Wednesday, February 11, 2009

A New Mideast Approach

By Yousef Munayyer
Saturday, January 24, 2009; A13

The Obama administration appointed former senator George Mitchell as its special envoy to the Middle East this week in a positive step toward resolving the decades-long Israeli-Palestinian conflict. While a fragile cease-fire has brought a temporary halt to the recent bloodshed in Gaza, the outburst of violence at the end of the Bush administration was the culmination of eight more years of failed U.S. policy. The new administration will need to break with that policy if it is to make progress toward ending the conflict.

The Bush policy can be divided into two periods. Initially, the administration sought to marginalize Yasser Arafat and pushed for the democratization of the Palestinian Authority. President Bush supported the Palestinian presidential election of 2005 and supported the Palestinian parliamentary elections early the next year -- until he saw the outcome of the vote.

The election of Hamas in January 2006, and the faltering of the longest-ruling party in Palestinian politics, was a wake-up call. The administration, understanding the pressure that Islamic movements were putting on regimes in the Middle East, shifted to "bolstering the moderates." The goal became marginalizing Hamas through economic sanctions and siege, while funding and supporting Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.

But this tactic of backing "our guy in the fight" achieved results much like those of the Cold War-era tactics it resembled. Ideology-driven civil conflict has raged on. Neither side has moved toward peace or security.

To make real progress toward a lasting peace, a fundamental shift in U.S. policy is needed. Simply put, a divided Palestinian partner can never make serious concessions to arrive at a lasting agreement when it is viewed as legitimate by only half of its population.

The United States must work to forge a unified Palestinian partner and must be wary of the dynamics of legitimacy in domestic Palestinian politics. Attempts to continue aligning Mahmoud Abbas with Israel against Hamas only serve to erode Abbas's legitimacy among his people. And Abbas's Fatah party members will continue to be targeted by domestic opposition as "sellouts." This appearance of submission contributed to their defeat in the 2006 parliamentary elections.

Rather than seeking to bolster the moderates in this conflict, the Obama administration should focus on moderating the extremists. The idea of eliminating Hamas could not be seriously proposed by anyone with any knowledge of domestic Palestinian politics. The notion that Hamas is a primarily militant organization based in Gaza ignores the movement's vast support in the West Bank and elsewhere.

Dealing with Hamas and groups such as the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine and Islamic Jihad in arenas of legitimacy, such as elections, negates the possibility that outside parties will spoil peace negotiations.

Those who would resolve the conflict must understand that such parties and groups, often labeled rejectionist, are not primarily ideologically based and are not monolithic. They, like most political parties, are beholden to a constituency.

Yet while their politics are not always the same, the political alliances between them are far stronger than any ideological divisions. For example, consider the image of the Islamist Khaled Meshal of Hamas seated next to communist George Habash at rejectionist party conferences.

Yes, Hamas and other groups must stop the violence. But the process cannot begin by demanding that they recognize Israel.

The support for rejectionist parties in Palestinian politics, Islamist or otherwise, comes straight out of the refugee camps. Gaza has the highest concentration of refugees; nearly half of the population shares in the personal experience of dispossession.

Asking rejectionist parties to recognize Israel's right to exist, thereby justifying the displacement of the majority of their constituents, is not something that could be agreed to under today's circumstances. Most Palestinians owe their tragedies to the very genesis of Israel.

The key to real progress in resolving the conflict is, and has always been, providing a just resolution to the refugee issue. While a resolution will not be easy or immediate, a significant step in the right direction would be an acknowledgment from the state of Israel of at least partial responsibility for creating the refugee problem.

Such a statement, made in a serious and genuine tone and supported by American mediation, would destroy the perception held among many in the Middle East that Israel does not want peace. This, in turn, would begin to moderate the extremists.

The territorial outline for a two-state solution is largely agreed upon, even by some rejectionists. What remains outstanding is a just resolution for the refugee issue. The Obama administration should begin by tackling this necessary step toward comprehensive and lasting Arab-Israeli peace.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009


Putting the Destruction in Perspective

On Scale to the United States (1.5M :300M) these are the numbers

262 Gazans who died during the siege for lack of medical treatment or supplies = 52,400 Americans (almost as much as died in Vietnam)

971 Gazans who died in the last 18 days = 194,200 Americans (almost 10 times the number which died at the battle of Antietam in the Civil War, Americas bloodiest day)

Civilians per Square Kilometer where

….Hamas is launching Rockets: 654 (For every Square meter that is targeted .6 Israelis are in the way, much of this is desert)

….Israel is dropping bombs from land, air and see: 4118 (For every Square meter that is targeted 4.1 Gazans are in the way, all of this is built up urban centers)

The most accurate bombs Israel has have a 5 meter accuracy radius from the center of the laser locked target, the shell that hit the UN school for example had an accuracy radius of 30 meters.

Kinda puts things in perspective.

An analogy of my own

A couple years ago they destroyed all our power plants. When the Canadian jets flew over head we knew the worst was to come. They had already crippled our defenses. We have no tanks or planes left. Our ICBMs and Silos were all destroyed, Area 51 and NORAD gone. For years they had been jailing our armed forces. They even colluded with Mexico to prevent us from crossing the border. Then the sanctions came. Food was becoming scarce; there were no jobs and malnutrition reached third world levels. They build walls around the land borders. Concrete walls 20 yards high with snipers waiting to pick off anyone trying to make a jail break. The economy came to a halt. No fuel meant no transportation of goods or people.

They decided how much electricity we could have since they prevented us from making our own. Lights didn’t work and I haven’t been able to use my XBOX 360 for three years now. For dinner, we eat bread, sometimes rice if the rations get to us. My mom pretends to cook on the stove so my younger siblings will think all is well. The pot is always empty though, because there is no cooking gas permitted into America by the Canadians. They prevented aid trucks from coming in. The Canadian Navy blockaded our shores.

All of this because we elected a government the Canadians did not like. Yeah, our government thinks Toronto and Ottawa should be American land and maybe we do to. Our government thinks that Americans should be able to go to Toronto or Ottawa especially if their ancestral roots are there. But the Canadians will have none of it. So this means you get to choke us into submission?

We dug tunnels under the border with Mexico. We try to bring in food. The resistance tries to bring in weapons. The Canadians are cowards. They want us to die and submit but don’t have the courage to come to America - they want to strangle us from far away. They put up walls so they don’t have to be reminded of their crimes. We can’t go out and fight them but we will not sit here and die.

We’ve been able to fashion some home-made rockets from old sewage pipes. Some can fly a few miles. At least they make it to the outside world. They won’t do much damage but at least they will get over the walls. Maybe, just maybe someone will see what happening here in America, maybe when the Canadians are reminded that we exist and that their crimes will be exposed maybe then they will change, maybe then the world will act. What government in the world would stand to see it’s people strangled?

They may come to kill us but what have we to loose? First they promised us progress if we showed them democracy and they reacted to our elections by making our daily lives worse than ever before. Then they tried to blame our government for doing this to us but it is not our ships blockading the sea, or our bombs dropping on our heads, or our walls enclosing us. It is their crime, not ours.

No matter how hard the Canadians try, no matter how many of us they starve or kill, they will never kill our desire for freedom. Freedom is an American value. Freedom is a Palestinian value.

And our tell-tale heart will not stop beating.