Sunday, October 21, 2012

The Islamists In Government

Israel & The Arab World

An article by Hussein Agha and Robert Malley in the New York Review of Books says that the Arab nations, and their new leaders, in the Middle East will have to make some hard choices as to how they ought to govern. They not only have to please their constituents, a varied and disparate group across the political-religious spectrum, but also the West and the Gulf nations. 

Now that Islamists hold the reins of power in Egypt and Tunisia and control Gaza, their immediate attention turns to governing, not an easy task in the best of times, and far more difficult in times of transition. As for how this affects the Palestinians, the article suggests that their quest for an independent state has never been less important than now.
The quest to establish an independent, sovereign Palestinian state was never at the heart of the Islamist project. Hamas, the Palestinian chapter of the Muslim Brotherhood, harbors grander, less territorially confined but also less immediately achievable designs. Despite Hamas’s circumlocutions and notwithstanding its political evolution, it never truly deviated from its original view—the Jewish state is illegitimate and all the land of historic Palestine is inherently Islamic. If the current balance of power is not in your favor, wait and do what you can to take care of the disparity. The rest is tactics.
The Palestinian question has been the preserve of the Palestinian national movement. As of the late 1980s, its declared goal became a sovereign state in the West Bank, Gaza, and East Jerusalem. Alternatives, whether interim or temporary, have been flatly rejected. The Islamists’ plan may be more ambitious and grandiose but more flexible and elastic. For them, a diminutive, amputated state, hemmed in by Israel, dependent on its goodwill, predicated on its recognition, and entailing an end to the conflict, is not worth fighting for.
They can live with a range of transient arrangements: an interim agreement; a long-term truce, or hudna; a possible West Bank confederation with Jordan, with Gaza moving toward Egypt. All will advance the further Islamization of Palestinian society. All permit Hamas to turn to its social, cultural, and religious agenda, its true calling. All allow Hamas to maintain the conflict with Israel without having to wage it. None violates Hamas’s core tenets. It can put its ultimate goal on hold. Someday, the time for Palestine, for Jerusalem may come. Not now.
 In the age of Arab Islamism, Israel may find Hamas’s purported intransigence more malleable than Fatah’s ostensible moderation. Israel fears the Islamic awakening. But the more immediate threat could be to the Palestinian national movement.There is no energy left in the independence project; associated with the old politics and long-worn-out leaderships, it has expended itself. Fatah and the PLO will have no place in the new world. The two-state solution is no one’s primary concern. It might expire not because of violence, settlements, or America’s inexpert role. It might perish of indifference.
For Israel, such a scenario might eventually translate to an opportunity to have serious peace talks, not only with the Palestinians, but with the major nations of the Arab world. The idea that Israel can have a real and durable peace, and more, with the Arab nations seems like a pipe dream, unrealistic and for some hardliners unacceptable. If this comes about, it would transform the Middle East, at least in the public's perception, from a region of conflict to a region of innovation, trade and commerce. Peaceful relations among neighbors bring with it all kinds of benefits: political, economic & technological.

It's true that the current state of affairs makes the rationale behind this idea seem anything but possible. Yet, despite the civil war in Syria and its possible spillover into Lebanon; despite the periodical rocket fire from militants in Gaza; and despite the harsh rhetoric from Iran over its intended nuclear program, humans need to plan for a better future where the possibility of war is diminished and where peace can become normative. Perhaps the day might soon come when Israel's leaders can sit down with the Islamist leaders of the Arab states to consider not only the possibility but also the necessity of drafting a comprehensive peace plan for the region. Of course the will has to be on both sides, and there are many obstacles in the way to a lasting and durable peace.

There will have to be some deal-making, and without the interference from outside interests we have come to expect. In exchange for the Arab nations' recognition of Israel as a legitimate state, and vice-versa, both Israel and the Arab nations will have to make some concessions; this might be worth considering when one thinks of the alternative, which has been a reality for both Israel and the Arab nations for far too many decades. Is it not true that both Semitic Peoples deserve better, having allowed their differences to overtake their similarities? What these negotiations will entail and how they will come about is now unclear and in the short view appears unrealistic, naive and impossible. Yet, stranger things have happened when peace is at stake.

You can read the rest of the article at [NY Review of Books]