause.

Maybe the players know, even in the deepest corners of their hearts and souls far away from political calculations, that the people they purport to represent are weary unto death of terror, destruction, despair, uncertainty and hate. Maybe. But I’m not that much of an optimist.

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