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If I can just give to the world more than I take from it, I will be a very happy man. For there is no greater joy in life than to give. Motto : Live, Laugh and Love. You can follow me on Twitter too . My handle is @Raja_Sw.

Thursday, January 01, 2009

Israel-Palestine...shame on the world !!!

Strange though it may seem, the saddest thing to me about the recent Israeli offensive in Palestine is not the bombing itself.

It is, yet again, proof to me that this world is shameless. And selfish to the core. I use strong language here but I cannot help it.

But at least the world is consistent.

Consistently indecisive – and entirely predictable. And I might add, consistently ineffective (assuming there is at least an iota of interest in resolving the conflict).

Oh, how much longer do I have to see this charade ?

I have been following this for over 30 years. From the time that I was just into my teens and beginning to understand a bit about world affairs.

Through the mid-late 70s, the Khmer Rouge (with Pol Pot as its leader) created front-page news. By the late 70s, the news began dying down.

As if on cue, the Iran-Iraq war, started in September 1980, took over the front pages. Then there was the Russian invasion of Afghanistan, followed by the first Iraq war as a result of Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait.

More recently, in events following 9/11, war and terror have almost always been a regular front-page feature in some part of the world or the other.

All this while, the war in Palestine has been going on. And, unlike other wars, since this was such a long-running war, it had its dedicated space on front-pages.

I remember, as a boy in India, I would actually be surprised if there was no mention of Gaza or West Bank on any given day’s news. Everytime there would be some escalation or some other big news (like the Sadat-Begin deal in Camp David in 1978), it would be headline news. Then, after a few days, the Israel-Arab conflict would again become side-column news.

At that time I was too young to understand the details, the background. All I knew was that Israel and the rest of the Middle East, primarily Arabs, were fighting a war. And that Israel was one of two countries that were explicitly “blacklisted’’ for Indians (the other was South Africa, due to apartheid). This gave me the impression then that India, without being involved as such, was sympathetic to the Arab cause.

As I grew older, I tried to understand more about the conflict. Maybe it was the daily dose of human suffering that I had been following for years in Indian newspapers – I just wanted to know more. So I began reading up on it. Read articles, news items, even watched TV programs on the subject. In those pre-Internet days, it was not all that easy to get information, especially if you wanted different points of view. These days of course there is so much information (some would say mis-information) out there, one can sift and analyse to one’s heart’s content.

But that is not the point here. The point I am trying to highlight is that this conflict has been going on and on. I still would not claim to know very much about it but it does seem to me to be at the root of many flashpoints of tension around the world in at least the last 30-40 years. (I am sure this was the case even before this but I can definitely speak for the last 30 years).

So what has the United Nations done ?

Effectively nothing.

Yes, there are some resolutions that have been passed. And which have had absolutely no effect.

The United States has made an effort. The closest I have seen a peace deal was when Clinton got Yasser Arafat and Ehud Barak together at Camp David in 2000. It looked then that there might, just might, be a deal. Barak went far, farther than any other Israeli leader I can remember.

But the deal fell through on that thorniest of issues - Jerusalem. So, in a huge anti-climax, the discussions ended – and it was back to the familiar square one.

Since then, there has only been mistrust and further tensions. The players have changed but the animosity seems to remain just as strong as ever.

Arafat is dead, his Fatah Party has not been able to win elections in Palestine. Instead Hamas, much-dreaded by the Western world and hated by Israel is in charge in Palestine.

In Israel, Ehud Olmert and his Kadima party have toughened their stance in the light of elections coming up in February next year. But if they appear a bit hawkish now, this is nothing in comparison to the opposition Likud party, whose rightist leader Benjamin Netanyahu seems to me to be the last person to be willing to negotiate anything with any Arab party.

So the situation, purely from a bilateral negotiating standpoint, looks very grim. A ceasefire, even if it is agreed upon, is hardly likely to address anything structurally.

For any structural solution, the best option, in my opinion, is for the UN to step in.

I know it sounds laughable – given the UN’s track record in resolving any conflict around the world.

But while the UN may have credibility question-marks on its leadership ability, the United States, Europe and the Arab states have all got credibility question-marks on their integrity.

And that is a far more difficult bridge to cross.

Maybe, just maybe, with the new leadership in the US things change, but, at the moment, the US is still seen as too biased towards the Israelis to have much support from the Arab community. Besides, the US has enough problems of its own and may want to focus on them rather than engage in international conflict resolution at this point in time.

Europe has always had a wishy-washy standing in the Middle-East, though personally I believe Europe has probably a better integrity rating in the region than the US. But Europe has shown itself poor on taking a leadership role in past conflict resolution, conveniently leaving that role to the US and happy to play a support role.

The Arab states, closest to the heat, could bring both parties to the negotiating table – and if Israel is comfortable with this, this could actually be the best thing to happen for the conflict.

And, it would appear that Egypt, which often plays the lead role in mobilizing actions in the region on this matter, is beginning to establish some sort of rapport, however tenuous, with Israel.

But then, there is the other issue of the Arab world itself. It is too simplistic to talk of ONE Arab world, given the power struggles and constantly changing equations in the region.

Let’s look at this a bit.

Egypt, no doubt, has its influence - but Syria, the other neighbour in the conflict region, has its own issues with Israel. And though there are signs that the new Syrian leadership may even be willing to engage with Israel, there is the other big influence in the region, Iran, that cannot be under-estimated.

Iran sees itself as THE power in the region, especially after the Iraq war. It is very unlikely to allow any deal to be brokered in the region without its own stamp on it. And that stamp will ensure that Israel is left as much out in the cold as possible – which will be a non-starter for the deal itself. For a meaningful, and importantly sustainable deal, it has to have elements for both parties.

No, much as I would like the deal to be brokered from within - and this would be my first preference - I have doubts about this working out.

So I go back to the United Nations.

If, the UN, doing, for once in its 60+ years of existence, something that it was set up for in the first place, if it brings the parties together and works out a “bottoms-up” structural solution, it would appear to be a non-partisan solution and hopefully seen as fair by both parties.

But for this, the UN has to really go back to the basics and understand the root issues of the conflict. Which, in my opinion, are to do with land allocation, economic deprivation, human rights violations and oppression in general. Yes, religion too to some extent, but I believe that is used as a cover for these bigger day-to-day issues. When people are dying of hunger and have no water to drink, that is where the focus of the UN effort needs to be - in finding a political solution to the conflict.

After all, Arabs and Jews did live side-by-side for years (and still do). And there is every reason to believe that they can and will continue to do so.

But for this to happen, the world has to do more than just “condemn” violence.
Those perpetrating the violence – on both sides of the conflict - do not really care anymore about words – they are way beyond all that. They have real issues to deal with at ground-level. Since the world has chosen not to do anything for them, they have taken it upon themselves to fight their own battles.

No, the UN has to step in now and do something to address this once and for all.

After all it was the UN that threw the first stone, symbolically speaking, all of 61 years ago.

In November of 1947, a decision to separate the land of Palestine into a Jewish state and an Arab state was taken through UN Resolution 181. Details can be found in
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/United_Nations_General_Assembly_Resolution_181 .

Reading through it again today, I found it interesting to note that the names of the countries that were involved in the voting process.

When countries like Bolivia, Costa Rica and Dominican Republic can have a say in influencing geographic boundaries and decisions of the Middle-East, one has to wonder about the quality of the decision.

To me there is no doubt that it was a decision forced upon the Arab community (the Arab league obviously voted against it) – and, to this day, we are seeing the fall-out of that decision. And the parties suffering are not Bolivia or Costa Rica or Dominican Republic. Or even Liberia, Haiti and Philippines, who, pressured by the US, voted for the decision.

No, it is the people of Palestine, Lebanon, Jordan and, consequently, Israel itself.

So much for group decision-making and for a neutral, objective body. The extent of my disgust cannot be quantified.

Anyway that was November 1947.

Sixty-one years on, and we have only seen wars and casualties since (and counting). Not unexpected, when you have such a sham of a deal. Arabs have not rested since – and Israel has not been quiet either. Rather, the six-day war in 1967 was just Israel flexing its muscle and taking the conflict to a different level. Whether it was pre-emptive or a reaction to Arab offensives, the fact is that it was a slap on the face of the United Nations.

I am not taking sides here. I can see very much why the Arabs feel so aggrieved. At the same time I can see why Israel feels threatened. If anything, I am more disgusted with the way the seeds of this conflict were sown than anything else.

If the UN could make that magnificent “leadership” move then, how about another one now ? But this time, involving maybe the parties directly affected a little bit more ? Guatemala may not be the best country to ask for its opinion on this subject.

It is a different world now compared to 1947. The UN needs to recognize this – and be bold enough to engage the region directly in a dialogue and not by proxy. It needs to show that it cares and genuinely wants to help. If it means re-drawing some lines, then so be it. If it means excluding some big names from the dialogue, so be it. Those affected directly are the ones who need to be actively engaged.

I know it is not going to happen.

There are too many vested interests today. Even more so than in 1947. Today’s politics is played in a much more subtle style than in 1947.

So we cannot realistically expect the UN to do anything.

Other than of course "condemning violence".

And in the meantime, people will continue to die and live a dog’s life. Children (what have they done wrong to be born in that region ?) will be deprived of their childhood. Instead of learning about life and how to enjoy it, they will be learning about death and how to escape it every day.

And the world will continue to see these pictures on TV, express their outrage, debate on websites.

And I will continue to write on my blog.

Like I have written before in
http://rajaswaminathan.blogspot.com/2007/07/children-of-lesser-god.html and in my piece about war in general here http://rajaswaminathan.blogspot.com/2007/07/genesis-of-war_14.html .

Like I said, I do not claim to know much about the conflict. About who is right, who is wrong. Whether anybody is right or anybody is wrong. Sometimes these things are not about right or wrong, they are about compromise and making things work for all.

What I do know is that, by the UN doing nothing meaningful in the thirty years that I have been following this conflict, something is very wrong.

And oh yes, Happy New Year to all readers. Hope at least your lives are safe and peaceful.


Corinne Rodrigues said...

So nice to finally 'see' you Raja. Thank you for all the encouragement - it sure means a lot. I'm glad you're back to writing again - we need more. Wishing you all goodness in the New Year.
Warm regards

Nandini Vishwanath said...

Wow! I did not know all this much about the conflict. I've been reading about it off and on for the last few years, but this post made me understand the situation better!

Memsaab said...

There is so much "right" and "wrong" on both sides, that I fear as long as the main concern is about who is right, nothing will ever change. Wish people would think about "what" is right rather than "who"...

Nice writeup on this :-)

Raja Swaminathan said...

@Corinne, just felt like writing again, after a long time. I need to get into that mood !

@Nandu, oh, I haven't even touched the surface ! This is a complicated subject and you will often find reference to pre-Biblical times to justify points of view. I have stuck with more current, tangible actions - like 1947.

@Memsaab, very nice to see you making a debut here, Greta. :-) Welcome. This is where I do MY "rambling". ;-)
And thanks for your comments - totally agree, the blame game leads nowhere.