Peoples Geography — Reclaiming space

Creating people's geographies

Illogical, illegal and ill-fated By Nasim Zehra

ICH 2 Aug 2006

Continuing with her theme on the pangs of birth of a new Middle East the US Secretary of State aboard her plane en route to Asia tried to downplay the expectations of a quick fix in Lebanon or the Middle East. “I am a student of history, so perhaps I have a little bit more patience with the enormous change in the international system and the complete shifting of tectonic plates, and I don’t expect it to happen in a few days or even a year,” she said. Clearly it’s the neo-con mindset that must inspire such grandiose, if dangerously naive, statements. The student of history in Ms Rice should be saying “what we are doing in the Middle East alone out does the natural disasters that have befallen the earth in recent years.” So dark is the outcome of US policy. The combined devastation of sheer force, convoluted logic and tormented soul out does powerful earthquakes and the unstoppable tsunamis.

Doesn’t the secretary know the world is not clamouring for instantaneous change? Instead it is clamouring against a US policy that is illogical, illegal and ill-fated.

How so? Here is the illogical part. Washington’s stated goals are the same as Israel’s; to disarm if not destroy the Hizbollah , neutralise Iranian and Syria influence in the region and to strengthen the Lebanese government. Israel’s security context has not improved. Instead in perception and in reality the ‘threats’ are ever-expanding. At the core of these threats is simultaneously Israel’s aggressive search for security and the unresolved Palestinian issue. Both facilitate accentuated intra-state rivalries promoting political extremism and spawning off armed militias across South West Asia. Ironically a nuclear-armed Israel called a Middle Eastern ‘superpower’ still remains insecure.

How is the policy illegal? It works to selectively implement Security Council resolutions. While it awards a carte blanche awarded to Israelis to pursue their security as they consider fit, at a practical level it remains indifferent to the creation of a Palestinian homeland. US policy has enabled the Israeli state to violate legally laid down parameters of state behaviour. It remains a state that refuses to lay down its borders. Israel occupied Lebanese territory for two decades and continues to occupy Syrian territory. Its gross and systematic violation of Palestinian rights and occupation of their homeland continues. It terrorises the Palestinians at will; all in the name of self-defence.

The media tells thousands of stories of the atrocities committed by Israel. In cyberspace there are endless postings of the tormented and tortured Lebanese and Palestinians. Even Israeli citizens, opposed to the state policy are boldly critiquing it. These dispatches from the killing fields of Lebanon and Gaza are being read daily by millions and millions. Endless articles report Israeli violation of the ICRC, preventing water and electricity supplies to Palestinians in Gaza. Israeli state terrorism needs no formal branding of illegality. Read the endless UNSC and UN resolutions that Israel, supported by the US, has violated.

And finally for the future of US policy, it is ill-fated. The time between policy implementation and its abysmal failure is now shrinking. First Iraq and now Lebanon. Bush is following a strategy used by former US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger. This is to line up elite Arab support against all the elements within the Arab world that threaten Israel’s security. And the rest will follow.

Kissinger in the seventies opted for the ‘salami tactic’. Then US policy went in with its weapons supplies, exploited existing cleavages within the Arab governments and also their growing discomfort with continuous support of the Palestinian cause. The governments concluded there was an internal and external cost for providing genuine political support for the Palestinians. The inter-play between this, the US pro-Israeli policy and the US advocacy of Israel within the Arab world, created a shared objective, that of containing the Palestinian problem but not actually working to resolve it. Alongside this containment the US worked for Israeli security; and the yield of this policy was an insecure and aggressive nuclear state in the heart of the region fighting to kill the spirit of the Palestinians. But the message of the Palestinian struggle is unambiguous: never give up.

On this latest round. Within less than three weeks the White House must be reassessing its policy. The policy was articulated as one that would work for “a sustainable peace.” Its primary objective was to ensure Israeli security by destroying the Hizbollah . For long the suffering of the dispossessed people of Palestine has become a secondary objective. Washington’s support for Israel’s endless destruction of the Palestinian people and of Hamas was viewed by the US as a means for fighting “terrorism” and “Islamic extremism”.

The outcome has instead been Hizbollah ‘s increasing popularity among the Arab public cutting across all religious and sectarian divides, an increase in anti-American sentiment, Arab governments’ forced review of their policy on Lebanon and muting of their criticism of Hizbollah , as well as an increase in Lebanese support for Hizbollah , and an increase in Israel’s siege mentality.

Now the US is doing the exact reverse of what it did in Bosnia. Then it ended the killings. Now it is facilitating the killings. Then it intervened to uphold principles, now to violate principles of law, humanity and even self-interest.

The Arab hostility towards Israel was inevitable given that its creation was at the cost of the Palestinian homeland. But instead of neutralising the Arab hostility by working for a Palestinian homeland Washington has sought to wean away the Arab regimes from the Palestinian cause. With a festering Palestinian wound, the undying resistance and an aggressive and insecure Israeli state, a stable Middle East will be an illusion.

But will this ever change? The juxtaposition of an illogical, illegal and ill-fated policy and the Washington mindset leaves little hope for imminent change. The Washington mindset is best described in this week’s Newsweek. “Bush thinks the new war vindicates his early vision of the region’s struggle: of good versus evil, civilisation versus terrorism, freedom versus Islamic fascism. Yet he still trusts his gut to tell him what’s right and he still expects others to follow his lead. For Bush diplomacy is not the art of a negotiated compromise. It’s a smoother way to get where he wants to go.”

Nasim Zehra

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"Those who crusade, not for God in themselves, but against the devil in others, never succeed in making the world better, but leave it either as it was, or sometimes perceptibly worse than what it was, before the crusade began. By thinking primarily of evil we tend, however excellent our intentions, to create occasions for evil to manifest itself."
-- Aldous Huxley

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-- Diane DiPrima, "Rant", from Pieces of a Song.

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to get the news from poems
yet men die miserably every day
for lack
of what is found there"
-- William Carlos Williams, "Asphodel, That Greeny Flower"