Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Seven Pillars of Middle East Reality

First published in FrontPageMagazine.com

A theme of virtually every New York Times editorial touching on the Arab-Israeli conflict is knee-jerk criticism of the Bush Administration and/or Israel for not taking steps that could promote "peace." On April 7, the Times editors defended House Speaker Pelosi’s Syrian jaunt and referred to the administration’s "failed policies" and its alleged refusal to test whether talking to Syria "might help... revive efforts to negotiate peace." A March 26 editorial on Condoleeza Rice’s latest visit to the region complained of the administration having squandered six years in diplomatic inaction, supposedly because it did not realize the importance of a "just, negotiated peace between Israel and the Palestinians" and the need for Washington to "help jump-start the process." The editors also advised Rice to pursue talks with Palestinians "willing to discuss peace" - whatever that means - "no matter what Israel’s objections."

A February 21 editorial on Rice’s previous Middle East trip accused her of missing what "just might have been a moment for breaking the stalemate..." Israel’s dereliction, meanwhile, was its failure to take steps that would have "increased the chances for progress..."

For many politicians and diplomats as well, the accepted wisdom is that Arab "moderates," and perhaps even some in the radical Arab camp, are ready for peace with Israel and that, despite the rise of Hamas, sufficiently intense diplomatic engagement can resolve the conflict. This popular line ignores fundamental Middle East realities:

Arab leaders have no interest in genuine peace with Israel. They do not fear Israel, knowing she will not attack them unless herself threatened, and they see no great advantages to peace. Rather, both anti-Western regimes, particularly Syria, and so-called "moderate" states see gain in using anti-Israel, as well as anti-American, hate-mongering to divert their publics from domestic ills. This is true even of Egypt and Jordan, states officially at "peace" with Israel. In Egypt, government-controlled media now purvey more rabid anti-Israel and anti-Semitic propaganda than before the Camp David accords.

The revival of the 2002 Saudi "peace" initiative at the recent Riyadh summit hardly indicates some new Arab direction. The summit insisted its plan was a "take it or leave it" proposition and called for Israel to return to the pre-1967 armistice lines and honor a Palestinian "right of return" - a formula for remaking Israel into another Arab state - after which the Arabs would reciprocate with vague steps toward recognition and an end of the conflict. Even some Arab commentators, such as Mamoun Fandy writing in the London Arabic daily Al-Sharq Al-Awsat, noted that the Saudi plan does not reflect serious interest in peace with Israel.

Israeli-Arab peace will come on the Arabs' timetable. The Arabs, more than 300 million strong as compared to Israel's five million Jews, are by far the region's dominant force. Israel may deter or defeat Arab attacks, but it cannot, either by concessions or other steps, force peace on the Arabs.

All minorities living within the Arab world are under siege. Tunisian human rights activist Muhammad Bechri has traced this to the "twin fascisms" - his term - that dominate the Arab world, Islamism and pan-Arabism. The first promotes murderous intolerance of religious minorities. It helps explain why Christians are under siege across the Arab world and why Sudan enjoyed broad Arab support as it killed some two million non-Muslim blacks in the south of the country. Pan-Arabism translates into endorsement of murderous policies toward Muslim but non-Arab groups and accounts for Arab support for Saddam Hussein as he slaughtered 200,000 Kurds in northern Iraq, as well as backing for Sudanese policies toward the Muslim but black population of Darfur.

The Arab world is not about to make an exception for the Jews. This broad intolerance of minorities is further evidence of how unlikely it is the Arab world will accept the legitimacy of a Jewish state in its midst any time soon.

Arab regimes also demonize non-Muslim and non-Arab peoples living beyond the Arab world. In both ostensible Western "allies" and hostile states, denigration and demonization of the non-Muslim world, and particularly of the Christian West and the United States, are common in government-controlled media, schools and mosques. Such attacks not only deflect attention from domestic ills but are also used either to bolster a regime's radical agenda or help assuage radicalized opposition elements of the population.

The concern of so-called "moderate" regimes with the threat posed by radical forces in the region has not altered these realities. Saudi Arabia, for example, has been worried about the Iranian Shi'ite theocracy since its birth in 1979, but the Saudi response has been more aggressive export of its own radical, Wahhabi, Islamism, with its intolerance of non-believers and its attacks particularly on Christians and Jews. This lavishly funded campaign has seen the rise of schools and mosques promoting Wahhabi Islam throughout the Muslim world, Europe and the United States.

In recent years, the Saudi regime, having been awakened to the threat at home, has cracked down on anti-government radicals within its borders. But it continues to export its own radicalism.

Those who urge an American return to Realpolitik in Middle East policy are promoting a delusion. There is a superficial logic to arguing that the United States should support cooperative dictatorial regimes, and try to win over uncooperative ones, and that to push for democratic reforms is likely to lead instead to empowerment of radical dictatorships hostile to America. But just as Pearl Harbor shut down the American isolationist camp, 9/11 should have shut down the Realpolitik camp. The 9/11 hijackers and their key leaders were mainly from American "allies" Saudi Arabia and Egypt and were indoctrinated to hate America both through the state-supported religious and cultural education given them by these "friends" of America and through the teachings of the regimes' domestic opponents. To urge ongoing unqualified embrace of such regimes and silence in the face of their hate-mongering is to invite new disasters.

America’s chattering classes may cling to their old delusions about the Middle East, but for policy-makers to do so is an indulgence the nation cannot afford.