Is Israel the Problem?

[Commentary] Amir Taheri - Arab despots have long sought to divert their tyrannized subjects with dreams of driving the "Zionist enemy" into the sea. Each time Nasser of Egypt faced social and political unrest at home, he would assure his own people and the Arab "nation"" at large that social and political reform had to wait until "the enemy" was dislodged from "our beloved Palestine." For others to embrace such retrograde and easily refuted notions bespeaks a truly dangerous ignorance of reality. The greater Middle East consists of 22 states, sixteen of them Arab. All are remnants of various empires and none enjoy fully defined or internationally recognized borders. Every one of them is engaged in pressing irredentist claims of one kind or another against one or more of its neighbors, and most have entered into armed battle with each other as a consequence. All told, in the past six decades, this region has witnessed no fewer than 22 full-scale wars over territory and resources, not one of them having anything to do with Israel and the Palestinians. And these international disputes are quite apart from the uninterrupted string of domestic clashes, military coups, acts of sectarian and ethnic vengeance, factional terrorism, and other internal conflicts that have characterized the greater Middle East. The notion that all of these problems can be waved away by "solving" the Arab-Israeli conflict is thus at best a delusion, at worst a recipe for maintaining today's wider political, diplomatic, and social paralysis. What is the reason behind the failure of the 1991 Madrid conference, the slow but steady death of the 1993 Oslo accords, the collapse of President Bill Clinton's final effort to negotiate a peace deal at Camp David in 2000, and the faltering history of President George W. Bush's "road map"? The reason is hardly the want of diplomatic efforts, especially on the part of the U.S. With the exception of Israel and with the partial exception of Turkey, the entire Middle East lacks a culture of conflict resolution, let alone the necessary mechanisms of meaningful compromise. Such a culture can only be shaped through a process of democratization. Only democracies habitually resolve their conflicts through diplomacy rather than war, and only popular-based regimes possess the political strength and the moral will to build peace. Democratization remains the only credible strategy in and for the region, and the only hope for its suffering inhabitants.

2007-02-02 01:00:00

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