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A HERETICAL THOUGHT FOR PEACE" (2003)

A HERETICAL THOUGHT FOR PEACE" (2003)

Subject: "A HERETICAL THOUGHT FOR PEACE" (2003)
To: Undisclosed-Recipient


 
TO: Distinguished Recipients
FM: John Whitbeck
 
Transmitted below is a heretical article of my own, published five years ago by (among others) the International Herald Tribune, which matches the view of the merits (or otherwise) of American meddling in the Middle East evoked in Jonathan Power's new article circulated earlier today.

 
PUBLICATIONS OF THIS ARTICLE:
 
June 12, 2003 -- Al-Ahram Weekly (Cairo)
June 12 -- Al-Quds (Jerusalem)
June 13 -- Jerusalem Times
June 14 -- Arab News (Jeddah)
June 16 -- Daily Star (Beirut)
June 16 -- Jordan Times (Amman)
June 21 -- Asharq Al-Awsat (London)
June 22 -- Sunday Mail (Nicosia)
July/Aug. 2003 -- Washington Report on Middle East Affairs
October 1 -- International Herald Tribune (Paris)
October 4 -- Al-Mustaqbal (Beirut)
October 5 -- Gulf Times (Doha)
October 26 -- Al-Eqtisadiah (Jeddah)
 

A HERETICAL THOUGHT FOR PEACE
 
By John V. Whitbeck
 
 
In early June, the respected Pew Research Center in the United States released the latest of its global opinion surveys, which polled more than 15,000 people in 21 countries in the wake of the invasion and conquest of Iraq. The results attracted considerable attention in the American press.
 
A primary focus of press reports was the surge of anti-American sentiment in the Muslim world. In traditionally pro-American Jordan, 97% of those polled opposed America's "war on terror", while, in NATO-member Turkey, 83% expressed an unfavorable opinion of the United States. The selection of Osama bin Laden by the publics of five of the eight Muslim countries surveyed (Indonesia, Jordan, Morocco, Pakistan and Palestine) as one of the three political leaders they would most trust to "do the right thing" in world affairs did not go unnoticed.
 
Less noticed, but no less significant, were the responses to another question. Those polled were asked whether the United States is too supportive of Israel. In 20 of the 21 countries surveyed (notably INCLUDING Israel), most of those polled said "yes". There is no prize for guessing the one country where most said "no".
 
Israeli support for this proposition should not come as a complete surprise. Israelis have to live in Israel/Palestine. While their lives since Ariel Sharon provoked the current intifada in September 2000 have not been the living hell experienced by Palestinians, they have still become unpleasant, insecure and stressful. Increasingly, the essential realization that occupation and security are mutually exclusive has been sinking in.
 
No American national interest is served by Israel's continuing occupation of the Arab lands which it conquered in 1967. American supporters of the occupation tend to be Christian fundamentalists concerned about being personally raptured up to heaven after the much-to-be-hoped-for Battle of Armageddon, Jews who feel personally guilty to be living prosperously and comfortably in America rather than having emigrated to Israel/Palestine or politicians interested only in preserving or furthering their personal careers by not offending the other two groups.
 
Americans in these three groups, which are critical to the formulation of American Middle East policy, do not have to suffer the consequences of the occupation or the resistance to it, and their support for the occupation rarely reflects any genuine concern for the best interests of Israelis (let alone Palestinians). Their militant "pro-Israel" activism is purely self-centered and selfish in its motivation. It is also the primary obstacle to peace.
 
Those Israelis who feel that America is too supportive of Israel presumably can see that America's involvement since 1967 has not advanced the cause of peace but, rather, has blocked it, with America's periodic pretenses of peacemaking simply providing an "only game in town" cover behind which the occupation could be perpetuated, deepened and made more nearly irreversible. They presumably wish, for their own sakes, that America would "reform".
 
Now -- a heretical thought. Virtually all governments and commentators agree, at least in their public pronouncements, that deeper engagement by the United States is essential if Israeli-Palestinian peace is ever to be achieved. Wrong. The best hope for peace would be total American disengagement -- and the sooner the better.
 
Imagine that the US Government were to announce that it was washing its hands of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, that it would no longer give any military, economic or diplomatic aid or support to either side and that it would not use its veto to block any UN Security Council resolution with respect to Israel/Palestine, even one imposing sanctions on either or both of the parties to the conflict. Having never been an "honest broker", the United States would at least become an honest bystander.
 
Israeli politicians and American Christian fundamentalists would be appalled. However, if the Pew poll is to be believed, many Israelis would be relieved -- and finally see light at the end of the tunnel. With the the US out of the picture, the occupation would become, and be recognized to be, unsustainable. The great boulder blocking the road to peace would have rolled itself out of the way, and the road to peace (not to be confused with the "road map") could finally be open for travel.
 
As a hugely beneficial side-effect, American disengagement would, with immediate effect, vastly diminish anti-American rage throughout the Muslim world and the consequent threat of further "terrorist" attacks on Americans and American interests. There would no longer be any need to continue the series of wars against Israel's (hence America's) enemies. American civil liberties could be restored, and hundreds of billions of dollars could be redirected in constructive ways that would actually enhance the quality of life of Americans. The United States might even become respected out of admiration, as it once was, rather than simply out of fear, as it now is.
 
A dream? Of course. Just a dream. America will continue to block the road to peace, and America -- and the world -- will continue to pay a massive price for this.
 
John V. Whitbeck is an international lawyer who writes frequently on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.



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